Tom Wallace CEO & co-founder of ReLeased

Highlights of my conversation with Tom Wallace

  • New Zealand’s talented tech community
  • Family business managed property – and saw an opportunity
  • Re-Leased – cloud property management solution – what it does
  • Future development plans for Re-Leased
  • Outsourcing tech development
  • The importance of and tips for winning business awards

Subscribe to Episode 5 of Cloud Stories on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/cloud-stories-heather-smith/id908333807

Heather:        Hello Tom. Welcome to Cloud Stories.

Tom:               Hi Heather, how are you?

Heather:        Good, thank you Tom.  So Tom, let’s start with a hard question.

What did you like to do when you were 12 years old?

Tom:               All I liked to do when I was 12 years old was play rugby.

Heather:        Sensational.

Tom:               And that’s probably the same for every kid in New Zealand I would think.

Heather:        Awesome, yes, I imagine so.  So Tom, when and why did you start your business?

Tom:               Yes, so I started my business, Re-Leased, back in 2011. That’s when the idea was formed. I was working for my family’s property company down in Hawke’s Bay and I was really keen on technology and really keen on property at the time as well.

I was having all sorts of ideas around technology companies to start. A lot of them were really bad. Some of them were okay. But eventually after sort of talking to other people and just continuing to refine ideas, I just saw a pretty great opportunity in the property space, simply because I looked at what the family’s company was using to manage their property.

I started researching what was out there and I didn’t find anything that I liked or I didn’t find anything that I thought was doing it particularly well in the cloud space. Obviously at the same time, we had a little company called Xero doing pretty well in New Zealand who I was really inspired by, so I just sort of thought if we could build in with that and basically follow their lead, it would be a great opportunity, and that’s how it all came about.

Heather:        That’s interesting.

So having Xero there really helped you feel that you could move forward with this idea?

Tom:               Yes, absolutely.

Heather:        Like a catalyst perhaps?

Tom:               Absolutely. Simple questions that I would have asked myself like will Australians, will people in the UK buy New Zealand software? I didn’t have to worry about that because I could see it happening. I knew that as long as the quality was there and we developed the best in the market, that we could sell it to the world. That was an example of one barrier that they broke down for us.

Heather:        It’s interesting looking into New Zealand and trying to understand why so many small tech companies are emerging from there, and trying to identify whether it’s because of the infrastructure, because of the education, or because of Xero and Xero inspiring everyone.

Tom:               I think Xero certainly helps and is a huge part of it but we’ve got a lot of smart, talented people doing other … you know, Vend and Trade Me and all these companies have done really well.  I think Trade Me is the only … it’s the only country in the world where eBay is beaten.

EBay just basically doesn’t exist in New Zealand. They have tried a number of times and Trade Me beat them. It’s a massive billion dollar company now so there have been quite a few inspiring stories. New Zealand being a small place, those stories spread and people get inspired by it.

Basically when people see that you can be in New Zealand, you can be pretty far away from the rest of the world apart from our Australian cousins, and you can do well. It’s pretty inspiring for companies like us to follow.

Heather:        Yes, absolutely. We probably have the feeling looking at New Zealand that you all know one another.

Tom:               Or related as well, yeah.

Heather:        I didn’t say that, you did.

So can you explain, Tom, to our listeners what Re-Leased does?

Tom:               Absolutely. Re-Leased, to keep it really simple, Re-Leased is property management software. It’s a way of taking all the stresses of property management which is obviously collecting the rent and looking after all the expenses and looking after … there’s so many key dates, key tasks, key reminders that all hinge around it. They’re all really important because of the value of doing these. If someone misses something like a rent review, it can cost them $10,000. In our experience so far, we see people doing it all the time.

What we do is we automate all the expense side of things. We generate rent invoices, we send them to Xero. We automatically generate operating expenses, invoices, and send them to Xero. Then we allow Xero to do the financial heavy lifting which is one of the main differences of what we do compared to other existing property software where they’re within their own application.

As everyone is learning now, accounting software is incredible complex for us to basically strip out the majority of that … and saying that we do some forms of it but for us to strip that out and just focus on that integration, and then ourselves we can have a laser focus on building the best property management software in the world, is huge for us.

We don’t have to worry about building these big accounting things. For companies that we compete with who are distracted by that and they will never get anything, in my opinion, close to Xero on the accounting functionality. It’s really big for us. They get the best of both worlds.

