Cogent Conversations: Episode 8
Dom Pym, Co-Founder of Up
Episode 8: Up
“We’re not building Up for a particular gender, demographic or age skew, that’s not how we think. We want to build the most awesome bank ever and we want it to be for everyone.”
– Dom Pym, Up
Some products can only be described as beautiful, where the product just seems to nail it. Whether it’s the considered details of design, deep learning enabling meaningful impact or the commitment the product shows to helping people to live better lives.
We think that Up, Australia’s first digital bank, is one of those beautiful products. We were full of excitement to talk with Dom Pym, co-founder of Up and Ferocia about his story, and it seems we aren’t only ones. With over 140,000 customers after just one year of operation, Australians are resonating with the idea that Up can help them to live better lives through a clearer understanding and ability to control their finances.
Dom gives us an inside perspective of the experiences and learnings over the past 10 years that have helped lead him and his team to this point. He also talks about creating a culture that enables them to sustain excellence.
Dom is an entrepreneur and technologist who recently launched Up, a next-generation Australian digital bank delivering super powered banking. Up is a clever way to organise your money and simplify your life, giving you the freedom to do the things you love. Dom’s been involved in software, web and mobile development for over 20 years from start-ups to global enterprises in Australia, the UK, the USA and throughout Asia.
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Meet the host: Adam Murray
Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).
Full Episode Transcript
Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations podcast made by the people at Cogent. Cogent Conversations is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best. We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at cogent.co.
Dom Pym: Exercises like the Triple H, is what we call it, which is the hero, the highlight, and the hardship, and you get up in front of 40 other colleagues and you tell them something deeply personal and unique to you about who your hero is, what your hardship was in your life, and what the highlight of your life was. Very hard to do, and I was crying when I did it. It was really hard, and you create a bond with these people that you work with. Probably you spend more time with these people at work than you do with your family.
Adam Murray: Hello, it’s Adam Murray here, and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. We all know that an overnight success is rarely that in reality. The hard work, the failures, the false starts, the building up of experience, they all go into enabling what can quickly come together in a moment. But even then, that is not enough. What does it take to sustain something, something that is excellent, that is enabling people to live better?
In this episode, we talk with Dom Pym, co-founder of Ferocia, who takes us through the ten-year journey to their overnight success in Up banking, Australia’s first digital bank, and what enables Up’s ongoing success now. Let’s get into it.
Dom, it’s great to be here chatting in your offices. My first time here. I love South Melbourne, though. It’s a great area that you’re in around here.
Dom Pym: Yeah, it’s a good spot.
Adam Murray: Yeah, how long have you been here?
Dom Pym: We’ve been here about eight years, but we were five years down the road, and then we just moved a couple of blocks down into this building. This is a beautiful old building. I can’t remember the year, but it’s more than 100 years old, and it’s got the heritage, pressed metal ceiling and other cool stuff. It’s just a nice old building that we’ve gutted and converted into a beautiful office space.
Adam Murray: Yeah. I think an office space, or the type of space, has a big impact on how I feel at work. Was that a conscious decision to create a space with that atmosphere?
Dom Pym: Absolutely. So, we’ve had three offices so far. The first office was the top floor of a pub. It was at North Fitzroy, I think.
Adam Murray: Hard to move out of there, I imagine.
Dom Pym: Yeah, that was really awesome. Then the second office was another heritage building from 1800 and something. It used to be a dwelling and an office and a retail front, and we took the whole building, so we had three stories or so that were all set up for people to work in an open workplace environment, and then that’s the one we were in for five years. Then we moved in here, and I think we’ve been here probably about three years.
Adam Murray: Yeah, okay. Did I see a gym out the back?
Dom Pym: There’s a gym out the back, too.
Adam Murray: Is that yours? Is that part of your office space?
Dom Pym: Yeah. So, we have a full-time fitness trainer and a masseuse – well, it’s the same person. We do Tai-Chi, yoga, CrossFit, all that stuff, weightlifting.
Adam Murray: Amazing. Where did that come from? Tell me about that. Is that something that you brought to the business?
Dom Pym: Yeah, so my business partner is Grant Thomas, Thomo we call him. Thomo’s an ex AFL footy coach. So, the fitness trainer we have here full time now used to be the fitness trainer at the St Kilda footy club. So, he started coming here just to do some massages and a few workouts and just help out and everything, and then eventually it became full time. Now he’s just here and he’ll just do anything to look after everyone’s wellness and wellbeing.
Adam Murray: That must be one of the reasons why people are attracted to working here.
Dom Pym: Yeah. We have a full-time chef as well. I joke and say there’s four people in the office that don’t write code anymore and that’s me because I was a software developer but I’m doing this stuff all the time. I don’t have time to write code but I’m also focused more on the business now rather than in the business. Then there’s my business partner, Thomo, who’s much older and has never written code. Then, he wouldn’t let me say much older, but like he’s more experienced. But yeah, another software developer and then the chef and fitness trainer and that’s it.
Everybody else is an engineer or product person or software developer or a product designer. So that means that essentially, we’re approaching problems and problem-solving with the technology mindset because we don’t have any middle management, we don’t have any hierarchy. We don’t have any BAs and architects and project managers and all the sort of usual things that you’d expect to see on a project. Everyone’s just a software developer, an engineer, a designer – that’s it.
Adam Murray: I’m fascinated in how organisations are structured and I’ve read books like Reinventing Organizations and that kind of self-management. What kind of ideas did you come across or what kind of ideas have enabled this place to be what it is?
Dom Pym: It’s the culmination of decades of experience. Thomo’s founded businesses and been involved in businesses for I don’t know how many years now, probably maybe 30 or 40 years. For me it’s about 20 and just working in Silicon Valley, working in Asia, working in the UK, seeing how different organisations operate, seeing how organisations in Europe do things differently than say in the US or in Asia and just taking all that experience and from Thomo’s perspective, obviously he brings a whole different view of it from the sporting world.
People used to say, they probably still say it, but in the olden days when he used to work in sport he brought a business mindset to the sporting field, like doing a leadership team instead of just a single leader in a sports team; like doing rotations of roles and things and all this. So, he was taking some of the logic and the thinking on how you build a high-performance culture and then bringing that into sport. Now basically, now it’s gone full circle and now we brought that logic back into business. So now our little company, which at the moment has have 41 people, and we’ve got nine people in our customer support team and obviously the fitness trainer and the chef.
So, if you take out those 11 people, we have 30 people writing code and building product. So, it’s a fairly small close-knit team. So, the culture and the dynamic and the family feeling between everybody and your desire to want to work in a cool place and everything. People come here, we have no working hours and we have an unmetered leave policy. So, people come and go as required. That means that from maybe 6:00 in the morning or before, until 8:00 at night or whatever, there’s different people coming at different times. Some people leave early to go spend time with their families. Some people like to come early in the morning because they’re morning early risers and they might ride their bike to work, or whatever.
