Many workers sit at their desks, dreaming of storming out of the office and risking it all to follow a dream. Not many do it.
But Michael Dunworth dropped his comfy Sydney-based finance job aged 27 to move over to San Francisco and bet on his success with a Silicon Valley startup, booking a bed in one of San Francisco’s famous “hacker houses”.
“You’re literally sleeping in bunk beds, with some dude who is interviewing with Facebook tomorrow, then another guy across from you who just started at LinkedIn while below you is someone raising $2 million for their startup,” Dunworth told Business Insider.
“The first person I met when I walked in, and he was like ‘I got to run, I got a meeting with some investors, we’re raising $2.5 million’.”
“It’s the ground zero of where awesome shit is happening.”
Dunworth went to Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, New South Wales, his final year he quit to work full time for Midwinter Financial Services in Sydney. But eventually his passion for technology and seeing what his idols, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, were achieving caught up to him.
“After three solid years there, I thought to myself, I don’t have a girlfriend or mortgage, if I’m going to roll the dice at the start up dream, I have to do it now,” he said.
“You can do tech in Sydney, acting in Sydney or Finance in Sydney. But if you really want to be an actor you go to Hollywood and if you really want to be a tech guy you have to go to Silicon Valley.
“The access to capital, the networking and the proximity to huge companies is amazing.”
His original idea was an iPhone app that never got off the ground, before meeting Ioannis Giannaros who he co-founded Snapcard with.
But to do that, they needed money to live off.
“We ended up starting our own hacker house,” he said.
“So we just rented a place for $3000 a month, charged $50 a night and pocketed $2000 a month to live off.”
When they needed some more cash, they did the last thing Dunworth thought he’d be going to San Fransisco for – delivering laundry.
“We did a superhero laundry delivery service, dressing up as superheroes and doing people’s laundry.
“It blew up quite quickly, kids would actually get really pissed off with their parents if Batman didn’t pick up their clothes. It was great.”
But now, Michael is no longer doing laundry runs dressed as Batman and manages a team of eight in Snapcard, one of the US’s biggest bitcoin wallets where they focus on moving people’s money really quickly.
The growth has been huge – in January 2015 they processed $100,000 worth of payments, in June it was $720,000 and by September $6.5 million a month.
“All our competitors have raised $100 million, yet we’ve raised just $3m with a team of 8 and are the fastest growing in America,” Dunworth said.
Snapcard currently processes the second largest amount of money in North America, and the most in Brazil, which he says is crucial as emerging markets are really embracing bitcoin.
“In developed countries like America, people are holding it as an asset. In developing markets, people are actually using it,” he said.
Over the last six months, they have partnered with some US tech giants, working with Microsoft in August to power their Bing rewards competition and also with Paypal for an internal hackathon.
Snapcard raised $3 million in a seed funding round, with money coming from investors at Alibaba, Paypal and Tesla. It’s currently going through a Series A round as the startup looks to expand to Australia as well as south eastern Asian countries.
Dunworth said that while it’s going well, with lots of investor interest, but it’s a painful experience.
“I’d rather be kicked in the balls every morning by Dwayne Johnson if it meant avoiding fundraising,” he joked.
“It’s just the worst.”
He adds that investment is crucial to getting Australia’s startup industry off the ground.
“I think it’s incredibly that Turnbull wants to push tax incentives back home,” he said.
“There needs to be more benefits for people to throw money at these high risk investments. There’s really good tax breaks in America and that’s helped immensely.
“It’s also the investment attitude in Australia – they’re too risk inverse with their priorities misaligned.”
But funnily enough, he still lives in a room in his office while managing the team and a multimillion dollar processing business: the start of the startup dream.
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