Spice AI Founders - Luke Kim & Phillip LeBlanc

A very new company leveraging Web3 technology and way ahead of the curve. Most people are just getting their heads around Crypto and Blockchain while these guys are already building software for developers to create Web3 apps.

Spice AI is a startup technology company that assists developers to create intelligent apps that adapt and learn. The Seattle-based company was founded by Luke Kim and Phillip LeBlanc in June 2021. With a footprint in Australia, Asia, and other parts of the globe, the company is expanding and has a number of developer roles open. 

Since inception, Spice AI has raised $14.5 million in funding. One of the founders, Luke Kim, was the co-creator and founding manager of Azure Incubation at Microsoft. At the time, he was head of the team that developed Dapr and other technologies. He spent fifteen years working on related projects before he created Spice AI. 

Philip LeBlanc worked on distributed systems at Microsoft and GitHub before joining Spice AI alongside Kim. he has been building some of the world’s largest distributed systems for more than ten years. 

Spice AI is creating a Web3 foundational platform for developers to use. To do this, they are building the infrastructure to create applications that are ML/AI-driven and can solve complex data problems in Web3. The platform will prevent developers from spending lots of money on building their own data engineering and infrastructure. The young company is also interested in providing real-time perspectives from time series data across chain power intelligent apps for various sectors and industries. This system will help in fraud detection, retailing, and security trading. The Spice.AI runtime runs as a microservice and is written in Python and Golang. 


With more than 20 investors, Spice AI has raised over $14 million in over two rounds. The most recent funding round, led by Madrona Venture Group, was completed on the 7th of September 2022, where $13.5 million in funding was achieved. Elysium Venture Capital and TA Venture are two of their latest investors. The first seed, which saw thirteen investors participating, raised a total of $1.1 million in October 2021. 

Funding rounds:

  • Pre-Seed Round (14th of October 2021) – $1.1 million raised by 13 investors
  • Seed Round (September 7, 2022) – $13.5 million raised by 16 investors

Investor’s profile

Spice AI has a total of 21 investors. Some of the notable names include Cardinia VenturesAsymmetricProtocol LabsIEX GroupTA VenturesElysium Venture CapitalMadrona Venture LabsAlumni VenturesBlackbird Venture Capital and GitHub. Some of their individual investors and partners are Shane Mac, John McCann and Thomas Dohmke, who is the Chief product Officer at GitHub. 

Madrona Venture Group

Founded in 1995 in Seattle, Washington in USA, Madrona Venture Group is a capitalist venture company that helps startup companies incubate their ideas. They invest in early to developmental stages. The American company has raised a total of $2.9 billion in 13 funds. Their most recent funding in September 2022 raised a total of $430 million. Madrona was the lead investor in the seed funding that raised $14 million for Spice AI in 2022. 

Blackbird VC

The Australian capital venture group, Blackbird Venture Capitalist participated in the funding round for the Seattle technology company in 2022. The company was created in 2012 by Larry Marshal. Blackbird VC invests in hardware, technology, education, and other enterprising sectors in Australia and other places. Their investments cover seeds to accelerating stages. The company is headquartered in Sydney, Australia.


Angel investor Nat Friedman, who is the CEO of GitHub, is one of the key investors at Spice AI. GitHub is a provider of code hosting services for developers to create open-source software and private projects in organizations. GitHub has raised a total of $350 million in funding since its inception. GitHub was acquired in June 2018 for a total of $7.5 billion in stock by Microsoft. 

Elysium Venture Capital

Elysium VC is an investment management group with main focus on creating global opportunities in technology. The company was founded in 2017 in Palto Alto California, United States of America. Elysium invests in fintech, artificial intelligence, consumer tech, software and blockchain. They help these companies in developing their business ideas, recruiting and product marketing. The company is one of the latest investors of Spice AI. Elysium VC participated in the second funding round that saw the startup tech company raised $13.5 million. 


  • Spice.XYZ has successfully created a platform that allows developers to access web3 data on all chains through SQL over high-performance Apache Arrow APIs. It has also eased blockchain application development.
  • Spicerack allows developers to share their manifest with their reward functions. It allows other developers to access and reuse them for their use. 

Board of directors

Spice AI currently has 6 top executives, including the two founders and four members of the Board. 

  • Luke Kim is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Spice AI.
  • Phillip LeBlanc is the founder and Chief Technical Officer at Spice AI
  • Thomas Dohmke is the CEO and Chief Product Officer at GitHub. He has made three investments, one of them was in the Spice AI’s seed round in September 7, 2022. 
  • David Chen is the advisory partner at Spice AI and the Product Manager at Avatars (Meta).
  • Tim Porter joined the team in September 2021 as one of the partners at Spice AI. He is the Managing Director at Madrona VC. 
  • Joe McCann is the advisory partner at Spice AI. He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer at Asymmetric. McCann has made 9 investments so far. His latest investment was at the Spice AI’s seed funding round in September 7, 2022. 


Very impressive to see the amount raised by this company in just a year. With the global emphasis on blockchain, web3, and AI, I think there will be a lot more investors looking for companies like this in the coming year.

Will be keeping an eye on Spice AI. Noticed they have just a couple Youtube videos up from a year ago, but it looks like they are expanding their team and will be making more waves soon.

Giulianna Crivello and Nick Martin from DSH Ventures.

Key Person of Interest Spotlight – Giulianna Crivello

I first came across Giulianna from an online Ad for EntryLevel promoting a VC Analyst course. I was intrigued by the companies and names involved so I wanted to do a little research. 

