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Twin peaks: A tale of two entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs Matt and Brady Thomas are walking proof that two heads really are better than one. Particularly if it’s the same head.

The identical twins, both (obviously) 29, are the creators behind Collect, a Wellington-based software company building marketing apps for the retail sector.

In just three years, over 800 businesses have picked up their apps across more than 60 countries, and the company just crowdfunded almost half a million dollars for a major push into the US.

Matt, the self-described optimist of the two, says he and his brother have always worked best when they can bang their heads together.  

“The way we attack problems is kind of like polar opposites,” he says. “We clash a lot, but working together allows us to make decisions much faster, and to be a lot more confident in the decisions that we make.

After growing up in Whanganui, Matt and Brady moved to Wellington in 2004 to study IT at Victoria University.  

From there they both landed jobs at IT services firm Provoke Solutions, and a couple of years later Matt left to get the twins’ first business – loyalty programme RewardJunkie – up and running.

“I quit my job to try and get it off the ground,” Matt says. “[Brady] continued working. We split the pay cheque, and put half into the business.”

In 2012, Brady also quit to work fulltime alongside his brother, and they founded RewardJunkie, described by the twins as FlyBuys for small business, with Collect’s current CEO, Brent Spicer.

While RewardJunkie was a customer-loyalty app for a mostly local market, Collect has evolved into a suite of apps which allow retailers to harvest customer information at the point of sale, and turn this into targeted marketing campaigns.

“We found we were making more traction [on the data side] than we were with RewardJunkie, and so that looked like the right direction to move into,” Matt says.

Brady, who plays the sceptical foil to his brother, says the plan has always been to go global with their business, and the pair have bought on Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency chair (and former ad agency heavyweight) Peter Biggs as chairman, and former Xero marketing GM Paula Jackson as head of marketing.

Biggs and Jackson have also invested in the company – alongside All Black Piri Weepu and netballer Maria Tutaia.

Between 2012 and 2014, Collect raised $1.4 million, with an additional $250,000 in R&D funding support from Callaghan Innovation in two grants. Callaghan also supported two Collect staffers through the Summer of Tech programme.

Now the company has launched an equity crowdfunding round through New Zealand platform Crowdcube, where they have raised just over $470,000. The company was looking for a minimum of $200,000 (which they reached in the first three days), but the Crowdcube website suggests the offer is still open and the company would be keen to get to $1 million invested.

 “We will use that money to set up a US office [probably in the tech-head mecca of San Francisco] and get some people on the ground over there,” Brady says.

He says Collect is already reaping the rewards from its first tentative forays into the US market. 

“We went over there and pressed the flesh with the guys at Revel Systems [a San Francisco-based company which makes sales software for retailers]. They said they would let us provide their default loyalty programme.

“These guys already have 10,000 customers and are looking to grow heavily.”

Although tempers can occasionally fray between the two, Brady says it is sharing the spoils of wins like these which makes it all worthwhile working with his brother.

“We are better together than we are apart.”

Should you go into business with your siblings?

They say competition is good for business, and it doesn’t get any more intense than a good sibling rivalry. Here are three other siblings who went into business together, with mixed success.

The Kellogg brothers:

Michigan brothers Will and John Kellogg came up with corn flakes way back in 1896. By 1910 their bitter rivalry had boiled over, and they spent the next decade squabbling in court about who the original inventor was. Will eventually forced John out of the business, and built it into the cereal empire it is today.

The Cook family:

In 2005, 25-year-old New Jersey resident Geoff Cook founded the social networking site, myYearbook, with his 14-year-old kid sister, Catherine. In 2011 the Cooks sold myYearbook to Quepasa, another social media site, for $100 million.

The Disney brothers:

In 1923 Walt Disney formed Disney Studios with his lesser-known older brother, Roy. Walt took control on the creative side of things, while Roy handled the business behind the scenes. Walt and Roy worked side by side until Walt’s death in 1966.

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