So, it’s a very flexible working environment. I think that what we say is build great shit with great people in a great environment. That’s our general overarching motto if you like. Then it doesn’t matter what the stuff is that we’re building, at the moment it happens to obviously be financial services and banking and that sort of thing. But really that dynamic and that team and that feeling that you get when you’re collaborating and working with people, it can be used to your advantage in any industry. It doesn’t have to be just what we’re doing now.
Adam Murray: Yeah, it sounds amazing. I’m interested in all that quite flexible structure that you got. Do you have some rituals that help tie it all together, or some values? How does that stop from being something that just falls apart?
Dom Pym: Yeah, that’s a good one. We definitely have some rituals and structures so there’s about half a dozen of us that we would call the leads or the leadership team and we will meet every Monday morning and set the scene for what’s next. We look long-term as well, but when we’re doing long-term stuff, we tend to do that offsite. Then every Monday morning we’ll meet here early and look at what we’ve done well in the past and what we’re looking to do for the future.
Then every day we have a really quick standup and people will get up and do like, I call it the seven-minute stand-up, but sometimes it might be five or 10 minutes or whatever. I guess it depends on how many people as well. But we did tend to have the whole team doing that, the first Tuesday of every month we run Thomo time. Which is Thomo taking us through all that stuff we just talked about, cultural and structure and communication and high-performance stuff.
So that’s totally awesome. Then every Friday we do a retro and a demo and the demo nowadays probably takes close to an hour because we try to encourage, you don’t have to demo, but we encourage people to demo. So, when you’ve got those sort of bookends at the start and end of the week and then at the start of every day we do a 10 o’clock stand up so that people can come in later or maybe the people that come in early are having their break by then. So, we have those general sorts of things.
But in terms of rotations, we’re very passionate about making sure that everyone can kind of do everything and there’s no single points of failure and we don’t have job titles and we don’t have specific roles and things. So, we had, for example, a designer who became like a frontend dev and then did some Ruby development after that, I guess application development, and then built all of our GCP and Google Cloud Platform infrastructure.
So, he got to over years learn these different disciplines it and was never like, no, but you’re a front ender, you shouldn’t be doing that. Now the same thing with one of our other devs who… basically now all of the infrastructures is automated and so infrastructure is code and all that and running in the Cloud, blah blah. So, Ben has recently moved over and taken charge of all of that.
So, he’d never done that before and now it’s just like that’s what he’s doing. So, I think having the ability for people to try new things – for lifelong learning or always be learning new skills and have that flexibility to do it in whatever time. It’s a long-winded answer, but I think it’s all of those things. So, it’s the flexibility and the structure together that make the magic. There’s no silver bullet, not like you can just pick it up and repeat it. It’s taken us 10 years to build this culture.
Adam Murray: I love what you’re saying there about people being able to just almost go to a new area. It’s a bit of a challenge to them. Is that something that is up to them to kind of talk about that stuff or do you inquire about that or how do people know what people want to work on?
Dom Pym: Anything that makes sense. We have obviously some requirements, some structure around. We have, so say for Up for example, so my company, is what we should say, my company is called Ferocia.
Adam Murray: Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Dom Pym: It’s probably worth mentioning… we’re talking a lot about the team and stuff. So, my company’s a company called Ferocia and we are a technology company, but a lot of people know us for Up. Now, Ferocia has been around for about nine years now and we’ve been building banking software for about eight years. We build the fifth largest retail bank in Australia with Bendigo and Adelaide bank.
So that’s their mobile and internet tablet banking system and we’ve been doing that for eight years and we’ve been in production for nearly six years. For the last five years, every year we win awards for best mobile internet banking platform in Australia, that sort of thing. So that’s been a really huge success and everything. Then the same team, this is the same 41 people, not only did we build Australia’s fifth-largest banking platform, retail banking platform, but we also launched Australia’s first digital bank.
So, we run Up and so there’s a relationship with what we call a collaboration between us and Bendigo bank. So, a lot of people will know us now because Up is a consumer retail brand. Everybody sees it everywhere and it’s so awesome and so exciting and all that stuff. But actually, Ferocia is a company that we started nine years ago and has been doing those two different things and a bunch of other things in the interim. So, it’s just good to understand that dynamic.
So, when I say my company and we’re sitting in this building and everything, it’s not Up per se, like Up as this collaboration with Bendigo. So yeah, it’s just important to understand that dynamic because everyone here is, like I said, an engineer is that product person, a software person, and we do all of our problem solving with a technology mindset. But when you’re running a bank, then obviously we have to have all the risk and the compliance and all the regulatory stuff and everything.
Essentially Bendigo’s role is to deliver the licenced financial product. So, we work very, very closely with them on both of their main projects, which is the banking platform and Up. So, we’re able to actually collaborate with them and deliver those awesome outcomes and they’ve got six or seven thousand people or whatever. That’s a huge organisation compared to our little company in South Melbourne.
Adam Murray: I’m really fascinated by where the idea for Up came from as well and what you were noticing and yeah, we can talk a bit more about it. But yeah, can you take us back to the early days of Up?
Dom Pym: Yeah, sure. It wasn’t always going to be called Up. So, we floated with the idea of building a digital bank a long time ago. I would say it’s more than five years and probably even you could say 10 years in the making. A lot of the things that we wanted to do when we were building the mobile banking platform for Bendigo, we had this dream about, at the time we used to say, build the world’s best internet banking. It wasn’t mobile back then even, and of course, the iPhone took off and all the other smartphones and everything.
So, it wasn’t long into that project where mobile actually overtook desktop as the most popular interface for doing your banking and a whole lot of other things. So, we had this dream to build ‘the world’s best internet banking’ in inverted commas, it used to be called. So, then we realised that mobile was awesome, so we ended up going mobile-first and then we realised, well, maybe mobile-only would work, too. So that was sort of just a general technology thing that was happening. Meanwhile, Simple had been developing in the US – an Aussie, Josh, started Simple and launched it over there.
I think that like, I don’t remember exact time frames but I think it took them three or four years to build it and get it to market. Then within a short, seemingly a short period of time, that saw the first digital bank in the world. They launched and then they sold and they sold Simple to BBVA; it was a Spanish bank. So, we were sitting on the sidelines watching that while we were building the Bendigo Bank mobile banking, which became a responsive platform, so does desktop and tablet as well.
We went over to Barcelona for an event and we were about to launch this new platform with Bendigo. So, we were talking about it, announcing it and everything and BBVA had just announced the acquisition of Simple. So, we’re like, wow this digital bank thing is starting to take off. They then changed the regulations in the UK and so dozens of new digital banks started popping up in the UK and we were there.