Heather:        Absolutely, that’s very interesting.

Can you share with the listeners what platform Re-Leased is built on?

Tom:               Yeah, we build on DotNet.

Heather:        DotNet, okay. I have no idea what that is but I’m sure there’s someone …

Tom:               Microsoft.

Heather:        Oh okay, fair enough.

Tom:               We use Microsoft as our cloud platform provider as well. We get asked that quite a lot. Obviously it’s one of the major ones. When we started though we were relatively new and we’ve been really, really happy with the performance we’ve had across our time, we’ve had no major attitudes, it’s really fast, it’s a really cost effective way.

Because it’s so cost effective we can do things like offer unlimited document storage, we don’t have any limit on the number of documents that our users can upload. While we monitor it to make sure that all of your property and tenant information, and not necessarily your music and photos and movies and things, we just haven’t had a need yet to limit it. That’s just one of the cool benefits that other providers charge a lot of money for document storage and put big limits on it. It’s a good advantage for us.

Heather:        It is, yes.  For the listeners listening in who are unfamiliar with this world, a lease document can be up to maybe 20 to 30 pages long and specifies all the different legal requirements of the lease. I know that … as Tom knows, I utilise this system for some clients and we can just upload the leases and have it attached in there which is very, very useful.

Tom:               Yeah, a lot of our users … not necessarily much the property management side but we have a lot of private investors as well and they tend to travel around. We had one user last year who was going to the UK for three months. He knew he had, I think, about six rent reviews which meant he had to take all the leases in a box with him all the way to the UK for three months. He ended up taking four of them were the wrong ones.

So to be able to load it in at the time of receiving that lease and know that wherever he is, if he’s in London, if he’s in Australia, if he’s in New Zealand, he can just … all he needs to do is find a web connection and he can access all of his information.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Tom:               That was big for him.

Heather:        No, it was huge. I’m not mentioning the client’s name but once we had the client up on Re-Leased and Xero integrated, he went on a month holiday to France, and that was like first big long holiday I’ve known him take in maybe a decade.

Tom:               They should have taken me and you with them then.

Heather:        Yeah, I think he was trying to get away from work though.

Tom:               Fair enough.

Heather:        You briefly mentioned how Re-Leased integrates with Xero.

Essentially it’s pushing invoices into Xero is that correct?

Tom:               Invoice is one of the places that we had to go with Xero. I think we have one of the deepest integrations across all the add-ons because we integrate … everything is two-way flowing. We integrate all the invoices back and forward. Tomorrow we’re releasing full credit note syncing back and forward. But we also sync bank transactions, we also sync contacts, we also sync tax types, chart of accounts, and if I don’t say tracking categories, it’s there as well.

Heather:        Yes, it was a very comprehensive integration, yes.

Tom:               So there’s a lot of information that flows back and forward which is really cool. I mean it’s a deep integration and we really like that.  There’s never any double entry basically between the two systems which is something we would absolutely want to avoid.

Heather:        Yes, absolutely. It does minimise that confusion by having that sort of integration. I know … I’ll throw in here for someone who’s setting up, you want to primarily set up the integration in Re-Leased because everything is pushed across except I think the charted accounts. You set the chart of accounts up in Xero, then push everything across.

Tom:               Yes, that’s right. Oh sorry, I forgot. We’re also syncing with our new trust accounting. We started in beta but we’re actually syncing banking transactions so it always has your … when you’ve got your trust account, it always knows the current balance of that trust account as well.

Heather:        Oh okay, excellent.

Tom:               It’s a pretty big build big for us but we’re really  looking forward to getting it out to the market.

Heather:        Excellent, so talking about that.

How do you decide where you’ll focus your development of Re-Leased? How do you come up with deciding, “We’re going to take this money and we’re going to invest in on focusing development here.” 

Tom:               Good question. For the last sort of 12 or 8 months or so, maybe a little bit more, we’ve been focusing on building our trust accounting functionality.  It was quite clear … we launched without it because it was quite big and we learnt a lot after we launched and we realised that now is the time to do it.

That was a decision that was quite obvious. We really wanted this Australian Property Manager’s market. We knew there was really no way of getting it without doing trust accounting, compliance each state and New Zealand. That decision was easy for us. It was just a matter of prioritising it.

In terms of the rest of the development, because there’s much wider development that goes on around that as well, we’ve got a number of different things we do but we use a Trello board which is a really cool free project management board. I don’t know if you know it, some of these listeners might know it.

