How Rob Olver introduced Excel and PowerPoint to the Australian Market

Posted on May 9, 2024 in AI

Interested in exploring the intricacies of today’s business world? Join an engaging discussion with hosts Jackson Barnes and Nigel Heyn, alongside business adviser, mentor, and veteran investor Rob Olver, as they navigate the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, highlighting both challenges and opportunities.

Rob emphasises the importance of digital stewardship and advises businesses to strategically approach technology. Drawing from his extensive experience, he delves into the complexities of startup investment, stressing the significance of addressing critical issues accurately. Additionally, Rob explores the potential of AI to catalyse transformation and urges businesses to proactively embrace new technologies.

Entrepreneurs stand to gain valuable insights for navigating the digital age through real-world examples and expert guidance provided in this episode of Redd’s Business & Technology Podcast!

#REDDPodcast #BusinessInsights #Entrepreneurship #TechTrends #DigitalTransformation #StartupAdvice

00:00 – Start
00:54 – Rob Olver’s Career Journey
04:23 – Transition to Digital Marketing
06:35 – Impact of Tech Wreck and Recovery
09:07 – Pitching SEO and Transition to Digital Advertising
15:25 – Transitioning from Microsoft to Own Ventures
18:35 – Importance of Following Instincts in Business
19:28 – Breaking Comfort Zones for Business Growth
20:50 – Importance of Acting on Advice in Business
21:14 – Investing in Various Businesses
25:28 – The Benefits of AI in Recruitment Process
28:24 – Success Story: CitrusAd
31:19 – Changes in Marketing Strategies
35:32 – The Challenge of Embracing Technology
40:51 – Educating Businesses on Cybersecurity
42:44 – Investing in Startups: Key Questions
45:39 – The Future of Business and AI


If you would like to discuss any of the topics discussed in this episode further with a REDD expert or if you would like to be a guest on the show, please get in touch either via our website, [email protected], or through any of the links below.



Hello and welcome to Redd’s Business and Technology Podcast. I’m your host, Jackson Barnes, and I’m your co-host, Nigel Heyn. Today we’re sitting down with Rob Olver, who’s an industry expert investor, business advisor and mentor. I’m going to unpack something, some really cool your journey over the years, and particular excited to hear about how you brought Microsoft into Australia in the eighties. So mate, thanks for coming on, Rob.


Yeah, nice to be here guys. Great to you with me and let’s see if we can cover some interesting ground. Yeah,


Let’s start back to what you did fresh out of school, university, just to plant the, lay the land a little bit. Then we’ll unpack your journey over the time.


Yeah, no, that’s great. Well, look, I like to divide my life into sort of three parts. That first part, uni was very problematic. I think I lasted a year and a half and I ran and went and joined media and went into television and went into radio. Spent a couple of years doing that, which was a lot of fun. And then travelling around Europe, I ended up in a pub in London in Fullham where I met a really good Aussie advertising guy and he taught me to get into copywriting and get into advertising. So I did that for four or five years and then I came back to Australia and decided I’d start my own agency and do my own thing. And I did, and I picked up a client, which was NEC in its early days. And we had a really good business relationship going with those guys, pumping out the old 4 86 computers. And their head of product rang me and said, I’ve got a new job. I’d love you to come over and have a talk with me about what we could do together. And I said, well, where are you? He said, I’m in a software company. And I said, yeah, okay. So I went over to French’s Forest, which is northern suburbs of Sydney, and there’s a salmon coloured building there with 15 people. And it was this little small struggling software company called Microsoft.


So it was a really interesting time just to be there on the ground when that business got going. And our first project was launching Excel, which I think we did in 87 or 88.


So that was launching in Australia, effectively? In


Australia effectively, yeah. Yeah. Cool. And I mean, I remember Bill Gates coming down and presenting at the height Kingsgate Hotel to a bunch of geeks on acetate PowerPoints. It was just the times. And then three years later you arrived and had a motorcycle escort. So it was just how heady the times were for Microsoft over those late eighties, early nineties. So very interesting. Great time to be in tech. And for me, my advertising background had largely been in fast moving consumer goods. So I’d done a lot of work with Koch, I’d worked with Unilever and Kellogg and I understood those brands. And I think the good notion that Microsoft always had about the business was that computing was going to take off and it would become a fast moving consumer. Good. So yeah, I ended up running the brand from 87 through to 2000, so 13 years traversing start me up and Windows 95 and all of that kind of crazy era.


And it was even funny, I think you might have to dig a bit deeper at Microsoft’s analyst on this one, but I think we actually started office down here as an idea. You could always buy the three applications, but they priced them at 2200 bucks or something, and we unbundled them, put ’em in a cardboard outer and stuck it in Harvey Norman and priced it around $1,200. And the whole thing took off as it would do. And yeah, it was that picked it up and ran around the world after that. And offices now granted in of course to be the Azure platform, and that’s where life has gone. But I think in those early days that Microsoft recognised that they could get an app on every one of the PCs that went out the door, then you’re not going to go and buy Lotus Notes, you’re not going to go and buy Harvard Graphics. It became pre-installed. So yeah, office was a great moment for us. We had a lot of fun.


