As the startup ecosystem in Australia expands, the digital and creative industries that help support startups are also growing. Many of the companies in these industries have their own unique business models where they produce scalable ‘startup’ projects themselves or in partnership with founders at a high frequency.
Founded by Matthew Bruce, Toby Gail and Scott McIntosh, Melbourne-based digital agency Pondr Design is one of these firms. They have so far launched four of their own products in addition to working with corporates and startups alike.
“We’re a team of three. We build digital products. We all moved to Melbourne from Canberra, we studied design and development together at Swinburne, and we decided that we were going to have a crack at business and do design,” says Bruce.
“We weren’t really quite sure what we were doing and didn’t know how to run a business. We had no experience, all we knew was to use the tools and after working with clients and large corporates right down to fledgling startups, here we are four years later still a team of just four, helping people build digital products and their businesses.”
In addition to working on behalf of clients, the firm builds products in partnership with some founders, taking an equity stake. One of these is a startup called Prompa, a time rostering tool using mobile. With Prompa, Pondr has partnered directly with the founder.
“It’s been a long journey together but we’ve learnt so much. We’ve gotten a lot of experience on how these things actually come together from design development and actually getting it to customers then reiterating what we learnt from there and building those learnings into the product,” says Bruce.
The agency is also working with a startup called ISHOU (I-Show-you), a startup developed in partnership between Pondr and Swinburne University. The basic premise of the project is that university came to Pondr with the challenge of building multi-million dollar VR installations in museums, which cost a lot of money and require a lot of up front investment, time and capital.
Essentially what ISHOU does is give users the ability via its platform to evaluate the system and understand what visitors felt inside of them, because quite often surveys are conducted on the back-end of an experience and in turn give a different insight to how the person was experiencing the exhibition in real-time.
“What we actually aimed to do with ISHOU was to create an application that was almost a one touch interaction, very minimal on the front end so the users could fully experience the exhibition but also give feedback while they were in the middle of it,” says Bruce.
“We then feed that data back to a real-time live backend where museum evaluators, curators, and other stakeholders can actually look at this data and start to evaluate their exhibition, see where people are from, what they’re feeling and gain a deeper insight into what they should be spending money on.”
Since inception, Pondr has been bootstrapped and will remain that way for the foreseeable future, growing off a mix of straightforward client work in conjunction with its partnership projects.
The founders are also quite aware that it has a number of competitors in the space, such as fellow Australian companies Appster and Hatching Lab, which have similar business models. According to the founders, one of the cornerstones to their early success is the fact that they actually say ‘no’ to a lot of projects.
“We say no a lot; that means having some tough discussions throughout the process but really, at the end of the day, it’s great to have those conversations back and forth because it makes us a stronger business,” says Bruce.
“That’s definitely another key difference about us. We’re intentionally small, we’ve stayed small for a reason. For us, staying small is what digital products require now. With a team of 300, things get lost, we want that direct communication factor, we want you to know that people are working on your stuff.”
That does not mean that Pondr isn’t chasing growth, however – they are just going to be approaching it in a very different way, growing a number of small teams within their team so they can still execute using the same frameworks they have in place.
Image: Pondr founders, Matthew Bruce, Toby Gail and Scott McIntosh | Source: Supplied.