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Young Guns: hot shots hit their target


Young in age or in business, these entrepreneurial hot shots give a whole new dynamic to the concept of focus – We celebrate some of Australia’s fastest-growing businesses, finding out how they got their start, maintained growth, and continue to score goals in their competitive industries.

Aconex

The Aconex story begins over a game of squash, with on-court rivals Leigh Jasper, 33, and Rob Phillpot, 34, becoming the founders of a web technology company. The friendly weekly matches soon became a business partnership and by 2000 the pair had started Aconex, a collaborative project management system that allows a work in progress to take shape using an online platform.

The system was developed to assist construction companies in sharing and managing information through a user-friendly interface, making all stages of a project accessible to people who need it, allowing users to track, search, archive, and report on documents and correspondence. A consequence of its popularity is that it replaces paper-based management systems, reducing paper use by, literally, millions of sheets.

In the 2006/07 financial year, Aconex racked up 139 percent growth and now boasts some 200 employees in their 27 worldwide offices, as far flung as the Philippines and Algeria. Future growth will come through consolidating relationships with the growing construction industry in the Middle East, particularly Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates.

The company is also keen to apply the system to other industries that use a project management structure, exploring opportunities in engineering and the resource sector.

DealsDirect.com.au

Is there life in online retail after eBay? There certainly is. When ‘Auctionbrokers Australia’– Paul Greenberg and Michael Rosenbaum–became too big for the auction site, they were ready, moving straight into their own domain and upsizing their warehouse from 1,000 to 7,500 square metres.

Armed with a customer base accrued over five years on eBay, the pair started DealsDirect.com.au in 2004 to meet the demands of consumers who wanted to stop bidding and start buying fixed price goods. DealsDirect.com.au became the first Australian bargain shopping website of its kind and remains the model that most other bargain websites imitate.

The site encourages customers to make a profit by bulk buying wholesale goods and selling them through other avenues, including eBay. The secret to this success is not just the low prices but also the delivery service that helps customers drop-ship to different locations from the warehouse if they do choose to onsell the items.

DealsDirect.com.au attracts plenty of repeat customers and big sales, which has helped the business bring in a $40 million profit for the past financial year. The company now has 45 full-time staff to keep up with demand, and strong relationships with Chinese manufacturers who will continue to provide stock at competitive prices.

Inlink

Oliver Roydhouse’s business goes up, even when it goes down. The 30-year-old is the brains behind Inlink, a media and technology group specialising in elevator information.

Characterised by stylish LCD screens, Inlink Media uses lift travel time to advertise to a captive audience of around 700,000 business professionals a month, attracting major clients such as BMW, Nokia, and Qantas. The media division has just installed screens in their 100th building and is looking to install more screens that will push figures to one million viewers a month by the end of the year.

The research division, Inlink Technologies, enables monitoring for lift companies with the recently launched surveillance and safety product, Intellicam. This features a two-way video communication system between the lift and security staff as well as footage archiving, analysis, and search technology.

With just 14 staff, the eight-year-old business is still pushing a healthy 43 percent growth rate and is set to hit $10 million per annum over the next few years. In addition to growing the advertising sector by installing more screens and signing on more clients, Roydhouse says that “exporting Intellicam forms an important part of our medium-term growth strategy”.

Maxum Foods

No matter how big Maxum Foods becomes, founders Ben Woodhouse, 30, and Dustin Boughton, 34, will never forget the little guys. The two started Maxum Foods supplying dairy products to small businesses that the industry giants overlooked. Soon, their client base expanded along with their reputation for good customer service.

Established in 2003, Maxum Foods is a food and nutrition company with two main divisions, one for stockfeed and the other dealing with products for human consumption. Their animal nutrition range now includes grains, pulses, protein meals, oil, and probiotics, while the human nutrition division provides ingredients to manufacturers and has just branched out with health products under the brand Pure Balance.

Even after acquiring another small company earlier this year, staff numbers just 14, which belies the company’s $38.5 million turnover–more than 300 percent growth on the previous year.

Woodhouse says their secret is that their products have value-added features, which do what they’re supposed to do, but do it more efficiently, saving their customers money. To maintain growth, Maxum Foods will focus on building their ranges and growing each division independently, while overseas interest may well be the icing on their fifth birthday cake.

McRae’s Gardens

Plant selection and lawn selection are just two of the many services offered by McRae’s Gardening, led by 26-year-old managing director, Don McRae. You could almost add client selection to that list, the horticulture service sustains enough demand to let McRae pick and choose jobs.

McRae’s Gardening specialises in strata and commercial landscaping, only working with existing gardens that need a McRae makeover or maintenance. Clients include councils, commercial premises, apartment complexes, schools, and prestige residences rather than homeowners with a waning backyard.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of McRae’s Gardening making this list is that in the past year the business has not grown at all, despite emerging from the blocks pretty quickly since 2001, when McRae was a 20-year-old solo operator. McRae says this has to do with a little pruning in his own backyard, taking time to consolidate his team before the next push.

Now with 11 employees, McRae’s Gardening is “poised to grow again”. The Central Coast company is looking to increase business in Sydney by aligning themselves with more strata properties. “Word-of-mouth does the rest,” says McRae.

Sumo Salad

Sumo Salad customers are known for their big appetite for healthy food, which is just as well because the Australian-made franchise has a big appetite for business growth. Founded by Luke Baylis, 30, and James Miller, 32, in 2003, the franchise has a firm foothold in the Australian market with 35 stores in operation, and counting. In addition to local outlets, they’ve taken advantage of international opportunities, sparking plenty of growth overseas such as in the United Arab Emirates.

The ingredients for success are a bit like the ingredients for a salad–take something fresh, dress it up with cheeky marketing (on a low-fat budget) and serve it up with a smile. This formula has given the company a healthy intake of $14.2 million in the last financial year and plenty of accolades, such as taking home the 2007 Westfield award for the Best Food Retailer at the recent National Retail Association Awards. The brand is also a popular franchise, recognised as a fast-growing franchise by topping BRW magazine’s annual franchise list last year.

They plan to double the number of stores in Australia in the next couple of years and push into international markets, including starting a UK franchising arm.

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