The Appster founders Mark McDonald and Josiah Humphrey tick a lot of the typical entrepreneur boxes. They’ve dropped out of school, made plenty of big business mistakes and jumped into situations before thinking everything through.
Since renting an expensive Melbourne office space next to Google and IBM in 2011, the guys have opened another in India and one in the US this year. They’re planning to hit $100 million in revenue by 2018.
“Normally when you build a startup your focus is on keeping expenses low. We kind of did the opposite,” McDonald said.
When they first opened all they knew was they wanted to create a company.
“We didn’t know what that would look like,” he said.
“Because of the higher rents, because we were surrounded by all these great companies it kind of made us sink or swim.
Despite their mistakes both Humphrey and McDonald retain their optimism, the kind of starry-eyed streak you’d describe as almost being to a fault in a friend. Right now, they’re aiming to do an eight-figure capital raising.
Some of the raw ambition comes from being in their early 20s. But they’ve also learned the importance of having a good team. Startup advisors bang on about how the team is more important than the idea. The two have grown to employ 110 staff.
“I don’t really think of myself as a kid anymore, you know, just growing a company from the ground up… you learn a lot of things,” McDonald said, speaking to Business Insider from San Francisco.
There’s not much humility in their vision: they say openly they want to do what Henry Ford did to cars, or what Rockefeller did for oil. They want Appster to be the ideas development hub of the world.
“It’s a big, crazy mission and dream,” McDonald said.
That innocent way of thinking – whether it’s spin or genuine – extends to how they want their staff to care about their company. McDonald said he wants employees to treat the company like it is their own, work weekends and be passionate.
Relocating to the US this year, the first thing the Australians said they noticed was the “craziest stuff” that people were working on.
This led them to develop an execution framework which gets a simple idea from concept, through validation and development and ready for investment. Appster is a bit like a CTO-for-hire service, but without the equity demands and the market-price salary.
“Innovation and the way we work on developing products in Australia is very different to how most American development companies work,” McDonald said.
“We always knew that the US would be a much more competitive space than Australia.
“But the thing that we were surprised about was the way that we develop software and the way we work with clients is still pretty unique.
“We expected to have to find we were maybe behind.”
With an ocean between them and their original home, McDonald has more perspective on where Australia’s tech scene is at globally. By his reckoning, it’s not as behind as they first thought it would be.
“The Australian startup space is moderately developed,” he said, adding “If you go and look at India it’s far, far behind… it doesn’t have the ecosystem that the US has.”
The lower number of late-stage exits and the lack of community were holding Australia’s tech sector back, McDonald said. However, he noted in the past few years there are more-and-more meetups popping up.
“It is happening but it’s not quite the same. There’s not that mass sharing of knowledge like in San Francisco,” he said.