AirTree: 2020 Year in Review

Dec 18, 2020 · 8 min read

If you are reading this having survived 2020, you deserve a huge pat on the back, giant virtual hugs, and a drink!!…or two!! 🍻

We all started the year with high hopes and plans, many were gearing up for ‘the best year ever’. But quickly things took an unimaginable and devastating turn with the world facing a global health crisis and the worst economic downturn in history.

In March, we were all fearful for what this would mean for Aussie and Kiwi startups but we are also unwavering believers in the entrepreneurial spirit. COVID brings with it opportunities — as it accelerated digital adoption across all industries. We knew that startup teams that reacted with grit, ingenuity and nimbleness could survive the downturn and slingshot out the other end stronger than ever.

And that’s exactly what we have witnessed.

Backing world-class founders — the numbers 🔢

In 2020, we achieved a new record! We invested $87m into 26 exceptional companies. 🙌 (Up from $71m into 16 companies in 2019)

We welcomed 13 new companies and 35 new founders into the AirTree fam, including Linktree, Qwilr, Go1, Archistar and Robobai.

We doubled down on our support for our existing portfolio companies including; Canva, Brighte, Expert360, Different, Open, HotDoc and Employment Hero.

In an inspiring show of strength and resilience, we’re proud to report that AirTree fam startups as a cohort achieved combined revenues of over $1 billion this year despite COVID.

We head into 2021 with 56 companies in our portfolio, as we continue making headway towards our goal of investing $1 billion into 100 exceptional companies that are shaping the future.

Momentum Continues to Build for Aussie & Kiwi Startups 📈

The venture capital industry has come a long way in the past 5 years. Our Cofounder & Partner Daniel Petre reflected on this journey and the state of our industry in the October issue of the Australian Institute of Company Directors Magazine.

The renaissance of the VC industry wouldn’t be possible without the abundance of successful, globally significant startups that have emerged in recent years. We previously published charts tracking the number of companies valued at over $100m in the Aussie and Kiwi startup sector over time and we’ve updated them as of December. There’s a clear, continued trend of growth and there has been new additions this year despite tough and tumultuous external conditions.

Note: These charts are continually WIP, they are not comprehensive lists. We’d love to hear from you about any companies we may have missed or misrepresented so we can make sure we’re portraying the growth of the sector as best we can. Please email

Founders supporting founders: Slingshot out of COVID 💬

The thing we are most proud of this year is helping lift up not only the founders in the AirTree fam, but the wider community too.

Our virtual COVID meetups were a real treat that allowed us to regularly check in with everyone.

We want to say a big, heartfelt thank you to all the founders who so generously and candidly shared their war stories and their approaches to tackling COVID in the hopes of helping other founders — the Aussie & Kiwi startup community is so lucky to have you.

Get recordings of our Slingshot out of COVID weekly meetups here.

A huge thank you to all the founders who generously shared their stories: Cliff Obrecht from Canva, Kate Morris from AdoreBeauty, Tim Fung from Airtasker, Lucy Liu from Airwallex, Sam Kroonenburg from A Cloud Guru, Katherine McConnell from Brighte, Dom Pym from Up, Greg Roebuck previously of Carsales, Mina Radhakrishnan from Different, Rob Phillpot previously of Aconex, Eddie Sheehy previously of Nuix, Peter Neupert from Labcorp and Adaptive Biotechnologies, Mike Frizell from Pet Circle, Ben Thompson from Employment Hero, Anna Stockley from Brosa, Martin Hosking from Redbubble, Bridget Loudon from Expert360, Michelle Duval from Fingerprint for Success, Melli O’Brien and Matt Dickinson from the Mindfulness Summit, Cibby Pulikkaseril from Baraja, Taryn Williams from the Right Fit, Mike Carden from Joyous, Dragan Petrovic from Nura Headphones, Dr. Jodie Lowinger from the Sydney Anxiety Clinic and Mark Chan and Alex Lamb from EY.

Accessing the world’s best tech founders, operators, investors and thinkers 🧠

We know building a successful startup is really hard and it’s our mission to make it as easy as possible.

Previously we open sourced useful documents like our seed-stage term sheet template, legal DD checklist and the Australian investors list.

This year, we decided to open up our networks too.

We have the privilege of working alongside and learning from the world’s best tech founders, operators, investors and thinkers who are actively shaping the future and we wanted the whole community to join our candid conversations with them.

At our Open Source VC meetups, our Cofounder & Partner Craig chatted with Andy Weissman, Managing Partner of Union Square Ventures about the traits of exceptional founders of startups like Twitter and Stripe. Craig also chatted with Jackie Lee-Joe, former CMO of Netflix and BBC about building iconic international brands.

Our Principal Jackie chatted with Kat Cole, COO & President of the billion dollar Focus Brands about building D2C brands in the food and beverage sector.

Our Partner John chatted with Christoph Janz, Cofounder of Point Nine Capital about the early signs of breakout SaaS companies, and also chatted to Tobi Pearce, Cofounder and CEO of Sweat app about his journey building the world’s largest online fitness community.

Get recordings of our Open Source VC meetups here.