Heather:        Yes, Trello. I’ll put that in the show notes.

Tom:               Yeah, we really love it and it just allows collaboration between the Re-Leased staff and the development team.  What we do is we record every single user suggestion that we get in that which is quite long. A lot of them are duplicates but the important ones you wouldn’t even have to write down because you hear them all the time, so you actually know the important ones.

We record our user’s suggestions. We also record what we want ourselves. Then roughly every two to three weeks we’ll have a bit of a debate and prioritise those, and we’ll put them into our prioritised categories and go from there. We have a debate sort of internally with the team and then I’ll work with our lead developer in terms as well and I’ll make the final decision on what goes where and when.

Heather:        Cool. I know that I’ve just been trying out a calendar booking system called Timely. For the feature development, they gave me 1,000 votes. I was like, “1,000!” So they have all the possible developments and you’ve got 1,000 votes to share amongst them all.

Tom:               That’s cool. Actually when we booked this meeting, was my first experience with Timely and it looks really cool. I met the team at Xerocon when we launched last year, Ryan and … they were great. We were both in start-up alley together actually and it’s really cool to see they just raised a big funding round down in Dunedin. It’s got some good investors in there so it’s really cool. It’s great to see another New Zealand company really going for it.

Heather:        Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t think I could do this show on Cloud Stories without having a cloud calendar booking system. I’ll send it to you, we can try to book the system using multiple emails but no I’ll put that up there.

Tom:               It’s good, it was nice and clean. It was great.

Heather:        It is, yes, absolutely.

Am I correct in understanding Re-Leased is now suited for both residential and commercial property managers? So an investor could have both types of properties in a single solution?

Tom:               Yeah, absolutely. That’s alongside Trust Accounting. We’ve been working really hard on our residential optimisation. Basically when we launched … this was always the plan as well, was to launch with a commercial focus.  The reason for that was because not only was that what I knew but we decided that was quite a lot bigger in terms of functionality. There’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of rent reviews, Opex, budgets, and rights of renewals, all  of that.

We decided to build that, really focus on nailing that first. We felt very comfortable at the end of last year that we had done that or the majority of that, and then we decided to focus on the residential side which it does have a reasonable amount of difference. The fact that we’re aiming for both markets is very unique. We haven’t come across anyone that’s done it well. So that’s a big challenge but a big opportunity for us as well.

The major differences between residential and commercial, a lot of it comes down to tenant arrears to be honest. Commercial, generally the rent’s paid on time, it’s an AP [accounts payable], it’s a company. Residential, you might have some people that are slow or not so good at paying. We built tools like you can set your own arrears rules basically, so if someone’s three or five or seven days late, they can certain messages that you design yourself and they use all the replacement fields to put in all the relevant information. They can get that either by email or text or both. All of that is automated.

That’s just one example of a number of differences that we’ve been working really hard on. We’re basically launching that side of things at Xerocon net week. That’s the trust accounting and the residential optimisation.

In saying that, we’ve still got a bunch of new stuff we’re continuing to work on and we’ll continue to improve all the time but we’re getting very happy with how that residential side is coming along. Also we’ve managed to do it in a way where … I mean the main goal is that you don’t want to release residential and then have all of our commercial customers go, “Hey, what are all these boxes and fields doing here? They’ve got absolutely nothing to do with us, and vice versa.”

What we can do is … the very first thing you do when you set up property is tell the system if it’s residential or commercial or mixed. Whatever you select there will throw different options at you down the bottom of the screen instantly, you won’t even see it change.

If you’re residential, it’s going to ask you things like bedrooms, bathrooms, and chattels that you might have to … in commercial it won’t ask you that. In commercial it’ll do things like tell you your weighted average lease term of a building which is sort of the sum of the time remaining of all of your tenants. That sort of stuff just isn’t very relevant for the majority of our residential users.

We’ve managed to build it in a way where the user will only see what’s relevant to them in most cases. We think that’s pretty important because we kind of find if someone’s using a system and they get the feeling it’s not designed for their use, that can be really off putting and we definitely wanted to avoid that. So far I think we’re tracking well to do that.

Heather:        Yeah, absolutely.

With what you’ve said in mind, does the Re-Leased program integrate with the Xero cashbooks program?

Tom:               No, right now we don’t integrate with the Xero cashbooks. We’ve actually been investigating that and we haven’t actually come across a way to do it well. So we’re all fully invoice based right now.