I was in London when all that was happening because I was over there with my family and we were doing conferences in Europe and all this sort of stuff. So, it felt like the rest of the world was moving on and Australia was still just doing what we were doing. On a global scale, the Australian banks are pretty awesome. The digital apps that we have, we built the Bendigo one so we think that’s the best one, but CommBank or ING or any of the other big banks, Macquarie is another good one, we have world-class digital platforms and mobile apps amongst our banks already.
So, we saw what was happening overseas and then we were in Boston actually in the US and we were with the Simple guys and they’d already sold the company stuff. We were chatting about digital banking and launching a digital bank in Australia and everything. One of the guys that we were chatting with was from one of the big four pillar banks in Australia and we had no idea.
We were just chatting with them, having a coffee or a beer or whatever it was at the time. He said, “Oh, I’m from Melbourne.” We said, “Well, we’re from Melbourne too. We should catch up when we go back home.” So, we caught up with him and it turned out it was one of the big four banks that has an office here in Melbourne and they wanted to build a digital bank in Asia. So, we ended up spending, but from the time we first met him in Boston to the time the projects were finished, was around two and a half years.
Their idea was to build a digital bank across 10 countries in Asia. We had people from Silicon Valley, from Melbourne, from Hong Kong, from Singapore, and the first country we were going to launch in was India. It wasn’t originally, but it became the first country over time. Anyway, they got a new CEO that decided to cut the project and pull back their Asian operation and that project just died and we never got to launch that to customers.
We felt like we could have been one of the first digital banks in the world and we never got to launch it. So, this is where the frustration started to come in. So, we had that initial frustration where we couldn’t build everything we wanted with Bendigo. We had constraints that we had to work within. Then we had this opportunity with this big four bank in Asia and the frustration was building because we couldn’t even launch it to customers.
Then when the new CEO came into that big four bank, a bunch of the executives left there and went to the other banks in Australia. So, we got a tap on the shoulder from one of them. She moved up to Sydney and she rang us up or whatever and said, “Hey, do you want to come and build a digital bank for Australia? We’re going to be building it up in Sydney and if you’d come and meet with us it’d be great.” Then we worked with them for, again, over a year, maybe a year and a half.
I remember flying up there and it was something like 22nd of December; it was close to Christmas. Most people were on leave. We met with some of their board and their executive and whatever, all the sponsors of the project. We pitched a working version that we’d been developing and I remember getting it up and running in the Cloud and all this sort of stuff. We did this demo and they decided to fund their internal project for their core systems upgrade or whatever it was and not the digital bank.
So now we’re talking four and a half years of our lives, we’d just spent building digital banks that never got to market and so that frustration just was at boiling point. I remember we were having a chat at the time; Mike Hirst was the MD at Bendigo and Marnie Baker was I guess like the 2IC, now she’s the MD. So, it was me and Thomo chatting with Mike and Marnie and sharing the same story that I’ve just shared with you and your listeners. Then they were just saying, well we should do something. We should do something together.
We said, well, what we need to build a digital bank and we’re going to do it anyway, whether we do it with you or someone else, we want to do it. We’re desperate to do it now. We need like $100 million or more, just to start with. You need heaps of capital for reserves and for operations, then we need a banking licence and we need a core banking system. The core banking system we felt like we’d nailed, because we’re a technology company, we can build one.
There were some available in the Cloud and we’d integrated with half a dozen over the years with all these different banking projects we’ve worked on. So, we’re like the core banking one, it should be fine, we know that. A hundred million dollars is really difficult in Australia, but completely possible, not impossible but just difficult and we could look overseas and whatever. So, we thought like tick, tick, got a couple of ticks there. But this banking licence one – really tricky.
How do we get a banking licence? And the previous banking licence I understand for an Australian company was issued something like 28 years ago or whatever and the one before that was like a 100 years ago or whatever. So, to apply for a banking licence, there are a lot of, it’s a high barrier to entry and there’s a difficult process. Then in talking to the Bendigo, Marnie and Hursty were like, well why don’t we just do it together? We’ve got a banking licence, we got money, we got a core banking system, like everything that you need.
So, we decided that Ferocia, our little tech company, and Bendigo bank, as the fifth largest retail bank in Australia, would join forces and create this collaboration to launch Up. So, it was born out of frustration. It was also born out of more than five years of building a trust relationship with Bendigo and it was born out of a desire to deliver something that this market has never seen before. So, I think that were the key drivers that led us to start the journey of Up.
Adam Murray: That’s an amazing story.
Dom Pym: It’s really awesome.
Adam Murray: Yeah, it’s awesome. Some of the interesting things, there are I guess, persisting and building up your knowledge over a long period of time, right? Also, that trust relationship that you talked about there, too.
Dom Pym: I think like our origin story and I get asked that a lot and I feel like every time I tell the story, it’s almost like I learn something new. Because you’re reflecting on the beginnings all the time and you’re thinking, well how far have we come? We had our first birthday last week. How far have we come in one year from our public launch? But those stories I was telling you, they started back in like 2015, 2016 and then it took us more than a year to launch into a beta … we were operating in like stealth mode.
We just had our own staff members as customers and then we got Bendigo staff and then we got family and friends. Then we went to a private beta, then went to a public beta. That whole journey we took, we had auditors and we had lawyers and we had obviously the bank and everything. Then we had the regulators and we had to take everybody on a journey and there was no restricted banking licence back then. So, a lot of people will ask me, well, why didn’t you get a restricted banking licence like all these other new Neo banks?
Well, there wasn’t one. So, the legislation was announced, I think it was in maybe March or April, I can’t remember. Then sort of in May, APRA issued the first restricted banking licence to Volt. We knew Steve and Luke at the time when they set it up and we’d been chatting with them about launching a digital bank and all this other stuff. So very proud and very excited for them and what they were achieving. But we were already in production, we had already built our system and we were testing it.
So, I think like for us the journey was just an alternative one, it was a different one and we didn’t have to wait. I’d say that what we’re talking about there, that trust relationship with Bendigo and that long-standing experience of doing all those stops and starts. Actually, it is what got us to market first. But we’re the first of the new digital banks to launch in Australia and we were able to do that because we didn’t have to apply for a licence because we came up with this other collaboration with Bendigo.
Adam Murray: Talk to us about what you mean by a digital bank and particularly what Up’s niche is in that as well.
Dom Pym: So, I guess I’ve mentioned it a few times that we’re a technology company. So, the best way we describe it to people is, I think it’s the best way, is that we are delivering a technology-led bank instead of bank-led technology. I usually flip it and ask a question of the interviewer: So, how many banks do you know in the world that are good at technology? That’s what I get all the time, like shrugs and people don’t know. I can name a few, like there’s been a few around the traps and some people locally might say CommBank, or maybe I might disagree with them.
