Big data, big business. Tristan Sternson knows them both. He’s the founder of InfoReady, which has worked on IT projects both here and overseas.
InfoReady was started in 2008 with setup costs of about $50,000, and has since grown to a relative powerhouse with over $14 million in revenue and 78 staff. It was listed as number seven in this year’s SmartCompany – Crowe Horwath Smart50 Awards, achieving three consecutive years of revenue growth.
While technical challenges flow freely in the IT industry, Sternson has also solved business problems that are old and common.
He recently took part in an interactive SmartCompany webinar and told listeners some key things he has learnt.
Embrace competition and, most importantly, beat it. There’s no second winner so you’ve just gotta win at everything.
Projects finish. So we need new projects to come in. Because we’ve been quite aggressive to get to the level we are at, we have to sell the same amount of work, plus a little bit more to grow at the same time.
Take the plunge but be well prepared. It’s no good going into business without a strong, solid plan or an idea of what you want to do, even if it does change. But it’s extremely exciting, extremely rewarding.
Do a lot of market research. It was six months before we did our first piece of work, to make sure everything was lined up before we started so it would be successful.
You have a good chance of being successful if you’re good at what you do and you know what you’re doing.
Focus on your core. We have a rule: outsource it if we’re not good at it and if we don’t know what we’re doing. We stick to our core. We let someone who’s better at HR than us do HR, it’s not our core operation. We actually find that it’s cheaper to outsource book-keeping than having people in-house.
Don’t rush into hiring staff. We got pretty quick and excited and hired people, but then said: “Oh, they’re a 75% match.” Well, if they’re not a 100% match for the role it tends to backfire on you later. Put the brakes on, slow down a little bit and good things happen over time.
Diversify. You need a lot of customers around so you can service their needs and move from the 80-20 model to a 20-80 model where we sit today. We always knew it would be a problem; it was just the time it actually takes to move from having those large customers to sell more work to smaller customers, and a multiple array of customers to satisfy.
Having offices in three different states – and we’re looking at overseas expansion as well – mitigates a bit of risk in case things aren’t picking up well.
The better cashflow strategies you adopt earlier, the better. Find fast paying customers and give them preferential treatment. Use payroll companies. There are companies out there who will do your services, and chase your debts etc. Annuities are important, too. And another one is different financing options. You can actually use charge cards, like American Express and so on, to pay ATO payments. So get a bit smarter about how you use your cash and when you have to pay for things.
Make sure everything is lined up properly. We’ve got our panel agreements in place, our terms and conditions signed off, and our payment arrangements in place, so if issues do come up with the larger customers, you know what you’re expecting.
The buzz word at the moment is obviously big data, but we constantly need to innovate and change.
A culture is getting ingrained as a result of having peoplewho have been along for most of the journey.
Celebrate success and celebrate regularly. We have a profit-sharing culture as well, so when the company is profitable everybody yields out of that.
We’ve got a talent management function, and we’ve invested very heavily in that. They’re making sure everyone’s in the right project doing the right work and getting the right training.
Step away. I still stay a little bit connected – in as much as if someone needs me I’ll pick up the phone, and stay connected at that level. It shows that you respect that they can do the job and it empowers them, so it helps you to step away a bit quicker.