It is New Year’s Day, 2011 in Sydney. The fifth Ashes test is a dead rubber, in the wake of Ricky Ponting’s broken finger and England retaining the urn. But this dismal on-field performance began the fusion process of a Geelong ICT star in the making.
Against the backdrop of Australia’s lacklustre SCG display, Nick Stanley and his business associates got productive, talking through ways to work more closely together. Combining Nick’s IP with their commercial and funding capabilities, Sky Software was born.
This wasn’t Nick’s first foray into startup territory. His entrée to the entrepreneurial world was a bolder move, coinciding with a dream job offer that he turned down to focus on his own venture. Nick didn’t ‘fess up to his wife about declining the job until some years later. Opting out of job security, and into a $50,000 business loan “do-or-die affair,” Nick’s punt ultimately paid off.
In contrast, Sky Software had $1million of capital in place as the three new business partners got to it, with Nick eventually taking the reigns as CEO. In a shade under three years, the trio went from launching the company, to delivering significant revenue, and selling it off to UK based educational products and services outfit Tribal Group.
“We were bought into Tribal as a disruptor. We’d grown really rapidly. So we’d grown the business from nothing, to a head count of 80 and $10 million in revenue, which for a startup – especially in the enterprise space – is quite a good performance. It’s hard to get traction in that area,” Nick explains.
“There was a lot of hard work and a vision that we were brave enough to pursue. You need deep pockets or a lot of luck. I think we had more of the latter than the former, although we did have some money when we needed it at the start. The harder I work, the luckier I get,“ Nick adds.
After entering an earn-out phase, the business rebranded as Tribal Campus with Nick moving into a Tribal Group role. Despite the changes, Surf Coast raised Nick is quick to stress that this doesn’t alter much for him day-to-day. “I like to think of myself as a real professional, so in my opinion my role hasn’t changed. I had the role of CEO before. I’m also on the board so I put that hat on too. I still have a responsibility to the business and especially to the team, a lot of whom I brought along for the journey, and a lot of whom joined because it’s an exciting culture and we’re doing great things. I feel I have a responsibility to them to make sure the business continues to chart.”
From the get-go, one of the striking things about Nick is his inclusive and collaborative nature. After hatching an entrepreneurial party in Geelong, he’s fostering an open-house approach. “Sky’s been a good success story for startups in Geelong and I’m very keen for that to continue and grow, because I think Geelong has great potential as a startup destination. I really, really want to keep driving entrepreneurship and startup potential in Geelong and Australia” Nick enthuses.
So, what kept Nick returning to the Geelong region at different points in his career? Early on, the RMIT Engineering/Commerce graduate found himself chasing an interesting sounding role. While Nick was still in Melbourne, a hangover from his university days, the would-be employer eventually revealed the position was based in Geelong. A job-offer followed, prompting an early return back to the ‘hood.
Next up came a six-year stint in Sydney and Melbourne. The pending arrival of baby number one was motivation for Nick and his wife, originally from Geelong, to follow family ties back home.
As a new father in Geelong, Nick transitioned from his big city roles into local consulting, biding his time to turn an education based ICT idea into the reality that is Tribal Campus today. One of his clients from that era, Callista, is also a takeover target of the Tribal Group, demonstrating the international punch of the two educational software outfits in Geelong. It also points to their intertwined history.
Crystal ball gazing, Nick says “the next phase of Tribal Campus’s life will see it continue as a disruptor. We’d like to see it become important to Tribal’ Group’s strategy, as that will continue to grow the company and the opportunity for Geelong, far beyond my involvement,” Nick adds.
This up close and personal experience of Geelong’s ICT capability is driving Nick’s positioning of Geelong as an innovation hub, in the vein of California’s Silicon Valley. A big believer in the power of actions over words, Nick’s putting his time and his money where his mouth is, making a compelling case for Geelong as an epicentre of innovation. He’s involving himself in a range of local ventures, as well as some overseas.
Of his international interests Nick explains, “the beauty of the those projects is that they’re engaging local people, so we’re part of a wider discussion and movement globally. Because of that, we’re raising the profile of Geelong. I thought long and hard about this. I talked to people equally as passionate as I am about Geelong, about the extent to which we’d invest in these kinds of projects. We agreed that it was in Geelong’s best interest, because we need the profile, and we need to learn from these kinds of experiences.”
Nick can see strong multiplier effect possibilities. “If we have a success with one of these overseas projects, it will demonstrate globally we know what we’re doing, we’re organised, and we’re good, canny investors. The second part is, it’s great that people are coming to us, because they know who we are.”
One notable pitch from New York came from a connection Nick made at the Collision conference. “It’s a guy who’s ex-Apple with his own record label. They’d heard about what we’d done with Sky. If they find success and we play a part in that, it lifts our profile. That’s a really powerful thing for Geelong in my opinion. Profile is very powerful,” says Nick.
Helping to reinforce Geelong’s potential as an innovation hub is high on Nick’s agenda. “One of the things we need to start doing more of is events and activities so the Pivot Digital Summit is really important. We also need better funding options, so another activity I’m leading is the Startup Geelong Fund. We’re encouraging government to invest in the startup fund space in Geelong,” through this says Nick.
Nick Stanley is a man with a plan. He seems genuinely willing to offer his coattails to anyone needing a ride, assuming they’ve done their homework and are ready to back themselves. So what are you all waiting for? Get those business plans together and get on board people!
Get the skinny on Nick’s favourite suburb to live and work in: Geelong West.