Sunday, 18 March 2018 14:49

Smart Aussie start-ups using the cloud to make their way


Ian Gardiner is the head of global cloud host AWS' ANZ Start-up Ecosystem and says "I have the coolest job in the organisation, to find and identify the next Atlassian or Xero or Netflix and support them as they scale." Here are Australian success stories of how the cloud is enabling big, global business from this country without a big up-front investment.

Gardiner says AWS offers a programme named Activate which provides AWS credits, engineering support, and any commercial or technical tools the cloud giant can provide and which a startup may need, in order to scale.

AWS will also help startups with introductions and partnerships with venture capitalists, co-working spaces and other important and influential relationships.

"We look at all start-ups," Gardiner says, "but as well as breadth, we want to find depth, and find the best."

The easiest metric is simply who has backed a startup and what programme it may already be in. "If they're backed by AirTree, for example, then they're amazing," Gardiner said. "If they're part of StartMate or TechStars, two awesome accelerators, then we know they're good but maybe at an earlier stage."

The Activate programme doesn't have any lock-in but is run with a long-term philosophy in mind. AWS offers free credits, engineering support and product help to a startup when it doesn't have much time or money. It makes a huge difference to a startup for the first year or so it is in existence if it is not worried about infrastructure cost. Then, AWS thinks, those startups have trust for AWS' platform and services and have a developed product and will be an AWS customer for years and decades, not simply a few quarters.

This said, the programme is a three-year offering, and the credits have a cap of around two years. During that time, Gardiner says, a start-up will either break even or be making profitable sales so the program has served its course and then moves onto support by AWS' account management team. "The programme is there to start up the start-ups," he says.

As to Australia and New Zealand, specifically, Gardiner says this region is "probably the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the world".

One of the metrics he bases this on is the amount of venture capital money and firms in the ecosystem. "When I started four years ago, there were three to five decent venture capitalists in this space with total funds of $400m. Fast forward to now and there are over 25 firms with $2.5 to $3 billion," he says.

Money follows talent, Gardiner says, and the start-up ecosystem in ANZ has matured with more entrants, the cost of entry has plummeted largely due to cloud computing such as that provided by AWS, and it is now faster and easier than ever to get products into the hands of customers. More potential entrepreneurs are ready to take a risk. "For a good engineer, the cost is $0 because it's now just your time," Gardiner says, due to the credits AWS — the organisation — offers, and the infinite scale AWS — the platform — can provide.

Some graduates of the ANZ AWS Activate program have become global players, all starting here in Australia, all leveraging the cloud to start up fast and cheaply, and all enjoying considerable success.


Instaclustr manages the Cassandra open source database in the cloud for others. "Instaclustr is to Cassandra what Red Hat is to Linux," Gardiner says.

Cassandra is Facebook's open sourced database, offering proven massive scalability, availability, reliability and performance. As an open source product, companies can download Cassandra and use it for free so there is a lot of unmeasured usage, however, it has been publicly disclosed Apple, eBay and Netflix are three large organisations using Cassandra for their core business.

Instaclustr's business model was to take the open source codebase and build their own intellectual property and license that to customers, helping customers operate Cassandra in the cloud, charging a service fee.

It's a desirable service to customers, Instaclustr's chief executive Peter Nichol claims, because "if their app goes down, their business goes down. Instaclustr makes sure there is no interruption ever", by managing redundancy and replication.

The company is based in Canberra, and AWS liked the quality of their engineering, supporting them for three years. The company now has its CEO and sales team in Silicon Valley while the engineers remain in Canberra. It has 60 staff and solid revenue numbers.

The Instaclustr story began when the founders were working on something completely different, a project using a data warehouse, with pertinent information stored in Cassandra and this got them thinking about providing Cassandra services for others. They made a quick website with credit card billing to see if they could get interest from possible customers and had sign-ups, giving confidence there was a genuine need here. Instaclustr received money from Australian venture capitalists and worked with ANU ConnectVentures. A second investment round successfully raised another $7 million.

Instaclustr has grown from $1 million revenue in 2015, to $3 million in 2016 and now expects to hit an annual run rate of $10 million. "It's good growth, but we've also developed a pretty big customer base with large well-known customers like Microsoft, BlackBerry, Atlassian, Accenture, and Honeywell," Nichol says. "They don't want a small company touching their data, which is sometimes very sensitive data, so the fact we have proven ourselves and developed trust has given them confidence," he says.