But there’s been these public outages lately and all that stuff, but often say BBVA in Spain and that’s who over this meeting with them and stuff. I think they’ve done an amazing job and they obviously acquired Simple and everything. But they built a whole competence around delivering technology. So, from our perspective, a technology company can disrupt an entire industry and whether you’re Uber, Airbnb, Skype, Amazon, Netflix, whatever, these technology companies come into seemingly unrelated industries and then just completely disrupt them.
So that’s what we’re trying to do with Ferocia and with Up is that we bring a technology mindset, technology-led banking into the banking industry and just disrupt it. To answer your question, that’s the premise that we’re taking now of course. Why do we need that? Why does Australia need that? What we’ve found, and lately I’ve been kind of ‘the excellence of everything’, but what we’ve found is that you can’t launch a digital bank in Australia and a digital bank for us was like a mobile-only bank.
So, we’re the first retail Cloud-hosted bank in Australia and we’re also the first mobile-only bank in Australia. So, you might say, so what? Who cares about that? But actually, nowadays we’re carrying around this computer in our pocket. You can open up a bank account in a couple of minutes, like our average time to open a bank account is two minutes and 12 seconds. So, most people open an account less than three minutes just with their phone and their driver’s licence or whatever they’ve got in their pocket.
So that’s a very different dynamic. Then the feature set that we deliver is not good enough to just be like the table-stakes of what other banks deliver. It’s got to be something different. It’s got to be something better. Then the user experience that we deliver can’t be just the same as all these awesome apps I was talking about already. It’s got to be something better. Then the customer support has to be better. So, if you think about all those different things, we can’t be the cheapest in the market because these big banks are some of the most profitable banks per capita in the world.
They’ve got billions and billions of dollars, hugely deep pockets. So, we couldn’t launch with a proposition that “Oh, we’re the cheapest.” So, you’re going to be competitive on price, you’ve got to have a great customer experience. You’ve got to have great financial services, you’ve got to have great product, you’ve got to have great marketing, you’ve got to have a great brand, you’ve got to have great customer experience. You’ve got to have all of those things in order to actually make a difference.
I think that’s where Up has hit its niche, if you like. It’s that the younger technology savvy and people that live and breathe technology; it just spread like wildfire. So, we launch through that process I mentioned about inviting our family and friends and so on and did our public and private beta. Then something like 70 percent of our customers came through referral. Like just everyone was just saying, this is amazing, this is great and they’re just telling their mates.
So, I think that’s how we carved out our niche. Now our big hairy goal is to build the fifth-largest bank in Australia. It’s a philosophical goal because Bendigo is already the fifth-largest bank in Australia, retail bank. So, when we add new customers, that’s new customers for them. But in terms of having a big hairy goal, that’s our goal and it’s a multi-decade strategy. It’s not something we’re looking to do for two or three years and then piss off.
That takes a long, long time and you’ve got to get it right and have the right capital and the right growth and scale and all that stuff. So, in the interim, we set ourselves a target, which is to give ourselves three years to be the number one bank for under 35s in Australia. At the moment that’s CommBank. So, we’ve got to get a couple of million customers in order to hit that goal. Today we’re 140,000 customers in, so we’ve got a fair long way to go. We just started the journey.
Adam Murray: Yeah, it’s an amazing start though, in a year.
Dom Pym: It’s pretty awesome. When we had our first birthday, we don’t normally release our numbers to the market, so a lot of analysts and people have been trying to guess and stuff. The only numbers we’ve released have been our customer numbers along the journey. So, when we hit 30,000 customers and 50,000 accounts in our first four months of operation, it was amazing. It was extraordinary. So, we really, I did a tweet and we told everyone about that and it was exciting. Then when we got to 100,000, we announced that, and then that was really it.
That’s all we’ve said along the journey. But because of the birthday, our first birthday of being publicly available was last week. We decided and agreed with Bendigo that we would release some of the numbers. So, we said we had $680 million in funds flow and over $100 million in deposits today. We had 135,000 customers and I think it was 250,000 accounts and all this sort of stuff.
Those numbers are mind-boggling. Well, it’s extraordinary for a bank to go from nothing in a year to achieve that outcome and it’s better than what a lot of the digital banks overseas were able to achieve and they have much bigger population groups than we do and probably really pretty crappy banks compared to what we have here. So, we’re very proud of what we’re able to achieve and it’s fairly extraordinary. But it really is just the beginning of the journey.
Adam Murray: Back to what you were saying about the referral stuff that started to just naturally happen and also how you really connected with a younger audience as well. What kind of thinking or research or how did you know that you were going to do that well? How did you know what they needed?
Dom Pym: I think we have a bit of a contrary view to a lot of the rhetoric you hear from other digital banks and a lot of Neo banks or digital banks or challenger banks or whatever – to me they’re all the same thing; like Neo means new. So, in any new bank that comes along says, we’re going to go after millennials and we’re going to listen to our customers and the customers are going to help us build our bank or whatever. We have a slightly different view; we’re clearly customer-centric and we’re clearly highly engaged with our customers.
In fact, I say that we don’t sell financial product, we sell engagement. So, we’re very, very customer-centric. But we don’t kid ourselves and think that the customer knows what they want. There’s lots of famous examples, but the customer has blinkers in the sense of what’s currently available in the market. So, it’s hard to imagine what you want from a bank and nobody’s ever asked me for banking. Well, people don’t come up to me and say, “Hey man, can you build a bank or can you build me this banking thing?”
It just doesn’t happen, right? People are thinking about their own life, but they might have a goal to travel or they might have a goal to have kids or they might have a goal to buy a house or they might have a goal to buy a pair of school shoes for their kid or something. It could be as simple as that or an iPad or something. So that’s what people are thinking about it. They’re not thinking how to bank better.
So, we have hundreds if not thousands of messages a day of people telling us what they want. But it doesn’t mean that what they want is actually what they want. So, there’s some of the famous examples of like, I think it was Henry Ford. It might be even a myth, but saying that if I ask the customer what they wanted, they would have wanted a faster horse rather than an automobile. Or people say Steve Jobs famously said that nobody ever asked for an iPad and yet the iPad and then obviously the iPhone before it, were the fastest-growing consumer devices in human history. So, nobody said, I want a touch interface on a phone.
