How Daniel Barnett saw a problem for SMEs and turned it into $2.5 million business WORK[etc]

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Name: Daniel Barnett
Company: WORK[etc]
Based: Sydney

Daniel Barnett says the idea for his business management platform WORK[etc] came to him while he was running a different small business.

After finishing university, Barnett was leading a web design business that quickly grew to 14 staff.

He was travelling regularly and needed ways to operate his business remotely.

This led to him to develop a few “rudimentary tools” for remote work but it took several years – including time when Barnett worked as a management consultant – for these tools to flourish into a new business.

“I produced around 30 small business plans and my brain sees patterns,” he says.

“I kept seeing the same patterns in [the] plans, whether it was for a landscape architecture company or a marketing company.”

WORK[etc] was launched in 2009 as a way of providing small businesses with the tools necessary to operate online or in the cloud and the company is now turning over $2.5 million annually.

For Barnett, the aim of WORK[etc] was to coordinate all of the tools small businesses need to manage their teams in the one place, including email, timesheets, invoices, project management and sales.

However, he says the business has “changed significantly” since 2009, particularly as the team at WORK[etc] “drink our own champagne” as Barnett puts it, which means they use the product to manage and work their own business.

“If we don’t like something about the product then we’re the first person to complain to ourselves … we live and breathe our own product,” he says.

“Every single new customer is an opportunity to improve our business.”

Barnett grew up in Western Australia, where his father Colin Barnett has served as Liberal Member for Cottesloe since 1990 and the state’s premier since 2008.

For the past 12 years Barnett has lived in Sydney. He says being in New South Wales and having a large international client base for his business means people rarely make the connection.

“I think if I had stayed in WA it may have helped and hindered the business at the same time but being based in Sydney, I’m quite removed form WA politics,” he says.

SmartCompany caught up with Barnett to find out how he keeps his team motivated and why emotional resilience is essential for all entrepreneurs.

Morning

Like most entrepreneurs that run a business in multiple locations, Barnett says his “day isn’t your typical work day”.

Each morning for Barnett starts bright and early, with conference calls with the US starting around 5.30am.

“I obviously drink a lot of coffee,” Barnett says.

A Toby’s Estate strong flat white is his standard order, although his current workspace is around a two-block walk from his local coffee shop.

Barnett is currently working out of the co-working space Work Club Global in Sydney, overlooking Hyde Park with what he describes as “beautiful views”.

While the flexibility of working in a co-working space currently suits Barnett, he plans to shortly open a head office in Sydney and employ five people to fill it.

WORK[etc] employs a global team of 16 employees, with 65% of employees based in the US, in addition to development teams in Perth, China and Manilla in the Philippines.

The WORK[etc] support team is made up entirely of stay-at-home parents: three in the US, one in the UK and one starting shortly in Sydney.

Daily life

Barnett’s days are long – often around 14 hours – as leading a global business means keeping up with employees and customers across different time zones.

The middle of his days are typically spent working with his Australian customers, while the evenings usually involve one or two calls to Europe or the UK.

These long hours mean Barnett is conscious of taking time out in the middle of the day.

“My working days about 14 hours long, but I always make sure I have two hours away …just to refresh the brain,” he says.

“The middle of the day is actually quite quiet with the different [time] zones.”

WORK[etc]’s support team operates 24/7 and to keep motivation levels high, each day the sales team sends an alert to the entire support team to answer four key questions, says Barnett.

The questions are: What did I did today? What challenges did I face? How did I overcome them? What am I doing tomorrow?

Barnett says asking these daily questions is a method for bolstering team support, particularly when many team members work in isolation, like the stay-at-home parents, and are based over the globe.

Leisure

Barnett’s leisure time is in short-supply but that’s part of being a business owner, he says.

“I get very little down time but I don’t see that as a negative,” he says.

“Starting a small business or any business just requires so much thought attention and focus.”

Even on the weekends, you’ll find Barnett getting up early so as not to fall out of his sleep patterns. But this time is spent working out in the gym or surfing near Bondi, where he lives. He tries to surf or swim every few days to stay active.

Barnett does allow himself holidays but admits work is never far from his mind.

“I can go on holidays but I can’t enjoy it if I’m not answering one or two emails a day,” he laughs.

“I love what I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

The future

Barnett is ambitious about the future of WORK[etc].

“I actually want to build a large business with a $100 million dollar revenue and it’s not about the money, it’s the ambition or desire to build something big that will have a big impact for small businesses,” he says.

“Every small business relies on their livelihood for them and their employees. The more we make WORK[etc] better, the bigger the payout for small business.”

Barnett says his idea is to create a large business that helps “literally thousands” of SMEs, if not more.

But if there was one thing about his business journey he could change, it would be not addressing what he calls his “technical debt” early on as the small low-priority issues begin to snowball as the business grew rapidly.

“It’s not until you start to get thousands of small issues every week that [I think] I should’ve put effort into solving that infrequent problem,” he says.

Barnett believes it’s key to not get too hung up on the emotional roller coaster of starting a small business.

“[You] ride the high highs and the low lows,” he says.

“It’s about emotional resilience, not to get too invested in the day-to-day happenings and just moving forward.

“If you don’t have strategies to deal with that at an innate level of resilience then maybe you do need to turn off and go on holidays for two weeks and recharge.”

Barnett also advises entrepreneurs to “think global” and that the adage about businesses needing to dominate their local area first isn’t necessarily how an SME has to think.

“There’s no reason you can’t sell your products internationally from day one,” he says.

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Ronelle Richards is a former journalist at SmartCompany. She is currently studying a Masters of Journalism at The University of Melbourne and has previously worked as a journalist and photographer in rural newspapers.

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  • Robert Godden

    A very smart and impressive guy. “Find a need and fill it”. People have been saying bthat forever, but rarely does anyone go down that path.