"In Australia, we hire top people from Universities and enjoy low staff turnover and a campus culture. We believe it's a real differentiator for us with high-quality people," Nichol says.


GorillaStack is a comprehensive solution for automating your AWS cloud and significantly optimising costs. It adds a simple unobtrusive role to your AWS account, controls EC2 instance schedules, auto scaling groups, automation of EBS volumes and snapshot deletion, among other things. You can set up alerts to keep abreast of spikes in your spend, and for regular updates on your infrastructure. It integrates with Slack, Hipchat, SMS, e-mail and other communication mechanisms.

The business was founded in July 2015 by Sydney-siders Oliver Berger and Elliott Spira. “Elliott was working on some projects and I’d just exited my previous business,” Berger says. “Those projects were running into issues and found they had to optimise the infrastructure. We were speaking and thought that infrastructure management was a product of its own. We got some startups to try it to manage their infrastructure, the original project got left behind, and the infrastructure management became the product.”

The duo put their code together and spoke to AWS, and “before we knew it,” Berger says, “we had a fully-fledged product being talked about on the cost-optimisation track at Amazon’s AWS re:Invent 2015 conference, which spurred us to get the product polished.”

The product was described in-depth at the following year’s AWS re:Invent 2016 conference, and AWS itself recommended GorillaStack to customers to solve infrastructure and cost management issues.

In Australia, GorillaStack is used by the NSW Department of Industry, the AFL and HealthDirect.

Other, similar, products exist but GorillaStack says it stands out by offering greater value. “We can tell you half an hour before something occurs, through Slack or HipChat or other means. We can alert if something needs to change it and give a one-click option to activate it. For example, someone may be logged in from a different region and gets notice an EC instance is going to switch off and they can snooze it with one click. We offer rich provisioning, and a great breadth of rules and functionality,” Berger states.

GorillaStack plans to expand its physical presence to Asia, Europe and the US in 2018 and expects to work through channels and channel partners, further rolling out the commission structure it already has with Australian partners. “We think the channel partners know the market and their customers well and would prefer they work with them than go direct where we may not have as much insight into the needs of the end customer,” Berger says.

GorillaStack also offers a free bot to listen to cloud trail events, alerting on Slack when specific events happen. It is in use by big global names like Samsung, Disney, and Vodafone to get real-time alerts on events within their network, that push into a Slack channel. GorillaStack’s has processed over 400 million events and its research and experiences here help them understand the events people want to know about or take action on.

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor is an email marketing campaign platform which started off with the idea of sending “beautiful emails and beautiful campaigns,” says Herry Wiputra, chief information officer, and since moved into personalisation, targeting and automation.

The product specialises in email marketing automation and connecting brands with people. Its customers include Pizza Hut Australia, Red Cross Australia, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Envato and “a lot of non-profits,” Wiputra says. Pricing is based on the number of emails and subscribers, with higher plans offering unlimited messaging, along with add-on plans.

The bulk of Campaign Monitor is implemented in AWS though, Wiputra notes, some remains on-premise - “it’s critical to our sending pipeline that we own the IP address,” he says.

Even so, Wiputra states the expanding AWS service catalogue continually brings opportunities for new functionality to Campaign Monitor such as disaster recovery, S3 searching, and the potential for machine learning into making recommendations to customers.

Campaign Monitor has 75 people in the Operations and Engineering teams within Sydney along with some subject matter experts and follow-the-sun support staff in the USA and France.

Speaking of competitors, such as a certain monkey-named product, Wiputra says Campaign Monitor offers “beautiful emails, really good support, someone who customers can talk to, and ease of use. People see our performance and return on investment, and how they can target segments of people who are engaging or not engaging with their campaign.”

The business started life in a garage in the Sutherland Shire. The founders, Dave Greiner and Ben Richardson, sold part of their shares to venture capital partners four years ago and now feature in the BRW top 50 rich list.


Do you have a burning desire to make an app? Ian Gardiner has advice for you.

  1. Pick a topic you're passionate about.
  2. Think – what is your unfair advantage? Do you have marketing knowledge or engineering skill? Focus on that.
  3. Get a product — a minimum viable product, or MVP — into the hands of your customers so you can identify if there is a business there or not.
  4. Do it while you're still working for someone else if you have to; many good engineers can launch quickly and make a decision to 'go' or 'no-go'.

With cloud services now making the cost of entry so low, and the speed of implementation so fast, you can experiment rapidly and cheaply, and you could be the next Aussie success story.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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