Byron Teu put his career as a doctor on ice to work full-time on his start-up Sentralize.com.au, an “intelligent digital curation tool” that provides aggregated content-filled websites to clients.
Teu spoke to StartupSmart to explain why he’s convinced his idea is worth hanging up his stethoscope for.
Why did you decide to give up medicine?
I did six years at medical school and was then practicing as a doctor at the Royal Hobart Hospital. I decided to take a break to work on the site.
I had a chat with one of my business mentors who said that the idea was impressive. He said, ‘The tech industry is forever changing, but God won’t update the human body any time soon.’ I thought that this was true – I always have my medicine to fall back on. I thought I should give it a crack.
I have a passion for medicine and my business but the business is a very different kind of satisfaction. It’s very exciting. I have my family to thank for that – they gave me the spark for running my own business.
How did you start the site?
I started it with Jason Whitehead and we registered the site in 2006. I have put $100,000 of my savings into the site over the last four years. It’s good to see it go somewhere after that investment!
When I was doing it part-time, I had a lot of distractions. It was more like a hobby. Now it’s a proper business.
What’s the model for the business and how does it stand out from the crowd?
It’s an aggregation of online information. People consume a lot of information but don’t spend the time to find it. We thought it would be nice to create a convenient location to find it. We had RSS feeds from bloggers who had trouble getting their information out to people.
Initially, we had RSS feeds but we found a way to make a web development platform to build websites on the fly for customers. The customer doesn’t need to spend resources to keep the sites updated. We see ourselves ahead of the pack in aggregation because the others aren’t building these sites – they are just providing the content.
Some clients use it for lead generation and some use it for advertising. They drive traffic, in return, to bloggers, so it’s a harmonious relationship. It allows customers to build multiple verticals, which ranks better on Google.
What were the main problems you faced?
The main mistake I made was not understanding our value proposition, in a commercial sense. A lot of entrepreneurs have an idea that provides convenience to people and think that that’s enough. But who is going to pay for it?
When you go to customers and offer them lead conversion and advertising, that’s another ball park.
I only left medicine in January this year, so the whole process has been a shock to me. I spent three months pitching to people thinking what I had was enough, but I had a technical team, not a sales team.
Until you have cashflow, you don’t have a real business. It took me six months to get that.
Another problem is the market we’re in. I went to a VC forum which said that the Australian market is 2% of the world and that Tasmania is 2% of that. It made me realise that I have to export and to do that I needed the skills.
So how did you do this?
I reached out the experienced entrepreneurs in the tech industry, outside Tasmania. During the same VC forum, I decided to do this during the break. I made it my challenge to find three people there that could help me and ask them questions.
I met Phaedon Stough (co-founder of Innovation Bay) who introduced me to a lot of people. I was prepared to hear what was negative about my business.
Some people are afraid of offending you, but it’s good to hear what people have to say. The feedback I remember the most was the negative stuff – that this was a crowded space. How was I differentiated? The value is there for the readers, but who will pay for it?
Phil Morle (co-founder of Pollenizer) said you have to know your customer very well. You need to be able to look them in the eye and sell to them.
Who was your first client?
The first paying client was the Premier of Tasmania in July. They paid for a feed for their intranet, so that they could find out what was being said about the Premier. We have a system that can track all of that information and let a client know what hot topics are out there.
We have about 20 clients now. One client has 25 websites. We have a client in the US too – a lot of these clients have been won through networking. I ask contacts who they think would benefit, I go to tech events and try and meet people for coffee as much as I can.
How many staff do you have now?
I’m the sole owner and Jason is an employee – I’ve paid him for all of these years. He gathers all of the content. We have a designer and two front-end developers because tech doesn’t sell unless you package it up well. I handle sales.
What’s the next step for the business?
The next step is to get a sales team on board and then to approach investors. I want sales teams in Melbourne and Sydney in the first quarter of 2011. When looking for staff, I spend a week with them to see if they have the passion for it. Quite often, I see people who wash their hands of the job at 5pm and you don’t want that in a start-up. The other things I look for are common sense and thoroughness.
What’s you ambition for the business?
We want to speed up development of websites down to one minute. At the moment, it takes an hour to get the domain name, get it hosted and launched. Once we get it down to a minute, then you will see us littered across the web.
A lot of companies have domain names but don’t have time to build sites. If we can do that, it will cut the cost and time for them. The ambition is to be across all of the domain registrars across the world.