In early January, ACS released a book, Rockstar Aussie Founders Living in the US, showcasing 26 local tech talents making it in the word's most competitive market.
Here is an excerpt from the book: a chat with Michael Dunworth of international payments platform, Wyre.
What got you to where you are?
I used to work in financial software in Sydney, and I had a start-up in Sydney that was like a restaurant reservation booking platform. I was doing it after hours with two buddies of mine that ended up getting merged into a bigger platform. After we sold it – it wasn't like a bajillion dollars or anything – but it was “oh cool we invested this much time and money and now we’ve built something amazing.” It was really rewarding.
That was fun, but you don't want to do a start-up in Australia because it's just 25 million people. Actors go to Hollywood, nerds go to San Francisco, so I was like, “Alright let's hit it. Roll the dice.”
I moved over here in April 2013. I got on a plane and came over and straight into a hacker house that was 20 people with bunk beds and stuff like that.
One of the people I met in that hacker house – he was on the bunk bed above me – had moved over here for a data encryption company from Baltimore and we just hung out and hacked on different projects and we got along really well.
We were like “let's do this” so he quit his job. I stopped working on the iOS app that I was building, and we basically went headfirst into solving problems relating to money.
I’d been into Bitcoin probably for a little over a year already. Originally it was about spending money or one-click checkout, so you can press one button and it's all done for you: better UX, faster conversion rates, things like that. We added Bitcoin to it and Bitcoin ended up becoming the number one payment method.
We interviewed with Boost VC, which is heavily focused on cryptocurrencies. Boost was amazing, an incredibly great way to plug ourselves into the network in Silicon Valley because it's not easy. We went through Boost in 2014 and we raised our first round of funding, which was $1.5 million from Tim Draper, who was the first investor in Tesla, Hotmail, Skype, PayPal, etc. Next thing you know, we started building a network and hustling and we were focused on cryptocurrencies.
We keep chipping away at it, and we survived what's known as Crypto Winter. There was a big boom in 2013 but then in 2014, 2015, 2016 it was lights out – 80 to 90% of the crypto companies shut up shop or they got an acquisition headline, but it’s 2 cents on the dollar.
We moved forward very strategically and as a result we felt we would be more successful as the infrastructure for the big companies that already have the distribution.
What does getting to the US look like?
We had to build a lot of this cryptocurrency-related stuff ourselves and it was very challenging with regulatory issues and full money licences to move money and play with money. It’s so regulated in North America and a lot of people don't want to do that, so they try and find someone else who's already done it and they can leverage it.
We moved out of the hacker house and into the office. The office was three rooms, one of which was the boardroom, which was literally our bedroom with two mattresses on the ground. We shared a bedroom for three and a half years, and then we moved into our current place two years ago.
We expanded last year. As a team size, with contractors and everything we’ve been as high as 42 people, but now the market’s consolidated and we’re just shy of 30. We need to survive and assess the market, when the timing is right we’re going to put all the chips in but we’re not going to rush it because people just don't understand how big this is.
We provide this [cryptocurrency] infrastructure to many of the top names in the world. We process billions of dollars, work with billion-dollar companies – publicly listed companies in North America, China, Australia, EU – and the core proposition for us is to be very developer friendly and also offer security, as we sit on huge amounts of assets.
We’ve had acquisition offers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. It has gotten bigger and bigger every time, and this year we had four of them – four different huge companies – which is really validating in a sense.
What should a first-time founder know?
Get out of your comfort zone. I find inspiration in exploring how we can fail, every single way. Let's pick it apart as aggressively as possible. Some people like to bury their head in the sand, “don't ruin my chi”, but I’m the complete opposite: plan for the worst, hope for the best.
Start-ups have almost statistically a 95% failure rate. Coming here it makes it a 92% or a 90% failure rate. It's not easy, you're still going to grind.
With my seed round in 2014, I sent 2,300 cold emails, I got 800 replies, that turned into 100 calls, which was 25 meetings and two cheques.
I think this year has been a really pivotal year for us as a company and you do what it takes. I wouldn't do this forever because it’s not sustainable. You might get in to work really early because you're swamped or you can't sleep or you might get in really early because there are not enough hours in the day. A big saying that we have here as a team is “the big don't eat the small – the quick eat the slow.”
Everyone's like-minded, so if you have an hour-long conversation in Sydney, ten minutes of that is allocated to tech but if you're here 55 minutes is allocated to tech. Everyone is speaking the same language, so you're coming to conclusions, problems, iterations, much faster, and I think that's really important if you're really serious about levelling your game up.