Name: Tristan Sternson
In 2001, InfoReady founder Tristan Sternson was fresh out of university with an IT degree and thought his career was already mapped out, having lined up a plum consultancy gig at leading professional services firm PwC.
But a fortuitous job offer from a small telecommunications startup set him on a new entrepreneurial path.
“I delayed the corporate job and actually went and worked for a startup, just to make a little bit of money after uni. I didn’t really think too much about it,” says Sternson.
The fledgling telco was none other than Larry Kestelman and Michael Slepoy’s Dodo, the internet provider the pair later sold to M2 Telecommunications for almost $250 million.
“There was literally four of us there on day one. We actually sat around drinking and eating pizza when we came up with the name,” recalls Sternson.
Having taken just three units of database management at university, Sternson was assigned the role of database administrator at Dodo.
“They were real entrepreneurs, Larry Kestelman and Michael Slepoy. So, from day one I was thrust into this idea of how these guys got started and what they did. It really inspired me,” he says.
Sternson had already tried his hand at a few different business ideas himself, including a failed Y2K bug-fixing venture in 1999 that “didn’t do amazingly”.
“I always had this thirst for doing something on my own,” he says.
“Every time I failed, I learned something from it and learned not to stop there. I sometimes liken it to dating; some people are lucky enough to find the one first time, but you’ve go to meet a few people before you meet the right match.”
With his database experience at Dodo under his belt, Sternson went on to corporate roles at IBM and Accenture, before he decided to quit his job and launch his own data analytics company in 2009.
Six years later, InfoReady now turns over more than $20 million. The company, which builds solutions and systems for companies to make the most out of their data, has expanded to Ireland and lists Telstra, Origin Energy and Tennis Australia as clients.
SmartCompany chats to Sternson about why he likes routine and why he gets sentimental at work Christmas parties.
Sternson is up at 6am and into the office by 7.30am, hoping to avoid the Melbourne CBD traffic and get stuck into his workload early.
“I like being productive early,” he says.
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Sternson makes his day a little easier by being a creature of habit.
“I go to the same café every morning and I always get the same thing. I always get my toast, juice and coffee every morning from the same guy,” he laughs.
“It’s easy. You don’t have to worry about it as much,” he says, although he admits he’s not quite at the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg-level of wearing the same shirt every day.
When he’s not travelling for work, Sternson likes scheduling the many meetings required of his role as managing director for first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon so he has “a few hours to get the real work done”.
InfoReady employs more than 100 staff, so Sternson likes to keep a large part of his day open for anything that might come up.
“People directly report to me so I like to be collaborative and hands on, too hands on sometimes, but I like to always be accessible 24/7,” he says.
Having come from a startup background, Sternson says he values a flat company structure and likes to give staff the opportunity to pitch ideas.
“We have such a good team. There are 100 people who are specialists in data and a lot of them have a lot of good ideas worth listening to,” he says.
Sternson doesn’t stop for lunch but instead likes to use that time to research or read something interesting, like a LinkedIn article on leadership or an inspiring TED Talk.
Although he’ll clock out of the office around 6pm, Sternson admits he will jump back on his computer after dinner with his family to log a few more hours of work.
But he says he has learned to balance his work-life paradigm these days thanks to being “good at routines”.
“On weekends, I’ll schedule some time [to work] because I know I need it, rather than just being ad hoc. If I schedule one hour on a Saturday, then it won’t keep eating into the weekend,” Sternson says.
When he does have down time, the sports fan likes to play golf or watch the tennis, or you’ll find the lifelong Hawthorn member cheering on the Hawks at every home game.
At a time when bigger, international players are scooping up many of InfoReady’s local competitors, Sternson admits there’s been acquisition interest.
“There’s definitely been a few phones calls,” he says.
But he says takeovers aren’t on the company’s current wish list, believing InfoReady still has plenty of room to grow on its own.
“Our focus is to build what’s new and unique. We’re releasing a lot of solutions and new offerings this year which we’re really excited about,” he says.
Now six years down the path, Sternson says he is able to look back with pride at the business’ growth.
“Every year at the Christmas party, I get really sentimental. I remember the first Christmas party with just a few people and my first employee who stayed upstairs in my house. I like to look back and think how far we’ve come,” he says.