Giulianna seems to be the main person delivering the course and is currently Head Of Ventures at Draper Startup House. She’s based in Singapore and manages a global operation of investments into startup companies.

Draper Startup House was founded in 2018 by Tim Draper and joined by Vikram Bharati with a mission to expand to 100 countries by 2030 and help create 1 million new entrepreneurs worldwide through their global business ecosystem.

Tim has had a number of venture successes including: Skype, Baidu, Tesla, Overture, PTC, Hotmail, Twitch, Robinhood, Carta, Coinbase.

Draper’s network companies manage over two billion US dollars across 24 global funds.

Guilianna joined Draper Startup House in November 2019 as Head of Branding & Marketing, then moved into Head of Ventures, General Partner after just 7 months in May 2020.


Giulianna started out in Nevada where she went to college and then moved into a Research Analyst role with Castle Crow & Company. Progressing through various roles such as Business Development and Deal Associate, she moved to Singapore in September 2018 to start a new position as Director of Strategic Growth for Privé Technologies.

It looks like she had a total of 5 roles over 4 years. Not one to waste time. Also managed to launch a startup herself and worked independently as a Startup Advisor during that period.

Her latest employment with Draper seems to have been her longest stint with a single company. Not staying more than 2 years in previous roles, her career has progressed quickly and shows her ambition. 

Having started with Draper Startup house in November 2019, it’s now over 3 years with them and she is making great headway.


In a recent post, Crivello details 21 investments represented over 14 different countries, all in just one year including:

Companies: Ferne HealthHybr1d – Now hiring! ⚡️ EblityVirtualSpeechHEXConfirmUGiftpackintribeFynInsured NomadsRequest FinanceSketchnoteDIFT CORP.Panarum CorpHeadquarters (HQ.xyz)ShipShapMiddlewareNeroesBrevityOlik

This post seemed to celebrating their first year milestone after the Draper global fund was announced on 12 October, 2021.

“We’re leading along with the major trend that shows founders are less reliant on fundraising in their own countries while creating high-growth global products,” Crivello stated. “We’re taking interest in this, and we’ve also been taking bets on founders who are challenging the status quo.”


I always find it fascinating to look at someone’s career and how they progressed through various roles to end up where they are. It’s a benchmark or gauge of sorts to notice what is possible and where people have come from. 

Today’s job market is very different to that of even 10 years ago and vastly different to 20 years ago. People move quickly and role types now especially in tech are evolving rapidly.

I’ll be looking further into this VC Investor course as I noticed a couple names involved that piqued my interest.

Jeff Shillitto - ShotStack Co-founder

Shotstack will be a company to look out for with explosive growth in the near future. Very exciting what they are doing in the video space with automation. Having personally integrated and experienced their brand and service, I’m a big fan of Shotstack.

They haven’t received funding as of yet so there’s not a huge amount of publicity online, but the business is doing quite well bootstrapping and on target to hit some big goals.

Shotstack enables anyone to massively scale their video production capabilities using automation. It’s a video editing API and high availability rendering platform that can edit 1000’s of videos concurrently. 

Their vision is to build a platform that enables the creation of new kinds of video based applications never thought possible before.

Founded by Jeff Shillitto in April 2019, he left his full time job and was accepted into a business accelerator program in Brisbane. Commuting back and forth between Sydney and Brisbane, he was committed and soon landed his first large client.

Derk Zomer joined the company in 2021 as Jeff was looking for a co-founder to handle business operations and take things to a new level. Together they have adopted a new pricing model, hired a few extra programmers and are on track to hit $40k – $50k MRR by the end of 2022.

Business Model

Shotstack currently has an entry $49 plan which includes 200 credits and subsequently 200 minutes of video output. They also have a free plan which I found incredibly helpful to get started with their API and build something useful before investing further $$. Their higher tiered plans are great for enterprise users and this is where they seem to be obtaining the majority of their revenue to date.

It seems the best use cases for their service is mass scale data oriented videos for industries such as real estate, or automotive, but the potential opportunities are endless.

The limitation of their service right now is the technical coding requirements to get started. They are working on GUI options to enable easier creation of templates but the service is ideally aimed at coding level integration.

If you are technical like myself, I found their API quite easy to learn and integrate with. 

There’s definitely opportunity here for a middle-man type vendor who can provide a tailored solution for specific verticals. I.e integration with specific CRM’s or databases to output specific custom made templates.


Having personally integrated with Shotstack using the Laravel framework on PHP, I found their API quite straightforward. Not professionally a programmer myself but I do like to play around and build my own custom web applications.

The videos I created were new candidate profiles who I have spoken to that are looking for a new job. The idea is to post these candidate details on LinkedIn and other social sites to attract hiring managers. The benefit of video is that it attracts more attention than just a text or graphic post.

What I did was implement an API connection with my CRM so that when certain candidate fields are updated it would automatically grab that user information, and send a CURL request to Shotstack. Once the video was rendered, it would send a notification back to my Laravel application which would then update my CRM with the video url.

I use Zapier to automatically post that video and associated information to various social sites and my CMS.

You can either use a web hook request with Zapier or you can simply use the RSS zap. It’s easy enough to create a RSS feed from Laravel with all the candidate details and video urls. When Zapier requests that url it outputs a feed of new candidates, but also runs other functions to find updated candidates and send new requests to Shotstack. This meant I didn’t need to set up a CRON job or server automation which is a nice little trick. 

The main benefit being it just works on autopilot when I update a field in my CRM. This is where I can see a middle man opportunity to work with companies in specific verticals that utilise unique CRM’s. 


