Toeing the line of profit-making and protecting customer data is a difficult
tightrope for any startup, but Gobbill has made it their mission to put people first, writes Ruth Thomas

Shendon Ewans and his Co-founder Quentin Marsh never set out to start a business, but fast-forward three years and an idea formed in the pub has grown into a successful fintech startup that uses AI to automate payments.

The idea came about as Ewans and Marsh wanted a solution to a problem they both faced, how to use technology to automate bills and save on late fees and time.

A quick online search revealed no such business existed in Australia and so began the year and a half long journey to create Gobbill.

“We started building the solution for our family and friends and agreed if it wasn’t good enough for them, we wouldn’t put it out there,” says Ewans explaining their pre-investment plans.

“But protecting our customer’s data has been important right from the start, because it’s our data too. My parent’s data, my family and friend’s data, it’s all in the system,” explains Ewans.

However, Ewans reveals their strict data stewardship policy hasn’t always been meet with enthusiasm.

In fact, there were those who told the co-founders they’d have to “sell themselves out” in order to survive, according to Ewans. However, that just gave the duo greater ammunition to make it work.

Protecting customer data

Putting data protection measures into practice was a difficult balance for the Gobbill founders.

It was just as important that any partners working with the startup, took on the same data stewardship policy.

“We’ve had to be really strict with our partnerships. The way we interchange data is very tight too,” says Ewans.

Both CoinTree and MyProsperity, two of Gobbill’s partner companies, have had to adhere to Gobbill’s data stewardship policy, to ensure their customer’s information is responsibly handled.

Data sovereignty was also a consideration for the founders, who developed an on-shore ethos to further safe-house their information.

“We’re keeping everything on shore, we’re Australian built and Australian operated and as we expand globally, to the United Kingdom, we’re taking the same approach. We’re working with a partner in the UK to be compliant and to hire locally,” says Ewans.

Three tips for protecting consumer data as a start-up

  1. It’s important to have early discussions and agree on how you’ll manage consumer data. Clarifying this upfront helps you to see whether your business model is aligned.
  2. At the earliest possible stage, design with strong data privacy in mind. Think of consumers not as a mass of data, but your own data and people you care about. That puts a personal perspective on the micro and macro decisions you make about protecting it.
  3. Work with partners and service providers that share similar data protection views.

Using data to empower customers

While Gobbill’s data stewardship policy includes treating their customer’s information like their own, they’re also hoping to use it to empower customers.

With an individual’s consent, Gobbill utilises its data to build automation techniques that ultimately benefit the customer.

One example includes, finding better financial options when it comes to service providers. Their technology can uncover when one customer is paying more than another for the same service.

In this instance, the automation process identifies alternative options for the user in order to save money.

“We’re using data to empower the individual. All [they] have to do is consent to our system shopping around. We offer choice, control and convenience,” Ewans explains regarding their second business phase.

While they may have a heavy responsibility when it comes to protecting data, in Ewans words, Gobbill’s manta is all about ‘putting people first’.

How to protect data as your start-up scales

Retaining their core business value of ‘putting the customer first’ will continue to stay the same, as the start-up grows.

The founders plan for Gobbill’s future is to stick to their policy. Ewans says, outsourcing isn’t an option and isn’t necessary as they have technical people in- house.

“As Gobbill continues to scale and as we grow our partnerships protecting data will be a challenge, but we’re determined to stick to our core values which focus on how we treat our customers and their data,” says Ewans.

Three tips for building trust with consumers about storing their data

  1. Store and process data onshore and clearly communicate it to consumers.Think hard about the real cost of off-shore data for processing.
  2. Communicate clearly and honestly with your consumers about the way their data is managed. That's the beginning of establishing trust between you and your consumers.
  3. Consumers today have certain expectations around 'Freemium' offerings. Communicate upfront the various paid options and explain how you make money. Help the consumer understand how you’ll sustain the business and, ultimately, use their data.