Successful entrepreneur Troy Townsend didn’t expect to end up running a huge business when he was completing his Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University in Geelong. All he wanted was a broad degree that would give him a range of options for life after university. That decision has paid off. He’s co-founded the marketing technology business Tiger Pistol. The company’s products are designed to support small businesses in their social media endeavours. Tiger Pistol is now a preferred Facebook marketing partner, working alongside the company to develop products for small businesses that want to promote their brand through the platform. Here Townsend shares some of the realities of clawing his way to the top of the entrepreneurial game.
After completing his degree, in which he majored in marketing and public relations, Townsend undertook a few marketing-focused internships then jetted off to the UK and applied his range of skills in an advertising agency. ‘It was a traditional advertising agency – television, radio and print – before digital was rampant,’ he says. Although being an entrepreneur wasn’t a specific part of his career plan, Townsend quickly realised, ‘there’s a lot of revenue to be made in business, but as an employee you don’t see that in your own pocket.’ After his time in the UK, Townsend moved to Canada with his girlfriend and had the opportunity to learn about the digital industry at IC Group. In his role as an interactive project manager, Townsend developed an understanding of the digital landscape and the business as a whole before returning to Australia to set up a local office.
'I hadn’t been in the digital and marketing workforce in Australia, so I didn’t have any contacts. I did what all new business owners do. I got on the phone. I set up meetings.'
Co-founder of Tiger Pistol and Deakin University commerce graduate
‘I hadn’t been in the digital and marketing workforce in Australia, so I didn’t have any contacts,’ Townsend recalls. Although he leveraged the framework of an existing IC Group business and had access to development resources, he had to work to find a place in the Australian market when he launched a local version of the company. ‘I did what all new business owners do. I got on the phone. I set up meetings,’ he says. In tough stages, Townsend says it was belief that got him through. ‘You get to the bottom of the rollercoaster and want to get off,’ he says. But sticking to his guns worked and soon the company was generating solid revenue.
The desire to do something much bigger drove Townsend to consider having his existing company acquired so that he could build something new. He met Steve Hibberd during the acquisition process and started to move his business into his portfolio. But as they negotiated, they discovered a shared interest and founded Tiger Pistol together. ‘I pulled the pin on the acquisition and rolled my clients into Tiger Pistol,’ Townsend explains. In his first business venture he was growing the business steadily but now, with plans to invest in large technology ventures he needed a structured vision. ‘Having a business partner is vital. You need to be clear on the 12-month, two-year and five-year plans for the business.’
Raising capital to invest in technology was completely foreign to Townsend so the learning curve was steep. Five years ago when Townsend was trying to gather the money required to start Tiger Pistol, there weren’t as many opportunities for tech start-ups to get funding. ‘We went after high net worth individuals in the beginning,’ Townsend says and credits one early ‘seed’ investor who enabled them to get started. However, he learned that nothing is ever guaranteed. ‘Early we raised three million out of Hong Kong. Everything was signed. The funds fell over when they were meant to go into the bank,’ he says.
Now there are more venture capitalists willing to back start-ups, but he says having a clear vision and strategy is essential. Although they’ve raised approximately six million, he says the process is never easy. ‘There were plenty of times through the journey where I thought this could be easier if I went and got a job,’ Townsend admits. But now he’s focused on the direction of the business, which has 15,000 customers. Next he plans to take on international markets. ‘The future is going global,’ he says.
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