Heather:        Okay, no worries, that’s good to know.

So Re-Leased now has trust accounting functionality.  Can you explain to our listeners, see if you can, what trust accounting is and why it’s such a big deal?

Tom:               Yeah, the very basics of trust accounting, to boil it down to something very simple, is it’s the ability to accept a property manager, so one bank account to accept money on behalf of say 100 or 1,000 different owners. Then because that money’s not there, they have to track … each cent has to be tracked to every owner, and then that has to be paid out.

There are all sorts of rules that are applied on to that. So within that one bank account, you can’t use owner A’s money to pay for owner B’s expenses, no one can be overdrawn. But in saying that, owner A if he happens to own property C, they can use that money to spread across their own funds.

What we do is we do either … it’s generally either a mid-month or an end of month disbursement but it can be done at any time.  At that disbursement time, we basically kick off a wizard which will pay out all of the creditors. It will pay out all of the … to the bond authorities. It’ll pay the management fees to the company itself and they might get fees on every rent, they might get fees on every maintenance item they do, there’s tons of different fees we can charge.

Then lastly we pay out the owners any remaining money from that rent less all those expenses. We create a bank file, and ABA file, which we then upload and it makes all of those payments for them. Going forward we would love to not create that bank file and have it directly go into Xero and then onto the banking, so ASB in New Zealand is the first one to launch that which is pretty exciting. The less we can export things and then have to import them, the better from our point of view.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Tom:               In this day and age, it seems a little bit backwards and a little bit crazy. Like the fact that we’ve had to deal with cheques. I actually lost a bet with our head developer for a box of beers that … he said, “You will have to deal with cheques in Australia.”  I said we won’t but we do, because the bond authority only accepts payment by cheque in a lot of states.

The other thing that is making the build really challenging … well interesting, challenging as well is that each state has quite different legislation. Everyone gets audited every year so we have to make sure that we’re fully compliant with each state’s regulation.

It’s a challenge but we’ve known that from the start. We’ve had our lawyers going through the regulations, going through everything all through the legislation and providing advice, we’re getting great feedback and great assistance from a number of different partners. I can understand why they put that in there because you’re looking after …

Heather:        Other people’s money.

Tom:               Yeah, and a lot of money in a lot cases as well.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Tom:               It’s important to make sure that we have a rock solid system and it’s important … we need that to build up our trust. There’s a lot of money flows through Re-Leased and we have to make sure that we can’t … we’re in an environment that we can’t lose a cent basically.

Heather:        Yeah, Trust Accounting is a very specialist area, and for advisors out there who are kind of looking to identify where they should niche and focus on that is another area that is a good area to focus on. The other thing I’ll throw in there is for advisors looking to look at add-on solutions to learn. One of the good things about Re-Leased is that you’re typically dealing with a client who actually has quite a decent amount of money and is prepared to pay for the adoption of a new solution and the full integration of it, which sometimes is not always the case, sometimes people want things but they’re like, “Do I have to pay for it as well?” I’m like, “Yeah.”

Tom:               We’re lucky that property is generally a big ticket item and a lot of money flowing through it. Also the market’s used to paying really expensive software, they’re used to spending the money on that. So, Re-Leased, although it’s the upper end of the cost for any other Xero add-on, we’re certainly generally much cheaper than anyone else out there with a comparative product. We find that that’s really useful in terms of that.

Also because our average revenue per user is a bit higher, we can afford to spend more time with each customer making sure they’re set up. We take on a lot of the implementation role to make sure that everything is of a top quality. For us it’s getting that data in there and the best quality is hugely important for us. We’re all about creating long term relationships with everyone that we have of course. It’s really important to make sure the data is of that top quality.

Heather:        I know that I looked into a solution like yours before you came along and I looked into, as I do most things, quite extensively. I was looking at $40,000 a year subscription and that was like the cheapest I could find out there. So, at the end of the day, you’re cheap as chips compared to those guys.

Tom:               Yeah, we get $100,000 in there as well.

Heather:        So, for someone to come along and get your solution and recommend it to someone, while it may appear a big ticket item, it’s a massive cost saving for them and time saving as well because it’s so automated.

Re-Leased is one of those solutions that you can implement, I’m sounding advertorial now, but you can implement and make the client very happy about things.

