The company was entirely bootstrapped (initially from $10,000 on credit cards) from its 2003 foundation until mid-2011. By then however the entire focus of the business had shifted toward selling its e-commerce platform, and centred on a growth and land-grab strategy.
In its WebEdit days the company achieved revenues of $1 million in its first 12 months of operation, and $6.5 million by 2008, of which 90 per cent was pure profit. Today the company is a much larger $20 million a year business, with 25,000 customers, and is no longer profitable after making the strategy switch.
'We are on a recruitment drive for customers - for us at the moment it's a land grab,' according to Mr Harper. 'We are not profitable deliberately. We could be immediately - but we are investing in growth.'
Mr Harper said that 'When we hit our revenue targets in two to three years then we can adjust the metrics to become profitable.'
Last year after resisting the approaches of venture capitalists for some time, the company accepted a $15 million investment from General Catalyst which was needed to fund the growth plans. 'It is almost impossible to be the number one player in a vertical if you are bootstrapped,' said Mr Harper.
He said that Austin was a better fit for the company than Silicon Valley. 'The West Coast is way too competitive - just a crazy atmosphere. We wanted to be away from that noise.'
Another speaker at the conference, Hamish Hawthorn, the ceo of incubator ATP Innovations, also cautioned start-ups about Silicon Valley, warning that it was the venue for a war for talent and start-ups would have to compete with 'the big boys.'
They were better off located close to their customers, he said.
However David Jones, a serial entrepreneur and co founder of companies including Streethawk and ThreatMetrix warned that unless Australian companies based their US operations close to US venture capitalists, they should not expect to secure any US funds. He said he had personally been told by a US investor that he never put money into a company that was more than an hour's drive from his office.
Besides securing funds for growth Mr Harper said that one of the key lessons for any start-up was to have a very close understanding of the business, especially the customer acquisition costs, lifetime value (particularly when selling a software as a service solution) and the churn rate.
He said BigCommerce's typical customer was male, 40 years old, based in the US, ran a bricks and mortar retail business, contributed $41 a month to BigCommerce revenues and stayed a client for 32 months.
Rachel Slattery, the CEO of SlatteryIT, and organiser of the event said that she had been running events to provide a forum for entrepreneurs and investors for over eight years, but that this was the first time a full day event had been hosted. More than 200 people attended with entrepreneurs from right along the eastern seaboard, from as far away as Townsville and Melbourne attending the event,
She said the entrepreneur community in Australia was now achieving a critical mass, with a number of trailblazers willing to share their experience with the latest crop of start-ups.
About 80 per cent of delegates at the event were from start-up companies with most of the remainder being angel investors or venture capital companies, with a smattering of government officers responsible for grant programmes and incubator operators.
Ms Slattery also announced that Tech23, the fourth in a series of annual events where 23 local tech start ups pitch their wares to potential investors or business partners, would be held on October 23. She invited interested companies to apply to participate in the event which will again offer cash prizes for the winning ideas.