What can we learn from these successful startups?

The classic Tony Robbins quote – Success leaves clues couldn’t apply more to founders and early stage startups. So what is it? What is the difference between those that were successful and those that weren’t? We look at the top Australian startups – what they do, who they serve


Canva came out of nowhere. Founded in 2012, they made graphic design easy by providing tools to design presentations, social media graphics, and more. They have a variety of layouts, images, photo filters, icons and shapes, and fonts. They made tools like photoshop redundant for the masses and have raised $550m.

What can we learn?

  • Execution! Execution! Execution! They focused on a single problem (beautiful graphic design for non-designers) and nailed it
  • Addressing the needs of your users – with Canva, you can create a Facebook cover page (not an image xx pixels by yy pixels) it shows you the correct export file format (should it be jpg, gif or png?). They know their users
  • Price point – at ~$15 per month, its low enough that you could pay for it yourself.

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor tackles the already saturated email / marketing space. Companies such as Mail Chimp, Drip, AWeber also compete in the same space. They have +$250m raised.

What can we learn?

  • How are you helping your customer / users?

What I find interesting in Campaign Monitor is the way they’ve found a “crack” in the marketplace. That is, anyone can send an email, (most) people can design a great, engaging email. And then what? Was the email opened? Did it go to spam? Did the reader take an action? (click the link, go to the web page etc.)

I would describe Campaign Monitor as a great overlap of a CRM (Customer Relationship Management), Email marketing, and Desgin. Take Canva, mix it with a simply version of SalesForce and throw in MailChimp and the result? Campaign Monitor


ShippIt is a great idea that you may have never heard of. Traditionally, retailers would ring around courier companies and ask “can you deliver my stuff to xxx?” How much does it weigh, when do you want it etc. etc. The courier companies would come back with a price, and you would either say yes, or move onto the next.

ShippIt sits in the middle. Now you just tell ShippIt – it’s xxx weight, yyy size, I want it to go to zzzz address.

This sounds amazing to your CFO or your Head of Retail. You get an accurate quote, immediately. You don’t need to manage many different courier companies – just the one.

In practice – this business is a nightmare! Take a quick look at their Google Reviews:

ShippIt - Google Reviews
ShippIt – 1.7 after 181 Google Reviews

In late 2021, I was working with a major Australian retailer and saw first hand how ShippIt worked.

What can we learn?

  • Execution is far important than a great idea

The idea is great (a marketplace for couriers) but the execution is poor. When I was working with ShippIt, I had to write some automated testing. This was a piece of software that repeated a series queries (I want this product, this size to go to this address). The results were poor and inconsistent.

We raised this with ShippIt who denied it was their end.

  • Take your Google reviews seriously!
Take your Google Reviews seriously

It always surprises me how a business can ignore the most basic fundamentals. Get on the phone, talk to your customers, do whatever it takes.

  • Growing too quick

I have no inside knowledge, but based on my experience, my guess is that the internal ShippIt processes could do with some improvement. They know how to sell, their product (sort of) works, its just their delivery that is suffering. Go fix that!

  • They will recover from this

Its very easy to be negative, to find faults, to take cheap shots. But ShippIt is a great idea and solves a real problem. If you were around in 2007 / 2008, Twitter was just starting to make some noise. The problem was that their service was unreliable.

Artist Yiying Lu created the image below as a virtual birthday card to be sent to friends. Twitter used the image when Twitter was down:

Twitter Fail Whale
yiyinglu.com – the original creator of the Twitter Fail Whale

Obviously Twitter did recover, and so will ShippIt. And so will you too!


Launched in 2014, AfterPay revolutionised the way of taking local payments. Instead of paying upfront, the customer makes fortnightly installments.

In August 2021, AfterPay and Square Inc. announced they had entered into arrangements for Square to acquire Afterpay for $29 billion.

What have they done well?

  • Get in, get out!

There’s no intellectual property with AfterPay. Nothing unique, nothing to defend from a competitor. The owners saw a business opportunity, ran with it, and then exited when they could.

  • Growth is your best defence

If you have no intellectual property and if its easy for a competitor with deeper pockets to enter (eg a Bank / Financial Instiution), your only option is growth. AfterPay is EVERYWHERE! If you visit any major retailer (online or offline) there’s an AfterPay option. The owners have clearly worked themselves tirelessly to get the bussines out there

99 Designs

99 Designs are an online marketplace for cheap, quick design work (logos, branding etc). They had raised ~$45M and are currently owned by Vista Print

What have they done well?

  • Addressed the needs of a marketplace

Businesses that sit in the middle between supplier and customer often do well.

  • Easy to use

This is so often overlooked – how easy is it to use & engage with your product or service? One of the biggest challenges in design is having the customer decide – what do you want? Generally, they don’t know what they want. So they sit on the fence. Maybe this one? Maybe that one?

99 Designs have designed their process to walk you though – what do you like? What don’t you like? By the end, they have a clear idea of what style you’re looking for – even if you don’t know.

In closing…

  • Execution! Execution! Execution! Execution is far important than a great idea. Focused on a single problem and fix it!
  • Addressing the needs of your users – Canva & 99 Designs do this well
  • Watch your price point of your product/service. Something low enough that you can pay for it without getting the boss involved
  • Watch your Google Reviews. “All news is good news” definately does not apply. You want your customers to talk about you, in the right way.
  • Don’t grow too quick. In English, we have the term “Growing Pains”. Be careful!
  • You will recover from this. Regardless of how bad things might seem, persistance always pays off
  • Get in, get out. Similar to execution. Do a great job well, but know when its time to bail
  • Growth is your best defence. Regardless of how deep your competitors pockets are, growth is difficult to compete against
  • Addressed the needs of a marketplace. What does your customer really want & need
  • And final – make sure it’s easy to use

Go get ’em! You got this!


Christian Payne is a technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in engineering and product development across enterprise and consumer sectors. He has experience at both small start-ups and enterprise level generating +$2M per month. When he's not hard at work on his latest project, he spends his time involved in Men’s Support Groups, Leadership training and Mentoring.

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