Tom:               That’s good. One of our favourite stories is … one of them was a user using MYOB and another software, I won’t say the name of the other software, but they used to take three days a month to do all of their billing and  everything, and they’ve got it down to three hours now.

To be fair, a lot of that efficiency is crated at Xero’s end as well because they moved to Xero and Re-Leased, but Re-Leased allows them to use Xero and get that full functionality which just wasn’t an option for them before. They looked at Xero before Re-Leased was around and just decided it wasn’t for them but there was now the option, so it was really cool. We love hearing those things.

Heather:        It just revolutionises the business.

So Tom, how many people do you have working in your business?

Tom:               Yeah, so right now there are four in our Auckland office plus we’ve got a data team which we’ve got three in our data team. They’re all sort of part timers, so I can see in the office now not all of them are here. They’re not there part-time because we’ve got a lot of data that we’re working on.

We’ve got a team member in Sydney. We’ve got a team member in Melbourne and that team is really going to expand. Our Australian team is really expecting that to expand sort of to 6-10 staff members in the next 6-12 months. We’re really looking to that to grow.

Plus we have an external development team actually, we’re a bit different in that sense, we have an external development team of … we have six developers on there now. We just increased that so we’ve got six developers working full time on that as well.

Is that a separate business that you run?

Tom:               No, it’s not my business. The background story to how we came across that is when I was looking to start … I believe it was kind of, “Okay, how do we get started? Do we go and hire some developers? Do we go external?”  We sort of looked around, I did a lot of research and there was only three Xero certified development companies in the country.  One was in Auckland, one was in Wellington and one was in Hawke’s Bay which was about 20 minutes from where I was

So I went and met with them, got along really well with them and we’ve got really long term contracts in place with them now. They had four staff when we started, they’ve got 14 in there now. Actually we’ve got a second product we have developed with them as well and we’re just really happy with them. They’ve been … and Phil, their lead developer, is more like a CTO in a sense to us. We’re very close to them.

We’ve always had the opportunity to bring things in house but there’s never been a time where that has made any sense. I don’t think we would have any better quality. I don’t think we’d be any faster and I certainly don’t think we’d be any cheaper as well. Plus the other thing in New Zealand and I believe in Australia as well is that finding development talent is tough.

Not only do we have only Xero and Trade Me, we’ve got companies like Orion Health and Vend, two awesome New Zealand companies doing big things, and you’ve got to compete with them. So we’re really lucky to have the relationship we do and the quality sort of speaks for itself.

Heather:        What was the name? Do you mind sharing?

Tom:               The company’s called Red Jungle they’re based out of Hawkes Bay.

Heather:        Red?

Tom:               Sorry, Red R-E-D Jungle.

Heather:        I’ll leave the details in the show notes. Thank you for that.

One of your staff members I believe is your sister Inga Wallace, is that correct?

Tom:               That’s correct, yeah.

What’s it like working with family members in the business?

Tom:               It’s really cool. She’s not the only family member as well.

Heather:        Is she, no? Okay.

Tom:               Dad’s actually my co-director of the company. He has a small shareholding in the business as well, so I spend a lot of time working, talking through strategy. He’s very experienced in business so we spend a lot of time working on strategy.

Heather:        Sensational.

Tom:               Inga was the first hire of Re-Leased. I managed somehow to convince her to leave her regular job at Telecom where she was the head of marketing for all their business hubs. She sort of came and joined us pretty early on in the Re-Leased journey. It’s fantastic. It’s really cool to be working alongside family.

Heather:        That’s good. Sometimes family relationships … I was wondering whether you came from an entrepreneurial family in a sense like you do if your father is in the business with you.

Tom:               Yeah, absolutely. It was basically always sort of bred into me that I was going to be in something by myself, I just didn’t know what it was going to be. It just so happened that it was software as a service company.

Heather:        Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve got some new features which are being released. They’re about to be released.

What’s your marketing plan to let the public know about them?

Tom:               The most basic one that’s coming up next week is Xerocon which is really big for us. I think there are 1,500 accountants and bookkeepers I believe is the latest count, I could be wrong. But it’s a huge opportunity for us and because we acquired a specific vertical, we have sort of … some of the accountants and bookkeepers almost run to our stand and say, “I’ve got 10 clients, they’re in real estate, show me what you’ve got.” We show them and then they go back and it’s a really great way of getting a one to many approach out there, so Xerocon is big for us.

