AFTERPAY CEO ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF STARTING UP AND WHY YOU NEED TO 'RUN THROUGH WALLS'

Written on the 16 June 2017 by David Simmons

AFTERPAY CEO ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF STARTING UP AND WHY YOU NEED TO 'RUN THROUGH WALLS'
WHILE at University, Nick Molnar was the biggest seller of jewellery on eBay in Australia. No easy feat, considering the site is the most popular online shopping destination in the country, with jewellery being one of the biggest sellers.

Molnar, now 27, runs one of Australia's fastest growing businesses and was named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 this year as the CEO of Afterpay Holdings Limited (ASX: AFY).

Afterpay was founded in 2014, went public in May 2016 and raised $25 million from its IPO which allowed Molnar to take his system offline and into stores.

The Afterpay system is described by Molnar as one of the only "win-win" options in the market currently, delivering positive returns for both customers and merchants.

Retailers can elect to allow the use of Afterpay as a payment option online and in-store and customers, instead of paying the entire price of an item upfront, instead pay fortnightly instalments.

Customers walk away with the product instantly, and retailers receive the money instantly from Afterpay. The differentiating factor from traditional layby solutions: Afterpay doesn't take a single fee from the customer.

Instead, retailers pay a small fee for the use of the service. Molnar says this is the win-win scenario because customers are more willing to pay these smaller instalments over a period of time rather than hundreds of dollars upfront, meaning retailers see a higher rate of customers shopping with them over their competitors.

Molnar has led Afterpay through rapid expansion, which he describes as "almost vertical", with the company now at a market cap of around $500 million. Their most recent market figures, released in May 2017, show underlying retail sales of approximately $165 million for the months of April and May.

Afterpay estimates its annual sales will crack the magic $1 billion mark. They very recently attracted huge retail players to the platform, including Myer, Premier Investments, Big W and Officeworks, demonstrating a sharp departure from their initial business model which focused exclusively on Australian fashion sites.

It now has over 5,000 retailers live on the platform and more than 700,000 customers using Afterpay which is a growth of more than 2,500 customers per day since the end of Q3 FY17.

Growth in Afterpay will only continue now that the company has taken its first cautious steps outside the safety of the Australian market. Last week it announced its new partnership with New Zealand e-tail site Trade Me (effectively New Zealand's answer to Gumtree). The partnership will allow Afterpay to tap into Trade Me's 650,000 customers and 4,300 retail merchants.

Business News Australia spoke with Nick Molnar about Afterpay's plans for international expansion, and the challenges that go with trying to grow a business.

How did the company grow so fast in just a short amount of time?

The key from my perspective is I come from a retail background. When I was at Uni, when I was 19, I sold the most jewellery on eBay in the country out of my bedroom. And then I ended up launching a big online store from the US called Ice.com into Australia.

When I built Afterpay we built it from a retail centric perspective and I think that was the main driver of our rapid growth.

There's very few companies that I come across that are truly a win-win for both parties. Afterpay is genuinely a win-win for both the retailer and the customer. Customers love it because it's a budgeting tool for them and they spread their payments, and retailers love it because customers buy more. It's a really great relationship but the whole uptake was driven largely by the fact that we were unashamedly customer-centric the customer pays nothing extra. If you're buying a $200 pair of shoes the customer pays 4 payments of $50 of Afterpay, so it was that true customer centricity coupled with the really amazing retail service that was built by retailers, that was the neat combination.
 

When starting Afterpay what gap in the market did you see?

So, there were two components to it. One was coming at it from a retailer perspective; conversion rates are really low, so it was how we increased the number of visitors who shop. That was the key reason why I built it, so really building it for retail to sell more product, that was the key.

But then from the retailers' perspective, layby is still a cornerstone of retail in Australia, and retailers need to store the product, take care of the administration, and financial administration, but the customer just wants the instantaneous gratification to take it home straight away, so for us it was really about replacing layby and helping retailers sell more product.
 

Why did you make the decision to list in the first place?

So really for us it was getting access to great capital and fantastic investors and partners, we were the highest level of payment compliance but we wanted to prove to the biggest retailers in the country that we were also the highest level of business compliance and we felt like that combination between that reputational benefit as well as access to capital was definitely the right platform.

And it's proved to be a great decision for us on the back of listing we raised a $200 million receivables funding facility from NAB as well, so it's really given comfort to all key stakeholders about our business and the growth potential.
 

You've started expanding internationally where to next? Or will you continue focusing on New Zealand?

The partnership with Trade Me was a great opportunity for us because they share that customer-centricity thesis as well as having both a huge customer account base as well as merchant relationships. For us, we wanted to stay really focused on Australia just to really try and own the retail market before expanding out into a new country and we felt now was the right opportunity to take that first jump and move into New Zealand, so the focus for us at the moment is New Zealand and largely scaling throughout the store network as well.
 

Day to day what are some of the biggest challenges you face operating the huge company?

When you've got growth that is pretty much vertical we're growing so fast it's how you scale your business and how you maintain that customer centric thesis. For me it's about how you maintain the core reason of why you built the product and sticking to your values in spite of growing really quickly. It's not easy to do, particularly when you've got such hyper growth and that's been the biggest thing that we've been hugely focused on is just keeping the customer at the centre of absolutely everything that we do.
 

Personally, what are your highlights since starting the company since you began in 2014, what have been some milestones?

Well, the biggest thing for me is when I meet a customer and they use Afterpay as a verb, they talk about how they love Afterpay purchases. We're now processing over 15 per cent of online fashion in the country but I still get really excited when I meet our customers and you can see truly how passionate they are about what we do.

The other has been the incredible team that we've been able to build within Afterpay. When you're growing so fast you need to make sure you hire particular type of person and a particular calibre of person and I feel very privileged to work with the guys in my team.
 

Discussing your position in the market in terms of payment services, do you consider yourself and Afterpay a credit card killer?

I think different demographics have different preferences. So, the millennial demographic love spending their own money. There's been a big trend where millennials use debit cards, not credit cards; 85 per cent of our customers use a debit card, and really, they're using Afterpay as a budgeting tool.

So, when you use a debit card you're linking the payment into your bank balance, which makes it really responsible, they're spending money that they have, but they're budgeting it to their pay cycle or to their lifestyle. We deal with all different cards in the market. For us it's about how we facilitate retail through an amazing customer experience.
 

What would be some tips you'd have for budding tech entrepreneurs?

The biggest tip that I would have is that you meet a lot of entrepreneurs that have a lot of great ideas and feel like they can build them alongside doing other things, but building a business takes a lot of time and effort and a sole focus.

For me, if you have an amazing idea you really just need to commit to it and go full steam ahead at it. Once you become reliant on a pay cheque it's hard to not be reliant on a pay cheque. But it all comes when you're passionate about the business and what you're building and building something really special. You really need to give sole devotion to it. It's not easy, and the grass is always greener, and you really need to run through walls to make things happen. It takes a particular type of person but if you are that type of person I'd just go full steam ahead at it.

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Author: David Simmons

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