From the sunny shores of England to the hustle and bustle of 90’s Perth, Charlie Gunningham has seen the evolution of the tech startup ecosystem in our fair city first-hand and is a mainstay of the local community.
Charlie, having been through the lows and highs of entrepreneurship with his own tech startup, now spends some of his time (amongst many pursuits) advising, investing, mentoring, and promoting some of the most promising emerging startups coming out of Perth.
Untitled Perth was lucky enough to catch up with Charlie Gunningham, and chat about his background and first coming to Australia, the local startup scene, common mistakes early startups make, the lack of funding here, and he had a surprisingly accurate, albeit dry, startup joke for us.
Today, Perth has a thriving but small startup scene that does, however, lag behind other major Australian capital cities. But it’s quite hard to imagine just how difficult it must have been to launch a startup in Perth during the late 1990s. But that’s exactly what Charlie did, when he co-founded AussieHome.com, a real estate website before the likes of Domain and Realestate.com, despite some ludicrous advice. “I had people tell me that my idea wouldn’t work because people can drive around and look at houses here in Perth and that the internet isn’t going to happen here.”
Charlie Gunningham would eventually sell Aussiehome.com to Reiwa after 10 years, granting him a successful exit and free up his time to work more actively in the startup scene. His career would see him writing about startups in Business News, before becoming the CEO, seeking out promising startups as the director of a federal accelerator program and taking the reins at Startupnews.com.au.
While Perth has gone through a lot of changes over the years, one thing remains a constant source of new startups getting stuck in the sand – money.
“…if you’re a mine or a commercial property, people throw money at you in this town. If you are an early-stage start-up, less so.”
Perth and WA have a serious case of tunnel vision when it comes to investment and there are some stark contrasts between us and the easterners in both private and government investment. Only 0.3 percent of private investment went to early-stage start-ups in WA in 2020. While over east the Queensland and NSW governments are pouring hundreds of millions into nurturing innovation and technology, compared to the WA governments 16.5 million new industries fund over 4 years which began in 2017.
It’s easy to develop a grass is always greener attitude, however, Perth has a lot to offer startups in terms of community and events, there just needs to be more awareness and a bit of a mindset shift in terms of funding.
“What sort of economy are we sleepwalking towards? One where I use Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Spotify and Netflix. Common theme? They are all foreign-backed, well backed, overseas tech companies… These are massive disruptive tech companies. They don’t employ many people in Australia, and they don’t pay much tax. I’ve got nothing against them but where are the Aussie tech Companies?”
‘Diversifying the economy’ is a buzz phrase that gets thrown around a bit by the government and is sorely needed if WA is to lessen its reliance on the resource sector. The private sector has stepped up in recent years with more funds being made available and more accelerators and incubators nurturing the local scene. However, if WA is to stop promising startups fleeing over east in search of talent and funding, a focused government initiative may need to take place.
With the new industries grant finishing up in 2021 and the state election taking place in March, the local not-for-profit advocacy group, Startup WA has proposed a top 10 state government policy priorities for WA’s startup sector. Let’s hope that the newly elected government puts its money where its mouth is and makes some serious investments into this state’s startup ecosystem.
WA already has incredibly profitable mining, construction and property sectors, just imagine the potential Perth could unlock if a more developed and funded startup ecosystem was nurtured.
“I don’t think the eastern states realise how powerful we are. Half, if not 55 percent, of Australia’s exports, come out of here. We have an industry like mining, of 17 billion dollars, absolutely enormous. And then we have construction of 24 billion, property of 25 billion. These are big industries for a little state of only two and a half million (people). Quite incredible.”
If you’re reading this and think you have the next Australian unicorn stomping around in your brain, get started.
“If you really think you’ve got a huge customer problem to go after, go after it. And go and seek out mentors and people who will give you advice. I’ll always have a cup of coffee with a startup founder and I’ll pay for the coffee and there’s lots of people like me around that will give their time and point you in the right direction. And get into the startup community… it’s all good.”
Watch Charlie Gunningham’s full interview here, for much more insights than we could fit into one article.