Yeah, that’s pretty exciting to be honest, because Microsoft, they almost made the tech industry to be honest, those guys and Apple and IBM and the early adopters. So it would’ve been a really amazing position once in a lifetime opportunity, I imagine in the late eighties and nineties to introduce that into Australia.


Yeah, I mean there were such big brands installed. IBM was everywhere. SAP was everywhere. Mainframes were everywhere. And we were like gorilla marketers. We turned up in the corner office of pwc or one of the big accounting firms, and we’d give the power user, the spreadsheet user a free copy of Excel, and then you’d stand back and watch the chaos at the printer where people go, how did you do that? How did you print that out? It’s fantastic. And then we just took credit card orders of Excel and we just snuck it into businesses that way. So as all good tech does, it never comes down from the top. It always comes up from the bottom. It’s always the grassroots up. No big tech ideas ever drifted down to the rest of the population.


How was that so successful in Australia? Was we used to in gimmicky stuff like that, going to BWC and then just giving Excel demos and licence keys to people to, it would’ve been CDs probably back in then, maybe even floppy dis I guess. How did you do that back in the go to market for Microsoft?


Well, I would say we were exceptionally good marketers, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? But no, I think we brought a lot of consumer marketing ideas and the Microsoft team down here, they had some really charismatic product people who could put on a show. And I remember we’d do Excel events and you’d fill an auditorium with people and they’d be clapping and cheering as you’re doing a demo of a live macro or something and stuff that you’d never seen before on spreadsheets. I mean out the back, I might say there was like four eight sixes, gaffer tape together and there’s a fair bit of smoke and mirrors happening, but it was that kind of, it got a bit of a cult following and it of Wrigley took off. And yeah, it was such a powerful product and such a usable product. I think it was the flagship for the brand because I mean Word was good, but it was up against Word perfect and PowerPoint was up against Harvard Graphics in those days. But yeah, once you got the three together, I think we used the Three Tenors as a marketing campaign at one point when it was out, the singers were doing the thing for the World Cup and we borrowed them and likened Excel, PowerPoint and Word to the Three Tenors. So it was kind of good positioned it. Yeah, it was fun.


So after Microsoft Journey, and we can talk back to that later throughout the show, but after the Microsoft, so you were there until 2000 did you say?


Yeah. Well, my agency ran the business from 87 to 2000, so just, well probably 1999 actually. And it got realigned internationally with a very large agency group, so we’d done our time, but it was exciting. I think we went from being a small, tiny little software company to this BNF down here in Australia, and management was sensational. The guy that ran the business, Daniel Petri was an unbelievably good operator, one of the better businessmen that I ever worked with. And he went off to become a senior exec in the US and then came back to Australia. For me, what was interesting was that it opened my eyes to the digital world. I mean, we probably got onto the internet a little bit before Microsoft. In fact, I tried to get Microsoft to sponsor ANet down here, but I weren’t really into it. The internet, it wasn’t their space.


And then my middle nineties we developed a thing called On Australia, which was sort of a joint venture with Telstra and Microsoft, and we were looking at our own network, like a wall garden internet, which kind of dumb idea, but there’s 65 million Microsoft PCs in the world just link ’em up and we don’t ruin our own internet, which is pretty naive. But that took me into the journey of the internet a lot earlier than I thought. I mean, I was probably there, I was a member of a thing called the Well in 1992, which is an internet sort of think tank. And it was quite heady. I saw the death of advertising. I kind of saw how that sort of mass consumerism was going to change. We’d sit down and 80% of Australia would be in front of a TV on a Sunday night. You’d run the ad, the client would ring you Monday morning and high five you because sales were good.


But that was going to change. And the whole fragmentation of media and fragmentation of audience and this ability to have one-on-one communications was really exciting. So Microsoft pivoted and joined Channel nine in a thing called nine MSN, which was the sort of next version of their online business. And we got into the content business. So we were an ad agency, but we were probably the first digital agency in the country as well. And that in itself was an interesting time. I kind of had the creative guys on the top floor and down in the basement with the guys in the barbecue shirts eating pizza and gaming at midnight. And they were two completely different cultures, but it was great. And we started to bring advertising ideas to the internet and we started to bring internet ideas to advertising. So


Just to roll back on that story, it would’ve been more like radio and tv, that was it. And then what would be marketing would’ve been billboards and newspapers and things. I imagine initially, and then you’re saying when digital, what year was that when it got more like, okay, there’s more, there’s Google, you can go and search for companies and SEO and all that. When was that kind of transition? Well,


We needed Google to fix the world. I mean, there was a period there where we had a range of Yahoo and look smart and different search engines, very, very anarchic, very unstructured look a free for all. And again, bottom up, I mean we spent a lot of time looking at the porn industry because how are they doing video online? That’s really cool and they’re charging it the credit, how’s that credit card going through? So you look at, and I see a lot of similarities in the AI world. We can touch on that a bit later, but just the same thing is happening in 2024 that was happening back in 1995. This grassroots thing is pushing the internet up. And I think what people recognised was that you could be your own brand. You didn’t have to pay a TV network or you didn’t have to pay a newspaper network for ads.


