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Remembering the failed Aussie start-ups of yesteryear

Failed start-ups are a dime a dozen. But you wouldn't know it from the Australian market, which, unlike that of our American cousins, prefers to hide its failures and slink quietly into the night, instead of exploring the lessons gleaned from failure.

Below, we commemorate the Australian start-ups that didn't make it.

Many start-ups have disappeared as quickly and quietly as they arrived, but others have burned up much more dramatically.
Many start-ups have disappeared as quickly and quietly as they arrived, but others have burned up much more dramatically.  Photo: iStock


Telecommunications company Davnet was one of the hottest start-ups of the first dotcom boom. Under chief executive Stephen Moignard, the company connected office blocks to the internet using laser technology instead of more costly fibre-optic cables.

It once had a market capitalisation of $7 billion, according to BRW, twice the value of Qantas and bigger than Medibank Private (which had then just listed on the ASX). But the company's fortunes were reversed overnight, when on April 17, 2000 (the date the dotcom bubble officially burst) the sector took a 30 per cent tumble and that was it.

In 2003, Mr Moignard was disqualified from managing companies due to Davnet's failure. He was fined $15,000 in 2008 for illegally managing five companies while bankrupt. He would be allowed to act as a director again after repaying creditors.

These days, Mr Moignard can be found running a wine company Hundred of Comaum​ and copyright start-up, which scans the internet for plagiarised content that is actionable under copyright law.



99dresses was an Australian Pollenizer-backed start-up launched in 2010 that monetised the clothes-swap concept, with users uploading photos of their unwanted clothes to sell for virtual currency or "buttons". It was the brainchild of founder and chief executive Nikki Durkin​, then 20-something, who would initially earn $1.2 million in seed-round funding before investors began pulling out. Within two years, it would be all over.

In a Medium post on what it's like to fail at making it big, Ms Durkin candidly admitted the company was plagued by technical problems, particularly when it came to the buttons currency. It suffered from business-model problems she was too slow to address. The company tried to pivot, only to see a steady decline in the average value of the listed items, bringing revenue to a stand-still.

"I've survived being stabbed in the back by co-founders, investment rounds falling through, massive technology f---ups that brought sales to a halt, visa problems, lack of money, lack of traction, lack of a team, hiring the wrong people, firing people I didn't want to fire, lack of product-market fit, and everything else in between," Ms Durkin wrote.

By 2012, Durkin and co-founder Marcin Popielarz​ decided to "gracefully" shut down the business "for the sake of ourselves and the community".


PocketMail​ could have been the iPhone before the iPhone. Except it wasn't. Not by half. PocketMail is the name of the Australian company behind the personal digital assistant that essentially functioned as email, except you had to connect it to a landline telephone in order for it to work. Also, it didn't fit in your pocket.

With only 32,000 subscribers in the US, then chief executive David Marchant said the company needed to revise its business strategy to cope with "extremely tight" capital markets.

"Against this background, we have had to revise our business strategy to preserve cash and ensure that the business can survive in the absence of new capital," he said in a statement.

By the year 2000, it was reporting a $14.5 million loss, preceding a $6.7 million loss the following year. By the first quarter of 2002, it was reporting a negative cashflow of $500,000, leaving the company with just $159,000 in cash reserves.

The company pivoted dramatically in 2007, changing its name to Adavale Resources Limited, which would focus on "uranium mining and exploration opportunities" in Queensland and South Australia. The company appears to still be operating, according to its website.