Who is Firefly Search? One of the fastest growing tech companies in Asia

More than 40 New Zealand businesses have been ranked as some of the fastest growing technology companies in the Asia-Pacific region by revenue growth. But the big surprise came from a digital marketing company that’s only been operating for about three years, Rebecca Stevenson reports.

This week a New Zealand company you’ve probably never heard of was announced as one of the fastest growing technology companies in the Asia-Pacific area.

Firefly Search, a digital marketing agency founded by 27-year-olds Anthony Baxter and Marko Kisa in 2014, saw its percentage revenue growth claim it 17th spot on the 2017 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific index, making it the top-ranked New Zealand company on the list. Firefly made the cut after booking revenue growth of 2156% over three years.

The index ranks companies on the blunt measure of percentage revenue growth, but with a much lower floor in revenue than its counterpart Kiwi list with US$50,000 (the New Zealand equivalent Fast50 has a revenue floor of NZ$500,000 to be included). But to be eligible for the list a company must own proprietary intellectual property or technology (that is sold to customers in products) that contributes to a majority of the company’s operating revenues.

Firefly’s Baxter says the marketing company’s high ranking was a pleasant shock. The chief executive officer says Firefly (which specialises in digital marketing from strategy creation through to search engine optimisation, content and social media campaigns) has achieved this growth in the most basic way possible – it’s all real revenue from real customers.

So what does Firefly do, exactly? The company is a Google Premium Partner, meaning it has met Google targets for expertise in using Adwords (Google’s online advertising programme where brands bid for ads associated with search terms), number of clients, spend and growth. Being present and being seen on Google is key – Firefly says “30% of all traffic will click on the top organic position through the result of implementing ecommerce SEO services.”

It may also recommend its clients use cookies to “remarket” their website to you once you leave it (those ads that seem to follow you everywhere). Firefly’s website says remarketing is “Simply put – JavaScript code is placed in the back-end of your website which drops an anonymous browser cookie onto every new visitor. This let’s Google/Facebook know that they have recently visited your website and bids in real time for ad placements to place your business message back in front of them.” The theory is it’s easier to turn someone who already showed an interest into a real sale.

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Baxter acknowledges digital marketing can have the whiff of bullshit about it (website impressions don’t impress him much), but he says Firefly’s measureable outcomes – and technology solutions for measuring those outcomes – are what elevates it above the rest. He likens Firefly’s methodology to how McDonald’s makes a burger. Anyone can make a burger or use Adwords and cookies, but it’s the way – and process – of how Macca’s makes a burger in 25 seconds that gives the company its special sauce, Baxter says. Firefly similarly has a methodology around its digital marketing, he says. This is one strand of the company’s intellectual property.

It’s in measuring results for clients where Firefly says it also has intellectual property (needed to be considered for the index). It has a sister company, Call Metrics, with call tracking technology which lets its clients drill down and work out precisely where their customers’ calls have come from. Baxter says Call Metrics could be dangerous for Firefly as it will show up failures, but he’s firm this is what clients need; transparency and results. “If we don’t get it right the client will know. We are OK with that.”

Again, Google is at work. New, dynamic phone numbers are generated as people visit a website which are linked to searches and Adwords, so an advertiser can learn which ads are resulting in phone calls (prized because making a phone call takes effort and is more likely to lead to a sale). Call Metrics is cloud-based, and doesn’t need access to phone systems or websites either; code is attached through Google Tag Manager.

The Auckland-based company now has 15 staff. Baxter says it has plans to rebrand Firefly, push into Australia and grow Call Metrics. Next year the company will enter the New Zealand Fast50 competition, Baxter says.

Xero made the list. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Who else made the list? A total of 45 Kiwi businesses made the index including online lender Moola at number 49, followed by online tithing payment provider Pushpay at 56. The two financial services providers recorded revenue growth of 1013% and 914% respectively over three years. Appointment booking app Timely – who recently announced a $7 million investment – clocked in at 141, with Kiwi heavyweights Vend and Xero also making the list at number at 309 and 318.

Overall, the top 500 companies in 2017 averaged revenue growth of 600%, while the top ten companies in the ranking achieved average revenue growth of 11,995%. Both the top 500 and top 10 revenue growth figures are the highest recorded since 200, Deloitte said.

New Zealand hasn’t disgraced itself, despite it being the first time in five years where we’ve had under 50 companies make the list. When you line our effort up against the region’s big boys – India had 53, South Korea 43, Japan 46 – its not bad reading at all. China topped out with 119 on the list, five of the top ten and the top-ranked company, Douyu, a Chinese live streaming platform. So no competition there.

Venture capitalist Rowan Simpson says he was personally pleased to see Xero, Vend and Timely, all of which he’s been involved with, make the list. But he’s less keen on the top Kiwis ranked, saying none of them are his cup of tea. “But good for them,” Simpson says, “we’re doing well on a per capital basis”, even though comparing revenue growth from year-to-year can throw up variable results, and include outliers who have grown from a low base rapidly. “But that shouldn’t distract from the fact there are a good number of local companies that are growing at the very high rates required to be included. One of the great things about the Deloitte Fast 50 and 500 is that unlike most other business awards they are 100% objective (biggest revenue growth wins) not decided by judges.”


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