Alumnus: Alex North

Alex North Posse

Working for a small Start-up doesn't mean not working with the big-names of the IT Industry

Alex graduated from Computer Science at UNSW in 2006 and initially worked as a software engineer for a network security start-up before later joining Google in Australia. He recently left Google to join another start-up, Posse, where he leads the engineering team. 

The UNSW COMPUTING student newsletter "Beta" talked to Alex recently to discover what keeps drawing him back to startups. 

Having had a good job with a well known employer, what attracts you to the start-up world? 
For me, the strongest appeal of start-ups over large companies is much greater influence over and responsibility for your own success or failure. Everyone involved is in the same room, working together towards one goal, with tight focus. Larger organisations necessarily endure corporate strategy, politics, and many distractions. Sometimes the corporations can boost your impact, but whatever effect they have is beyond your control.

Tell us more about this new start-up
Posse is a platform for merchants and bands to encourage and reward their passionate fans for promoting their store, service, or shows. Fans become a part of their favourite stores' success and earn status, recognition, and rewards from the stores. Everyone wins: the stores reach more great customers and fans earn recognition for introducing their friends to great stores.

Posse started off in music and the great opportunity for me has been to bring this model to other markets. It's great to be working on something valuable enough for people to pay for, rather than relying on advertising.

How did you find Posse?
I pay close attention to the happenings in Sydney's tech start-up scene and discovered Posse while hunting for an exciting new project. There's a lot going on in Sydney, but Posse struck me as a unique idea with a huge opportunity.

Since joining I've managed to recruit even more outstanding UNSW COMPUTING alumni to join me, including Glen Kelley, Michael Hills, Aaron Tay, and Nik Youdale. UNSW produces graduates with a unique blend of technical skill and broader enthusiasm and ambition to make a difference--perfect for a start-up.

Who funds it?
Posse was first funded by a collection of Australian music and media industry investors, both personal and corporate, and a significant Commercialisation Australia grant. We've since attracted more funding from a collection of Silicon Valley investors and funds.

Our board of directors includes Lars Rasmussen (of Google Maps and Wave fame), with whom I worked at Google, and our advisors include early innovators or backers of Twitter, eBay and Apple.

How does Posse differ from what’s available already?
Posse falls into a cluster of new ideas under the umbrella of social commerce. This includes group buying services, Foursquare’s merchant platform, SCVNGR, etc. Posse is unique in providing a platform for brands to reward fans for sharing with their friends, and offers a much more targeted and sustainable model to bands and retailers than the steep discounts of traditional group buying. 

The social commerce ecosystem is exploding and there’s no doubt there will be a load of successful companies. Everyone’s experimenting with different business models and while most haven’t been around long enough to succeed or fail, I'm excited by Posse's sustainable and scalable "everyone wins" model.