You could develop your own persona, your own website. You could tell your own story. And in those days, there was a thing called GeoCities that came up, which is this sort of metaphor for the world online. You could have sort of a bit of digital real estate and you could put a shingle out and run new brand. And it wasn’t until Google arrived and that search started to make sense of this plethora of content and it made it usable, accessible, and away it went. And it was like fact-based marketing. You didn’t market on the hope that the person watching the TV show might. You had a look at their search terms they were on, and you looked for what they were putting into browsers and you’re going, oh, this is fantastic. This is direct marketing on steroids.


And you see how many views and clicks and so on were on tv. You wouldn’t just be like, oh, I think it went well. Yeah,


All of that. And look, the tech wreck was, I had a fair bit of pain in the tech wreck. We were going to take our business to market, and that’s what Tech Wreck, the tech wreck was bust. The end of it was March, 2000. I do remember it quite well before your time.


JB Yeah, IY 2K was the common term for I known as a tech wreck before.


Well, bus, it was a heady, heady, five years of investment. You didn’t need a business plan as long as you had an audience, you could go and raise some money. And I’m talking stupid amounts of money, like crazy, crazy amounts of money. And that sort of pumped up the price of these tech stocks through the roof. I had a little side business called Real Media, which was sort of selling media online. And I remember a business contacted me from LA on the fax machine funnily enough, and offered me 10 million for the business. And it’s like it’s been around for six months. It’s hardly got even a turnover. So


Your fax literally popped out of the machine offering


Guys. These guys knew someone who knew someone, and it was just one of those kind of crazy things. Unfortunately, it was in March that year, so it was that year that the deal never happened, but it was one of those, the last moments of the tech wreck for want


Of a better word these days. That would be an email that gets deleted pretty quickly, I’d say. Yeah, very much so. A threat actor. Can you remember the first time that you had to pitch a business on getting a budget for SEO to boost on Google when historically it would’ve been all newspapers and TV ads and billboards? What was that first pitch? Would’ve been interesting.


It probably took till 2004, 2005 for the world to recover from the tech wreck from crash. So the digital marketing branding website world sort of disappeared into the wiring for a period of time when the money was being spent on building portals. My had launched with their accounting software and there was sort of business applications coming up, but the frenzied internet thing wasn’t really happening and it took really until iPhone to the mobile to change to bring the world back to the exciting ad times where audience, that was the driver of audience. There were still a lot of people online. We had a number of websites that we’d built that we just ticked away in the background quietly. I mean, we were burning probably three to $400,000 a month in 98, 99 on four or five big internet properties. We had had a thing called Stuff Auctions, which got run over by eBay.


But these platforms, the ones we left on slowly picked up audience over those sort of darker quieter years when there wasn’t much happening on the internet. But what we found was a lot of businesses were then spending money on internet technology. So it was going back into internal services software that was more networking. The cloud hadn’t come out at this point in time, but there’s a lot more networking, a lot more sort of internet VPN kind of stuff happening. And so it wasn’t until the iPhone came out that and Facebook ran over the top of MySpace and when that happened and they started publishing APIs around how to use their platform to advertise, and Google’s got a bit ahead of steam up around AdWords, that’s when it sort of got going and it really took off. So probably that period from 2005 to 2010 is when you started pitching genuine even search budgets and businesses wanted it. They wanted to be part of it. I mean, we did a lot of work in those days with Toyota. I mean Toyota’s average web traffic was like 600,000 on people. And that’s a


Month or


Yeah, it’s bigger than TV network. So their own marketing and their ability to use their own assets. I mean it’s one of the hallmarks I think of the web. If you brand’s good, then you can be a standalone entity without having to pay someone to build your own profile. So


When you went through that and then when you finished doing the work for Microsoft, do you still own your own marketing agency as well, or did you end up selling out of that and starting something else or what happened with that? In the 2005


Career, I moved on from the business. I stayed as a director and a shareholder of the business, but I moved on to some other areas. I launched Sydney’s first home delivered food platform. It was kind of a heady moment, which was kind of good. We built that to a business and sold it. 2010, I diversified into a bunch of startups. I got excited about the space again, I got my sort of tech wreck scars well healed and decided I’d have another go. And so dived into a couple of businesses around the automotive area and different areas. And yeah, we didn’t have a lot of success, but certainly got a bit of a portfolio of businesses happening. And it was only in sort of mid two thousands, 2015 when I was sort of lying on a beach thinking, what will I do next? And I got this call from the federal government to join the Entrepreneurs programme and I got invited to have a chat and loved it thought sounded like the best thing I could have possibly done in my life and it was a great, great time. So


You run through that entrepreneur programme 2015, was that just you mentoring slash investing in business in Australia or what was involved?


