Dave Parsell’s move to Calgary started out as a ‘labour of love’ – literally, as it’s his wife’s hometown – but the Australian entrepreneur says that’s certainly not where the story ends.
Parsell is the CEO and co-founder of Localintel, a fast growing GovTech company making it easier for councils and chambers of commerce to promote local advantages, share information businesses need and assist economic development. Its platform of more than 20 customisable plug-and-play apps is used by businesses to research customers, analyse competitors, evaluate new opportunities and more.
Having spent a decade working with councils on economic development initiatives, Parsell knew that many of them simply don’t have the time, money or expertise required to support local business growth in the digital age. But it wasn’t until he and his family decided to relocate to Canada that he was inspired to do something about it.
“I was leaving a good, steady job when I had a young family and mortgage to think about. But we wanted to take a leap and it was that clean break that enabled me to really get started,” said Parsell.
He started working through the initial ideas for Localintel while waiting for his Canadian work visa.
“I never thought I wanted to build a startup. It was opportunity driven. There was a problem that needed fixing and I felt I had enough subject-matter expertise to help,” said Parsell.
“Having that down time provided an opportunity to explore my ideas. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have ever thought of it otherwise.”
Once he landed a consulting role, Parsell negotiated to spend one day a week developing his business idea. He used the time to sketch up wireframes and interview more than 100 potential users and customers.
The effort paid off quickly for him. After nine months, Parsell already had three paying customers for his new business. That was enough encouragement for him to start the search for a co-founder and raise seed funding. Localintel officially launched in late 2016 and now has clients across 18 US states and six Canadian provinces.
Lessons in growth
Parsell says the experience of building his business across the US and Canada has taught him a lot of lessons that might benefit Australian entrepreneurs following in his footsteps.
“The US market presents an unbelievable opportunity. For instance, as far as our customer base goes, there are around 600 councils in Australia and 45,000 in the US. There are a lot of businesses that simply won’t be able to scale in Australia.”
But Parsell says the size of the market presents just as many challenges as it does opportunities.
“I had great traction early on with the customers with whom I had built relationships over time. We saw a lot of success building momentum. But every province and every US state is, essentially, a brand new country. They don’t care what you’ve done in other states.”
“For every new customer, we needed to demonstrate what we’ve done in their state and their locality and then an example of a similar-sized organisation who was working with us. It took a lot longer to reach the next stage.”
Parsell says promoting a Canadian company to the US market as an Australian also created a few barriers.
“Australians are generally well-regarded in the US but with risk-adverse clients like ours, being a foreigner can be a challenge.”
“We had to take as much risk off of the table as possible. For us, that meant incorporating the business in the US, setting up a local mailing address and contact details and ensuring we were there on the ground building those relationships.”
Parsell credits his willingness to get out there and speak with potential customers, from the early days of the business through to present day, as a driver in Localintel’s continued success.
“Founders need to get out and talk to customers as much as possible. You need to validate your ideas and business model before a single line is coded.”
“Winning over those early customers creates proof points that investors like the team at Investible want to see and greatly increases your chance of securing seed funding.”
“There is no ‘build it and they will come’ and talking to 10 customers isn’t enough. Throw yourself in and get out there talking and proving.”
And as far as launching a startup internationally? Parsell encourages Australian founders to go all in.
“If the Australian market is not going to be large enough, you’ve got to back yourself and get to the US. Your strategy might vary based on your product but I’d recommend against outsourcing the work to local channel partners or setting up offices in Australia and thinking that customers won’t know the difference. You need boots on the ground quickly.”