It was very interesting to talk with Jeff and get his viewpoint on bootstrapping and his challenges and triumphs along the way. I’m not a Startup Investor (yet) but I dare say they are prime for investment funding to scale up their team and service offering.

Looking forward to seeing how this company evolves in the coming years.

Sundrive Solar - Co-Founders - David Hu and Vince Allen

The journey that started in a garage has gone on to become one of the most popular solar companies in Australia. SunDrive Solar was originally founded by Vince Allen. At the time, he was a PhD student at the University of New South Wales. Allen saw an opportunity in what many would consider impossible. He came up with the ingenious idea of creating affordable and sustainable solar panels. His revolutionary step was to replace the regular, costly silver electrodes in the solar cells with a more available and cheaper copper source. 

Allen spent some years assembling machines that could hold a liquid copper concoction of his own and deposit the slurry onto a solar cell. Apparently, the idea of using copper was tested and discarded by many highly funded labs. Allen’s concept worked with the use of copper as the metal at the core. He decided to join hands with David Hu, his former flatmate, to commercialise the technology. Hu was born in China but relocated to Australia at age 16. He is in charge of the company’s business affairs while Allen focuses on the science. SunDrive has grown from a garage project to a company with a dozen employees.

SunDrive Solar is building a sustainable future that would be safe for all. The Australian-based company is a well-funded solar technology start-up based in Wollongong city in Australia. SunDrive is providing distinct solutions to the high cost of efficient solar cells. While doing that, the young company isn’t compromising on its performance and quality through the use of more abundant resources. 

Founded in 2015, the firm has been an ideal solution for those looking for Australian made solar panels. SunDrive has been dedicating its focus on developing a new breed of solar cells that don’t rely on the use of silver and other precious metals. Their products are less prone to degradation, and less material and energy intensive. 


SunDrive Solar has secured millions of dollars in Series A funding and grants. In August 2020, the company was backed by Australia Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) with a grant of $3 million for the development of Solar panels that could be utilised on rooftops in homes.

SunDrive Solar received another financial backup to the tune of $7.6 million from the likes of Blackbird, a capital venture firm, and Mike Cannon-Brooke, the owner of Grok Ventures, a private investment company. Dr. Zhengrong Shi, regarded as “Sun King” is one of the board members at SunDrive Solar. He was the brain behind Suntech and the founder of SunMan Nergu, a company that produces flexible, lightweight eArc solar panels. One of Blackbird’s founding members Niki Scevak has joined the board of the Aussie solar panel start-up.  

  • Jul 1, 2015 – Pre Seed Round – $600k
  • Aug 10, 2018 – Seed Round – Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures – $1.6M
  • Aug 13, 2020 – Grant – Australian Renewable Energy Agency – $3M
  • Aug 16, 2020 – Series A – Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures – $5M
  • Oct 12, 2022 – Series A – Main Sequence Ventures, Virescent Ventures – $21M

Investor profiles


Blackbird Ventures was founded by Larry Marshal in 2012 as a capital venture firm that invests in enterprise technology, education, hardware and in other profitable sectors. The company is based in Sydney, Australia. Blackbird Ventures has always shown interest in start-up companies in its home country. Blackbird Ventures was created to provide investment seeds for Australian entrepreneurs. With over 200 investments in its portfolio, SunDrive Solar was added to the team in October 2022. The capital firm has invested A$21 million in the solar panel company.


Grok Ventures is an Australian-based capital venture company that provides early to late-stage funding rounds.  The investment firm primarily serves companies in Australia. The company was created by Michael Cannon-Brookes in 2008. Grok Ventures has invested in companies like Culture Amp, Brighte, Fleet Space Technology, Spriggy, Juvenescence, DGraph, Spaceship Financial Services and SunDrive Solar. 


  • The company announced in 2021 that it had developed what was considered the most efficient commercial sized silicon solar cell on the planet. At an efficiency figure of 25.54%, the project was certified independently by the Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin (ISFH) for its particular design of solar cells conversion to electricity from light. 
  • SunDrive Solar recently fabricated its first-ever solar panel, which unarguably put the young company on the global map. The company doesn’t depend on hyping up their accolades in the energy industry. Rather, their engineers are working around the clock to solve some of the unique issues confronting homes and high cost of energy. 

Board members at SunDrive Solar

  • Vincent Allen, Co-founder and CEO
  • David Hu, Co-Founder and COO
  • Dr Zhengrong Shi, Founder Suntech
  • Sylvia Tulloch, Founder Dyesol
  • Niki Scevak, Partner Blackbird Ventures
  • Professor Alison Lennon, Chief Scientist
  • Dr. David Mills, Founder Ausra
  • Dr. Pierre Verlinden, Former Chief Scientist Trina
  • Robyn Denholm, Chair Tesla
  • Wyatt Roy, Strategic Advisor
Blackbird Ventures Team

Blackbird is Australia’s leading capital firm that invests in various enterprise technology, healthcare, deep tech, hardware and consumer-based companies. They are a hub for start-ups, providing operational and financial support and transforming their businesses into world class. The venture capital firm provides seed for emerging entrepreneurs by incubating and investing into these companies at their early and later stages of development.

Its investors are from successful start-ups in Australia and Silicon Valley. In 2012, Blackbird Ventures was created by Larry Marshall. Presently, the company is being run by co-founders Bill Bartee and Rick Baker both holding the managing directors’ position at the company. Their primary office is based in New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. 