Look, it was a great programme. It finished in June last year. I’m not sure who actually developed it, but it goes back to about 2000, 2005 I think. So it was probably a Howard government thing and then picked up by the Labour Party renamed a few times, had a bit of a chequered career. But essentially it was a really interesting idea where the government realised that government dealing direct with people can sometimes be a bit Toby. They don’t have that sort of commercial sense and it’s also difficult for people to deal back with government. And so they thought up this idea about taking people out of business who’ve got strong business careers and contracting them to run point between the government and the business. And so in many ways the job was around providing advice. There were grants for innovation, just helping businesses navigate what government could give them and pass back.


And at the same time being able to get deeply involved with a business and a business owner and just providing them advice and for want of a better word, a fresh set of eyes. It’s actually how I met Nigel and the team at Red. We did a very similar evaluation here a couple of years ago, and it was a set of eyes on their business. And I think you have a moment with a founder or an owner of a business where they know they’re not paying you. You’ve got a contract from the government that’s doing that for you, so there’s no money changing hands. And about 15, 20 minutes into the meeting, the penny drops that you’re not selling anything. And when that happens, it moves from a meeting to a confessional. Let me tell you, you really get down to the genuine part of the conversation. And so in my seven years in that programme, I reckon I’ve met three to 400 businesses and everything from sort of the $0 startup to the $200 million construction services business. It’s such a broad church. It’s quite extraordinary actually.


What was the most valuable bit of advice you gave to a business in that almost what nine year stint in the entrepreneur? What was the most valuable piece of advice you gave to businesses?


I think nine out of 10 people don’t follow their instincts enough. They know that there’s an employee that probably isn’t right for them. They know there’s a customer that isn’t right for them. They know there’s a deal they should do and they don’t do it. I mean, I have a saying action precedes clarity and the world rewards the doer. And I think anyone who procrastinates on instincts usually gets bitten. That’s the reassuring thing for me when I talk to businesses and you see it very early, you see it very quickly that there’s either people or a department or a part or division or something in the business that just isn’t ticking correctly. Everyone knows it as well. It’s funny, they all talk about it, but no one acts on it. And


To flip that then why CEOs or founders not actioning those things? What was the main reason when you tried Dun unpack why they aren’t doing those things?


If it’s an employee, they’re a bit wedded to them. They may have been there a while and they think, what are we going to do if they go? And that’s the sort of, well, I take the wither with me kind of approach. Look, I don’t know. I mean I think it’s just people get comfortable with what they’ve done and it’s difficult for them to break those patterns. And as we’ll talk a little bit about the technology, you can’t get a better example of that in business, we get very, very stuck in our ways, and that’s the idea of a fresh set of eyes. That’s what most businesses really could do a lot more of is just let more people in, let more people look at their business rather than hide it and keep your arms around it and keep it too protective. The businesses that I know that used a lot of consultants and that were open and were ready for discussion at other fastest growing businesses in my portfolio,


And I can attest to that those couple of years. Early on when we first met you, Rob, it’s been fantastic and I think you gave us validation methodologies, tools, systems that muscle memory know you need to do it, but until someone validates it, you go, oh, we do it. Look big credit to where red has come to is because of you, mate. So I appreciate


It. Yeah, no, the other good thing is that you need people that are prepared to listen and that are prepared to act on advice because an old expression nurse and marelle die in your arms. And that’s the thing, if you’ve got someone who’s just not going to to act and want to do something with the business, then there’s just no luck being there. So


You’ve obviously invested in a whole range of businesses now without taking up the whole kind of showtime. Do you elaborate on essentially what your portfolio is currently or anything exciting you want to mention around what you are working on today?


Look, I’m deep in ai. I do love it. I think I was over in the US as a guest of Amazon in November, December, and they’ve made an unbelievable investment in AI technologies and cloud-based technologies and just talking to some of the people there, head of digital for Volkswagen and some big brands. And you look at the sea change that people are seeing now as we’ve liberated data out of big silos and we’ve got natural language processing and we’ve got these large language models and this way of looking at data that we’ve never had before. You suddenly realise just how transformative this era is going to be. It’s just super, super exciting and we haven’t even seen the edge of it yet. So one business I’ve invested in and I’m kind of mentoring at the moment is a company called Gate, very, very talented. CTO started life in online gaming.


