Dom was propelled into the startup spotlight back in 2018, as the founder of Aussie neobank pioneer Up. But he’s actually been an active entrepreneur and investor for two decades or more.
In fact, Up was launched through a partnership between Bendigo Bank and Ferocia, the fintech Dom ran with co-founder Grant Thomas. In 2021, Up was fully acquired by Bendigo Bank in a deal worth $116 million.
Dom and his wife have been running Euphemia “forever”, he says. But in the past couple of years, the office has had a few successful exits, bringing in some capital and some press attention.
In 2022, Judy Anderson-Firth, former CEO of Startup Victoria, came on board as Group CEO, and things ramped up a notch.
Judy helped Dom unpack what he really cares about and define the thesis of the family office – and helped him start telling the world about it.
That thesis includes backing women and other underrepresented founders, and investing in startups doing good things for the planet.
But it also goes a little deeper than that. Euphemia invests at all layers of the ecosystem, to help strengthen the whole startup sector in Australia.
Spreading the love
Where more ‘traditional’ family offices might invest 1% or 2% into startups, Euphemia invests more like 80% to 90%, Dom says.
Sure, it has a public markets investment portfolio and a property portfolio, too. But by far the most prominent is the venture portfolio.
“Most family offices are boring,” Dom says.
“You don’t really hear about them; you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.
“We’re the family office that is a little bit different, a little bit cool, a little bit new.”
Euphemia backs startups directly, but it also invests in some of Australia’s most renowned VC funds – think Blackbird, Airtree and SquarePeg – as well as smaller, industry-specific or specialist funds (including impact-focused Giant Leap, Kate Morris’s Glow Capital Partners, Cheryl Mack’s Aussie Angels, and women-led, early-stage VC Flying Fox).
It’s also invested in ‘alternative’ capital providers.
That includes Tractor – both the company itself, and the fund, as well as equity crowdfunding platform Birchal; Australia’s first secondaries fund SecondQuarter; and Startmate, which offers fellowship programs as well as its accelerator.
For Dom, these investments are partly about spreading the love as far as possible. After all, this is his personal money, and it’s not unlimited.
“Even though we’ve made lots of direct investments, through our investment in funds we’ve actually helped thousands of Aussie startups. That has been quite powerful.”
This thesis is also a recognition that there’s no one source of capital or growth that’s right for every startup. A healthy ecosystem is a diverse one – with diverse startups, diverse leaders and diverse paths to success. That means we need diverse support structures, too.
The Aussie startup OS
Through Euphemia, Dom is striving to build what he calls the “startup operating system” in Australia.
As far as ecosystems go, we’re a long way behind the “billionaire’s factories” of Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong, he says.
But those ecosystems are multigenerational, he explains. Founders and employees of PayPal, for example, have famously gone on to build the likes of LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp and (who can forget) Tesla and SpaceX. Those businesses have produced yet more wealth, and yet more entrepreneurs.
We’re starting to see this happen in the local ecosystem, too. But it’s early days.
“Australia is probably decades behind the rest of the world in terms of access to capital, buoyancy in the venture market, and successful exits, where those founders create other founders,” Dom says.
We’ve had the ‘first wave’ of Aussie success stories in Seek, Drive and RealEstate.com, he explains. Then came the second wave of Atlassian, Canva and Envato.
“But we need to have three, four, five or six generations of that.”
A job for a Tractor
Revenue debt funding is one mark of a mature and sophisticated startup ecosystem, Dom says. And until recently it was largely missing in Australia.
There were operators offering debt funding, but they weren’t particularly high-profile, and they didn’t market what they were offering.
Tractor, on the other hand, has a clear and defined brand; it doesn’t just provide debt funding, it shouts about it. A lot.
“Five years ago, that market segment of the ecosystem was practically non-existent. Even if it did exist, nobody knew about it,” Dom says.
“Now, it’s in the paper every day. It’s in your news feed.
“I reckon in the next ten years, we’ll have 20 Tractors. In 30 or 40 years we’ll have hundreds of them … and that will mean revenue debt funding is a vibrant part of the ecosystem.”
But there’s another element at play here. To foster that ‘flywheel effect’ of startups breeding startups, we need successful founders to themselves invest in the ecosystem.
If you invest directly or via crowdfunding, you might never get your money back, Dom explains. If you do, it could be a decade or more later.
Backing venture firms means you become a limited partner, which comes with responsibilities. Again, returns can take years to materialise.
As an investor in the Tractor fund, however, “we get a cheque every month”.
It offers an attractive route for entrepreneurs to back their up-and-coming peers. It might not be all they do, but it’s one way to build a varied portfolio.
“That is a really positive dynamic to create a flywheel within the funding segment,” Dom says.
This leads Dom to Euphemia’s overarching goal, or thesis – one that emerged almost without him realising.
Euphemia has been investing in “ecosystem infrastructure”, he says.
Portfolio companies like Tractor, Buildkite, Cake Equity and Birchal “actually power startups”, he says.
Dom likes to think this is really what sets Euphemia apart from other family offices and investment firms.
“We don’t just want to make awesome,” he says.
“We want to make the awesome that makes the awesome … it’s basically an infrastructure play.”
Euphemia is backing the businesses that will help the next generation of businesses succeed, Dom explains. Powering those that power others.
“We’re trying to elevate the entire ecosystem – not picking a winner.”