Creating a Mobile App Startup with Entrepreneur Nick Austin
by Chris Sheedy
Posted: September 22, 2015
Do you have a bright idea that could be the next game-changing app? Entrepreneur Nick Austin shows us how business know-how can turn an everyday problem – and the desire to solve it – into a thriving tech startup.
Nick Austin is a fixer. When he realised Sydney CBD parking spaces were virtually impossible to come by, he decided to make parking possible again… virtually.
His business, Divvy Parking, often referred to as the “Airbnb of parking spaces”, now boasts more than 10,000 members, several thousand parking spaces, and recently reached its one-millionth parking spot milestone. Divvy allows people with spare parking spaces in busy areas to rent them out. Members can search for and book those spaces for a specific date and time.
A previous director of an investment firm, Austin has just begun his fixing. The rest of Australia – and then the world – has yet to taste the “smarter city” concept of collaborative consumption of car spaces.
What made this idea worth investing in?
I had done a lot of reading about ‘collaborative consumption’, a business model around a better use of the things we already have. It is a really smart way to address big problems where traditional methods were failing. It became a bit of a passion for me.
You launched the business in 2012. What sort of work was involved to make it a reality?
It has been a lot of hard work. Technology is a lot more complicated than it seems, although good technology looks very simple. We have a significant team of developers designing hardware and mobile technology. And we have to work around the clock to get these ideas up because everything is very fast-moving. We have to employ people very quickly. We have to deal with raising capital. There is a whole raft of things to do in quick succession.
Where do you find the knowledge to become an entrepreneur?
Most of the learning comes from doing. And hanging out with people that have been there before, including people involved in building companies or parts of companies, and people who are specialists in a particular field such as booking platforms or digital marketing strategies. It is also about knowing which ideas to run with. In other words, what are the two per cent of ideas you should take seriously and what are the 98 per cent you should discard? Then how do you execute on that two per cent?
How did you fund Divvy?
Capital-raising is tricky in Australia. You really need to get everything right quickly and prove your business model. We have had several rounds of capital-raising [the latest was reportedly worth $2.5 million] and they are always complicated. There are different stakeholders, investors and expectations, plus several sets of lawyers and complex financial models that need to be agreed upon. There would be three to four months of intense work on each capital raising and, at the same time, you have to keep driving the business forward.
What about staff?
We have a great team of 22 people. I love working here because everybody is so passionate, not just about what we're doing, but also about technology and creating change. We have attracted some amazing people and a lot of that is to do with the idea and vision, but a lot of it also has to do with the existing people in our team and how they work together.
Copycat businesses have popped up. How does that make you feel?
I guess it’s a pat on the back. But something that looks the same is not necessarily the same. Nobody does exactly what we do. We have a different business model, a different growth channel and different partners. Our business is structured differently to any other at this stage.
How have you made Divvy different?
We're very much on the corporate side. We have moved from a peer-to-peer [individuals renting to each other] model to a business-to-business or business-to-consumer [businesses and commercial property owners renting out their unused spaces to other businesses, or to the public] model. Our clients are generally large property trusts or commercial real estate firms, businesses and fleets, and so on.
What would you do differently second time around?
There are a lot of things you look back at and think it would be great if we’d done it differently. The simple fact is that the more intimately you know your business, the better you can pivot. You will only learn about your business by making a number of decisions in the past, right or wrong.