Tech Leaders’ Thoughts: Joe Waller from Finder

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Name: Joe Waller
Company: Finder
Position: Chief Product & Technology Officer (CPTO)

Bio: “A driven, results-focused executive with a passion for products powered by technology and who thrives on a challenge, Joe’s focus at Finder is on scale: the product, the technology, the global business, the value chain and the revenue model. 

Joe played a key role in transforming UK start-up Betfair into the world’s largest e-gaming platform in 2012, running product and platform teams across the globe to build the core product engine, driving annual revenues of over $700 million and matching over 30,000 trades a minute – more than all of Europe’s stock exchanges combined. 

In 2015-2018, Joe also scaled a $1 million valuation angel funded machine learning start-up Flamingo AI to a circa $100 million public company using technology as a key value driver for the business. It also involved growing teams in Sydney and New York and securing MSAs with a number of Fortune 100 firms.”

Email: joe@finder.com

LinkedIn: au.linkedin.com/in/mrjoewaller

What are your thoughts on the Sydney tech scene today and what has been the biggest game-changing moment over the past decade or so?

When I arrived in Sydney in 2015, I must admit I was nervous there would be a lot of satellite locations, especially since I was coming from London and had also previously worked in San Francisco. However, I soon saw hope in strong start-ups like Atlassian as well as high-growth challenger companies like Canva, Safety Culture and Finder. 

I’ve been really impressed with the investment and focus that’s been poured into the tech start-up scene in Sydney. Focused hubs such as Tank Stream Labs, Stone and Chalk, Fishburners, growth in engaged investors and venture capital funds and the support of the government has been critical. Start-ups that had 3-4 crew back in 2017 are now established and growing organisations. 

One of the game-changes for me was the legal change that stopped tax on share options at allocation. Before this, it was very hard for cash-poor companies to attract top talent by balancing out the opportunity with options for equity in the company. 

What problems/challenges do you see the Sydney tech scene currently facing? And why do they happen?

Something I find interesting about Australian companies is that the stock market values profit so highly – often more highly than revenue growth. This is a challenge. If we penalise a company that’s investing in profitability instead of growth then that company may compromise its future to pay for dividends today. I don’t believe that a company like Amazon, which reinvests its profits into growth, would be successful in such a regime. 

One thing I’m not satisfied with in Australia is the Internet. State-of-the-art connectivity has not been a priority as measured by the huge volume of ADSL connections still present and accepted by Aussies. We cannot have a leading technology scene without world-leading broadband capabilities. Being forced to use Internet speeds and download caps that I last experienced in the 1990s (a generation ago!) was the worst realisation I had to wrestle with when I arrived in Sydney. 

What would you like to see changed to solve these problems/challenges? What action can be taken – and who by?

I think that savvy investors and firms that understand sustainable revenue growth and worry less about profits will make more money and this will fix the profit valuation issue. Better education is needed to solve this problem, but I also think the passage of time will ease this issue as people start to see what makes money and what makes more money. And as always, government incentives will always help too!

As for the Internet challenge, I’d love to see more telco competition or government-sponsored breaks for the companies that are making a big difference with a fantastic product, such as TPG which has an unlimited 100 gig fibre product for just $50 a month. I’d love to see this network grow. 

Which skills do you think are most in demand across the Sydney tech scene? And which skills are we lacking?

We have some amazing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) people in Sydney and I’ve had the pleasure to work with some of the best. These people have built natural language processing and natural language generation systems that can read, write, listen and talk. They have also invented artificial brains that can learn from experience – without needing human supervision. 

Sydney has some of the best product designers, software engineers and product managers. However, I’ve had to search abroad for internationally experienced and senior product and technology crew that have world-dominating strength in mobile and fintech. 

What trends do you predict for 2020 and then for this decade?

I don’t see the big banks, which have a huge amount of capital and mortgage books, going anywhere. They don’t need to adopt early. They can acquire or compete in a fast-follower fashion as many of the neo banking apps are on the same APIs and services used by major banks. 

Cashless will be the norm. Currency will be abstracted so that people will pay in the most appropriate currency for the transaction. Trading will be more and more automated. Wealth in markets will be more volatile. There will be a machine-led market boom and a machine-led market crash. 

The information security sector will grow and become more mainstream. Usernames and passwords are already dead. The scale of exploits that have already happened but not yet been made public will start to be understood. Products and services will form around breach management and recovery for people who have had their accounts and identities compromised. 

Everything will become easier as the user interface and UX is more of a differentiator and as things become easier, they will also become more sophisticated and complicated. 

What excites you most about the future of your industry or the Sydney tech scene as a whole? 

I’m loving the Sydney tech boom. It’s an open market. It’s got great talent and leadership. It’s compact enough for great collaboration. It’s optimistic and down-to-earth. I can’t wait to see what innovation Sydney creates during this next decade. 

In terms of the future of this industry, I’m 45 years old. Sci-fi from my early years had video calls, big screens, mobile data pads and thinking machines that could learn and solve problems. I am already living in the future.

Which tech company (Australia or overseas) or individual do you admire and why? 

I already admired Finder’s founding team, Fred, Frank and Jeremy before I joined. Safety Culture has a great opportunity that I would love to see it exploit and maximise. Canva is also an impressive company because it’s got a great product and product focus. 

I think NearMap has solid leadership and a novel business model while one-year-old ML start-up CuriousThing is onto something well thought-out, well built and very focused. 

Overseas, I’ve followed Funding Circle for years as I’ve worked with some of its leaders before and know them to be world leading. I’ve been an enormous fan of Amazon since 2006 when it invested billions in rebuilding a platform that sold books and birthed AWS and unleashed cloud computing to the world. 

Recommend our readers a book, why did you enjoy it and who would benefit from reading it?

The book that changed everything for me was From Good to Great by Jim Collins. As a software engineer it helped me switch my focus from always building things right to always building the right thing.

Joe is always looking for talented individuals to join his crew, check out what life at Finder is like here.