There is an old adage that you should keep your personal life and business separate, but it is a rule James Milne chose to ignore when recruiting for his technology company.
Milne is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Brisbane-based Myriad Technologies, which helps organisations use Microsoft SharePoint technologies to improve productivity.
Myriad is also a Microsoft Gold Partner, working across a number of industries including the construction, mining and energy sectors.
For the last three years, Milne has been named an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) by Microsoft, which recognises the best and brightest from the world’s technology communities.
He recently received notification he has been nominated for a fourth MVP award.
But it hasn’t always been a walk in the park for Milne, who had to readjust to the Australian tech scene after spending several years in Silicon Valley.
“Back during the IT boom, I had an opportunity to move to Silicon Valley and work for some tech companies over there for about three or four years,” Milne says.
“I was working in Silicon Valley with some major companies like General Motorsport [and] Intel. The technology we were using was light-years ahead of what I had exposure to in Australia.”
“In about late 2003, my wife and I moved back to Australia.”
“That was a little daunting for me because being immersed in technology in Silicon Valley, and then coming back to Australia, was a very different atmosphere.”
“However, I looked at it as an opportunity because I had that headstart. I noticed a five-year gap between what they were doing in the US and what we are doing in Australia.”
Upon returning to Australia, Milne managed to pick up several contracts, including one with a construction company, which eventually spawned a two-year engagement.
“That was a really large construction company, so I got tons of business via word of mouth,” Milne says
“Before I knew it, I found a business partner and we were knocking over more work. Eventually, one of our customers went belly up.”
“One of the young girls we’d trained up with SharePoint rang me and said, ‘My job’s finished but I think SharePoint has a future. I want to come and work for you guys’.”
“That was employee number one… Before I knew it, one had turned into four, which turned into six and then eight.”
“One morning, we had a company update and I looked around and realised there were 12 people working for us.”
Myriad Technologies now employs 21 staff but is still looking to take on more. According to Milne, one of the most challenging aspects of being in business is creating the right work culture.
“Very early on in the piece, someone told me not to mix business and personal. I thought that made sense,” he says.
“We hired a talented young girl, and her partner was looking for work. She said to him, ‘Why don’t you come in for an interview?’ The first thing we thought was, we’re breaking that cardinal rule.”
“The second time we broke that rule was when one of my business partners got his wife in to do the books. Again, we were breaking that cardinal rule – mixing family and business. I also got my niece in to do graphic design.”
Milne says Myriad Technologies has evolved into a family company, with “lots of relatives in the mix”.
“I didn’t think it would work but it has changed the dynamic, the culture and the way people act inside the company,” he says.
“The way it’s helped us get ahead is that our people are genuinely interested in each other’s wellbeing.”
“If someone has a huge deadline, everyone else picks up on the fact that someone’s stressed and says, ‘Let’s go and help them’.”
“That’s the type of culture we’ve been trying to foster because when the chips are down, it’s your staff that help you out.”
Myriad Technologies is on target to turn over more than $4 million this year, which Milne insists is as much to do with the team as the technology. His advice to others? Celebrate your wins.
“This is hard when you’ve got so much work on, but when we do a successful project, we make sure our staff get some downtime,” he says.