Homegrown: Pronto Software CEO, David Jackman

What is the 30-second pitch you give people on Pronto? David Jackman: We sell software to medium size and larger businesses that enables to them to compete well against their competitors. By doing that it effectively means they can have a lower cost of ownership and a better user experience. This means they can be more nimble and particularly in this economic environment everyone is looking for nimble and quick.

Tell me about your expansion plans. We have significant expansion plans. We have approximately 1200 clients of which about 800 are in Australia – the rest are overseas. Traditionally the level of revenue that would flow into Australia would be 10, 15 or 20 per cent. Due to the global financial crisis this figure has dropped quite significantly and also because of the strength of the Australian dollar. The level of revenue we are getting as a percentage is declining. But that doesn't mean we are getting less activity. What it means is we already have significant overseas presence, we have a lot of presence in Papua New Guinea, we have a lot of presence in Malaysia, our largest client is in the UK and we have been in the US for over 10 years in various different businesses. The reason we have appointed three new partners in North America – two in the US and one in Canada – is that the market is still huge and is going through some severe disjointed issues right now. That is when people look at their cost structures and say, 'hang on a sec, this is rubbish I can't afford to keep spending this money. I need to get more pragmatic and aware of what is going on.' So during recessions and bad times, people like us, who are nimble companies, do particularly well.

We notice there are those that batten down the hatches in this kind of economic climate and those that look to expand. You appear to sit in the latter group. The difference in this recession to others is the banks are much tighter to deal with globally in this one than ever before. As long as the people we are trying to sell to have access to cash or investment funds then they can do things. Clearly this is a cash-constrained world at present. But in this situation business managers and owners are asking how they acquire other businesses or how they can take advantage of opportunities that come to the market place. During boom times acquiring businesses is expensive. During more recessionary times those businesses are available much cheaper. So the smart money is moving and we are part of that circle.

Has the fact Australian banks have been stronger than their overseas counterparts helped you? We've never borrowed a cent from anybody. We have always been cash rich and currently have about $17 million in the bank. Which means we have a fair degree of buffer to enable us to invest in the future.

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Is any of that targeted for MA activity? No. MA is one of those things that can take a while to build up and there has been nothing come in the door that has been interesting. We are always looking but MA is not something which is critical for us. What is more critical is growing our distribution path. Having a good product doesn't get it to market. You have to have good people who take that people to the local market. That is Americans selling to Americans, Canadians selling to Canadians and Malaysians selling to Malaysians. That is a process we have used in our markets to grow at present and it is working very well.

In terms of other markets you see as opportunity, is it South East Asia, China, India, EMEA? Where do you highlight outside of North America as growth opportunities? That's an interesting question. People often go for the aberrations of emerging markets. That is not the strategy we go for. The reason is that China is a complicated market to get money out of and difficult with compliance. Where we tend to focus is ex-English Commonwealth countries. Everywhere there is an ex-pink part on the map – when you went to school there where pink countries everywhere. What happens is they have a business structure that is left over from the English which is pretty much normal compliance of what we understand. India, Sri Lanka, Canada, the US – they've been called an ex-colony – Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Africa. With those sorts of places we have a relatively natural fit and we tend to target Commonwealth inspired kinds of countries.

Do you think it helps being Australian in those markets with the way we approach things? Yes, I think it does. If you are European, for example, there a lot of cultural barriers to selling in the US. If you are American selling into Europe there are a lot of cultural barriers. Australians' personality, attitude and directness tend to be well respected. Although it can sometimes ignore Asian face. But basically they understand what we are because we are transparent people. And we just get on with the job, that is a big difference.

You've been in charge a decade, the operation is quite successful and you are expanding overseas, what is the next challenge for you? I want to make Mr SAP get out of the way and I will take over from Mr Larry at Oracle. Maybe that is a bit too hairy. I think the part that gives me a lot of get up and go is that I love selling software in Australia. But I am delighted when our company or partners sell software overseas. It is beating them on the world stage. When you do that you are competing against the largest in the world. In that situation it is true Australians going out and doing what they should be doing. That is what makes me proud. That is the sort of thing you don't want to stop doing.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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