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Ned Montarello, the smartie behind ThinkSmart

All it really takes is an idea, and from there the rest will come. At least that’s what happened when Ned Montarello came up with the idea to start and export ThinkSmart, a business-to-business financer for small and medium businesses.

“The idea was really about seeing the appetite of the small business community in particular,” says Ned Montarello, ThinkSmart managing director and CEO. Montarello, in particular, refers to the need of micro businesses to keep up with technology. “This particular small business community in Australia would spend somewhere between four to five thousand dollars every year on equipment. And when you talk about 1.2 million small businesses, you’re talking about a viable six billion dollar market,” he says. “So we thought we could assist these small businesses when purchasing that equipment at the point of sale.”
In Australia, ThinkSmart currently offers on the spot loan approval under the RentSmart brand, with retailers like the Dick Smith Group, Officeworks, and JB HiFi. These retailers are where the majority of the small business community shops, says Montarello.
In 2003, six years after ThinkSmart first opened in Australia, the decision to export came about. “We’d developed a portable and scalable product,” says Montarello. “So we then broke into the European marketplace by coordinating an exclusive agreement with the largest electrical retailer in Europe, the Dixons Group.”
ThinkSmart is now open in the UK, Spain, France, and recently began operating in Italy as well. However, the Dixons Group is spread across 14 countries, and ThinkSmart plans to open in one new Dixons location each year.
But ThinkSmart’s export success doesn’t stop there. Now listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, the company also sells in New Zealand, and is currently piloting RentSmart in the United States.
“As we grow into different territories, we look at replicating the same model as our first model here in Australia, and each time we duplicate that model it gets better,” says Montarello, as he chalks up the company’s success to a distinctive product. “We have a unique proposition that allows us to be the first to market in many of the markets we’re going to.
“You’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to have a very good product,” he adds. “If it’s a niche product, and if you have a good culture, and the people in the business are all moving down the same path, then it’s very hard to stop that momentum.”
While focus and drive has led to 66 percent of their business being made up of exports, part of that percentage is also due to their marketing approach. “The marketing that goes forward is integrating whatever the local territory is,” says Montarello. “Our marketing people will be talking in Spanish to the Spanish market. It’s an easy way to go about it.”
With 150 employees, 70 of whom are positioned overseas, Montarello believes ThinkSmart has the resources it needs to meet the planned growth. “The business will only grow if you have capacity to allow it to grow, and if you’ve got people who have the same hunger and culture.”