So, what we try to do is fill those gaps where obviously we deliver the things that customers want and the things that customers ask for. Obviously, we have to deliver the table stakes of banking, but we also do what we call the imaginings. So, we have Anson, who’s our head of product, I call him the chief imaginer, and it’s his job to think. Well, we pay him for his brain. Like what’s the future of banking going to look like in 10 years, 20 years, 100 years from now? We had an offsite session and that was one of the questions that Thomo put to us. It was that I want you all to go away and spend an hour thinking about what the future of banking would look like. We came up with some radical, crazy ideas that are things that are left of field that aren’t potentially things that customers would come up with. So, it’s a nuance, but I just want to make that point that you’ve got to balance those three things, the requirements: the compliance, the legals, the security, that sort of stuff that you have to do. That’s boring business stuff.
All the stuff that the customers throw at you and their ideas and all that. Then there’s imaginings. If you can get a nice balance of those three, then the way I say it is that we building up for everyone. We’re not building up for a particular gender skew or a particular demographic skew or a particular age or particularly regional skew, that’s not how we think. We think we want to build the most awesome bank ever and we want it to be for everyone.
It doesn’t matter your agenda, doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter your nationality, it doesn’t matter where you live, regional, metropolitan, all that is just irrelevant. That’s like the way a marketing person would think about how do you build a product. But we’re technologists, we’re all engineers, so we’re thinking about how do you solve problems and how do you help people live their life better? So, if you have that perspective, it works for 90-year-olds as well as it works for 19-year-olds.
I suspect that the young skew is a lot to do with the adoption of technology and the change in technology and the rapid adoption of mobile phones and all that sort of stuff. Fifty percent of our customers are 16 to 24 and those customers have just grown up with phones and iPads and computers and the Internet and they just expect, they live in the Up economy. They just expect everything to be seamless, to be instant, to be awesome. That’s exactly what Up is, so we probably have a skew to those customers.
But if you look at our customer cohorts, we have three main customer cohorts; our largest group of customers is the Gen Z. The second-largest group of customers is millennial and the rest is the other third if you like, approximation. So that means that our customers go all the way up to 80 or 90 and probably the customers that have the most money and the customers that do the most transactions or whatever in that older demographic, that older age group.
But from our perspective, if we can deliver awesome value and loyalty and engagement for that young audience, then our multi-decade strategy can play out as they grow older. So right now, they want a savings account and a debit card; later on, in life they might want access to credit or they might want a mortgage, or whatever.
As they get even older, they might be thinking about their superannuation or their wealth management or the share trading or some other investments. So, if we can follow them in their lifestyle, eventually, those young people that are young today become the Titans of industry in Australia in the future, maybe 10, 20, 30 years from now. So, we’re going on a journey to help them live their life. We’re not building banking.
Adam Murray: I love that nuance. What you said there, about… is it Anson?
Dom Pym: Anson, yeah.
Adam Murray: His job is to think; how does he, you can talk about him a little bit, but how does he go about doing that? Does he have a particular or what sort of space do you give him to do that? What does that look like for him?
Dom Pym: Anything. You should ask him. Anything he likes; like he was our first employee at Ferocia, we actually I think hired two or three people on the same day. But he was one of our first employees and he’s been here for the whole journey and him and I were the people that were in Boston when we had that chance meeting. Him and I were the people in Hong Kong and Singapore when we were doing those projects.
So, we’ve been on this whole journey together and I like to think of myself as someone who has a passion and an interest in product and a passion in design. So, between Anson and myself, we’re always throwing ideas at each other or he’s always presenting his thoughts and showing me some prototypes he’s developed or whatever. I love that. That’s the most exciting part of my job.
It’s just like looking into Anson’s brain and seeing what he’s come up with. But I guess the way we’ve articulated in those three different buckets is one aspect. Another is like radical transparency. So, we have our public roadmap and it’s something that Anson invented. Like it’s the tree of Up and the tree of Up because we had our first birthday and it’s springtime, we had the spring tree event where the tree of Up basically grew because it’s springtime and it got some new branches and it got some new things. You can see all the things that we’ve built, all the things that we are currently building, and all the things that we’re planning to build in the future. You can see all of that, anybody can see that. Competitors, the media, our customers, everybody can see it because it’s public. So that way of thinking that no idea is the secret sauce.
No idea is the great one. All these are ideas are things that everybody’s had either before or they’ve not been able to execute or they’ve come from our customers. So, they’re not – idea is not proprietary. Our secret sauce is execution – it’s like the ability to deliver. So, Anson will come up with this roadmap and this idea about what we’re going to build in the future. Then Mike, who was also one of our first employees, Mike is a head of our technology, he’s totally awesome as well. But Mike will then be responsible for delivery.
So how do you take that stuff out of Anson’s head and then how do you deliver it to customers? So, we’ve set up our operation here as a technology company to have everything, not only radically transparent but also amazingly automated. So, we set ourselves a goal when we launched Up that we wanted to deploy software to production for our customers five times a day – that was our goal. So earlier this year, in February, we were achieving 12 times a day and at the moment our current average is six.
I know some people say, so what? But people who are technologists, they get very excited about that. It’s almost like continuous deployment. Every single day there’s stuff going out to customers. But people who don’t get it say, so what? Nobody wants that. Actually, we do outage list deployments. So, we don’t shut our systems down, the customers don’t know that we’ve deployed this new thing until they open their app and they’re surprised and delighted with some amazing new feature or some bug fix or whatever it is. So, we are constantly pumping software out the door to customers.
That means that in the last year, well, every single competitor has just stood still. We’ve just been racing ahead and not only have we delivered all the things that were on the tree of Up until now, but now we’ve announced all the things that are coming on the tree of Up. So, we’re moving so fast that the incumbents and even the new players and even other technology companies just can’t keep up with us. So that pipeline from idea to prioritisation, to execution, to delivery, that is what’s quite unique about Ferocia and our ability to deliver Up in such a rapid pace and at such high quality.
Because there’s no good being able to deliver all these things and then it just being rubbish. So, like our uptime, people talk about that stuff all the time – it’s pretty funny because we’re Up. Our uptime for the first year of our existence was, we had 41 minutes of downtime. That compares to the average Australian bank that in the same time period had 15 days of downtime. So again, I told you about radical transparency. What about radical performance and then radical availability?
So, I think those are the things when I say ‘excellence of everything’, you have to actually hit so many points to be awesome that you can’t just sort of sit back and go, I’ve got this great idea. You have to be able to take it from idea through the pipeline and into customers’ hands. Then once customers are using it, we built technology into the app, which is a chat tool we call Talk to Us and our customers send us messages every minute of every day. We also deal with customers a lot on social media.
So that’s why I say engagement is our product, because to feed that pipeline and then to get the feedback loop coming back from customers saying, I love it, or I hate it, or saying it does this, but it should do that or this is so awesome this is how I’m using it. We get customers every day posting all their savers in the site, with Up you can earn your bonus interest on all of your savers. That’s unique in Australia amongst Australian banks. You can credit almost as many of them as you like.
