How a small team of technologists created a start-up at Macquarie

A trip to Silicon Valley incubated an idea that is changing the way Australians buy new cars. In the driver's seat was software engineer Matt Rowles and his team.

When Matt Rowles landed in San Francisco in 2015, he wasn't sure what to expect. Part of a five-person team from Macquarie's tech division, the software engineer was about to spend three months in Silicon Valley working with an incubator to revolutionise the way Australians buy new cars.

"The industry was ripe for disruption," says Matt. "We knew we could find a way to harness artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation to cut the time people spend researching cars on the internet, roaming showrooms and arranging finance.

“We had everything together that we knew about the automotive industry in Australia, and where the future was moving. We had landed in San Francisco with a lot of ideas, but after the first week of using design thinking practices we were throwing most of them out and starting again.

"You have to be open to new ideas and new ways of working. The incubator really refines your idea, they try to break it down, pinpoint where it might not work and say, 'This is where we should pivot to'. They give you the tools, and after three months they push you back out into the world to make it happen."

Through the trip, the team conceived MotoMe.com.au, a digital way for customers to find their ideal car, arrange finance, book test-drives and more – all in one place. Clever technology is backed by layers of expert data, enabling people to explore and compare cars, and even ask what vehicles would suit their lifestyle and budget.

The team is highly diverse, autonomous and empowered: “Being product-focused DevOps, full stack and polyglot engineers, we own our entire tech stack end-to-end. We get to harness the power of a range of technologies such as AWS, serverless and microservices. We build and deploy fast, sometimes multiple times a day to production. We also get to choose what languages we use for the various components within our ecosystem, such as Swift, Go or Rust, and the libraries and frameworks we implement them with, including React, Apollo or Angular.”

In 2018 MotoMe moved into the physical world, opening a concept store at Hornsby Westfield.

The key for Matt and his team in creating MotoMe was using a combination of Agile and Lean, manufacturing methodologies that are increasingly used to deliver software.

“It’s all about rapid experimentation and eliminating waste," Matt explains.

“Whatever we do – a new feature, new product or new campaign – we want to know as quickly as possible how it's working and what we should do about it: should we grow it, should we can it, should we move in a different direction?"

Remaining inspired by the trip to San Francisco and since the launch of MotoMe, the team has also created Fetch Finance.

"It's a portable website widget to help people know whether they can afford the car they're looking at, which also has the potential to be used in all sorts of asset classes."

The team's flat structure and use of Lean keeps innovation flowing. Everyone in the team is part of the product and the vision, Matt says.

“You could feel the energy in the air in Silicon Valley. You sense everyone is trying to give it a crack. We've tried to bring some of that vibe back with us to Sydney."

Matt joined Macquarie as a graduate in 2011. “I've worked in so many parts of the business, met so many people, that it feels as though I haven't just worked for the one company."

He loves how Macquarie drives innovation.

“I didn't expect to be working in a start-up company within Macquarie and having people who work at tech companies tell me, 'I wish we were doing stuff like this'."

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