Going global puts Wollongong company on the map nationally
The business that went from Wollongong, to Silicon Valley, to the world
Marketing and technology whiz Geoff McQueen was an undergraduate student at the University of Wollongong when he built his first company, Internetrix, in 2001.
Geoff was studying telecommunications engineering and signed up for a new internet marketing subject to diversify his knowledge. The unexpected detour led him to create a successful Wollongong-based web marketing and technology professional services business while still studying.
Now, thanks to two decades of experience and and an MBA from UOW's Sydney Business School, Geoff and his company have seen global success.
Geoff and his team at Internetrix went on to build Australia’s first online Development Application Submission training system for Shellharbour City Council and, over the next decade, created an impressive client base with companies like WebJet, P&O Cruises and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Internetrix also became Google’s first international partner for their analytics product.
The small business, which by this stage employed 20 people, now provided technology managing billions of dollars-worth of projects and had won multiple business awards. Despite the agency’s success, Geoff and his team struggled to break into national business circles in Sydney and Melbourne. Wollongong was associated with coal and steel, not marketing and technology.
“Even though Internetrix had pretty amazing capability, and the talent coming out of the University of Wollongong was key to that, it was an uphill battle to be taken seriously in the Sydney market,” Geoff recalls.
“The big budget stuff was all going to Sydney and Melbourne. By this point I’d been in the business for seven years and it felt like continuing to repeat fifth class, even though you can see high school just around the corner. The professional challenge wasn’t there anymore.”
In 2009 Geoff joined three UOW colleagues to “try and do something crazy” and solve the biggest problems the team had come across while managing the Internetrix agency business.
“We built Accelo – a cloud-based software product to manage client work, projects, time and billing – so that we could help professional service businesses make a profit, generate repeat business and keep track of workloads to make sure staff were busy, but not so busy that they burnt out,” explains Geoff.
“After we got it to the market we heard from other businesses like accountants and architects, engineers and consultants that they were having the same problems that we had running a creative agency. Even though a creative and an accountant might be chalk and cheese in how they look and work, their business models are actually identical – they are smart people doing tricky things for their clients.
“We realised there was a need for these businesses to manage their client’s work with more confidence and more profitability.”
Accelo employs more than 100 people globally, and helps thousands of companies around the world to manage their clients’ system of records all in one place. Their customers generate $2 billion dollars worth of work annually through the cloud-based software platform.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Geoff who hasn’t lost his Aussie drawl, despite years of living in the United States. “And, if we went away, it would be a big deal for our clients. Accelo is the core operating system for how our clients manage their revenue-generating work.
“There’s a reason why we put all our clothes in a chest of drawers, so we can easily find them. That’s what Accelo does, putting all of the client work, tasks, time and more to streamline businesses so that they can better manage client content. And when time is money we are saving clients thousands of dollars a month.”
While Accelo started in Wollongong, in 2011 Geoff moved the business to Silicon Valley, the central nervous system of the technology world. While his colleagues stayed in Wollongong, the company’s global impact had grown significantly and the majority of clients were based overseas.
Geoff believes if it wasn’t for his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wollongong’s Sydney Business School, he would not have been able to build a global company.
“Without an MBA I wouldn’t have been able to move to the United States,” says Geoff. “A master’s degree is one of the tick-a-box categories when you are applying for a work visa. But more importantly, an MBA gave me the information and knowledge I needed to broaden my business skills, and to really understand accounting at a management level.
“Now when I go into a business meeting with investors, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not an expert, but the things I learned from my MBA allow me to be engaged in the conversation and to have the confidence to lean in to learning the things that I don’t know.”
Geoff completed his MBA through the Sydney Business School’s international intensive program in Malaysia, and credits the degree with also helping him understand the needs of a global market.
“Finishing the MBA in Malaysia was a great cultural learning journey and working with a company there at the time allowed me to learn the nuances of the way to do business internationally.” he says. "It helps to manage our growing team in Manila, as well as be a considerate leader for a team who hail from over 20 countries.”
Geoff points out that while getting a high quality MBA is more important than the name of the business school you go to, there is still a level of “cultural cringe” associated with building a business in Australia, rather than overseas.
“We had more success in the Australian market after I left the country a decade ago, than we did when I lived there,” says Geoff. “That was because there was this idea that if an Aussie company hadn’t set up offshore, you couldn’t be sure they were a success.”
There is no question of Accelo’s success now, with staff working out of Denver, San Francisco, Manila, Saigon, Kiev, Belgrade, Cairo, Toronto, Montreal and, of course, Wollongong.
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