Business

OpenAgent founder Zoe Pointon on being an outlier and building one of Australia’s most successful startups

“If it was like what you expected, you probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it in the first place.”

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OpenAgent founders.

OpenAgent co-founder and co-CEO Zoe Pointon has always had the entrepreneurial gene.

When she was just seven, Pointon’s dad paid her 20 cents for every fish that she caught off the nearby harbour. An ambitious and crafty entrepreneur even at such a young age, Pointon enlisted a friend, who she paid only five cents for every fish.

Far from being angry at his daughter for the trick, Pointon’s dad was impressed. It was a sign that she was picking up on some of the entrepreneurial skills he had been imparting.

“My dad was pretty proud at that point,” Pointon says. “He was like, ‘yep, she picked up the entrepreneurial gene’.”

Pointon’s father ran his own business, and these sort of educational games began very early on in her life, with things like being paid to pick up pine cones.

While she was in university Pointon put the gene into action for the first time, launching a lawn-mowing company with her now-husband. But it wasn’t a successful one.

The pair were making about $1 per hour working in the sweltering Brisbane heat. After naming the company ‘Too Easy Mowing’, their friends were quick to point out that it was anything but. But it’s never really been about money for Pointon.

“I’m more satisfied out there mowing lawns and getting something done – solving a need and making an impact,” she says.

And the business was another important step in Pointon’s journey of becoming a successful Australian entrepreneur. After graduating from her commerce and marketing degree, Pointon thought she was ready to launch her own business, but after some convincing from her father, decided to take a strategy consulting job at McKinsey in Sydney first to take a taste of the world and build up some experience.

“I got a broad range of industry experience, international experience and experience all over Australia,” she says.

“I was working for big companies on some really big problems with incredibly smart people. I developed a lot of skills there around problem-solving under pressure, data analytics and decision-making.”

After three years on the job, Pointon was offered a fellowship with the company, which would’ve seen her spend a year working elsewhere, then complete an MBA overseas before returning to pay off the loan to McKinsey.

The offer validated Pointon’s skills and talent, but she couldn’t accept it – the entrepreneurial gene was calling yet again. Instead, she turned to freelance consulting in the meantime and while training for an Ironman competition, inspiration struck.

“I put my work life on hold for a little bit while I was training, and I returned needing more challenge in my work life,” Pointon says. “I was slightly unfulfilled and I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. That’s when the very first seeds of an idea for OpenAgent came.”

After returning from training, Pointon teamed up with co-founder Marta Higuera to launch OpenAgent, a platform for Australians to sell property with ease and transparency. More than four years later, the company has grown into one of Australia’s most promising and successful startups, with 95 employees, 10,000 users and $20 million in funding.

The startup recently scored a $12 million funding round in August led by Reinventure along with Breakthrough Labs and Qualgro. While she has always had the entrepreneurial gene, the challenges of running a business can never truly be anticipated.

“If it was like what you expected then you probably wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it in the first place,” Pointon says. “It’s so much incredibly harder than I thought. Not much could have gone more right than it did and it has still been hard.”

But from the very start Pointon and Higuera knew they were onto something and the pair persevered through the tough early days – it took them six months to score their first user – to build OpenAgent into a thriving young business.

“It’s incredibly addictive and incredibly challenging to walk that path,” Pointon says. “We’ve been working so hard for so long and still have so far to go. It’s absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

OpenAgent is an outlier in more ways than one. It’s one of the few Australian startups to have two female founders, and is operating in two heavily male-dominated industries: tech and real estate.

As a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, Pointon has had to prove herself and her company much more than her male counterparts.

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“The female style of leadership is less out there and less self-promoting,” she says. “If you’re a VC and meet an incredibly confident founder and then one who’s incredibly realistic, who are you going to back?

“We had to deliver more in terms of traction and demonstrate that we knew exactly what we were doing to get the credibility to raise funds.”

Encouraging this confidence in the next generation of female Australian entrepreneurs is crucial to ensure the tech and startup worlds are more diverse and equal.

“There are a lot of incredible forums that exist purely to help women do better at this and connect them with people that can help,” Pointon says. “We need to find a way to make tech, startups and engineering exciting and engaging for young girls.

“It’s not just something that nerdy little boys do in their bedrooms, it’s somewhere you can create beautiful things, make an impact and change the world.”

But with a thriving startup, Pointon now has the self-confidence and belief to continue scaling and building OpenAgent.

“Some of that insecurity has gone – we’ve got one of the most successful startups in Australia, we’ve raised a ton of money and we’ve grown a business really fast,” she says.

“I want to be good enough for my own sake, not good enough for a woman.”

 

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Denham Sadler

About the Author Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a freelance writer. He tweets at @denhamsadler.