Recently we spoke to Jared Hirst, CEO of Servers Australia, all about his Australian owned business, and how he started it as a continuation from a High School project, with the business now going strong for over 15 years. He provided us with helpful tips on building a business from the ground up, being nimble in an ever-changing market, people vs tech and the vital role they both play. We also chat about the importance of staying focused and not following trends, but rather providing the needs of your customers.

“You know, a lot of people think that Servers Australia is a young business, but it’s actually been going for a fair while, started as a bit of an idea back in high school to do computer repairs, a web hosting here and there, and then grew out of a year 11 and 12 project in business studies. I really started to like not only the technical aspect of it, but also the business side. I think a lot of people just go into business with that idea of, oh, I’ve got this idea, but don’t have that understanding of business along the way. From there, I decided that I wanted to not only provide really good localized Australian hosting, but also good customer service. So those were the two things that we sort of started working on.”

“Then it just kind of rapidly expanded. No one else was doing it. Back in 2006, 2007, there was just no one in the industry. From there we expanded into dedicated servers, which was physical infrastructure, and then out through into colocation and then adding to wholesale services, which included voice over IP, DSL, wholesale services. Then we started growing into doing 50 to 100 different products.”

“The company today only sells three core products with the fourth being out right now. It’s been a huge learning curve for me personally over the last 15 years, especially coming straight out of high school.”

Jared then goes on to talk about positions he held before starting Servers Australia.

“…I had a couple of great small little jobs along the way, like part time jobs, some really good mentors, actually, that I learnt business from in those odd jobs. I had some really good opportunities to work alongside some other small businesses where I learnt how to deal with customer service, how to process books, invoicing and learn all those little tricks that you would normally go to uni for.”

Jared then talks about being an Australian business, and staying true to his passion, with the ever present large corporations buying out businesses

“People said to me all the time, why don’t you just sell out to one of the large corporations that are coming through and buying everyone else? and, you know, you look around and there’s a lot of small businesses like myself that have started up around the same time that we started and they’re being acquired by the large US based firms. I mean, it’s good for them, but it’s destroying the business of the little Australian guy, right? The difference for us is that, you know, it was a passion for me 15 years ago, and I think that passion is still key. I don’t want to be just here to earn money.”

“So we don’t want to compete with them. We work in our own space. We do our own little thing. We’re a niche provider. We like to manage our customers’ services. We like to handhold them, provide that different service rather than just a commodity service or, you know, your number when you call us. That’s where I think the difference is for us. We don’t want to sell out to a big player where they will just come in, inject their stuff into this business, swallow the name and the brand into their own business, destroying the last fifteen years of what we’ve been trying to build up. We can be a little bit more expensive being an Australian provider, doing localized 24/7 support. All those little key things that make us different.“

Jared then talks about how he approaches creating growth for his business in a market so heavily run by large corporations.

“You know, there’s only like us and maybe one other person left in the Australian market that is Australian owned. That’s how we’re going to survive in the next five to 10 years. Secondly, we never try to go up against anyone. It’s got to be about what you can sell and your value, really. People see the value and they also understand that having their data hosted here is more important than saving a thousand dollars and putting it offshore. I mean, data sovereignty is such a big issue right now that sometimes with the big tenders, trust is just one thing; Money is not everything to the end user. It always comes down to the relationship side and then obviously selling the benefits of an Australian provider. One of the biggest things that we’re starting to see is that we’re nimble and we can be agile as well. We can move and twist and do whatever we need to do for the customer as they need, but also have strict processes and policies to keep stuff online.”

The conversation then turns to being nimble amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic and how Jared and his team have equipped for these pressing times, with everyone migrating their businesses to the cloud.

“…It’s five years worth of change, accelerated or compressed into a 90 or 120 day window. Other than some small lines of funding that we have, we don’t have this big seed funding that comes in, so trying to fit nearly two years worth of orders in 30 to 60 days was just an absolute nightmare. To say that we didn’t have issues would be lying – we’ve had a huge amount of issues. I think the key that we’ve learned through this is to communicate with your customers, communicate with all the stakeholders that are involved, suppliers and potential customers.”

“It’s an impressive time like we’re in, right? Everyone is accepting of the fact that you’re doing them a favour. They’re also doing you a favour. So people need to move to the cloud. They didn’t expect it and we didn’t expect that. Exact numbers, I’m not sure but it was something like four times our capacity over what we had for them. Being able to say to our customers or our potential customers, yes, we can make this happen with the technology we have or we can source the technology, or we could do 50 percent of your project now and 50 percent in 30 days has made a huge difference.”

“We’ve learnt, though having a relationship or an open relationship with customers, they’re able to come to us and say, hey, we’re looking to do this. What do you think? Being open, being honest and having that open relationship rather than just going online and ordering something is a far better way to do it. Also, anyone really having that conversation, getting the feedback and then our engineers knowing what capacity we have, allow us to plan ahead. All those sorts of things.

Conversation around COVID-19 continued, but steered more towards social presence and managing the social aspect of the team when everyone was working from home.

“We have a headcount of about 50 employees at Servers Australia. The biggest challenge for us was losing our social presence – we’re a very social office here. Technology wise, we had absolutely no issues, it was just managing that social aspect. We did weekly surveys on how we could improve the staff engagement. We’ve been doing this for two or three years. We upped the staff engagement during the lockdown and then we sought feedback from them on what would make your workweek better. We sent out care packages, we sent around a coffee van a couple of weeks ago. We did pyjama days. We did virtual drinks on Friday. We sent up Domino’s Pizza vouchers to everyone so we could do virtual lunches. We tried to keep the engagement up because whilst we were also really busy, we understood that keeping interactive with all the staff would keep them from going crazy. They couldn’t go anywhere as it is. The most important part of a team is that you work together. For example, Kylie in billing can talk to Jaden in the network operations center. You know, those conversations can freely happen. So I think that that’s super important.”

Finally, Jared lets us in on where he thinks the industry is leading to 5, 10 years down the track and how he will manage those changes.

“It’s a space that is just changing rapidly. I mean, people that wanted to move to the cloud in two years are moving this year. So what’s going to happen next year? I’m not really sure, but what we’re doing is trying to deploy products, applications, services, all those things that meet the demand of the customer. Not necessarily what we think the customer needs. We try to listen to customer feedback, see what the customer needs. That then molds us to where we need to go in the next 12 to 18 months. For example, we’re not doing any public cloud. A lot of people ask why we’re not doing public cloud.There’s enough public cloud players in the market and there’s no need for another one.”

“So for us, we’re staying focused on what we do well. We’d rather have really good products and deliver an exceptional service than try and tackle every market. The next 12 to 18 months for us; we have private cloud coming, which is very unique here in Australia, and we’ve got an awesome product for that. So once we get that launch in the next couple months, we’ll be focusing on that. Then obviously all of our other products that we also still sell. Technology wise, we want to do what we want to do for the customer and not worry about what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it. I think that that’s where a lot of businesses steer off in the wrong direction. So I think that’s really important to myself and the whole business to make sure that we’re going to be here in the next 10 years.”