Regional Startups 4 MIN READ

The growth of the Australian fintech sector over the last few years has seen a number of online loan providers launch in quick succession.

At 11 years old, Nimble is now one of the oldest players in the burgeoning market. Unlike most of the new kids on the block, however, who are working from tech hubs in Sydney and Melbourne, the veteran company is based on the Gold Coast and actually first launched with a bricks and mortar storefront.

Cofounder Greg Ellis said the early days were rough; there was barely a startup or tech landscape to speak of even in the big cities at the time, let alone on the Gold Coast, and support wasn’t easy to come by.

Ellis and his cofounder Sean Teahan launched the business with $200,000 in seed funding, having each put in $50,000 and rustling up the other half to facilitate set up. With everything going towards the business, the pair each mowed lawns one day a week to earn the $300-$400 needed to cover their living expenses.

Moving from the Gold Coast was never an option, however. Before moving to Queensland, Ellis explained the pair had started an online health recruitment company in a small Irish village of “200 people and a bunch of cows, pigs, and seals”. Learning what was needed to run an online business there, they saw no reason as to why they couldn’t build one on the Gold Coast.

“Coming from that small village community to the Gold Coast, we never had any desire to move into a larger city. We just preferred the lifestyle and never saw any real advantage in going to Sydney or Melbourne, so we mowed lawns just to live on. That’s it. Even if we had millions of dollars in backing, we wouldn’t have relocated,” Ellis said.

“A disruptive tech business is comprised of individuals who are challenging authority and unconventional by nature, so we often thought our little band of smart guys were perhaps looked down upon by more traditional approaches in Melbourne or Sydney, which was added motivation for us. People and agencies in Melbourne or Sydney were often surprised at how advanced we were and how well we executed sophisticated functions in house.”

With the storefront running, the pair began building an online platform and within a couple of years Nimble became online only. They were then able to recruit a couple of staff and grow from there.

Ellis admitted that recruiting tech talent has been a bit challenging, but believes that is a challenge for most startups. Nimble has tackled the problem by being willing to hire remotely, with some team members based in Brisbane and Melbourne.

“I would advocate for business to aim to have more than half of working face to face time and the rest flexible or remote hours, as I think teams work best when they’re solving problems together and engaging on a day-to-day basis,” Ellis explained.

Some, however, have been happy to move to the Gold Coast from across Australia, attracted to the fact they can get the best of both worlds: a relaxed, coastal lifestyle with a job in a tech company.

“There’s no real trade off. Obviously in some cases to get great roles, people have to compromise on location, but the way I see it, you can have it all here,” Ellis said.

“The Gold Coast has grown up a lot and people are staying here rather than leaving for other cities, or they are coming here for the opportunity to have a city/beach lifestyle and fulfilling work all at once. Where else can you do that?”

The importance of lifestyle has translated to Nimble’s company culture, which Ellis said was born from his and Teahan’s personalities to focus on discipline and metrics, while being creative and flexible.

“The overarching value is to never forget exactly the customer problem and emotional state, as this leads to the best solutions, messaging, and connection with them.”

With the business having been able to grow and succeed on the Gold Coast, Ellis said there was then no temptation to move to Sydney or Melbourne when they raised $10 million in funding in 2014 and appointed its first CEO.

A number of Australian startups have spoken about feeling pressure to move after raising funding; Canva cofounder Melanie Perkins said many US investors tried to get Canva to move its base to Silicon Valley as a condition of investment, but while Nimble did open a secondary office in Melbourne, Ellis said that “it’s hard to see what we would have gained” from moving their headquarters.

As the national fintech sector continues to grow, however, with Sydney as its hub, Ellis said the business will be putting more effort into building relationships within the space and across the wider Australian landscape.

“To date we’ve lived a little in our own bubble and could have been promoting ourselves better in some respects,” he admitted.

“However, our customers are really liking what we do and they’re the ultimate people whom we have to please.”

The company states it has reached 250,000 customers since its launch, connecting them to loans of between $300 to $5,000, paid into their accounts within 60 minutes.

Making sure customers – and the wider sector – are happy is particularly key after Nimble ran into regulatory trouble earlier this year, with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission ordering the startup refund over $1.5 million to over 7,000 customers after finding it had failed to meet its responsible lending obligations.

As the business looks to move on from this, Ellis is focused on growth, and believes there’s never been a better time to be running a tech business on the Gold Coast. While the area still needs a central, go-to hub to allow entrepreneurs to connect, the future looks bright.

Beyond the local tech and startup community itself, the Queensland Government is also pushing interstate and international startups to explore the Gold Coast through its Hot DesQ relocation program, which is providing startups with up to $100,000 in funding  to move to a host location in Queensland.

Heading to the Bond Business Commercialisation Centre on the Gold Coast will be London startup Much Better Adventures, a platform making it easy to book active experiences with expert local guides and hosts, and fellow London team Skin Analytics, which looks to provide consumers with low cost screening for skin cancer at home using AI and its hardware device.

Ellis said, “With the beach, the airport and the natural beauty of the place, combined with an increased sense of entrepreneurship and diligence and energy I’ve observed, more and more great startups will come from the Gold Coast in future years.”

Image: Greg Ellis and Sean Teahan. Source: Supplied.


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