Empowering the Next Gen of Angel Investors 😇

Angel investors are the foundations of a healthy startup ecosystem and our Partner John continues to celebrate the important contributions they make in his Halo Effect series profiling prominent Aussie and Kiwi angels. But while most parts of the Australian tech ecosystem are growing leaps and bounds, the seed and angel investment ecosystem is at risk of sliding backwards. Despite a few notable exceptions, the level of diversity amongst angel investors is still very low.

We wanted to do something to change this worrying trend so we launched the Explorer Program to empower the next generation of diverse technology investors in Australia and NZ with education, networks and funding to invest with.

The free program has been running for the last month with a pilot cohort of 32 people selected from close to 700 applicants. We opened up the first session of the program to the whole community. Our Partner John chatted to Harry Stebbings the founder and host of the 20 Minute VC podcast about his journey getting started in angel investment and how he approaches investment today.

We’ve been incredibly humbled by the overwhelming interest from the community and the feedback we are getting from the inaugural cohort of Explorers. We can’t wait to take our lessons from this pilot and make it bigger and better in 2021. If you’d like to get notified when applications open for next year, fill out the expression of interest here.

Alongside our pilot Explorer Program and in addition to the Inclusion Clause in our termsheet, this year we’ve made an important Diversity Funding Pledge: For every investment we lead, we will bring at least one investor from an underrepresented group on to the cap table, provided the founder is ok with it.

We are excited to report that we’ve already put this into action and will be able to share more news about this in the new year. 🤩

‘You don’t build companies, you build people and people build companies’ 👩‍💻

Hiring is crucial to get right for early stage startups and we’re committed to helping our portfolio companies find and attract the best talent.

In 2020, our talent function headed by Andrew, helped shape the DNA of over a ⅓ of our portfolio, with 70% of the roles being senior leadership positions that directly determine the future growth potential of a startup. Functionally these roles were split 25% in Ops, 21% in Engineering, 11% in Product, Marketing and People, 7% in Finance and Sales and 7% other.

One thing that really lifted our spirits this year was seeing how many startups continued hiring through COVID which we featured in our open source ‘Startups still hiring’ list.

Connecting Startup Leaders 🔗

We are always looking for ways to bring talented people together to help each other.

This year we expanded on our previous executive forums to include senior leaders from more functions. We now have 8 groups covering CEO, COO, CTO, CPO, CHRO, CFO, CMO and CRO. We held 20 forum meetings this year, exploring topics including product development frameworks, marketing metrics benchmarking, and remote work best practices.

AirTree Team Highlights 🌳

2020 has been a year of transformation for the AirTree team: we grew by 50% to 19 in total and we moved to a new office, calling 131 Devonshire St. Surry Hills our new home.

We welcomed 8 legends: Investment Associate Richard Lin, Portfolio Analyst Kevin Lu, Investment Intern Tina Wu, Community Intern Sanjana Nagesh , General Counsel Nick Brown, Financial Controller Aisling McGettigan, Finance and Operations Officer Akshat Pande, and Executive Assistant Justine Ellis.

And we have 2 more superstars joining us in the new year — we can’t wait for you to meet them!

This year we also celebrated the promotion of Jackie to Principal, go Jax!

And finally, we added to the AirTree brood with 4 new babies! Welcome to the world Rose, Francis, Freya and Madeleine, and huge congratulations to John, Emily, James, Elicia and their families!

1.James with Freya & Will, 2. Elicia with Madeleine & Annabelle, 3. Emily with Francis, 4. John with Rose and Ziggy

Looking to 2021 👀

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”

— Lenin

COVID is the black swan of 2020 that has wreaked havoc on the world but it has also stimulated years worth of digital adoption. Its impact on consumers and businesses will be profound and long-lasting.

Regardless of how the COVID health crisis unfolds, we’ve now entered a ‘new normal’ that brings exciting opportunities for startups looking to innovate in many sectors.

Some themes we are tracking with particular interest include:

  • SaaS tools that support a remote-first world
  • Accelerated digital transformation in healthcare and education
  • E-commerce was a wave, now it’s a tsunami
  • The blossoming of the creator economy
  • eSport is sport; gaming is the new social

For more detail, see this presentation by our Partner John Henderson

Finally, we’re also encouraged to see record numbers of expats returning home to Australia and New Zealand as they flee less COVID safe countries. Many of them will bring back world-class tech expertise and networks. This is exactly what is needed for our startup sector to get to the next level and for more of our startups to become huge global success stories.

Safe and Happy Holidays 🏖🎄🥳

We have been incredibly inspired by the way the Aussie and Kiwi startup community bonded together to overcome the difficult challenges of 2020 and we are so proud to see that so many of us have come out the other end with more resilient businesses or teams but more importantly as better, more empathetic human beings.

The coming holiday season is a well-deserved break for all of us and an opportunity to recharge and reflect on the things that matter the most.

From all of us at AirTree, we wish you and your family a COVID-safe and rejuvenating holidays, and may 2021 be kinder to all of us!

Love from the AirTree Team 💕


A venture capital fund in Aus and NZ.

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