It's been a bad couple of weeks for Australia's nascent tech sector and those brave enough to invest in it, including the Murdoch family.

First, mobile phone plan provider Unlockd went into voluntary administration last week after previously cancelling its share market listing.

Unlockd provided consumers with cheap mobile phone plans in exchange for the consumers agreeing to watch ads on their screens when they unlock their devices.

It claims 300,000 active users globally, and 500 monthly advertisers.


The company had raised more than A$60 million from investors including Lachlan Murdoch and was planning to raise another A$80 when it listed on the stock market.

But those plans were put on hold after it revealed Google was going to stop selling its app on the Google Play Story and its AdMob advertising marketplace.

As well as illustrating the huge market power of the tech giants, this was a huge blow for Unlockd as it was where it got 80 per cent of its revenue.

It pulled the plug on its sharemarket float and attempted to find replacement funding, but after failing to do so, put itself into administration last week.

Next came bad news for Prospa, which offers fast-approval, high-interest loans to small businesses without requiring property as security.

The company was preparing to list on the share market, which would have provided a nice payoff for its founders and investors.

But last Tuesday – the day before it was due to hit the boards – it received a letter from the corporate regulator questioning whether it was complying with laws designed to protect small businesses from unfair contract povisions.

Prospa said the matter was in hand, but delayed the float, before announcing the float would be put off indefinitely.


Unlike Unlockd, it will live to fight another day.

Both of these events are a blow for Australia's tech sector.

They are a reminder of how difficult it is to take a company from early stage growth to share market listing, and that's problematic for two reasons.

First, it cuts off another potential avenue of funding for these capital-hungry companies, which often burn a lot of cash before they start producing any.

Secondly, it will deter investors. Venture capitalists – those investors who put money into early stage companies – want a return for their money just like any other investor and the main way they get their money out of a company is via a stock market listing.

It's true that venture capital investors have a different investment model to most other investors, in that they don't expect all of their investments to be winners.

They choose a company which they think has a lot of growth potential and invest early in its life, usually getting a large stake for just a few million dollars.

They'll also spread their investments across a range of companies, in the expectation that most will fail but the handful that succeed will do so well that they will more than make up for the failures.

Even so, if floating tech companies starts to become too difficult, venture capitalists will invest less.

Australia does some world-leading research in many areas of science, medicine and technology, yet the nation ranks last among OECD countries in terms of ability to turn research into viable businesses.

There are many reasons for this, but one of the big reasons is a lack of money.

Australians are very conservative about where we invest, with few of use prepared to (or rich enough) to put capital into start-ups.

This could arguably get worse.

Tough times for Telstra

This coming Wednesday is shaping up as possibly the most important day of Andy Penn's career.

Wednesday is Telstra's 'strategy day', when the chief executive will outline his plans for the telco, which investors hope will reverse its revenue and profits decline and start dividends rising again.

Earnings have been falling steadily – last year's profit was down by a third – and the share price has halved over the past three years.

Wednesday is Telstra's 'strategy day', when the chief executive will outline his plans for the telco. Photo / 123rf
Wednesday is Telstra's 'strategy day', when the chief executive will outline his plans for the telco. Photo / 123rf

The company is facing stiff competition in its two key markets – mobile and fixed broadband.

Telstra has about half of the Australian mobile market but second-tier players Optus and TGP are investing big to upgrade their infrastructure for wider coverage and faster data speeds.

In fixed broadband, the government-owned NBN network has taken over Telstra's copperwire network and is being connected to more and more houses.

Telstra has become a broadband reseller, on equal terms with all the other telcos.

Penn could further sacrifice Telstra's earnings and dividends and invest in more infrastructure to meet the competitive threat head on.

It is questionable whether investors would stick with him, but the do-nothing alternative won't help the company in the long term.

The Telstra CEO faces a huge task.

Telstra has been trying to remake itself for the past three decades, when it ceased to be a government-owned monopoly and was sold off and exposed to competition.

None of Penn's predecessors have successfully achieved this.