We spoke to Finder founder Fred Schebesta about bootstrapping, staying true to the company’s mission and values, and their giant 2011 comeback.
Can you tell us a little about the Finder journey?
The Finder journey has been an incredible experience. One that I’m very grateful for. It started in 2006 with an idea to help students compare credit cards. We wrote a guide on how to compare cards, what to look out for, what do the fees and features mean, pros and cons, and a comparison of different cards. Frank (Restuccia, Founder) and I were working from our kitchen table in a share house in Sydney and started with one niche at a time. First, it was Credit Card Finder, then we rolled out home loans, savings accounts, personal loans, and now we have over 100 different categories and compare thousands of products.
We’ve built several businesses without any funding and I think this was an incredibly important part of our journey. It taught us to be frugal and focus on the product and service, rather than spending valuable time and energy on seeking out funding. It’s been tough at times but it’s meant that we’ve stayed true to our values and mission of building a great, sustainable business.
What has been the company’s biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
One of our hardest times was when we were severely penalised by Google. It was back in 2011 when we pushed Google’s boundaries a little too hard and we went to ‘Google Jail’. We were wiped from the search engine rankings and lost most of our traffic overnight. I thought it was the end of Finder.
So we came together as a team – which by this time included Co-founder Jeremy Cabral – and re-wrote our values and strategy, reviewed every single page on Finder and decided from then on, we will build a website that is the best quality experience for our users. It was a pivotal moment for Finder and a major lesson learned.
Did you require or have to source any capital to launch the business?
We have never had any funding and we’re really proud of building Finder to what it is today despite that. I think it’s vital to start a business with no funding because you’re forced to work really hard to generate revenue. Finder is now in 83 countries, we have six offices around the world and help over 10 million people every month.
We launched a venture capital arm in 2018 to launch new businesses. We started with a cryptocurrency brokerage, HiveEx.com, and then we launched the most innovative money app in Australia, the Finder app. We’re now working on building more innovations; we’re launching an e-commerce platform, Finder Marketplace and expanding these all around the world.
So the time has come to seek funding. We’re currently talking to several venture capital and investment firms to help us propel to the next level.
How did you determine Finder’s revenue model and why has it been successful?
We realised we could monetise our product comparison guides by setting up partnerships with financial institutions so we started one by one, slowly building relationships with each one. We’ve always been very good at understanding the market, knowing our value and we’re constantly increasing our quality and services to help our users and our clients more.
When you focus at your core of the highest possible quality service or product, that is when you know you will be successful because you’ll be helping your customers and they will want to come back and refer you to their friends. That level of marketing is priceless.
What’s your professional background?
I studied a finance degree at Macquarie University and started building websites and learning about search engine optimisation (SEO) as a student. Our first business was a digital marketing agency called Freestyle Media, where we helped businesses build their online presence. I learnt a lot about digital marketing and became an expert. Once we sold this business we wanted to use all of those skills and knowledge we learnt about websites and build our own businesses.
What is your leadership style?
I’m a transformational leader. I love to empower our crew to challenge themselves outside of their comfort zones. We’ve built an incredible culture that supports and nurtures our crew while setting high benchmarks and celebrating the wins. I don’t like to micro-manage and I don’t get involved in every detail, I give a lot of autonomy while regularly checking in for guidance and strategic development.
What do you think makes a successful entrepreneur?
A successful entrepreneur often sacrifices their personal life and is obsessed with their business ideas. They are constantly studying markets, industries and their customers. They are focused on cash flow and generating revenues. And they also need to think ahead in terms of the future direction of their business and look for new opportunities. A good entrepreneur can pivot quickly and innovate, to diversify and find ways to keep afloat in the tough times. Being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult jobs with high pressure and stress but it’s also the most rewarding in so many ways.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.