- Fred Schebesta, co-founder of comparison website Finder, has just been launched onto the AFR’s Young Rich List, debuting at number 22 with an estimated net worth of $193 million. His business partner Frank Restuccia joins him at number 60 with $53 million.
- The two launched Finder in 2007, after selling their previous SEO start-up Freestyle Media for $1.36 million.
- Schebesta told Business Insider Australia that he’s grateful for the sacrifices the two had to make to get here and reveals the direction he wants to take Finder.
For two years Fred Schebesta and Frank Restuccia subsisted on a diet of spaghetti.
Canned or boiled and served with a little tomato sauce, it was the kind of fare that should have induced scurvy long ago. And yet, remarkably, the two survived, gums intact.
It wasn’t a fad diet. The schoolmates turned business partners were busy building and bootstrapping their own startup and money was tight.
“I remember one night we actually just emptied the cupboard of all the forgotten cans and bottles and we just mixed their contents all together in a big pot and cooked it,” Schebesta told Business Insider Australia. “It didn’t turn out terribly well.”
To be fair, it’s one of the few things the two have cooked up that didn’t. The start-up they were building back then was Freestyle Media, founded by Schebesta at the age of 22. They’d sell the business four years later for $1.36 million.
Striking it rich
It didn’t stop there. Two years later they founded comparison site Finder, which helps people compare everything from credit cards to brokerage accounts.
Its roaring success has helped them debut on this year’s AFR Young Rich List. Schebesta is newly valued at $193 million, placing him at 22nd on the list. Restuccia is ranked in 60th place with $53 million.
Asked what it means to have come so far, Schebesta is typically candid.
“I’m just humbled. But I think it’s a recognition for all the Finder crew and what they’ve done. It’s an honour to them and it’s a salute to all of them right around the world,” he said.
And despite that meteoric rise, he is still very much penny-pinching.
“I just love saving money. I’ve got a $60 internet plan and the cheapest health insurance cover I could find,” he said.
Swords and handbags
After all, with peroxide tipped hair and a taste for left-of-field ideas, he is not your typical Rich Lister — and he’s got the sword to prove it.
At the entrance to the Sydney Finder office, there is a blade hanging to remind the company of one of the biggest challenge the entrepreneurs ever faced.
“One day when we were doing SEO, Google penalised us and suddenly we lost half our traffic. The samurai sword reminds us that Google can be a very sharp weapon to be used, but you’ve got to be careful because it can cut you as well,” Schebesta said.
Next to it, the eccentric founder has hung another ornament — a handbag.
“We built this robotic bag that had a GPS and processor in it to help people save money. It closes automatically when you go near a no-go area like a shopping centre for example, or at a certain time of day like say between 11am and 2pm on Friday so you can’t spend any money,” Schebesta said.
Finding the next big thing
Unsurprisingly, the bag never made it to market but it does get back to what Schebesta’s success has been built on — savings and sacrifice.
“When you look back the good times and the hard times all melds into one. I’m grateful that Frank and I made a lot of sacrifices early in our 20s to get to where we are today but you know Frank and I really see this as still day one. We’ve only just begun taking Finder where we want to go.”
That means a new direction for a comparison site that has almost 10 million visitors every month, who are vying to find a better deal.
“What we’ve done really well is helping people to save money but I think the future of Finder is really in investing. Once you’ve saved, it’s about making money make money.”
Specifically, the big change will be an app that Finder is promising to launch early next year.
“We’re building the Finder app right now, and that’s the future. It’ll scan your bank account and tell you exactly how and where you can save money,” he said. “It’ll see your health insurance bill, your energy bill, your credit card and your mortgage and know exactly how much you’ll save by going elsewhere.”
It’s part of the broader vision Schebesta has for the business. While Google may have once threatened everything, Schesbesta is a true believer. He claims Finder could one day emulate the tech titan’s successes.
“There’s six letters in Finder and six in Google and Amazon, and there’s no reason why Finder can’t be one of those,” he said, without a hint of irony.
Fred’s crypto dreams
It would be remiss however to think that Schebesta has all his eggs in one basket. In 2018, he launched cryptocurrency exchange HiveEx.
“Cryptocurrency feels to me like the internet did back in 2001. So I started learning about it and couldn’t really find a trustworthy place to trade large amounts of bitcoin, so we opened up a little brokerage to help with that,” he said.
To him, it makes sense that it would fit in with his business ethos.
“I’m always trying to find a new thing and help people understand it and compare it and get the best deal, and crypto is just another example of that.”
Not one to do things by halves, at the same time Schebesta took a significant stake in Goldfields Money as well, a small bank in Western Australia.
“All these banks were shutting down bank accounts because they felt threatened by crypto, so I helped influence the board to provide bank accounts to those who wanted to trade it. I wanted to basically set up a Crypto Bank of Australia if you will.”
Schebesta is still looking to the future
But despite having “made it” by most measures, Schebest said it still feels like he is only at the beginning.
“I don’t look back, only forward. I still wake up in the middle of night and I’ll have an idea. I’m notorious actually for sending other employees slack messages at three in the morning,” he said. “I don’t expect them to reply to me then and there but I just have to message them what I’m thinking.”
Pushed to reflect, however, he’s got his advice to entrepreneurs down to a rhyme.
“Early to bed, early to rise, work hard and advertise.”
Oh, and savour your successes.
“My partner cooked spaghetti last week and I was so excited. She thought I would be sick of it but I was like, you don’t understand, this is the premium stuff. There’s meat in it and cheese and everything,” he said.
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