So how do I have 10 million concurrent games of poker? How do I solve that problem? He’d spent his life in data and he kind of got the garage job going with chat GPT sort of in 21, 22, maybe 23 actually, and realised that in here was all his DNA, that he actually totally understood how these LLMs worked and how the services could work. And he just realised that it was the cherry on top of his tech stack for his words. So he came to me with a really interesting idea because we’ve got the fastest rate of technology adoption ever in history. If you look at the curve of chat DPT and from zero users to X million users took like three months. It’s crazy amount of time, but it’s very anarchic, it’s very unstructured. There’s lots of bits and bots and interesting little areas, but it’s not really commercial.


So here’s me thinking this looks a lot like the world before Google got in. So how’s this going to, who’s going to organise this space? How’s this going to work? And I know it’s not going to come down from the top because nothing in tech ever comes down from the top. It will come up from the bottom. So one of the interesting areas in, if I go back to my example with the adult industry in the internet days, companionship is a big area in AI at the moment. It’s one of the more areas where money’s going, where people are using AI avatars and relationships to have coaching and have personal friends. So that’s an area that’s kind of growing in the AI space. What the Zi Gate guys had done was that they had used an organisational structure, a standard off the shelf organisational structure, sales, marketing, finance product, yada yada, and said, why don’t we produce an AI worker in each of those?


So we’ll have a sales worker, we’ll have a HR worker, we’ll have a marketing worker. So they had this idea of an AI workforce and I think cleverly not to replace people in organisations, but to supplement the boring, mundane and low end stuff that they were doing. And so a lot of, if you’re a salesperson, that concept of looking for leads, trying to develop leads, trying to get that, doing that hard yard activity on LinkedIn or whatever, could I automate that? Could I make that work a bit easier for you? I liked the thought, I thought the workforce idea was perhaps a little bit too big, but I thought it’s kind of cool because you don’t have to think too much about the application because it’s not then about the ai, it’s about the task that’s getting done. So the one we picked on was a recruiter. We decided we’d do a recruitment worker because it’s universal. It’s the process of hiring is the same all around the world and it’s really tedious, like getting good job descriptions, placing the ads. This business recruited region, they got 92 applications well, which is the sort of AI worker reads them instantly, ranks them instantly and even does the face-to-face interview


Really. So


You dial in and you have a Zoom meeting with Zelly who does the screening interview for you. So the idea here is that it just makes the recruitment process way easier and the advantage is that the typical recruiter, and when we spoke to ones that were in agencies or inside businesses in corporates, they all want more time to do the things that are more valuable and more rewarding to them.


What’s interesting, is it delegated as in delegated to AI in your team and an AI person in your team? Spot on. Yeah. Interesting. You picked that up. Well, it’s a strange time. It’s going to be like that where if a business has a resourcing issue, they can either hire a person or they can look at hiring like an offshore or resource or something like that, or they can get an AI person into fix something. So


There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty around it and perhaps there should be. But one guy said to me the other day, the nail gun didn’t replace the carpenter. It certainly got rid of a few companies that didn’t embrace the nail gun. And I think that’s where we’re at with ai. I think it’s something you’ve got to lean into, you can’t just ignore. And I think when you lean into it, you realise that from a business perspective it’s got a huge amount to offer. I mean, we are just scraping the surface at the moment and we’re launching the ZE pa, which goes with the Z recruiter and then there’s a Z salesperson coming as well. And we’re working with salespeople and PAs to understand what they want done for them. And this is an out of the box idea, so you don’t have to train the agent, you don’t have to understand the tech.


It’s exactly what we did with Microsoft in the early days and just the Excel spreadsheet came out of a cellophane wrap box. And so that’s the same model. So we’re going to try and bring AI in a shrink wrap format into that middle part of the market and certainly smaller businesses that are trying to leverage and grow, you can get so much done. And it’s one of the things that I love when doing an interview with azel. You’re getting all the sentiment analysis, you’re getting a complete transcript of the call, the conversation you’ve had. And if you want to, this is interesting from a sales perspective, you can also get some coaching tips on the back of it as to how you could have done better in that interview because the LL M’S listening to you, it’s looking at it’s modelling you against some best practise. So I see AI’s human performance, I think it’s going to improve human performance, 10 x not getting the


Jobs. So the last show we released was with Michael Reed from the CEO of Megaport and he was speaking about Gong, which is basically a sales AI platform that listens in on calls and coaches you on tonality and things that they me didn’t mention and you could have said better next time for example. So that’s a very interesting industry. I wanted to unpack the story you mentioned about citrus ads. Do you want to elaborate on what happened there?


