A surprise edition to that list of exports has emerged of late—in the form of software. Australian tech companies with names like Atlassian, Nitro, 99designs and Invoice2go have been growing rapidly since opening shop in the San Francisco area and are luring big time venture capitalists eager to ride the wave.
Unlike Silicon Valley start-ups, which tend to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars before making any money, Australian software developers are impressing U.S. investors with their ability to quickly turn and sustain a profit.
None made quite as big a fundraising splash as email marketing company Campaign Monitor, which last April raised $250 million in a financing round led by Insight Venture Partners. It was the first slug of institutional cash for the company since its launch in 2004.
"This is a company that's been profitable since day one," said Alex Bard, a former Salesforce.com executive vice president who joined Campaign Monitor as chief executive officer in September. "We wanted to have enough dry gunpowder to do the things we wanted to do to execute on our mission and the market opportunity in front of us."
Campaign Monitor is putting that money to work, announcing last week the opening of its North American headquarters in San Francisco, along with plans to double in size, adding 100 employees in 2015.
Immediate profitability for Australian tech start-ups is born out of necessity rather than desire. The Silicon Valley model of raising money ahead of generating revenue and consistently turning to venture capital to finance growth was never available in the country of less than 24 million people, whose major exports are minerals like bauxite and iron ore.
Tech-heavy countries China, Japan and Israel have long had greater access to early-stage investor dollars.
Nitro, an electronic document signing and collaboration company, was founded in 2005 and raised less than $7 million in its first nine years. Then in November, it announced a $15 million investment from Battery Ventures to finance the transition to a cloud and subscription business.
"Raising money for us was about funding our second chapter as opposed to keeping the lights on," said Nitro founder and CEO Sam Chandler, who moved the company from Melbourne to San Francisco in 2008 and now employs more than 150 people. "Ten years ago we didn't have any options."
As much headway as the Australian tech sector has made on the global stage, it still doesn't have the breakout public market hit in the U.S. needed to capture mainstream headlines.
That event may be around the corner. Atlassian, a Sydney-based company that led the Aussie tech diaspora, has a private market valuation of $3.3 billion and is marching toward an initial public offering.