Serial entrepreneur James Sampson started out selling modified skateboards to his high school friends, now he’s running a multi-million dollar global business you’ve probably never heard of.
Sampson’s business is unknown to most, but people like Mortgage Broker Anita Monterio of Australian Home Loans know it well.
Over two years ago, someone from Aussie called Monterio and his colleagues together to tell them that the company would soon be using Sampson’s product, FileInvite.
“Let me tell you, it’s a time saver,” Monterio says.
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FileInvite is headquartered in Auckland, provides services to 15 million people, and just raised $10 million in its Series A fundraising, bringing its valuation to $40 million, but the company only realizes 3% of its income in New Zealand.
Its product does not help realtors sell a property at a higher price or buyers buy at a lower price, and it does not calculate mortgage eligibility. FileInvite doesn’t actually handle any of the basic functions you think of when you imagine people buying and selling houses.
Instead, it only handles one aspect of the process, document requests.
For brokers like Monterio, these document requests are some of the most frustrating parts of the process, as they are traditionally done by email.
This involves a frustrating volley of messages as brokers request more information, clients misinterpret those requests, and the cycle repeats itself.
In the end, all these highly sensitive confidential documents, which were exchanged between the broker and the client via email, end up staying in the mortgage broker’s unsecured inbox forever, leaving the data vulnerable to security breaches. cybersecurity.
This is why FileInvite is used by so many mortgage brokerage companies in Australia and elsewhere. The company estimates that it is responsible for a third of all mortgage transactions brokered in Australia.
New Zealand entrepreneur Sir Paul Callaghan once said New Zealand’s strength is in the “weird stuff” and FileInvite joins a long tradition of Kiwi businesses specializing in products or services for market niches that no one realized were particularly profitable or important.
Sampson thinks being from a country a bit far from major markets is an asset when it comes to spotting these kinds of opportunities.
“Sometimes opportunities are hidden in plain sight and when you’re operating in a big dynamic market, you might miss some of them.
“Whereas if you’re slightly farther away and looking outside of larger markets like the US, you might have a bit more clarity to spot opportunities that might not be so obvious.”
But it makes it sound like Sampson had planned the idea of targeting overseas mortgage brokers in advance — instead, his company got there almost by accident.
FileInvite was a secure document request service spun off from e-commerce website builder Zyber, but they never thought of a specific market niche when they started.
Then the company started analyzing the customers who signed up, they found that most of them were mortgage brokers in Australia.
Sampson says Australian companies were starting to pay a lot more attention to how they store and transfer information on the back of new data protection and privacy laws that carried stiff penalties.
FileInvite has therefore doubled its new customer base and started offering direct offers to mortgage brokers across the Tasman.
Sampson is used to adapting companies and creating startups, his CV is full of it.
But there is a glaring discrepancy, the one he admits from the outset. He never had, as he puts it, “a full-time PAID job”.
Sampson grew up in Hamilton, where his first job as an entrepreneur was buying skateboards from his friends at Fraser High School, modifying them, and then reselling them for a profit.
But in the background, he harbored a growing interest in technology and programming.
His father worked in the automotive industry and helped different automotive companies install new accounting software packages.
As part of the upgrade process, there was sometimes a computer left over that Sampson could play with. In 1998, Sampson got his first: an old IBM XT with an orange screen and no hard drive.
Sampson started pulling books from the library and learning programming. He admits that the logical thing from there would have been to go on and study computer science, but he was persuaded to do architecture at Victoria University instead.
But he doesn’t view his time studying architecture as a waste, it even came in handy at one of his early ventures, Wallcandy. It was while he was running this business that he also realized he never really wanted to be involved in anything like this again.
Wallcandy sold waterproof artwork, but the headaches came in the form of couriers, logistics issues and supply chain issues – the perils of running a business that buys and sells physical products.
His next venture, Property Billboard, was an online marketplace for investment properties, but it soon ran into the global financial crisis.
“Going through the GFC, the real estate sector evaporated and it took several years to recover.”
Sampson kept Property Billboard in business and eventually sold it, but he took six months off to clear his head before diving back into the entrepreneurial game with web design agency Zyber in 2009.
Every day, Zyber found himself simultaneously designing and working on setting up 200 websites. The need for a safe, simple and easy way to request documents and files grew out of this.
Sampson says that when they came up with the name “FileInvite,” he hoped it might eventually become a verb for requesting documents the same way Google became a verb for searching for things on the Internet.
The company’s reach also goes beyond Australian mortgage brokers. He’s set up a US sales office in Denver — and is making a big push there after US sales hit nearly half of FileInvite’s revenue.
New Zealand government-backed seed investor NZ Growth Capital Partners provided early seed funding to the company and ranks it among its top 10% of companies out of a total portfolio of 150 companies in which it invests.
As it happens, Growth Capital Partners is also using FileInvite’s service to automatically request and search performance reports from these companies, a process that used to be labor intensive and required the organization to employ an additional part-time employee.
Growth Capital Partners senior portfolio manager Molly Yang says Sampson’s role in the company played a big role in her decision to invest, but she notes that when it comes to the backgrounds of the entrepreneurs, he is important not only to have successes, but also failures.
“Sometimes they’re more practical, more realistic, if they’ve failed once or twice in the past.”