01 Sep The home-grown ideas netting millions overseas
Tipi sells hardware and software to hostels so travellers can complete check-in processes by themselves. Digital “room keys” are sent straight to a traveller’s phone so they can instantly access their accommodation on arrival, with hostel guests able to connect with other travellers via the app.
The business is one of a growing number of startups conceived in Australia but with plans for an audience largely residing overseas.
“That’s the idea — to get to 1,500 hostels. We’re building the team out in Dublin, London and Berlin. We’ve just had a look at the data and Berlin is the city with the most [hostel] beds,” Bowcott says.
The business has so far generated around $100,000 in selling the hardware, or digital door locks, across the world. It offers a free software package for hostels that have purchased the locks, or a premium software subscription at $2 per room per month that gives venues a greater insight into guests.
“We’re working specifically on youth travel and youth travel is kind of exciting, because backpackers are 25 per cent of the global travel market,” Bowcott says.
Despite this focus, Tipi is keen to keep its local base. In this way, it mirrors trends from Austrade around globally focused businesses. Australia’s 2018 International Business Survey of globally-focused companies found 80 per cent of internationally engaged businesses now export services to five or more countries.
That expansion resulted in more jobs in Australia: three quarters of these globally-focused companies wanted to hire more local staff due to success overseas.
“I actually think Sydney is a great place to be headquartered — you do get a lot of [startup] support,” Bowcott says.
“Pinch me moments”
Other founders discover their global audiences almost by accident.
Melbourne social media startup Linktree began as a six-hour project to help the team at creative agency Bolster come up with a better way of managing their client’s social media listings.
Social media giant Instagram limits the ability to include links in posts, while users can only add one link to their profile’s bio. It’s a pain for artists and their managers who want to share content from across every social media platform, say Linktree co-founders Alex and Anthony Zaccaria and Nick Humphreys.
“At the time we were running a busy marketing agency and we started having to change the link in the bio all the time,” Alex Zaccaria says.
Linktree acts as a landing page on the internet for actors, musicians and other artists who want to direct their fans to what they post across their platforms. Users sign up to get their one link address to connect all their content.
Three years ago the team would celebrate when someone outside of the business signed up to the tool, which had been designed for use in-house.
They’d mark each new user via workplace management tool Slack. That became trickier when 1,000 people signed up each day, and unrealistic with sign-ups of 12,000 a day.
When the account of musician Alicia Keys, who has 16.5 million Instagram followers, signed up to the service, the response from the team was “this can’t be real”.
“A few of those big pinch me moments happened where big users started using it. Day by day, it very much gave us the confidence to say, ‘oh yeah, this is real. This is happening,” Anthony Zaccaria says.
Today Linktree has three million users and generates more than $3 million in revenue through offering a premium product worth $US6 a month ($10.30).
The business may have been developed in Melbourne, but 90 per cent of the startup’s three million-strong user base is outside of Australia.
“As it started to grow and people started to use it, we knew it would most likely be overseas users,” Alex says.
The founders reason their target markets, including artists and influencers, are largely located outside of Australia.
“We chose straightaway to start charging in US dollars, because Australians are used to paying for things in USD already.”
It was only 12 months ago the founders decided to spin out Linktree into its own startup, with a staff of eight people overseeing it in Melbourne and just one staff member in the US looking after partnerships.
Could the startup be the next Canva?
“I think absolutely we’re aspiring to those kinds of numbers,” Alex says.
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.