With extensive experience in providing trajectory and growing innovative business plans for start-ups, their portfolio is worth over $7 billion. Investors like AconexCampaign Monitor, & Atlassian provide equity capital for all stages ranging from seed, series A and other developmental stages.

Its founders are passionate about making a global difference through equipping young companies with much needed financial resources to succeed. Blackbird Ventures’ recipe for success is through raising capital and investing in Australia’s most ambitious companies.

The venture has backed over 200 companies in Australia and New Zealand since its inception a decade ago. 


The Australian company has 205 investments to its name, with 69 of them as lead investments. Their most recent investment as of writing was Sundrive Solar, which was made on the 12th of October 2022. The deal was worth A$21 million.

The firm has seven diversity investments and 10 exits. 

In February 2019, Blackbird made a single investment of $1 million in See-Mode technologies. The company’s exit includes the likes of Shape Analytics, Redbubble and LIFX. 

The capital venture has raised an estimated $791.7 million across seven funds. Blackbird Fund III, announced in 2018, was able to raise a sum of A$216 million and Blackbird Fund IV in 2022 raised A$500 Million. 

Blackbird’s annual income is $2 million annually. The firm’s investment size can range from $0.25 million and could go up to the tune of $5 million depending on the nature of the company. 

Blackbird Ventures is the parent company of Startmate. Twice a year, the Startmate Accelerator unleashes the ambition of Australia and New Zealand’s best founders, and propels them toward their goals.

Sample Investments

SunDrive Solar

SunDrive is an Australian-based solar technology start-up firm known for creating solutions to reduce the cost of high efficiency solar cells. With adequate funding, the company has gone from small projects to manufacturers of some of the most functional and efficient solar cells in the world.

Spice AI

Founded in 2021 by Microsoft and GitHub alumni Luke Kim and Phillip LeBlanc, Spice AI is a start-up company that deals with artificial intelligence and machine learning. The company is based in Seattle, United States. The company creates an easy-to-use AI technology to harness time series data for developers. 

Culture Amp

It is the leading employee analytics platform in Melbourne, Australia that specialises in staff analytics and surveying. Culture Amp assists more than 5,000 companies across the world to improve employee’s engagement, performance and retention.


Originally created in 2014, Zoox is a robotics firm that deals with the production of self-control vehicle fleets using the technology of machinery and robotics. The firm is a subsidiary of Amazon creating autonomous vehicles. 

Fleet Space Technologies

Fleet Space Technologies focuses on areas such as communication, satellite and satellite IoT. The company based in Adelaide, is known for the production of satellites for low-bandwidth connectivity for data exchange, IoT sensor networks and machine-to-machine communication.


PsiQuantum is into computing, technology and photonics. It is a company that creates a resource-driven silicon photonic quantum computer. PsiQuantum’s resources take care of daily challenges encountered with healthcare, climate, high tech, government, communication, and energy. The firm is created to use its quantum technology for error correction and solve impossible problems. 


Bugcrowd is a firm that offers a platform for web mobile, security testing, client-side applications and source code through computing and computer security crowd-sourcing. The platform allows orchestration of data, human intelligence, remediation workflows and technology. 

Gilmour Space Technologies

Gilmour Space Technologies is Australia’s leading rocket company created in 2013 by two brothers. It develops new capabilities for launching space rockets and hybrid launch vehicles to space.

Sunfed Meats

Sunfed® in New Zealand, this is a firm that makes plant-based meat substitutes from pea proteins. The chicken Free Chicken was the company’s first pea protein-based product to be made available in the market.

Earth AI

The company is based in San Mateo, California, United States. Earth Air is a vertically integrated metal ore deposit exploration company that was created in 2016 by Roman Teslyuk. The Earth AI uses these mineral deposits to create a renewable energy infrastructure and also solve the metals supply shortage crisis. 

Funding Rounds

Funding Rounds Blackbird took part in:

  • Bugcrowd funding round (March 2016) – $15m
  • Zoox Series A round (October 2016) – $250m 
  • Gilmour Space Technologies Series B round (September, 2018) – $13.2m
  • Culture Amp funding round (September 2019) – $82 million
  • Harrison-AI Pty Ltd Series A round (December, 2019) – $29m
  • Process Street funding round (February 2020) – $12.2m
  • Safety Culture (April 2020) – $35.5m
  • Strong Compute Seed Round (May, 2022) – $7.8m
  • Spice.ai Seed round (September 2022) – $13.5m
  • Morse Micro Series B round (September, 2022) – $140m

Funds (7) – Estimated total of $791.7m

  • Blackbird Ventures (Australia) Fund IV, 2020 – A$500 million raised
  • Blackbird Ventures (New Zealand) Fund 1, 2019 – NZ$30 million raised
  • Blackbird Ventures (Australia) Fund III, 2018 – A$261 million raised
  • Blackbird Ventures LP, 2015 – A$200 million raised
  • Blackbird Ventures (Australia) Fund I, 2014 – $25 million raised
  • Blackbird ventures, 2013 – A$20 million raised
  • Blackbird Ventures LP, 2012 – A$30 million raised

Principal officers at Blackbird Ventures

The ongoing funding round at Blackbird will be for its fifth fund, after its fourth closed in October 2020 and pulled in $500 million from large institutional investors including Hostplus, the Future FundFirst State SuperHESTAAustralianSuper and TelstraSuper. Mr Scevak said it was talking to all of its existing investors for the new fund, as well as some new targets both at home and overseas.