I think you can have a 100 or 98 or whatever it is, something like that. So, people make so many savers and then they just post them on social media and say, “Hey, check this out.” That means they can implement whatever financial management strategy like, so they might follow my Millennial Money or they might follow She’s on the Money or they might follow The Barefoot Investor or whomever. Those advisors that are very, very popular in Australia because they write books or they’ve got a podcast or they’ve got their own Facebook group or whatever.
Our customers follow that and then they’re able to implement it on Up. So, for us to then get that feedback, they might say something like, I really wish I could transfer between savers. Here’s a good one: just during our Tree of Up event, we did a live deployment to production. What we did, we deployed salary splitting. Then it’s automated so that when your salary hits your account, it doesn’t have to be your salary, it can be another type of payment because you might get your salary paid into another bank that you have your mortgage with or whatever.
But when your payment comes in, you can have it automatically split to send money off into all the different directions that you want. That might be to pay your bills, to put it into a saver, to transfer to another bank or whatever it is. Now within a week since that happened, we’ve seeing something like 50,000 new accounts opened up with people just because it’s awesome.
So that’s the sort of thing where the feedback loop is really important because we could get that wrong and our customers help us get everything even more awesome than it actually is when we first deploy it. We are not scared to deploy things when they’re not finished, either. But we have beta testing amongst our customers and we will deploy things when we think they’re ready and they’ve got a high quality but we don’t wait for them to be ‘done’ done, is what we call it. When something’s done it goes out and people start playing with it and then we might get ‘done’ done when we get a few iterations of feedback in a couple of loops.
Adam Murray: You talked about radical transparency there and you’re talking mainly about, say being public about what’s going on and that public radical transparency. I’m interested in the culture that you seem to have created, which is about really high performance and excellence and how you do that, whether internal radical transparency comes into that and feedback and how do people know what to hit, and if they’re not hitting it and what they need to grow and improve in?
Dom Pym: So again, we like to do things probably a bit differently than how they would normally be. So, a lot of organisations will become really quite structured and try and find ways to build processes, rather than people. So, we focus on people and we’re very interested in how already high performing people can be even higher performing. So, part of that is our Thomo time, which is our monthly engagement. There’s a whole lot of ways that we do it, but this is a good example.
What we do is, for your own personal growth as well as the mentorship of others and as well as team communication and that is, we run certain exercises. One of those exercises like the Triple H, we call it, which is the hero, the highlight and the hardship. You get up in front of 40 other colleagues and you tell them something deeply personal and unique to you about who your hero is, what your hardship was in your life, and what the highlight of your life was. Very hard to do and I was crying when I did it, like it was really hard.
You create a bond with these people that you work with, probably you spend more time with these people at work than you do with your family. So, the bond that we’ve created and the friendships that we’ve created, but one guy here, Tommy, has worked with me for 17 years through five different companies. So that level of relationship and friendship is just something that is lifelong. So how do you create that in a work environment where people don’t feel like stuck, where they actually feel they want to be there and where people are happy to help each other to grow and to learn, where people are happy with this idea of a lifelong learning and that they don’t know everything and they can always learn something new?
Where people who may be the CTO or the technology lead at another company come to Ferocia and they’re just, ‘one of the people?’ We don’t have this hierarchy and they’re no longer the top dog. What does that mean? How do you deal with that? How do you actually have, instead of say, having a company that had one, two, or three really high performing people, how do you have 40 of them or say 25 of them and they’re all like the best engineers in Australia?
They’re all in the room together and they’re all competing with each other and they’re all trying to outdo each other and they’re all trying to help each other and they’re all trying to learn something new. So, I think there’s, again, there’s no one specific thing but that’s, the Triple H is just an example I give of the level of intimacy and personalness and assistance and mentorship and this high-performance stuff that we really care about here. But also, if you mirror that or add to that, the flexible working environment and the awesome office environment and all that.
So, if you’re working on something you love, which is Up, everybody totally loves it. So, if you’re working on something you love and you’re working in an environment that you love with people that you love, it’s a bit of a no brainer. It’s not that easy and it’s taken us literally 10 years. So, we’re an overnight success in 10 years. It’s taken that long to get here and to build that culture and, Thomo is the right person to talk about it because he’s been absolutely critical and influential in helping build that culture.
I think the culture comes from within, so it’s not one person. It’s just that Thomo has that sort of footy coach experience and has been able to corral it and mentor it and help to shape it. But it actually comes from within. So, it starts with recruitment. A lot of our recruitment has been word of mouth, one degree of separation. We either bring in the right people through a pretty casual environment where we don’t need resumes and we don’t… We can already trust them and everything because we’ve worked with them before. It’s one degree of separation.
So that doesn’t scale forever but it certainly scaled to where we are now. Then we’ve had along the journey, very, very high retention and very few people ever leave because it’s just so awesome. But we have had some people leave and we had a couple of bad eggs along the way, too. It’s not because they were bad people or they weren’t highly skilled or anything, it’s just because they didn’t fit our culture. So, the culture could have spat them out. So, I would sit down with those people or Thomo would sit down with those people and say, look, there’s no fit here for you.
There might be a really, really beautiful person and there might also be a highly skilled engineer, but if they don’t fit the culture, then it just sort of spits them out. You know you’ve got a good culture when it can absorb people in that fit and push people out that don’t fit. That’s actually the sign of a really solid, strong culture. So, some people who have been here for a short period of time, we have one person ever that left during their probation period. They just came up to me and said, look, this is just not for me.
They were one of the best people that we know in the world for that role. They just said, look, it’s just not for me and I’m going to go do my own start-up and everything. We just wished them all the best and shook their hand and away they went. So, I think that the recruitment process is actually an important part of actually trying to build that culture right from the outset and then as everything we do every day to build those relationships.
Adam Murray: Wow. I wonder if you’re going to get a few applications coming through after people listen to this as well. I’ve got a couple more questions for you.
Dom Pym: That’s all right, no worries.
Adam Murray: One of them is about, I guess it’s probably reflecting on my experience of consulting companies that have tried to create a product or a business if you like, and move away from consulting. Would you call what you did that? Have you had to go from consulting to being solely focused, I don’t know if you are solely focused on Up or primarily focused on Up? Tell us about that transition.
Dom Pym: So, I think we always wanted to be a product company. I think that Ferocia was for a long time a services company and we weren’t like consulting per se, but we were essentially acting as a vendor and we were building our IP and licencing it to banks. But we were also helping those banks on a journey and they would pay us on a contract. So, we were a traditional services organisation, but we really always yearned to be a product company and to have that direct relationship with customers.
