Economy

From high seas to high tech

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Two thriving tech companies are being driven to success by a 38 year old who knows where she is going and how she’s going to get there. Tammy Halter talks to MIKE PRESTON.

By Mike Preston

Tammy Halter was a navy recruit at age 18. Twenty years later, she is owner and chief executive of two thriving technology companies, Absolute Data Group and Broadcaster Media.

Absolute Data turned over almost $2 million in 2006-07 and Broadcaster Media has just launched new consumer mobile media technology, which has been picked up by Toyota.

Halter’s passage from naval neophyte to IT innovator wasn’t an easy one. She left school aged 15, and forged a career in the testosterone-heavy culture of Australia’s defence forces, where she rose to become an aircraft technician and logistics officer.

She left in her mid-20s and after several roles with private firms in the IT/logistics sector she founded Absolute Data Group in Brisbane at the age of 28 on “the smell of an oily rag” to consult on IT/logistics – using the relationships and knowledge developed in her previous careers to open doors.

But four years later she decided to take ADG in a different, and much riskier, direction. Having realised that much of the software she was advising her clients on wasn’t quite up to scratch, she decided to move into the development of software for logistics.

“Taking on developers was pretty scary. I’m not programmer, but I am a control freak – handing over control is a big step. You can give employees the vision, but at the end of the day you’re not doing it and you don’t know if it’s going well or badly,” Halter says.

Cash flow also became a big issue. Dedicating several highly paid staff to a project that could take up to three years before producing a marketable product was a big gamble. And launching the first product in 2001, just as many of the world’s defence and aerospace companies went into shutdown because of the 11 September terrorist incident, made life even more difficult.

She and her staff worked hard on the consulting side of the business to generate the extra sales to pay for it. Fortunately for Halter, the risk paid off. ADG’s software developers came up with the first of several software packages that will form the core of the business’s predicted $3 million in revenue for 2007/2008, backed by clients such as Virgin Blue and Boeing.

Once the software was developed, Halter had a brainwave. It could form the basis of a consumer product. So she invested another $250,000 and developed a consumer-oriented, SMS driven mobile phone marketing tool that allows companies to send information directly to most mobile phones via a downloadable application. Once downloaded, the updatable application allows the company to send a constant stream of new information to the customer’s mobile without the requirement for any further messages.

The new product required a new approach to marketing, so she has set up a subsidiary company, Broadcaster Media. After launching the technology in February, Broadcaster Media has sales agents set up in Britain and the US, and has landed Toyota as a client. Halter says it is on track for profitability and $1 million in revenue in its first year.

Halter says developing the skills required to sell a consumer-focused marketing product was a challenge, given her background as the provider of a niche product to the defence and aerospace sectors.

“We really had to go back to ‘Sales & Marketing 101’ – coming from a military background, mobile marketing to consumers was a completely new area, and we had no idea what potential clients wanted or how to pitch to them,” Halter says.

She initially approached marketing companies with the product, only to be rebuffed as potential competitors – a direct approach to Toyota Australia finally did the trick.

“We just kept making calls until we got a chance to pitch to their marketing department, and once we were able to show them how the product works and what it could do for them. Before long they were in the door,” Halter says.

Halter has big hopes for the business in Britain, where market research shows consumers are more open to mobile marketing. Building a new, global business, while continuing to run ADG, shapes up as Halter’s next big task.

“I’m going to be spending plenty of time in planes, there’s no doubt about it,” Halter says. “With our head office in Brisbane it will be a big challenge to travel enough to make sure everyone is comfortable. It is easy to share the vision with everyone in Brisbane, but as there is more people in remote offices that will get harder.”

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