Niki Scevak said, despite Canva’s returns taking the headlines, its funds would be performing in the top quartile by global standards even with its star performer removed. He revealed that 20 per cent of the companies it has invested in are now valued at more than $100 million, and that it has calculated that the net internal rate of return (IRR) for every dollar invested across its funds so far is 81 per cent.


It’s exciting to see such great results not only in terms of dollars raised and invested into Australian companies but also the rate of return Aussie companies are achieving in response. The level of support and contribution Blackbird Ventures is putting into pre-revenue startups I’m sure would have a lot to do with this, and would be extremely valuable to new company founders.

Now is a great time to be in tech especially as the world recovers after the height of the pandemic and now launches into a new generation of business potential with enthusiasm.

Pablo Gil Brusola and Mickael Roger, PropHero

Startup Spotlight – PropHero

In just 16 months, this new venture has managed to raise close to $10M in funding over two rounds, and win “Proptech Startup of the Year” and “Most Innovative Startup – Consumer Proptech” at the 2022 Proptech Awards hosted by the Proptech Association Australia.

Founded in June, 2021, PropHero provides investors with a full end-to-end solution that includes investment strategy consultation, data-driven analysis and support from a personal property coach. The software analyses millions of data points from real estate in every suburb, with advanced AI algorithms helping identify the best properties for clients to try and maximise return on investment. 

The startup kicked off just over a year ago and now has over 40 employees based in Australia, Spain, Argentina, India and Indonesia. 

Co-Founders, Pablo Gil Brusola and Mickael Roger, are experienced and enthusiastic property investors, who wanted “an app for that” to streamline this complex process. At the same time, they wanted to make property investing more accessible for a new generation to invest with confidence.

Rogers said they’ve now helped around 250 clients find investment properties and they expect to double that number by the end of 2022.

PropHero was launched with the ambition to make property investment simple, time-efficient and more profitable by using data, proprietary AI algorithms and an online platform to offer an end-to-end property investment service. It’s the “next gen” in buyer’s agent services.



Founded in 2016, Fifth Wall, a Certified B Corporation, is the largest venture capital firm focused on technology for the global real estate industry. With approximately $3.2 billion in commitments and capital under management, Fifth Wall connects many of the world’s largest owners and operators of real estate with the entrepreneurs who are redefining the future of the Built World.


Samaipata is an early stage founders’ fund investing in network effects, across Europe. The fund was created by two entrepreneurs, Jose del Barrio, co-founder of the leading food-delivery platform in Spain, sold to Rocket Internet for $100 million and Eduardo Diez-Hochleitner R., senior executive, prolific BA and current Chairman at MásMóvil.

Business Model

You might be expecting a tech company like this to have the typical SAAS model pricing but this one is quite different. 

There’s no freemium trial, no monthly subscription, no “choose your plan” option. It’s more consultative with a tech platform to automate and manage a lot of the process.

Being a real estate solution, the general public is used to bigger numbers than your typical video streaming or accounting software subscription. If you use a buyer’s agent to find your properties, you would also be used to paying larger fees for service. 

I was a little surprised by the fees, but I can see how this model works for them and would result in bigger profits. If you were thinking of hundreds, think again. It’s more in the thousands range with a fee to get started and a larger fee on successful purchase of a property.

PropHero has taken the full-service, all-inclusive approach rather than a do-it-yourself software service. What they’ve essentially done is take the “buyers agent model”, made it mass-market and bundled it with custom built software.

You get a property coach, and custom recommendations based on your goals. They say a large percentage of their properties are “off-market” which would be an advantage. The software works out all the financial numbers and recommends max price etc. to make purchasing a worthwhile investment for you.

The Process

First step is to book a consultation call. They are quite freely available as of writing. 

Being in the market for property myself, I actually did book a call and spoke to someone based on the Gold Coast.

I’m not a huge fan of the hard-sell consultation calls with inexperienced sales people, but this was different.

It was informative, with a demo of how the process and software works, fees were clearly explained. Nothing hidden or too hyped up, and at the end they offered to send me an email with all the details and a link to get started. No pressure. 


I can see how this would be a great option for overseas or interstate buyers especially. They literally even do the inspection for you so you never have to visit the property. Just run the numbers, take the recommendations and they will manage the whole process even to the point of finding tenants.

There’s a lot of leverage points for PropHero beyond the software, and success fee charged. They would literally have bulk buying power, could direct a number of investors into particular suburbs or estates, and take a cut from recommended third parties including mortgage brokers, property services etc. 

I would imagine their consult approach to be costly initially but also likely necessary to convert more customers at their price point and warm up the market.

Blinq. A new generation business card

Startup Spotlight – Blinq

A new spin on an old idea? Good timing?

When first looking at the funding this company has managed to raise, I was impressed. There’s been a number of companies attempt to build a new business card app but nothing has really stuck around and been worthwhile replacing the built-in phone functionality.

Is Blinq different?

Their initial funding round suggests they might be. The last time Blackbird Ventures and Square Peg Venture Capital Ltd. funded a Seed Round, the result was Canva.

Blinq allows users to share their live personal information with anyone via QR codes, near-field communications, short links, email signatures, and video call backgrounds, rather than business cards. It keeps information up to date, so users don’t need to tell their contacts when they change phone numbers or email addresses.

Anyone can instantly share their details via custom digital card that they can update any time. If you prefer the physical world a custom card will bring up your contacts with a quick tap via NFC.

Replacing business cards is just the beginning. The core of Blinq’s idea is that it is a live-updating identity layer that can be used anywhere – from business cards, to email signatures, zoom backgrounds or as a link in bio.