Oh, this is a great, really great success story for Brisbane fabulous CEO operator guy by the name of Brad Moran. Very, very impressive guy. Back in the late nineties, we kicked a business off called Symbis, which was a kind of ad sales business where we’d recognised that, and this is before AdWords brands were bringing audiences to their websites and why wouldn’t we take a bit of that real estate and then share the revenue with the brand. So if we sold some ads on the Coca-Cola website for example, we’d share that revenue with Coke and it’d be a happy day kind of business. We thought nice idea, Google were a bit smarter, they had a thing called AdWords and they came in and just ran over the top of that. What Brad and his partner did, which is really impressive, is that they’d done a lot of work in retail and they recognised very quickly, and this was certainly covid helped them, helped the business grow.


But this is pre covid. They recognised that if you go into Woollies and you are a brand listing in Woollies, the trade marketing dollars that you spend with be worth to ensure what shelf you’re on, what position on that shelf, whether you’ve got a gondola end, any signage at the end of it, promotion, all of that, this is a big chunk of money. This is like 40% of a lot of marketing budgets go just in what they call trade dollars. And they realised that none of the big brands websites, their e-commerce platforms were offering anything like that. They were largely very bespoke, custom made bit of Oracle, but asap, bit of something else, big e-commerce websites. And so they developed a beautiful piece of technology that sat outside of the core website and basically ingested all the inventory of all the products and they introduced this concept called sponsored ads or sponsored products. And effectively it allowed a brand to say, okay, I want to buy the top row of the nappies section, so when you click on nappies, I want the top four products to be mine and I’m going to pay for that space.


So this is basically like a Google ad words or like SEO paid ads for Google searches, but on a brand’s website. So for example, like Woolworth, you can have sponsored couple items up the top, correct. And that was a Brisbane company, citrus ads. Cirus ads.


So we raised I think 1.75 million originally and four and a half, five years later sold it to French advertising agents, but biggest agency in the world publicists for 200 plus million dollars. Wow, that’s a great story. And just beautiful tech at the right time and great execution. Great execution.


That’s a really cool story. I wanted to unpack some of your marketing or more marketing mostly also go to market experience now versus what it would’ve been like 20 years ago, for example. So what advice would you have on let’s say a business or technology company in terms of go-to-market strategy? How’s that changed and how would you go to market with something like that? Now I


Think the best metaphor for this is app store’s, like 3 million apps on the app store. How are you going to stand out? So 20 years ago if you had a new idea, particularly in tech because the ideas were new there, you could launch a brand, you could be a Salesforce and launch a CRM or you could be even MySpace when it first got going, you could pretty happily hang your shingle and know with a bit of marketing there was no barriers to entry, then you could crank your own marketing up and use the internet and what we call the network effect that something like PayPal that got passed around or eBay or Etsy or any of those interesting product companies that started off, you didn’t really, you could be your own thing now there’s no way that you can just open start a business and start waving a flag and saying, Hey, look at me.


It is so crowded. It is so so crowded. And I go back to the app store. I mean half of those things are not going to exist in the years to come. And I think we are going to see a massive cleanout many, I dunno what the average number of apps running in a business, but subscriptions have gone through the roof As we know, people have got 10, 20 things they’re paying 20, $30 a month for. It’s kind of crazy. So the only way to go to market now, not only it’s ideally if you’ve got a burning hair problem, but there are not that many burning hair problems that haven’t been solved already. And usually with a burning hair problem, there’s five people who are onto it. The first moment you think of it, then someone else has done it. AI’s a little bit harder because it’s solving problems we don’t really think we’ve got or even know about and what you don’t know and this idea that they need to present to you something that you might like, that’s a very bad bit of marketing as well.


You want to have a real understanding of what value you are generating, but you’ve got to build an ecosystem. You’ve got to stand on shoulders of others. I think Ni and I were talking earlier today, and if you look at Xero, I mean you go to that zero marketplace, there is so much going on in there and it’s very symbiotic. I mean it’s adding value to Xero because there’s lots of plugins and then there’s lots of plugins that are taking life out of zero because they’re giving their user a better experience. So I think you’ve got to be part of an ecosystem. You’ve got to somehow find your way into the fabric of the world you are in and stand on the shoulders of other brands to get seen because just doing it yourself really, really, really hard to do. And we have a thing called product market fit.


And product market fit for a lot of people is getting first sales. For me, product market fit, it is my Woollies analogy. It’s not just getting my product on the shelves of Woollies, but it’s keeping up with the demand because it’s so hot. That’s product market fit. It’s very difficult to get that these days even on network effects because there is so much out there and the water’s very muddy. It’s extraordinary how muddy the water is. I mean you just mentioned that sales coaching tool. I know there’s another one called ota, which I think is a fantastic product, but that marketplace of just listening and coaching has got probably 20 offerings in it.


