Pivoting is a Virtue for Startup CDOs

Australian fintech founder and entrepreneur Debra Taylor has been involved in 10 startups. Four were sold, and six failed. But that has never deterred her.

“After a failure, you just have to get up and go again,” she said. “Don’t just go into a black hole, keep going, and that is what I have done.”

Today, Taylor is on the cusp of rolling out her latest venture. She is a co-founder of Sydney-based OpenSparkz, a loyalty enablement program. It uses an acronym currently proliferating in the payments industry: CLO or Card Linked Offer.

She was also recently recognized as Australia’s Fintech Leader of the Year at the 2019 women in Finance Awards. “I have spent 25 years getting various startups off the ground, so I was a woman in Fintech before the term Fintech was even used,” she said.

"In those days, I would be the only woman in a room full of men, but thankfully, that has changed.  In all the success ideas I've had timing has been crucial. It's almost an intuitive thing, but all the conditions in the market need to be right for an idea to take off."

Opportunities Are Everywhere

Taylor’s success lies in her knack to uncover hidden opportunities. For example, she closely followed regulatory trends. In particular, she looked at upcoming mandates from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

In combining technology innovation with regulatory change, she said, lies an opportunity.

In the 1990s, that opportunity arose when RBA mandated that owners of automatic teller machines could charge AUD 2 for transactions.

Taylor had been involved in another business that purchased hardware from banks, refurbished it, and sold it worldwide. She and her partners were able to access ATM machines. She rolled them out as a private and independent network in Australian convenience stores under the brand of small regional bank Suncorp.

When Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, used on mobile devices, came to the fore, Taylor saw that the number of cash transactions would fall. So, she and her partners sold the ATM business to focus on what they said was the next technology wave.

This has now manifested in the new business OpenSparkz, which was founded in 2016 by Taylor and two co-founders.

Loyalty is the Next Frontier

OpenSparkz is a loyalty platform that enables customers to link their loyalty schemes to their credit or debit card.

When they pay with that card at a participating merchant, they get an automatic reward and a message to their phone telling them they have been given the cash rebate or loyalty points.

There is no fumbling through wallets for the loyalty scheme card. It all happens automatically in the background.

For merchants, they can participate without having to integrate a new scheme onto their point of sale system. So, there is no double handling and no staff training required.

“I think our timing is good with this because there is a big focus on card-linked offers and that is what we do,” says Taylor.

"Our product is ‘platform as a service.' There is a move towards that because people no longer want separate loyalty cards or paper coupons. It is becoming digital, and our platform is completely different."

Not only is the OpenSparkz technology seamless and frictionless, but it can capture consumer data which, within appropriate frameworks or regulated privacy and permission, can be used to target offers back to consumers.

Regional Ambitions

The next phase for OpenSparkz will be a launch in Asia, where a shopping center owner with 30 malls and around 10,000 merchants will implement a scheme using the firm’s technology.

In Australia, the company is talking to a range of groups, from large member-based organizations to small local-based media groups who are keen to move to the proof of concept phase.

So far, the investors are liking OpenSparkz and are keen to back the idea. The company raised around AUD1 million in seed funding from Hong Kong’s EFT Solutions, and a similar amount in Singapore from sophisticated investors last year.

Another AUD 1 million capital raising is imminent, and there are plans for an AUD 5 million capital raising in 2020.

It’s an approach that maintains the balance between expectations and operational cash, but also without the founders selling down too much equity.

After 25 years in startups, Taylor knows that while the timing of the idea is critical, timing the funding pipeline is also key to success as a founder.