The Paul Bassat Story

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Startup Stars: This blog will now start featuring write ups on inspiring Australian startup figures.  This article retells the story of Paul Bassat, a cofounder of Seek from a Startup Grind Melbourne event.

With a current market capitalisation of over $5.6 billion and a presence in 12 countries, Seek is Australia’s most successful startup business.  However cofounder Paul Bassat recounts a humble beginning 17 years ago, one that is similar to the journey that startups go through today.

After studying Commerce and Law at the University of Melbourne, Paul worked at a law firm for six years.  Though enjoying the experience, he came upon the idea of advertising real estate on the Internet.  But after giving the concept a lot of thought, he and his cofounders pivoted towards creating a product aimed at the jobs market.

They felt the job market had a greater amount of opportunity, and so without a technical cofounder, the team began the search for investment.  Eventually they raised 1.5 million in capital, which even by today’s standards is an impressive amount for an early stage Australian startup.  The capital was enough to then go and recruit talented technical staff to build their job search platform.

Even though Paul himself did not have a technical cofounder, he does believe that having a technical cofounder is better than not having a technical cofounder.  With that said, a good technical cofounder is again much better than just a technical cofounder.

As a two way marketplace, one of the major challenges was to get users and employers onto the site. The supplier side was managed by approaching the large HR companies and convincing them to advertise on the Seek platform.  Being the early days of the Internet, Paul and his cofounders often had to explain not only the concept of online job advertising but also the concept of the Internet itself to corporate executives.

Though Seek did have strong support and investment, the the initial days the company operated as a startup.  In fact Paul recalls one particular experience when Chandler McLeod, a large human resources company, faxed through three hundred job advertisements at once.  Paul and the team then spent the weekend keying in those advertisements into the Seek system.

On the consumer front, Seek negotiated lucrative deals with NineMSN and Telstra which proved pivotal in driving user traffic.  This along with their impressive and easy to use technology, Seek had powerfully executed on their idea and began outperforming their competition.  Contrary to common belief, Seek were not the first company doing online job advertisements, but it was their execution which propelled them to market dominance.

In fact, Paul feels that being number one in a market is very important.  This is because there is a disproportionate benefit in being the top player.  Consumers and suppliers are much more likely to do business with the dominant entity as opposed to the number two, hence Seek has concentrated its efforts on a handful of countries as opposed to a small presence in every country.  Growth in Seek’s business has come mostly from international acquisitions rather than from organic growth.

This is not to say that Seek has not had competitive challenges.  In particular during the earlier days when Seek was worth approximately $30 million, the jobs giant Monster.com entered the Australian market and threatened market dominance.  Yet once again, Paul attributes Seek’s success against Monster to their better execution and also mistakes which Monster made over time.

After running the Seek business for 14 years as CEO and Joint CEO, Paul started to feel that his energy passion was not the same as before.  So in 2011 Paul left his role at Seek to work on various ventures including Squarepeg Capital, an investor in startups and also roles in Wesfarmers as a director and a Commissioner in the Australian Football League.

Paul remains active in the business and charity, and speaks fondly of his Seek experience.  He feels absolutely proud of the fact that he has played a part in the two major trends of his generation; the rise of the Internet and the rise of China.

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