Yeah, it’s good advice I think, and I liken it to this podcast and I actually ripping this off another podcast I listen to is that a person is I think really going to listen to three, maybe four podcasts and that’s the only ear space that I’ve got while they’re going to gym or mowing the lawn or whatever. It’s so flooded. I imagine it would be quite similar for a new technology platform or something. Now imagine trying to introduce another CRM when there’s already ones that are so evolved, it be very, very hard. But good advice around trying to get an ecosystem that’s relevant to that audience and right product market fit. I looked other questions, but Nij, did you ask anything next?


Yeah, look, probably something I’d like to pick your brains on, Rob, you’ve met hundreds of business owners over the years, obviously been a great asset and a great friend and helping Red get to where it is. But yesterday’s meeting, I was on the Gold Coast visiting customers and your name came up twice in conversation very, very positively. But I guess what’s your take on the frustration that we see as Red exists to make people’s lives better through technology? We still see people struggling to embrace technology, struggling to understand cybersecurity, struggling to digitise, struggling to ai. It’s very foreign to a lot of people and to us it’s quite natural. But why do you see that especially Australian businesses slow in terms of that adoption?


I’ll tell you a story. Back in my advertising days when I had a young product manager just joined Kellogg and she was pretty excited about the world of advertising and marketing and not fresh out of uni but pretty fresh out of uni. And I took her for a drive out in the western suburbs of Sydney and the purpose of the trip was to let her know that everyone in their little tiny red brick homes and their busy lives weren’t thinking about her or her product or anything. And apathy is it. It is the single greatest barrier for all businesses and all brands is that unless there’s some absolute burning hair reason I need to get hold of that particular product, you’ve got to find your way. It’s the artist seduction. You’ve got to find your way into their lives. And I think tech, isn’t it interesting, I would’ve said pre covid, I reckon half the country ran on an old copy of Mild and about five spreadsheets that would be about it.


And when the four Commodore couldn’t make the sales call during Covid, I had calls from businesses, what do I do? I mean it was just people realised just how out of touch they were and how unconnected they were. And if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it. That’s a bit of an Australian thing and technology for a lot of people. I know a lot of people who did go down the journey of MYOB and went from manual books to mild books and you talk to them and they’re veterans because they’ve got so many scars and they hated the journey and they never want to touch it again. And sometimes software’s been pretty rude to people. I mean when you think about it, I read a good article in The Atlantic a little while ago, it really hasn’t delivered on the promise that it gave us way back, the paperless office and all that stuff.


It’s still kind of clunky and kind of hard. So I think increasingly, I think Covid woke a lot of businesses up to the need to understand that they actually need to put technology in their stack and automate it and work better and be smarter. And I think the generation of new younger business people coming forward that are much more digitally savvy, that’s definitely going to drive change. I mean I’m a little amazed about the cyber thing because I just for the life of me couldn’t think why you wouldn’t fix that straight away. That would be the first


Job. I’m sorry to cut you off, but I feel like in Queensland in particular around cyber, that mentality of the she’ll be right, other problems is a big problem. There’s 80% of businesses are in New South Wales, Victoria, primarily Melbourne and Sydney, but there was a notifiable data breach scheme report for the notified breaches for the last six months of last year. The top state, 27% I think it was of breaches were Queensland in that. So if you look at the amount of businesses that are in New South Wales, Victoria amount of breaches that were disclosed and happened in was the most by far in Queensland. Why do you think that is and what can we do as a cybersecurity company in Queensland help our clients?


Well I think it’s apathy. That’s the first thing is that people don’t think it’s going to happen to them. And so that’s their first protocol. I mean weirdly, I think you as industry probably could do with a boot as well because if you think it’s 2024, your connectivity, your business’s connectivity to the world, to your customers, to your staff, to everyone is largely in a digital interface predominantly. Now the importance of a digital partner that hasn’t really hit the table the way it should. I mean I’ll talk to business and they’ve got an unbelievable relationship with the accountant. They’ll have an unbelievable relationship with maybe a mentor or a coach, but the relationship with a digital partner, and yet that’s probably the most important business relationship a business leader needs because not only have you got security, but you’ve got data, you’ve got content, you’ve got connectivity, you’re saving money, efficiency, there’s so much going on in that particular space. And so a little bit, it’s the fault of the geeks I think for just taking a backseat and not being proactive with what they’re saying and doing with their customers and trying to be more service providers and more stewards for the business’ data. I think that’s a key thing.


Part of our rationale around the way we operate is more that business lens, business technology podcast, Queensland business in cyber and it, that’s what we do try and change. But it’s hard to be honest because enlist things like you said before, if they aren’t broke, don’t fix it. Cyber’s one of those things. If the organisation hasn’t had a breach before, hasn’t gone through a ransomware or a business email compromised before, it’s really hard to sit ’em down and go, here’s your roadmap for cybersecurity and so on, and these are the things you need to do and invest the money into it. But we definitely try what we can on that front. What other advice would you have for a business like us trying to educate and have that kind of business conversation around cybersecurity?