The Founder

Jarrod Webb is a business-obsessed software engineer. He was one of the first employees at Uber Eats in Australia and chose to work on the strategy team because he was fascinated with operational problems. He’s a rare combination of creativity, resilience, vision and detail orientation. He invented some of the core functionality for Blinq years ago as a side project only to see it start to explode in usage as the general population learned how to use QR codes during the pandemic.

In January 2021, Webb left Uber Eats to catch this tailwind and accelerate growth in users and businesses for Blinq in the post-COVID era. 

“Blinq is one of the fastest-growing platforms we’ve seen in recent years. Just as Twitter and Airbnb took off at events such as South by Southwest, it’s exciting to see Blinq do the same this year,” Blackbird partner Rick Baker said.

Currently Blinq offers premium accounts for both businesses and individuals. The user base is currently split 50/50 between individuals and businesses, but Webb believes that businesses will be the larger group over the long term.

Business Model and Pricing

The company offers two types of service. The first is for individuals who wish to create their digital business ID and share it with anyone and everywhere they go. The second service they offer is for a business that wish to create a digital business ID containing the company’s necessary information.

With these services, you can always keep up-to-date information, empower the identity that allows you to share your professionalism, and seamlessly combine necessary business contacts and relationships.

The company has three types of pricing depending on which service you purchase:

  • For the individual, it’s $0 to create two different IDs accessible to any device.
  • For Individuals, after the 7-day free trial, a $2.99 monthly subscription is offered if you want to create five different business IDs, add custom designs and colours, and remove the Blinq mark.
  • For business, you can create unlimited cards, view contacts of people who visit your ID, access, and authority for editing, and 24/7 help support from the website. This can be accessed after the 30-day free trial for a $2.99 monthly subscription.

“Because we charge per user, we have negative net revenue churn. So you can do a bunch of really nice growth things to fuel the expansion of the product.” – Jarrod Webb

Negative net revenue churn is when the amount of new revenue from your existing customers is greater than the revenue lost from cancellations and downgrades. 

When you share a digital business card using Blinq the person you’re sharing with doesn’t need the app to see it.

“It means almost everyone refers the product, and the use of the product is a referral,” Webb said.

Investors and Funding

  • May 16, 2022 – Seed Round – Blackbird Ventures, Square Peg Capital – $5M


Blackbird Ventures founders are Rick Baker and Niki Scevak. The group also includes 🐘 Nick Crocker,Joel Connolly, and Samantha Wong, who serve as the venture team behind the company.

The company was founded in 2012 and has made 204 investments, 7 diversity investments, and 69 lead investments.


Square Peg capital was founded by Tony Halt in 2012, the company has made 119 investments, 4 diversity investments, and 58 lead investments helping many companies to strive in their field.

The Future for Blinq

Blinq’s end-game is not just digital business cards. Webb’s vision is for Blinq to be a digital identity that can exist in multiple places — think contact apps on phones, email signatures, customer relationship management software. When a user updates their details on Blinq, the updates will happen in all those other places too.

The $5 million investment will be used to grow Blinq’s 12-strong team to closer to 30 and attempt to realise that vision.


While this company is still relatively young, it’s exciting to see its growth and the calibre of investors backing the product. 

I hadn’t heard about this product until seeing job ads for developers but time will tell as to whether there is enough adoption of the app for it to become more mainstream.

Congrats to Jarrod Webb for innovation and making Blinq a reality. So far so good.

Aussie brothers Ryan Kroonenburg and Sam Kroonenburg. A Cloud Guru

Startup Spotlight – A Cloud Guru

As one of Airtree’s most highlighted success stories, A Cloud Guru is a company name I had to look into and ironically hadn’t heard much about in the online learning space despite their massive success. 

A Cloud Guru is an education and training company specialising in teaching people about cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Azure. Through courses and hands-on labs, they aim to train their customers for them to garner the proper tech skills for the IT career path.

The company was founded by Aussie brothers Ryan Kroonenburg and Sam Kroonenburg in 2015. Since then, it has grown to a multi-million dollar company, securing over $40 million in funding. They offer over 400 courses and 1,800 labs on Linux, DevOps, Kubernetes, and more.


The company was started, ironically, after Ryan Kroonenburg was turned down from a job at AWS. Through this interview process, he found out that there was a gap between the available training for cloud services and tech workers who want to try out the field. So, he decided, why not try to bridge this gap? He can provide the training himself to those workers that need it and want to advance their careers. 

Providing training services for an area that lacks it most of the time turned out to be a brilliant idea – in 2015, when the cloud service industry was barely starting, it was worth about $60 billion at the time. Seven years later, that figure has multiplied eightfold, to $480 billion. 

Investors & Financials

A Cloud Guru | A Pluralsight Company is a private company that was funded in three rounds. 

The first was a Series A Funding Round in 2017. In this round, a venture capital firm named Elephant invested $7 million in the company. 

Series B Funding Round followed in 2019 with lead investor Summit Partners – an investment firm focusing on public equity along with two other investors pumping $33 million into the company.

Its latest funding round, a Venture Round, saw investment from Bain Capital Tech Opportunities. Unfortunately, there is no available data on how much the investment was.


Bain Capital is one of the world’s leading private investment firms with approximately $160 billion of assets under management in asset classes including private equity, credit, public equity, venture capital and real estate. 

In June 2020, Sam Kroonenburg said A Cloud Guru had cruised past the $100 million revenue landmark and had a $US80 million ($115 million) annual revenue run rate, which was up from $US17.1 million a year previously.