All that stuff I was talking about with Anson and the brain and the roadmap and the transparency and the feedback loop and all that stuff, very hard to do that when you’re working for someone else. So, we always yearned for that. Then Up was the opportunity finally, after so many years of trying to get there, eight years of trying to get there. Up was the one and now we have that. So now we’ve transformed into a product company and a company that has a direct relationship with the customer.
So not only do we do the marketing and do the onboarding and have the relationship with the customer, but we also have the customer support. So, we have for like the whole lifecycle of the customer now sits with Ferocia and that’s just very different than we’ve ever done with any other bank or any other relationship in our past projects. So yeah, it’s definitely been a transition. It’s been a fairly conscious one. But remember out of our 41 people, we have approximate numbers, we have numbers would be 10 of them working on the Bendigo mobile Internet banking platform and about 30 of them working on Up.
So, we actually still build the fifth largest banking platform in Australia and the first digital bank in Australia. We’re doing both at the same time and one of them is a services offering and the other one is a product. It’s a product in the sense that we have licenced it in the past and everything. But now we have different considerations and we now live and breathe … At the moment we’re doing 18 x 7 customer support and we’re looking to move to 24 hours – 24 x 7.
For us when we first launched, we weren’t very good at that and it was like me and Anson and Mike and other people in the team answering the questions for the customer and that doesn’t scale, obviously. We had our whole product team and then the entire company was like everyone’s rotating, trying to answer queries. Then we developed our own in-house custom software for support. Then we also started hiring some support people. So, we started with six people, and now we’ve got nine. So now we have a whole team that can do that.
But what we’ve done in the process is the response times were sitting around four hours at best, but between anywhere from four hours to four days for us to respond to customers because it was just growing so fast and everything. We managed with that technology improvement and that process and people improvement; we’ve been able to get that to less than four minutes now. So that’s like uber responsive to customers and tightening that feedback loop and that’s been a change of our organisation, because in order to have that direct relationship with customers and engage with them like that has been totally awesome.
Then, also social media has been crazy because it doesn’t matter whether it’s Snapchat or Instagram or Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever. But we’re all on there all the time talking to customers, every day. We’ll be doing this chat now and then I’ll have all these messages, as soon as I finish, I’ll be replying to customers. Every time we’re launching something new or every time a customer has some question about something or if we run an event and then someone wants a T-shirt or something, we’re all just jumping on social media all the time.
We’re so connected and so engaged with our customers. Again, it can’t scale like that forever. But I look at people like say Elon Musk and he’s got, I don’t know how many, tens of millions of followers, whatever. I don’t know how many – lots – and he still manages to reply to customers. So, I think that when people say that it’s too hard or there’s not enough time in the day and all that stuff, I think it’s an excuse. The number one reason we exist is our customers. If we didn’t have any customers, we wouldn’t exist. So, for us, having that direct engagement with them is absolutely key.
Adam Murray: That’s awesome. Last couple of questions. The first one is around, you can probably answer this without giving too much away, but what do you imagine the future of banking could be?
Dom Pym: We’re pretty open as I said about what we think it is. I think for many decades now people have talked about banking as a utility or banking as a service or whatever and it’s just hasn’t really come to fruition very well. But I think that with open banking overseas and now open banking coming in Australia, we’re actually seeing this data interoperability between institutions and between third parties becoming much more seamless.
We’ve got the new payments platform in Australia, which is real time instant payments. I think obviously everyone has access to the internet and mobile phones and stuff now. So, I think now’s the time for banking as a service over the next 10 years or so it’s the time for it to really come into its own. So, people have been talking about it for a long time, but now it can actually be executed, so that’s probably the first thing.
The second thing is when you sign up for Up and you’re an Up customer, at the moment you get four products: you get a debit card, you get a digital wallet, you get a transactional account and you get a high interest saver. You don’t know that you’ve got four products. You didn’t sign up for four different things, you didn’t sign up four times. You just signed up for Up. So, when we add our fifth or sixth and seventh and eighth, we announced the transferwise integration. So, first integration with transferwise in Asia Pacific: massive, huge announcement for us.
When we integrate that, you don’t have to sign up again. Now with Up you’ll have five products and so that’s the true melding of customer experience and delivering banking as a service. So, I think that’s important and then the other thing that we talk about a lot is on our homepage of our website, we crossed out the word banking and we wrote living. So, what we see ourselves doing is powering your life and I think that’s going to be the way that a lot of banks will go to in the future.
Is that we look at ways that we can help you in your life, make meaningful choices, meaningful decisions to help power your life, to help you live an easier life, to help you save for your goals, to help you in the future maybe access the right type of credit or the right type of financial products to power your life. So, I think that thinking about it in terms of powering your life rather than thinking about it as selling you a banking product, I think that’s also a shift that we’ll see in the next 10 years.
The other thing we’ll see is that, at the moment Australia got through the global financial crisis. It’s horrible but relatively unscathed compared to the rest of the world. Now it’s really starting to pinch and we can see that the margins for banks are sub one percent now. Someone told me the other day 0.7, I heard someone else say 0.6 but whatever, it’s less than one. If we get a few more rate cuts from the RBA it could be zero and it could be like overseas, it could go negative.
So, then the whole banking model is going to have to change. There might be mergers, there might be acquisitions, whatever – things are going to happen. But banks and particularly the Neo banks coming, the new banks coming in the market again have to think of different business models, because you can’t just live off the net interest margin anymore.
There has to be a different way. So I think when we look at the future services, helping power people’s lives, I think integration and partnerships and I think having alternative revenue and business models rather than just the traditional banking ones are going to make a material change to the way banks operate, not just in Australia, but all over the world.
Adam Murray: Like what you said there about helping people live, one of the things that I like the sound of, I don’t know where I heard about it, but I think this is an Up thing where it tells you kind of what’s the categories of stuff that I’m spending on.
Dom Pym: That’s it, yeah. So that’s awesome. A lot of banks for many years have tried to do that and they just use some data from the back end that’s coming through the EFTPOS machine or coming from MasterCard or Visa or whatever other scheme. We’ve spent about six years building technology to automatically identify the merchant and that’s a foundational building block for us then to identify the category which is a foundational building block for us then to do automated insights, which is a foundational keystone to us delivering budgeting.
So, people will jump straight to how do I build a PFM? Or how do I build a budgeting solution? Or how do I integrate my accounting system with my bank and all sort of stuff. We started from first principles and we’ve been building those building blocks over the last six years and we think that is a huge competitive advantage. It’s miles better than anything anyone else has. So, we can now accurately predict your future spending based on the merchant that we identified at the time of point of sale.
