Opinion Digital Banking

Lessons launching an Australian fintech in a pandemic

Why travelling 10,000 miles to launch my new startup paid off, writes Ryan Edwards-Pritchard, CEO and co-founder of Cape.

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Ryan Edwards-Pritchard/The Australian.

Australia is a phenomenal place to launch a startup. Here’s what I learnt doing just that.

There is a tight-knit startup ecosystem here and a sense of excitement that only happens when a small group has realised that there are greenfield opportunities and ways to make a real difference.

Reflect on what makes you happy

Ready to take the plunge on building something from scratch, I handed in my notice at Funding Options and got the opportunity to take some gardening leave. Instead of wasting it in a small London flat, I decided to travel to Australia.

I took a couple of months to explore the east coast and the North and South Islands of New Zealand, which I was thoroughly grateful for being able to visit.

Having all that free time to think freely for the first time in years, I reflected on how I was falling in love with Australia.

At the same time, I started weighing up the prospect of spending the next decade squeezing myself onto the Tube versus waking up in Manly with the Pacific Ocean on my doorstep.

Get to know the locals

I landed in Sydney with the idea of building a life in Australia and was fortunate enough to meet with some friends from the Fintech industry.

Being able to speak to those with their finger on the pulse of a local market was invaluable. I met with Dexter Cousins, host of the Fintech Australia & Fintech Chatter podcasts. We later recorded an Aussie SME Banking deep dive episode which doubled up as an excellent research exercise on the local market.

The next step was to meet with the local regulators in ASIC. They moved fast and walked me through their sandbox for fintechs to get to market quickly, efficiently, and compliantly. 

What’s more, having led one of the first fintechs in the world to commercialise Open Banking data to support SME’s through the Nesta Open Challenge, it was exciting to hear of similar regulatory shifts occurring within Australia.

This was all before the pandemic struck in March 2020. At this point, you had the PM Scott Morrison setting a hard line that it was ‘time to go home’ for all non-residents.  

Setting up shop

My biggest issue quickly pivoted to staying in the country and getting off a tourist visa. A critical problem given it means no local bank or business account, no renting a flat, and definitely no working.

Solving that problem became my immediate focus. Thankfully, I was able to turn to some friendly faces that introduced me to the Global Talent Visa Program and eventually got awarded Permanent Residency to stay indefinitely. 

Now able to stay, the first place I headed to was Fishburners startup pitch nights to understand where the buzz is for Australia and what excites the market. 

After getting an intro to the local ecosystem, I found myself at the Sydney Startup Hub, which offers free desk space and, most importantly, wifi. I used this as a base whilst carrying out market research and a variety of potential customer interviews.  

Funding is king 

Australia’s VC presence is impressive, investing over A$2bn into fintech’s in 2019 alone. 

VCs like Blackbird and Airtree have been doing a great job supporting some of the more prominent, later-stage unicorns like Afterpay, Canva, Zip and Airwallex.

I spent a lot of time exploring non-equity based funding opportunities to get started. It became a key focus, and we were fortunate enough to win the NSW Treasury MVP Grant—a route I’d recommend others explore. 

Recognising the past and embracing the future

One of the things that emerged as being so important in Australia is paying respect to all Traditional Owners of these Lands and those who, under custodial law, are charged with nurturing and protecting the Country. 

Australia has a deep and unique heritage that needs to be protected and considered, especially when building a new company.

When the pandemic hit I think the local fintech community was one of the few things that helped keep me sane. I don’t think it would have been possible to launch a business during a pandemic in any other part of the world. 

The national response to the pandemic has been world-leading and now we’re seeing a return to conferences, events, and pre-pandemic life. 

Covid-19 has done nothing but bolster my expectations for Cape. As the pandemic subsides, we’re looking to enter a period of fast growth as businesses come back to life and people who have become disillusioned with how they lived before start to take the leap of running their own businesses. 

Ryan Edwards-Pritchard is CEO and co-founder of Cape, the cash management platform for Australian SMEs. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.

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