It was standing room only in the Future Summit workshop yesterday on Web 2.0 and the six person panel plus the attendees reached the very strong conclusion that Australia’s has two key problems: inadequate infrastructure investment and inadequate business skills.
There were also some very interesting emails from the Crikey Army yesterday, including several entrepreneurs, some of whom have contributed to this fascinating article by Vishal Sharma and Richard MacManus assessing the top web applications in Australia at the moment.
Whilst there does appear to be plenty of activity in the start-up space, our funds management industry still doesn’t get it. How on earth can we have the world’s fourth biggest pool of superannuation savings yet sod-all of this goes towards supporting web-related Australian venture capital?
There are just too many Australian start-ups that have to relocate to Silicon Valley as a condition of their US venture capital backers.
Have a look through the boards of Australia’s top 100 companies and ask yourself how many of these directors have a strong IT background? This might partly explain why we don’t have an IT company in Australia’s top 150, let alone one in The Diplomat’s recent list of our 100 most internationally successful companies.
Of course, there have been some successes, but the current state of play is not pretty. Looksmart may have made Evan Thornley a billionaire for 15 minutes at the peak of the dotcom boom, but it is now only capitalised at $9 million. At least Phil Merrick’s Web Methods is worth $US500 million.
Two of our best success stories have just been sold offshore. Melbourne-based web traffic monitoring firm Hitwise was picked up by UK credit information company Experian for $300 million last month and Brisbane-based Mincom went to American private equity firm Francisco Partners for $315 million in January.
So what IT related companies does that leave on the ASX? The best is probably trading systems company Iress which has revenues of $100 million and has just cracked a $1 billion market capitalisation. Computershare is technically a financial services company but it does spend $10 million a month on R&D and is now capitalised at a record $6.5 billion.
The consulting businesses are hanging in there. Shares in SMS Technology, the old Sausage Software, have doubled this year, valuing the business at $333 million. MYOB now owns the old Solution 6 operation and it is valued at $520 million, whilst Oakton has been the recent sprinter, rocketing to a market cap of $500 million with revenues of just $60 million.