$50m empire boss lives in train carriage
Leanne Kemp is one of Australia's most globally successful digital entrepreneurs but it's living in a train carriage on her rural Queensland property that makes her happiest.
It is on the deck of this unusual and unassuming home that Leanne Kemp - one of Australia's most globally successful digital entrepreneurs - is most happy.
Brisbane-raised Kemp, 47, is Queensland's Chief Entrepreneur (CE) and founder of a start-up called Everledger that uses Blockchain technology to track the provenance of valuable commodities such as diamonds, gems, wine and art. The concept addresses accountability in global supply chains and has widespread value to the insurance industry and other stakeholders combating fraud and money laundering.
Started in 2015, Everledger, which has its headquarters in London, now operates in five countries - Australia, India, Israel, United Kingdom and the United States - and employs 80 people. This is expected to grow to 150 staff with another office in Shanghai to open this year. Last year, Everledger raised more than $10 million in venture capital that saw the company valued by Forbes at more than $50 million.
A "brutal" travel schedule sees Kemp away from home about 250-300 days a year.
"My schedule is nothing short of lightning speed,'' Kemp says. "I'll literally be in New York for a day, I'll fly out that night and be in Hong Kong, do meetings, change planes. I follow the sun, run around the world. It's tough but this isn't the first time someone has had to build a business.
"That's why I enjoy the simplistic nature [of] being here [at my home] … I can leave New York or London or Tel Aviv or Mumbai and the craziness behind and come out here and roll around in the dark and dirt and no one will find [me].
"I remember my childhood being fun and outside; computers were never really a part of the focal point, it was always rolling around in the dirt and drinking water out of garden hoses.
"That's why I ended up in a place like this [Samford], it's always oxygen for the soul. It brings the oxygen back into the veins and resets you. I ride tractors, I slash the paddocks, there's a creek on the property where I can go fishing. You don't really hear too much out here. I'm not motivated by money but I also don't really want for too much. I live a pretty simple life and I quite like that."
RIPPING OFF THE BAND AID
Kemp was born in Whakatane, northeast of Rotorua on New Zealand's North Island. Her family travelled to Australia by ship ("the only affordable way to travel back then") in 1973 when Kemp was a baby.
Her brothers Shayne, 45, a special-education teacher to autistic children, and Grant, 41, who works in transport and logistics, were born in Sydney before the family settled in Brisbane, welcomed by the record-breaking 1974 flood. They settled at Boondall, in Brisbane's north, with Kemp attending Geebung State School, then Wavell State High School (Year 8 and Year 9) and Somerville House, a prestigious school for girls in South Brisbane, for Years 10 to 12.
Her parents - Peter, a New Zealand-born house painter, and Nina, a Fijian-born waitress - separated when Kemp was 13. Her father died from Parkinson's disease in his 30s and her mother died from cancer in 2007.
"I don't really remember much of Dad because he moved back to New Zealand and went into full-time care when I was only a teenager,'' Kemp says. "I went back (to New Zealand) a fair number of times but I didn't see much of him in the last sprint of time. So I pretty much just grew up with Mum only.
"Mum had brain and breast cancer, so a double hit. She never did things by halves. I cared for her in the last years before she passed away. My two brothers had real jobs but I've never had a real job so I could always just be where I wanted to be.''
Kemp is matter of fact about losing her parents. She simply says: "It's life. Some people get to experience it earlier, some people later, but we all get to experience it. I just front-loaded the drama of my life in the earlier stages, just ripped the Band-Aid off early. But Mum's here. [Her ashes are] in the train. She's in a jar that looks like it might have a really fancy Chinese oolong tea in it.''
After high school, Kemp "dutifully'' followed her parents' suggestion that she study accounting but found it "really boring'' and, after a year of commerce at James Cook University, she dropped out. It is the only tertiary study she has done.
"I never finished; I didn't see a need,'' Kemp says. "Then I worked for an accounting software company in Spring Hill, Brisbane. At that stage, accounting software was only just starting to emerge. Typically back then, there were all those boring old manual ledgers. I was employed for about six months, then started my own business in 1995 implementing and doing changes for accounting software.
"I became a self-taught engineer … I began reading and cutting code or changing code and then became a systems integrator. I started to [understand] what the system was designed to do and what challenges or problems certain businesses were trying to solve, then I wrote specific software to enable that.''
Kemp founded and sold three successful technology start-ups, including work in radio frequency identification (RFID) and smart card applications, as well as investing in a jewellery business. She was at the forefront of emerging technology, buying digital currency Bitcoin in 2009, the year it was created. So, she was familiar with the concept of Blockchain - a distributed immutable ledger or chain of blocks that contain information - as the technology that enables digital assets to move from one individual to another.
Everledger was an idea that came to her while sitting in her train as "a natural evolution'' of her thinking.
"I have so many ideas, honestly,'' Kemp says. "I was just sitting quietly googling stuff and thinking about things … I'd always known about Bitcoin and I thought it would be interesting if you decoupled the currency from the ledger.
"Not a lot of people were thinking about using the technology in that way. It was really purposed for a type of currency or digital money.''