July 31, 2017 – Series A – Elephant Venture Capital – $7M

  • April 29, 2019 – Series B – Elephant Venture Capital, Airtree Ventures, Summit Partners – $33M
  • Dec 19, 2019 – Venture Round – Bain Capital


A Cloud Guru made one acquisition – Linux Academy – on December 16, 2019. Linux Academy was, much like A Cloud Guru, an education company with their main focus on training in Linux, although they also offered training on AWS, Azure, and other applications.

June 2nd, 2021 –  A Cloud Guru was acquired by US company Pluralsight for $2 billion, making it one of the largest deals ever for an Australian tech company.

The deal to buy A Cloud Guru was funded in part by US investment firm Vista Equity Partners, which acquired the Nasdaq-listed Pluralsight for $US3.5 billion at the end of 2020, taking it private.

Despite the financial windfall, both Sam and Ryan Kroonenburg will stay on to work within Pluralsight, and in a statement Sam Kroonenburg, who is A Cloud Guru’s CEO, said he was excited by the “next phase” of the company within Pluralsight.

According to a press release, the acquisition will allow Pluralsight to address the gap between the industry-wide shift to cloud applications and the lack of tech workers’ skills with the product. In their 2022 report, 75% of tech leaders say they will use the cloud in the future, while currently only 8% of tech workers have cloud-related experience.


From humble beginnings in 2015, it took only 4 years to attract over $40 million dollars in funding over 3 investment rounds, to then be acquired in 2021 for over $2 billion dollars. Incredible numbers. 

The speed that tech companies are raising money and growing is astonishing. It’s great to see such innovation coming out of Australia and hope towards future possibilities.

Individual Spotlight: Who is Craig Blair?

When looking into Australian venture capital firm Airtree, Blair seemed to be right at the heart of it, so I did a little research. His career has been quite spectacular and for one person, he has managed to achieve a lot.

Craig Blair is a very talented individual who has worked in a variety of industries and businesses since the 1990s. According to Blair’s LinkedIn profile, “he has founded three software companies, two of which were profitable and one of which was a bitter learning experience.”

Naturally, you are thinking “Which one was the bitter learning experience?”. 

From what I can see, the three most likely companies he’s referring to would be Beamly, Travelselect, and PetCircle. 

Beamly was a software integrated company, whereas Travelselect and PetCircle are more online services. Perhaps Craig Blair could help clarify in the comments which software company was the bitter experience?. It could also be an entirely different company not mentioned.


Craig is most recently well known for his accomplishments with AirTree and PetCircle but before that, his professional career grew in a number of strategy and investment advisor roles. 

Looking at his profile with my recruiter eyes on, I would summarise (make guesses) as to how he transitioned from one position to the next:

  • 1987 – 1991 – Completed Engineering Degree in Sydney
  • No work history detailed between 1991 and 1998. Perhaps working Engineering roles he didn’t feel necessary to put on his profile.
  • 1997 – Completed MBA with INSEAD 
  • Jan 1998 – Started with Kalchas Group as a Strategy Consultant. Stayed for 1 yr, 10 months until Oct 1999.
  • I would imagine he gained a lot of expertise and knowledge in this role advising CEO’s.
  • Founded Travelselect – Nov 1999 – Jun 2003 · 3 yrs 8 months. Looks like he may have moved to the UK during this time.
  • Sold to lastminute.com.au in 2002. Perhaps stayed on a little after the sale.
  • 2 year gap after exit. Could be time off with non-compete.
  • Jan 2005 – Oct 2005 · 10 months – Advisor to Expedia on Australian launch. I could imagine he was headhunted here because of his previous experience with Travelselect.
  • Dec 2005 – Aug 2006 · 9 mos – Head of Leisure Investment Banking at Macquarie Bank
  • Not much information listed. Looks like a full-time role. Only 9 months. Perhaps the corporate working life wasn’t for Blair.
  • Jun 2006 – Jun 2011 · 5 yrs 1 mo – Executive Director/Investor at Netus
  • This was quite a long stint. Seems he did enjoy this role and investor/advisor life.
  • Feb 2012 – Oct 2014 – 2 yrs 8 months – Founder – Beamly Australia
  • Grew and sold this business. Looks like he did quite well with this company and the sale.
  • Apr 2012 – Present · 10 yrs 6 mos – Pet Circle – Founding Chairman – Started this while still working on Beamly. Perhaps he knew the exit was coming and looked for a new project.
  • Jun 2014 – Present · 8 yrs 4 mos – Airtree – Managing Partner and CoFounder
  • Only two years after getting involved with Pet Circle, he launched this new venture. 
  • The investor life got him good. Looks like these two ventures have kept his hands full until now. 


The two companies Blair grew and sold were:

Travelselect – Nov 1999 – Jun 2003 · 3 yrs 8 mths

London, United Kingdom

Travelselect.com was one of the first online travel companies in the UK. Blair was responsible for raising venture capital, business development and leading the marketing team. He also led the sale of the business to lastminute.com in 2002 in a transaction, which generated healthy returns to founders and investors.

lastminute.com issued £9m in new shares for Travelselect, its first large scale acquisition in the UK, which Brent Hoberman pointed out would make an “an immediate positive contribution to operating cashflow.” In addition to the initial consideration, lastminute.com will pay up to a further £3m depending on the EBITDA achieved for the year to 31 January 2003.

The deal tripled lastminute.com’s existing UK flights volume creating a UK flights revenue stream of approximately £50 million and providing access to a further 39 airline relationships as well as giving online access to Eurostar.

