Table of contents
- Chad Stephens
- Melbourne, Australia
- Started in 2014
- 24 employee
- Was VC Backed - Over $11M in funding raised
- Exited in 2020
What's your backstory Chad?
I was an average student at school, enjoyed sports and concentrated far more on my social life than studying. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life career-wise. My dad owned his own business, which he had started with his brother-in-law, so I grew up thinking I would one day have my own business.
Anyway, I ended up going to uni and starting a computer science course with two of my best mates from school... Bad idea. We all dropped out before the end of the first semester.
At this time, I was working part-time in hospitality and really enjoyed talking to people and being on my feet all day. Once I dropped out of uni, I stepped this up to full-time and, within a few years, was managing the restaurant, learning all aspects of how to run a small business.
During this time, I was living out of home with my best mate, who was working in the corporate world. At night and on the weekends, we would spend our time coming up with business ideas so that we could eventually leave our respective jobs and work for ourselves.
After a few embarrassing ideas and failed attempts, we eventually came up with something that had some promise.
By this time, there were three of us living together, and a fourth wanted to join. Excellent, we thought, the economies of scale would mean we could get a really nice house and pay even less than we had previously.
However, as we started applying for 4-5 bedroom houses in bayside Melbourne, we quickly discovered that landlords were not so keen to let 4 x mid-twenty-year-old boys live in their homes...
So we kept applying and filled out over twenty of those long, paper-based tenancy application forms before finally being accepted on a property.
And that got us thinking. Surely there is an online version of this application form?
But there wasn't! The closest was a downloadable PDF which you had to print off and still fill out by hand anyway.
And so the idea for our first startup was born... 1Form.
1Form was an online tenancy application platform created to make it easier for prospective tenants to apply for rental properties and streamline the whole tenancy process for property managers.
In 2014, after a long and hard 7.5-year journey and having over 95% of the real estate market in Aus using our platform, we sold 1Form to REA Group for $15M.
Not done with form filling (and suckers for the stress of startup life), we turned our minds toward a new startup, Fillr, this time trying to solve form filling for e-commerce checkouts on mobile.
Fast forward another 7 years, and we sold Fillr to a large Japanese company called Rakuten Inc.
What is Fillr?
Fillr is the world's most accurate autofill. Our autofill SDK enables customers to have a seamless checkout experience everywhere while boosting conversions and revenue. Our tech now helps to power Rakuten as well as the world's top e-commerce and buy now pay later apps, including Afterpay, Zip and Affirm.
How did you come up with Fillr?
The idea for Fillr was really just a natural extension of what we had previously been working on with 1Form. However, rather than building the form and trying to get everyone to use it (like we did with 1Form), we built a way for data to be accurately populated into any form.
We originally named the business Pop but soon discovered we were competing with so many other companies and brands and came up with the name Fillr.
How did you go about building and launching Fillr?
We spent the first few years building the autofill component of our tech, making sure it was the most accurate autofill in the market. We already had development resources from our previous business, but we needed mobile development skills, so we originally outsourced most of the work to a local development company. This didn't turn out so great, and after going way over time and budget, we brought it back in-house, hiring a full mobile dev team.
To go to market, we started paying some of the smaller mobile browsers in the market to be integrated as a feature into their apps. This helped us increase our autofill accuracy and capabilities even further, but we soon realised there was little, if any, way to make money from this.
We then started approaching e-commerce multi-merchant apps, as we knew that if their apps had our feature, they would get an increase in conversions. And they did! We were off and running. Soon, we found another segment of the market that was growing quickly and could benefit from our tech, the buy-now, pay-later companies. And so we sold into all of them.
As founders, along with our 2IC, we took on the responsibility of selling the product as the number of potential clients was limited, but they were all of extremely high value.
How have you grown Fillr?
We did very little in the way of marketing for Fillr. Because of the nature of the business, a limited number of high-value clients, we just concentrated on direct sales.
Any big failures and learnings?
Too many failures to count.
Outsourcing our development in the early years of Fillr was a huge mistake. We were quoted $500K and given a 6-month timeline. 14 months and $1.2M later, we still didn't have a finished product and had to pull it in-house.
What's next for you and your business?
We recently sold Fillr to one of our clients, Rakuten Inc., but it's business as usual for the immediate future!
Your go to digital tools?
Airtable, Atlassian, AWS, Buildkite, Evernote, Google Cloud, Google Suite, Slack, Zoom
Any inspiring founder books you recommend?
Think & Grow Rich - Napoleon Hill
How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie
The Long Tail - Chris Anderson
Thinque Funky - Anders Sorman-Nilsson
Tools of Titans - Tim Ferriss
Zero to One - Blake Masters & Peter Thiel
and anything by Malcolm Gladwell
Any podcasts you love?
Masters of Scale - Reid Hoffman
Any quotes you live by?
"Good thoughts, good words, good deeds." - Zarathustra
"Tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring." - Chuck Noland
"The only way to fail is to quit." - Dalai Lama
"Ships in harbour are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for." - John Shedd
"You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved" - Mel Robbins
What do you love + hate about being a founder?
I love it all, and I hate it all... It's a rollercoaster ride, the ups make the downs bearable, and the downs make the ups unbelievable!
Any mental health tips?
Keep fit, play tennis (competitive sport takes your mind off work), eat clean, meditate and spend time with family.
What does it mean to be a founder
Blood, sweat and tears...
Having now had 2 x successful startups and 2 x children, the similarities are quite amazing. The time, effort and attention required to raise your business and/or your children is something that I've never seen in any other aspect of life.
Any advice for other founders?
Don't do it! Haha.
It's great that you don't know how hard being a startup founder will be until it's too late! But in the end, it's definitely worth it, and surprisingly, the toughest moments I've had along the journey are the most memorable ones...