Then Kemp got ballsy. In 2013, she attended a hackathon at Google in London. She took the opportunity to be "a Trojan horse'', her real motive to speak to the chief financial officer of a big insurance company about putting diamonds on Blockchain.
"I said if you want something really innovative, way out there, you could take Blockchain and put diamonds on it … so you know where they come from and you could solve a lot of problems in fraud and even in blood diamonds,'' she says.
The idea was snapped up and Everledger has since received widespread industry recognition. In 2016 it won Best Blockchain Company at the European Financial Technology Awards; Best Newcomer in the Asia Insurance Technology Awards; and Best B2B (business to business) Startup in the Digital Top 50 Awards presented by Google, Rocket Internet and McKinsey.
In 2018, The World Economic Forum named Everledger as one of its technology pioneers while Kemp won Innovator of the Year at the Women in IT Awards in London, was named an IBM Champion and Technology and Innovation winner at the Australian Government Advance Awards.
She also was appointed Queensland's third Chief Entrepreneur. The 12-month role was created by the State Government in 2016 to promote entrepreneurship and investment in Queensland. Blue Sky Alternative Investments founder Mark Sowerby was the inaugural CE, followed by investor and Shark Tank judge Steve Baxter.
Diamonds are like snowflakes. Each stone is unique and the "forensics'' of each stone can be examined for a PUF - a Physical Unclonable Function - using high-definition photography similar to human facial recognition.
"Diamonds are unique by their very nature,'' Kemp says. "When stones are created within the crust of the Earth there's a stress mapping that exists. Think of it like a congenital heart scar in a child, that's mapped and remains with that stone for the entirety of its life.''
There are now two million diamonds recorded on Everledger. From a consumer point of view, it means the journey and provenance of each diamond - from rough stone mined from the ground to jewellery piece - is documented. The data is also valuable to banks and insurance companies to be able to identify stones if they are reported lost or stolen.
But it's not just diamonds. Kemp is using the same technology for other luxury goods, tracking gemstones such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires, as well as pearls, opals and jade, watches, wine and art ("anything I like to eat, drink or wear''). But the picture can get bigger.
This "conscious consumerism'' will extend to the "next big conflicted supply chain", Kemp says, of stored energy and batteries in mobile phones, solar panels and electric vehicles and ensuring the cobalt and lithium used is ethically sourced.
"I want to see a truly connected and circular economy,'' Kemp says. "We owe it to ourselves to think about reusing, recycling and repurposing some of the commodities we take for granted.
"We should have a conscious consumerism about the things that we are ingesting, digesting, choosing and consuming. That responsibility has to start with the consumer but it will become more embedded within the manufacturer.
"It's not good enough that Apple just relies upon the first-time purchase of their goods in my hand; they need to also have a consciousness around where their product ends up. This concept is big … we know we can make a difference and we are fast moving towards a billion-dollar impact."
The Chief Entrepreneur's Office also has a role to inform the government about creating important future industries, she says.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL WAY
So the train. How did a 15-tonne Victorian train carriage end up on this idyllic rural slope? Kemp had already renovated the main house on her property and was sitting in the pool drinking with her brothers when discussion turned to buying a shipping container to serve as a granny flat on the property.
On a whim, Kemp searched eBay for shipping containers for sale and woke the next morning to an email: "Congratulations, it's all yours! We hope you enjoy your train carriage.''
Kemp had bid $1500 on the solid steel carriage from a woman in Daylesford, 110km northwest of Melbourne in Victoria.
"I bid for it when I was really drunk," she says. "I was laughing because it wasn't planned. Then the logistics started. I hadn't thought about how to get it to Samford from Daylesford. But that's the entrepreneurial way. That's just how we roll.''
Kemp called her logistics expert brother Grant and offered him two cartons of beer to bring the train to its new Queensland home. He put it on the back of a truck and used a 100-tonne crane to lift it into position, onto specially made plinths.
"It was a guard's carriage and it had everything still in it,'' Kemp says. "I spent about eight months renovating it, ripping out the walls, building the decks, building a whole structure off the back.
"I've never really been a builder, but it's not too hard to get a nail and bang it in. We had a licensed builder to do the major stuff but I like power tools and I put all of this decking down myself.
"I built this skillion structure at the back because I really like bathrooms and spas, so there's a spa bath in there and a mezzanine level with a loft storage area. It's really cool. We call it the Train Mahal - the Taj Mahal of trains.''
Kemp, previously married with a 19-year-old step daughter, is now "happily single'' and lives in the train house by herself. Her long-term friends live in the main house on the property.
She also has a beach house at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast where she can "roll around in the sand like a cinnamon doughnut''.
Her brothers still live in the old family home at Boondall and Kemp says they don't talk about her international jetsetting job because "it feels too far away from what is important to us''.
And then there are the ampersands. Two large ampersands (also from eBay) hang on the internal train carriage walls and another in her London office. Kemp says the "&" symbol challenges her to keep creating. "I look at them and remember that there's always more. It challenges me to keep going. There's always something else.''