Well, I think the main thing is just to bring forward the digital stewardship. I mean it’s not going to get any easier. It’s going to get more complex. There’s going to be more involvement in technology in businesses and a lot of businesses can’t afford to run big internal teams to do that stuff. And so they’re going to need partners and those partners need to be able to provide the sort of stewardship and the mentorship that that business needs going forward. And I think it’s also looking at potentially other products and other services making a much better channel to market. Because one of the things that we found when we did do digital discussions with businesses and the government had a whole department that did this for you, you could go and get independent advice is you are left alone a little bit because you go talk to the software vendor, they’re going to tell you that their product does everything.


And so finding independent advice was a real struggle for a lot of small businesses. And I think the ISP, the MSP, that sort of managed services area where you’re more about infrastructure and more about making the thing work well, I think that’s a voice that probably hasn’t had the most potential. So I’m not saying that you’d put consulting teams on and do that kind of stuff, but I do think that there’s a role there for helping businesses understand their digital environment better and being a voice of reason and a voice of advice there not a zealot that’s trying to sell a particular platform.


Good advice. And some of I think might’ve shaped the way we founded and started operating. I wanted to pivot a little bit. So as an investor, I think you said, used the word before, jumping on the show, it’s serial entrepreneur, what questions would you ask a founder before investing?


I’m after the product, I’m after the solution, I’m after, what have you built and why? I do like to understand where they come from and clearly what expertise they bring to the table. But the first thing you try and get your head around is what problem are you solving or have you solved and is it a meaningful problem? Is it something that really someone is going to care about in any way, shape or form? I think if you can get over that point, then there is worth in starting to dig a bit deeper into what the journey to market could look like. I haven’t seen too many businesses fail because of the idea. I’ve seen them fail because of their execution. So it’s usually a CEO that runs it off the rails or someone who’s just not focused and it gets a bit random, but ideas need to be carefully nurtured to market.


And one of the great problems I see is the hunt for early customers. I’ve seen businesses that have got a good idea, they’re trying to get traction, they don’t really understand who their ideal first user is. So they go and have 10 conversations with 10 different businesses. And of course each business has its own way. It wants to interpret that particular product or service. And so suddenly your tech stack and your elegant solution looks like a 10 headed Medusa. It’s suddenly become all things to all people. And that’s usually when things fall over and end in tears. So I think first and foremost, what problem are you solving? Is it a really meaningful problem? And then what’s the go-to market strategy for this particular product? And nine times out of 10 founders are not very good at that. That’s probably their blind spot. They’re very good with the tech, but they’re blind as to how to go to market and how to make those decisions.


I mean the story with is always fascinating. They’ve got the tech stack, the iPhone’s given them the reason for being, but there’s no sort of independent rideshare business running at the time. So they’ve got this problem looking for, well, they’ve got a solution looking for a problem. And I think it was they walked out of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco one day and spotted the Lincoln Continental out the front, which was the high car and went, oh, that’s our customer. And so the first Uber driver was a high car. My Uber black was born, but it wasn’t who they ended up selling to. And you’ve got to be pretty bold to take, park your ego for a moment, not sell to the person you think you’ve solved the problem for in the first place, but the first person who’s got the most likely application for your product day one. That’s hard to do. It’s very hard to do.


Good advice. I’m conscious of time. We’ve gone for a fair while and I haven’t even got to half the questions on here. Any last questions you wanted to ask? Yeah,


We might have to do a part two. It’s a wealth of knowledge, but look, probably the last question I’ve got, Rob, is that we respect your experience enormously, the history of the past, predict the future. If you were to crystal ball where the world is going, and particularly business owners, all the people we interact with next three years, what are your thoughts? Obviously you touched on ai, but


I think that will be the most transformative thing. We’ll see. It’s ubiquitous and weirdly, it’s feeding off all the data that’s already there. That’s the most exciting thing when you think about it. 91, 92 internet, it’s 2024. These are large language models that are vectoring all the world of data. We’ve got this announcement yesterday on quantum computing that’s going to supercharge this space. It’ll be a really very interesting transformative time. And as I said, it’s something you’ve got to engage with. You just can’t sit back and wait and then play catch up. I think just do the littlest things that you can. Buy azel, put azel in your business and play with ’em for a while and see what it does in supporting your staff. I mean, just those little steps will get you closer to understanding where things are going to go and look, nothing’s we got here with lots of small steps. We’re going to go there with lots of small steps as well. It’s just that the speed of the steps is picking up. That’s the thing at the moment, moving very fast.


Great advice. Thank you.


That’s right over there. Rob, thanks for coming in. She a lot of wisdom and definitely could go another couple of hours, but man, appreciate you coming in.


Thanks guys, I’ve really enjoyed


It. Thanks Rob.


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