Crucially, it also moved the company’s flight offering up to a similar scale as lastminute’s hotel portfolio ahead of the addition of dynamic packaging to the site later this year. Mr Hoberman said: “We are already growing at 110% year on year and this deal makes sense across all metrics. It will particularly help when we introduce dynamic packaging later in the year.” According to Atinera’s Stuart Winter, the ability to put together holiday packages is going to prove crucial to online travel sites as suppliers take control of their own inventory and commission levels fall. 

As of now, the Travelselect domain seems to be parked with no active content.

Beamly – Feb 2012 – Oct 2014 – 2 yrs 9 mths

Launched Beamly (formally zeebox) Australia. Lead the product strategy, built the team, raised 2 rounds of capital and commercialised the business. Chaired the Australian board.

Beamly was a technology company based in London, UK and New York City, United States. The company was founded in April 2011 as tBone TV, later renamed to Zeebox, by Ernesto Schmitt and Anthony Rose. It was started as a social discovery and engagement platform with 2nd-screen TV, creating the concept of social television.

Beamly, then called Zeebox, aimed to provide the optimal platform for connected television, making it a social and interactive viewing experience rather than the standard television viewing format. The platform allowed users to follow and interact with their favourite TV shows, as well as play games and take part in polls. It expanded to the US in September 2012 and into Australia in November.

In October 2015, Beamly was acquired by COTY for an undisclosed amount. Since then, there isn’t a huge amount of information about it. I found one mention saying it is scheduled for dissolution. Topic for a future article – “What happened to Beamly?”.

Worthy Note

The early focus of Blair’s career seemed to be helping international companies launch in Australia. I could imagine Blair would have gained incredible insight into international markets and how to capitalise on gaps in the Australian market.

Blair worked full-time at Netus from June 2006 to June 2011, where he rose to the position of partner and had a global track record. 

Netus partnered with international technology companies to establish operations in Australia while also supporting excellent Australian founders. It became one of the best VC funds in Australia, achieving a 4x return on investment. 

Allure Media (Gawker, Sugar Publishing), Wayfair, Switchwise, The Video Company, Ourdeal, and Travel.com were represented in the portfolio along with Downstream Marketing.


Very interesting career. I’ve made a number of assumptions here about timeframes, mindset and career gaps. All positive but purely speculation. I think it’s interesting to read between the lines of “what happened when” in relation to each other to gain an insight into how careers evolve and what risks and pathways different people take to achieve success. There’s always low and high points in everyone’s journey. 

A lot of the time we aren’t aware or exposed to other ways of life unless we really dig in and search for answers. Craig Blair’s journey is a great insight into Australian startups, and the evolution of various tech businesses over the past 15 years.

Mike Frizell

With the pet industry in Australia worth a whopping $13 Billion, Pet Circle is one company that has taken their eCommerce business model to the next level when it comes to customer experience and ordering pet food online.

Founded in 2011 by Michael Frizell and James Edwards operating from their garage, they made $1 Million in revenue their first year of operation. If that wasn’t impressive enough they went on to bank a total $12 Million in their first 3 years of operation. That’s 330% growth and won top spot in the 2014 Smart50 awards by SmartCompany

Now valued at over $1 Billion dollars, they have evolved to include subscriptions, VetChat and even pet telehealth services.

Pet Circle is a retail enterprise that sells everything a pet owner could want or need. They are the most well-known and well-established online pet store in Australia with warehouses based in Sydney, Australia.

Since its founding, the company’s mission has been straightforward: to meet all of the committed pet owners’ demands without them having to leave the convenience of their own homes. 

A decade has passed, and today, Pet Circle provides improved services to over 700,000 repeat consumers. These improvements range from a more comprehensive selection of available products to lower prices. Their workforce currently numbers more than 600 people, and they are a pioneer in the rapidly expanding field of eCommerce in Australia. 

Their 2021 Series C raise amassed 125 million dollars in funding and made them one of Australia’s latest unicorn companies.

The round was led by US firm Prysm Capital along with Sydney-based TDM Growth Partners.

UK investor Baillie Gifford also contributed, along with Aussie Capital and existing backer AirTree.

Investment Funding

  • Feb 7, 2017 – Venture Round – Airtree Ventures
  • November 14, 2017 – Venture Round – Francisco Partners
  • December 7, 2021 – Series C – Prysm Capital, TDM Growth Partners, Airtree Ventures, Aussie Capital, Baillie Gifford  – $125 Million

Craig Blair, co-founder and partner at AirTree, called the Pet Circle founding team “quiet achievers” of the Aussie startup scene.

“The role pets play in our lives can’t be understated,” Blair added.

“As pet owners now look for the same level of variety and quality of products as they do for themselves, Pet Circle is in the best position to meet these expectations.”

While no recent revenue figures have been provided, the business has seen strong growth over the past 18 months, as the COVID-19 lockdowns led to a boom in pet ownership.

The latest funding will fuel accelerated growth, allowing the team to further develop the software platform and expand Pet Circle’s warehouse footprint, fleet of vehicles and product range.

“We are on a mission to reinvent the experience of pet ownership,” Frizell said in a statement.


Pet Circle looks to be expanding and growing their team with a number of jobs listed on LinkedIn including ‘Mobile React Native Developer” and “Marketing CRM Lead”. With 64% growth over the past 2 years according to LinkedIn I think we’ll continue to see this company expand and evolve technologically. 

Interesting to note they started out initially with custom software around logistics and delivery to prove the business model.

Looking forward to seeing what’s next for this powerhouse eCommerce company.