With between three and four million visits per month, finder.com.au is Australia’s most frequented comparison website. According to co-founder and director, Fred Schebesta, to stay ahead of the game, he and his business partner Frank Restuccia have had to be penny-wise, people-focused and paranoid.
In 2002, Schebesta, then aged 22, co-founded digital agency Freestyle Media with Restuccia, while completing a Bachelor of Finance at Macquirie University in Sydney. Four years later, the pair launched finder.com.au, with Schebesta’s motivation being to encourage people to make financial decisions with a frugal mindset.
He was named ADMA’s Australian Young Direct Marketer of the Year in 2007, the same year Freestyle Media was acquired by ASX-listed media group Q Ltd. He and Restuccia continued to run the agency until late 2009, after which time they focused on developing the finder.com.au network of comparison services.
Following the success of finder.com.au, Schebesta and Restuccia launched the brand into the US in July 2015. In addition to being a contributor for news.com.au, The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media, Schebesta makes regular TV and radio appearances and is a mentor to entrepreneurs through organisations including the University of Technology Sydney.
Dynamic Business caught-up with Schebesta to discuss finder, including the moments that have defined the company.
DB: After more than a decade, what still excites you about finder?
Schebesta: We’re only just beginning. We’ve launched in the US and the UK over the past two years and I’m really looking forward to further expanding into those markets. While they’re competitive markets, that’s what keeps us motivated. The way we quantify our success abroad, while our US and UK operations are still in their infancy, is looking at two measurements. The first is the foundations we’ve laid for success, i.e. a combination of the right people, processes and tools. The second is a revenue trajectory that’s up and to the right – it’s slowly growing, month-on-month.
Right now, my priority is driving growth and positivity in our teams, globally. As such, I’m heavily involved in the hiring process and both Frank and I educate new staff about our values and mission statement. This is critical because finder’s success is a testament to our “one crew” value. I’m also motivated to help out internationally, where I can, which means frequent travel between our offices in the US, UK and Australia. Thankfully, a huge benefit of running a business these days is that almost everything can be done digitally.
DB: What moments have defined finder’s growth story?
Schebesta: finder.com.au actually started out with multiple web domains (such as creditcardfinder.com.au and lifeinsurancefinder.com.au). As such, a defining moment in our growth journey was the consolidation of these sites into just one to make it easier for consumers to locate us. This was a huge project that required months of preparation and could have resulted in all of finder’s brands losing visibility on Google… it’s a testament to the determination and skills of our team that we were able to do it almost seamlessly. Ultimately, the consolidation solidified our position as the most comprehensive comparison service in Australia.
Another defining moment preceded our launch into the United States in 2015, when Frank and I realised we had to start the entire process again – while it was almost like starting a new business, we had a blueprint. By identifying where our team structure was most successful, building new website layout templates, and launching new projects as part of the US launch, we actually raised the benchmark for our operations in Australia and for finder in general.
DB: How would you sum up your partnership with Restuccia?
Schebesta: Frank and I lived together for two and a half years in a share house with five other people. We had no money so lived frugally. This helped us develop incredible empathy, trust and communication, which is at the core of our partnership. We had each other’s backs then and we continue to look after each other’s best interests – a value that trickles down to the rest of the business. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever go into a partnership and agree on everything – and Frank and I have solid debates – but most of the time we will revert and take the other person’s opinion by the end of the debate!
DB: You advocate being frugal. How are you frugal with finder?
Schebesta: I’m definitely frugal – and I hate being ripped off! The whole purpose of finder is to save people money, so it makes sense for us to have been frugal with the business. It’s no secret that cash flow is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs, and Frank and I went through the same process. I still remember wearing shoes worn down to their soles to meetings with clients, but not being bothered because they couldn’t see the bottoms of our feet. We also learnt early on that being money-conscious from the beginning is the only way to get by. If we were owed money, it was chased up, even if it was only a few cents. And there’s no point being brand-loyal. If you can save money by switching brands, do it.
DB: What are you doing to future-proof the company?
Schebesta: I live by the mantra that “only the paranoid survive”, which dictates the way I pursue innovation with finder. In addition, I’ve learned that when pursuing company growth, it’s important to focus on continually strengthening the core business model in order to avoid problems – in fact this this has been a huge priority as we’ve launched into new countries. We’re on a clear growth trajectory and are looking to expand into other another six countries in the next 12 months and to be operating in 10 countries in total by the end of 2018. We’re currently looking at Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada.
DB: How are you able to juggle your media commitments with finder?
Schebesta: I’m a huge believer in the power of PR so it’s never been difficult trying to juggle the media and finder at the same time. It’s not a matter of prioritising one over the other – I believe they go hand-in-hand so finding the time has never been difficult.