You don’t have to set up like a recurring payment or have, like future payments and things. We see that you say for example, spent money with Netflix and we know Netflix is a subscription provider and so we just predict that for the next year you’ll be having Netflix and if you turn that off it’ll work it out in a few days, maybe it’ll take a month or whatever and then it’ll stop prompting at that. But we’re able to not just predict the future, but we’re able to then all provide automated insights.
I’m the dad at home and I’ll buy the bread on the way home and two things happen when I buy bread. One is that we have automated push notifications and I’m testing out joint account stuff at the moment. So, my wife gets a push notification that I bought the bread and she sends me a text message, ‘I’ll see you on the way home.’ That’s one thing but then this is little bit of a joke that one, but it’s interesting.
But then the other thing is that I can click on that, so I go to Bakers Delight, as that’s where we normally buy the bread across the road here in South Melbourne. So, I click on the Bakers Delight and any Bakers Delight I’ve been to in Australia. Like yesterday I was in Sydney and went to Bakers Delight and all of the Bakers Delight franchisees are called something different. So, anybody else doing merchant identification you won’t know that it’s the same company, you’ll just see that it’s a different merchant. For us, we aggregate them all together under the brand.
So, I’ll see that my entire national spend for bread at Bakers Delight is one and a half thousand dollars or two and a half thousand dollars or whatever it is for the year. So that’s a piece of information where we say then we’re nonjudgmental. I’m using bread as an example, but it could be movies, it could be alcohol, it could be petrol. Now we’re nonjudgmental; we’re not going to say those things are good or bad. But because we present them to you in an automated, seamless way, we call it a meaningful insight.
You can then make a choice and that choice is your moral choice to make. You can say, holy crap, look how much I’m spending on cigarettes. Or holy crap, look what I’m spending on bread versus what I’m spending on movies. That’s what I use as an example because I watch a lot of movies. That’s like my hobby and I spend two or three times as much on movies as I do on bread, but bread is a staple to survive. I’m gluten intolerant, so that’s not for me.
But you get the idea. So suddenly we can empower our customers to make choices for their life and we can do that through those foundational pieces that we build, which is the categorisation, the merchant identification, the upcoming predictions and the automated insights. Very hard to build those things if you’re any other bank or any other new Neo if you don’t have all of those things.
Adam Murray: All right, last question for you Dom, and that’s just reflecting on I guess the city that we’re in and this podcast is really focusing on digital businesses in Melbourne. Also, starting to think about like what is it about the Melbourne ecosystem that allows a certain type of business to start or this particular business to start? Is there anything you notice about that or what do you see in the Melbourne digital business scene?
Dom Pym: Yeah, well I’m from Melbourne. I grew up here and spent seven years living overseas with my wife and all over the place: Asia, Europe, America, like I said, and came back to Melbourne and I think it’s the greatest city in the world. It’s not just because it’s my home and it’s where my relatives are or because I grew up here; the talent pool here is extraordinary. The innovation here is extraordinary. The weather is horrible, it’s not too bad, might be related. But Melbourne is an amazing city. The other thing I love about it is just the people and the friendliness.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time in other cities and whether it be Sydney or whether it be Brisbane or New York or Singapore or San Francisco, it doesn’t matter. Each city has its own personality. What I love is I’m not one, I have allergies and things. So, I’m not one for food, I don’t drink coffee. I don’t appreciate those cultural things that other people do in Melbourne. What I like most is the people, the friendliness. I can be walking down the street and just say hello to someone and they stop and chat. That’s unusual; you feel like you’re in the country.
But you’re in this big city. So, I think that friendliness is really important. But I think the technical depth; we have really great universities here. We’ve really got great technical colleges as well. I like to think about it like in Silicon Valley people talk often about like the PayPal Mafia, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk and all these people. But they all made money, but even people like throughout the organisation and then they went on to fund others and everything.
That’s the piece that we’re missing, I feel like, is that in Australia, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, everywhere in Australia, we’re kind of missing these huge successful businesses that can then breed millionaires if you like, that they can then come back in and fund those businesses again. But in the last decade that started happening: Atlassian, Canva, BigCommerce, Envato, whatever, all these different companies and now Airwallex.
These are multibillion-dollar companies that are being created here in Australia. One of them was, I mentioned, was in Brisbane and Sydney and some in Melbourne. So, for me, Melbourne – it’s the people, it’s the culture, it’s the cosmopolitan nature. It’s not the weather.
Adam Murray: The weather is not too bad today, although it was amazing yesterday and kind of crashed a bit today.
Dom Pym: It’s like usually the four seasons in one day. So, I think the technical talent is amazing, too. A lot of people think Australia is this little country and whatever. So even outside of Melbourne, just think Australia in general but, and you’ll hear the things that we invented here. But like my best mate’s dad used to work at one, I’ve got a few mates we went to kindergarten together so I’ve got, I could be talking about any one of three people that’s my best mate.
But one of my best mates, his dad worked at the CSIRO and they invented all this crazy stuff and it came out of Australia and then dominated the world: like carbon fibre, like the polymers and the plastic note, the money or the polymers in paint or reflective material that they use on satellites and in airplanes or WiFi.
All these inventions happened here in Australia and then have helped to fuel this information economy and whether it be the transport of people or whether it be satellite communications or whether it be WiFi. These are incredible things to have come out of the brains trust here in Australia and I think we take it for granted. We have a huge brain drain as well.
So, we have a lot of people who end up leaving Melbourne or leaving Sydney or Brisbane or Perth and heading off to San Francisco or Shanghai or Hong Kong or London. So, all that talent just leaves. So, what we try to do is create an environment where we can attract the talent. So, the last two people we hired, one of them was from Canada and he was a core contributor to the technology that we use, which has come out of Facebook.
So, we snapped him up and brought him here to Melbourne. One of the other guys, Xavier, worked with us in our previous company maybe 10 years ago, very early employee of Square and became their global head of engineering for payments and analytics. Then he worked over there until they had – they got thousands of people and all this other stuff and then he just moved back to Melbourne.
So, we got him out of San Francisco. So, we are looking at the local talent pool, they’re both Aussies, by the way. Both Aussies that went overseas and took that brainpower and that experience and that talent away from us and then we coaxed them back. I think that that’s what we’d like to do is try and create the sort of PayPal Mafia, maybe the Ferocia Mafia one day and then also try and provide a reason for that talent, not just to stay but also to come back.
Adam Murray: Dom, so good to chat.
Dom Pym: No worries.
Adam Murray: I learnt a lot today.
Dom Pym: Thanks a lot for having me.
Adam Murray: I appreciate you taking the time.
Dom Pym: No worries at all. It’s great. Thank you.
Adam Murray: Thank you very much for listening. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what Cogent is up to, including when new episodes of this podcast come out, you can do that by subscribing to our blog updates at cogent.co/blog. Of course, to help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite podcast platform.
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