Founder and Chief Revenue Officer Bion Behdin says in the past year, First AML has moved from startup to scale-up, and that lockdowns proved to be timely catalysts for further leaps forward for the fast-growing Auckland reg-tech business.
Bion and his two founding partners started First AML in 2018 to offer a digital solution to anti-money-laundering (AML) compliance.
“We saw the business opportunity when the new phase of AML compliance came into effect, widening the net of businesses that needed to comply and do due-diligence – including accountants and real estate agents. The need for a streamlined digital solution is so important to ensure our customers comply with the legislation and ensure their clients have a smooth onboarding experience.”
As with many tech companies, the biggest competitor is the 'do it yourself' method using a paper-based manual process. With businesses forced to work from home during the nationwide Alert Level 4 lockdown, First AML jumped at the opportunity to advance digital adoption and doubled down on its growth strategy.
“During the first lockdown, we hired nine more staff to drive this tech adoption, to support our customers with our solutions, and ensure they were not held back by compliance during lockdown and beyond.”
“This included doubling the sales team and the marketing budget. A lot of other businesses dropped their marketing spend during lockdown and we were able to get good deals and more for our money as a result.”
Throughout the nationwide lockdown, First AML was able to work remotely, continuing to support existing clients and onboard new ones. June was a record month for revenue, and new customer growth.
“I’m really proud of the team and how they banded together during lockdown and worked through a tough situation to continue to service our clients. The team are a huge motivation to me.”
The team easily transitioned to working remotely again for Auckland’s Alert Level 3 lockdown, and while there was some disruption to the sales cycle in Auckland, Bion reports no reduction in national business, with the rest of New Zealand at Alert Level 2.
Bion says that the future is strong for First AML and other technology companies.
I believe COVID-19 has brought tech adoption forward four to five years, just because of the world we are in, the importance of digital solutions, which can make business easier, is highlighted.
“We're solving a genuine pain point for our clients and their customers. The AML regime in New Zealand in the last two years expanded to lawyers, accountants and real estate agents and it looks like Australia will follow suit.”
The business has changed a lot over the past year and is now embarking on the next stage of its journey, having raised NZ$8 million of Series A funding in a capital raising round led by US-based Bedrock Capital, with support from Pushpay founder Chris Heaslip and Icehouse Ventures.
Bion believes investors are shifting their focus from Silicon Valley to Australasia and in particular, New Zealand, due to its vibrant and innovative startup ecosystem.
“The feedback we’ve had from investors is that Kiwi tech companies are in a really strong position right now. New Zealand has impressed investors with its response to COVID-19 and the calibre of our tech startups. We’ve built a great foundation to attract more investment.”
The business has changed a lot over the past year, and while the ability to leverage the rapid growth opportunities has been the outcome of detailed planning, Bion says it is still scary at times.
“After our seed funding round in October 2019, we set up detailed processes and worked out how to scale the company and the culture. We moved from a startup company to a scale-up: hiring more people, building better technology, and gaining more market share.”
“That’s set to change again with the latest injection of funding, which will see our headcount nearly double to around 60 people. It's a scary prospect growing so quickly but focusing on key metrics and revenue growth is more important for a growing tech company than focusing on returns.”
Bion says that Auckland’s tech scene, emerging venture capital market and globally competitive dining make the region a great place to do business.
Auckland’s tech scene has really matured in the last five years. We've got some great established tech companies already here such as Xero, Serko, Pushpay, Plexure and Rocket Lab, and so many other growing tech companies.
“The innovation of founders, the ease of business, supported by a willing government and an emerging venture capital market makes New Zealand a very exciting place to set up global businesses.”
“Also, it's very hard to beat the Auckland food scene - absolutely world class restaurants here!”