How we dropped everything to start a company

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Carley Sawford
How we dropped everything to start a company

Four years ago, we packed up our lives in Adelaide and moved 3,000km to Darwin to start Nexus Tel, the organisation that would go on to become half of the new Calibre One. This move came as quite a shock to most of our family and friends and, looking back, it was a big decision. However, we were convinced it was the right one and didn’t hesitate.

We are often asked about this decision so thought it would be fun to share our adventure. Perhaps you’re thinking of making a life changing decision or are simply curious – either way, we hope you enjoy our part of the Calibre One Story.

 

How it began

Both of us started our careers in a Telstra call centre at the tender age of 20. Luckily this wasn’t at the exact same time as we don’t know how much work would have been done! A little while later we both advanced to Business Development Managers for a well-established Adelaide based Telstra Business Partner and immediately became the best of friends.

 

Seizing an Opportunity

Hayley began doing some fly in fly out sales work in Darwin and saw a huge opportunity there. The economy was booming and there was little competition for the expertise and customer service she was offering. At the time, there was no one specialising in Cloud or Data Networks.

Shuttling back and forth between Adelaide and Darwin highlighted how much demand there was in Darwin by comparison to Adelaide at the time. The challenge was, although large companies were interested in what we had to offer, they were reluctant to sign with a company that had no local presence. After one particularly successful trip, we both met over lunch to discuss the opportunity.

 

Carley (left) and Hayley (right) at the Nexus Tel Launch Event in July 2013

 

We had both always wanted our own business and with recent success there, it made sense to start in Darwin which we regarded as ‘the land of opportunity’ as opposed to the saturated Adelaide market. From that lunch, the idea developed and we spent a few months writing our business plan, developing a strategy and working out the logistics. After convincing our respective partners at the time, we made the decision and approximately six months later we moved to Darwin and launched Nexus Tel Pty Ltd.

 

Launching a new company

Of course, we naïvely thought things would happen quickly. We were excited and ready to go, so we packed our bags and moved to Darwin in February 2013. Unfortunately, Telstra didn’t move quite that quickly and our Telstra Partner License, which we couldn’t trade without, wasn’t approved until June. So, we had four long months to enjoy the Darwin weather before we could begin work.

Eventually, Nexus Tel was launched from the prime real estate of the lounge room of our share house. At the time, we faced considerable challenges – and to this day we’re not sure which was the larger; convincing our dogs to get along, or convincing our partners to get along!

Some days it was difficult to tell the difference and both took time to settle. This first share house was quite an adventure, we had a small office downstairs next to the garage which we lovingly called it the concrete jungle. It was so small, we couldn’t both be on the phone at the same time.

 

Our first share house

 

Our rapidly developing success soon put pressure on this space and we began to sell a lot of phone systems so storage soon became a challenge. Our ‘concrete jungle’ quickly filled and our storage boxes spilled over into the garage where they ended up sharing accommodation with a family of cane toads!

It was in those days we dreamed of having a ‘real’ office with our own company signage and we were sick of working from home in our gym clothes. We’d also been using contractors for our installations and without direct branding or control we started to become concerned on how our brand was being represented in the marketplace.

The day finally came when we found our first technician – this quickly pushed us to bite the bullet and move into our first real office which we opened in Cavenagh Street.

 

 

Our first office

 

This was the turning point for our little company, business was booming and in rapid succession we hired more technicians, sales people, project managers and administration staff. From when we launched in June 2013, until just before the merger with Calibre One in July 2016 we had moved into our second, larger office and by then had 18 full time staff.

Our second, larger office

Fortunately, we were doing something right and we won the highest performing Telstra Business & Enterprise Partner across SA/NT for the second half of the year 2013/14. We were also recognised at the National Telstra Partner Conference in Port Douglas as one of the top 10 performing Telstra Partners. We were pretty proud of our achievements in just one year of trading.

Telstra award
Highest performing Telstra Business & Enterprise Partner Award

Despite these successes, you can’t stand still in the world of technology and we realised further challenges awaited us.

 

Finding the right partner

The world of Telstra was evolving and to stay relevant we needed to evolve as well. Telstra was developing into a broader Technology business rather than purely Telecommunications. We realised that if we grew the IT side of our business, this would allow us to provide Managed Service Agreements for the all solutions we were selling to our customers. We explored the options of expanding into IT ourselves or partnering with someone who was already doing it well. Since none of us had any experience in running a support organisation, we chose the latter.

We had a relationship with Calibre One in Adelaide as we had outsourced some project work to them and our engineering people had annual catch ups with them at the National Microsoft Partner Conference. Some of our best ideas seem to have come from discussions over a bottle of wine and this one was no different.

The partnership felt right from the very beginning. One of the most important things we looked for was a good cultural fit. The guys at Calibre One were transparent, down to earth and we quickly realised our cultures and values were very much aligned.

 

Carley with the now merged Calibre One team at the CRN Project Impact Awards in Sydney

The capabilities of the two companies complement each other well. Calibre One was a strong service delivery company built by word of mouth over 25 years all achieved without employing a single sales person. Nexus Tel had a very strong sales team but needed the support of a strong service delivery team to back it up.

The company was officially joined on 1 July 2016 and has now grown to 48 staff across three offices nationally. IT trade magazine, Computer Reseller News (CRN), announced Calibre One as one of the top 50 fastest growing IT companies in Australia in 2016. We followed this as a finalist in two categories for the CRN Project Impact Awards shortly after.

 

Looking back

The merger of Nexus Tel and Calibre One brought Steve to our team. His engineering background brings a more methodical and process driven approach and provides balance to our team. We’re all extremely energetic and passionate, which leads to us wanting to get out there and find the next opportunity. The difference now is that we have the Sales, the Engineering and the Finance skills to bring it all together.

Since the merger, we’ve enjoyed working together as Calibre One and seeing the wonderful things we can now achieve. It was the right decision for us as individuals, for our staff and most importantly we think it was the right decision for our clients.

 

Looking Forward

Going forward our aim is to build a truly national technology company.

In the next few months we aim to establish a presence in Cairns where we have embarked on a strategy similar to the way we initially established our presence in Darwin. We identified the opportunities in far north Queensland several years ago and have been flying in and out of Cairns every month or so. We have already established a strong customer base and excellent Partner relationships. The next step is now to have a permanent presence.

To support our continued growth, we have restructured the company into the Calibre One Group with each of our branch offices being a separate business and P&L. Other exciting developments include the launch of our Calibre One Data Centre Company where we will be building our own boutique hosting capability within Secure Data Centre in Darwin and YourDC in Adelaide.

We feel the journey has really only just begun and the sky is the limit!