We’ve also been planning a road show in conjunction with Xero and a few other partners. It was going to be in August … sorry September but we just decided to push it back a little bit because we know we’re going to be flat out with the work after Xerocon. It’s probably going to be … at this stage we haven’t confirmed the time but it’s going to be either late this year or early next year, probably early next year. That as well is a really good opportunity for us.

We do basic SCM and SEO but we’re really only beginning to push that now and we really want to start doing a lot of our video marketing. It’s really important to us getting that video marketing. Also I mentioned Xerocon but the accountants and bookkeepers channel in general, we’re just sort of getting our partner program up and running now and we really want to promote that because it’s a great way to meet, particularly for the private investors.

The real estate agents, the property managers aren’t quite as hard to find because they advertise, and we can sort of contact them directly. We’ve got a really good sales team that could do that. Once we get the product in front of them, we’ve got a really good conversion rate.

Whereas the other target market of ours is private investors and they’re actually quite difficult to find. You can’t necessarily just Google someone and some of the people that are our customers, they have multimillion dollar portfolios and some cases hundred million dollar portfolios, and if you typed their name into Google you wouldn’t find anything about them simply because they don’t need … their business doesn’t operate on … yeah, exactly.

Heather:        They don’t even know that they …

Tom:               Yeah, they don’t necessarily want people to know and if you need their business you go and … you become a tenant and talk to real estate agents. A pretty good way for us to find these people is through their accountants.

Heather:        Absolutely. As an accountant, I frequently say the poorest looking person is normally the richest person in the room. It’s the person that’s the most dressed up is normally the poorest.

Tom:               Yeah, we see some truly massive companies coming into Re-Leased and no one would have a clue. It’s quite cool because they don’t go out there and a lot of them don’t shout about how great their company is, they’re just really quiet achievers.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Tom:               But it does create a challenge for us because we can’t just ring them up and say, “Hey, you’ve got to look at Re-Leased.” We’ve got to have them come to us in a way. We work through the accountants because the accountants and bookers are one of the only people who really know …

Heather:        What their clients are doing.

Tom:               What they’re doing and how much Re-Leased would suit them and automate what they do.

Heather:        Yeah, absolutely. I agree with that. I think it’s really important for the accountants and the bookkeepers to know the solutions and be able to just kind of have that imprinted on them, like if I need this I go to this solution.

You’ve talked only about Australia and New Zealand, does Re-Leased work overseas? Is Re-Leased work in America or in the UK or Canada or is it very difficult because of different laws, etc?

Tom:               No, we have customers in all of those markets you mentioned. South Africa, Fiji, where else? We’re getting a few more obscure countries which is really cool, everyone likes doing that, and that works really well. The only issue we have right now is with time zones. We get a decent amount of inquiry, particularly from the UK right now, and we run probably half a dozen direct demonstrations with end users and work with them. But the problem is my poor team is quite often working quite late at night to make sure the time zones work.

Also we really pride ourselves on our support. We want to have the best support possible and build these long term relationships. It’s frustrating for the team if somebody has even a small issue from the UK and they have to wait up to possibly eight hours to get a response, plus it’s just not good enough for the standards we set. So we’re looking to open a small office in the UK early next year, and likewise we’re doing the same with America.

We have American customers but it’s a huge opportunity over there and vastly untapped. We have plans to progress that, probably pretty quickly actually, and early next year we’ll see … I’d expect some big developments for the US market as well which is hugely exciting. It’s just so big.

Heather:        Absolutely, it is. That is very exciting.

Tom you won the 2014 Talent Unleased Awards Rising Star Award and the Xero New Zealand 2014 Emerging Add-On of the Year Award. Congratulations on that. How important are business awards?

Tom:               For me personally, I mean it doesn’t really phase me personally, but for the business itself and getting the amount of exposure we get from those, it’s huge. It’s massive. You get like the New Zealand Herald and Idealog Magazine … it’s fantastic and it’s really cool.

Also our team works so hard on everything we do. It is nice every now and again to sort of … for them to go, “Okay, cool, we’re doing the right thing, we’re getting recognised.” But no one here actively chases after personal awards. It’s not really what we’re in it for but it is nice but the exposure is critical for us.

Heather:        Absolutely, I was kind of thinking because your solution … while we both like your solution, it’s kind of for the media a little bit … I say this with respect and in the nicest possible way, it’s a bit boring for the media to talk about. But you are getting a lot of exposure in the media through these awards, so I think you’re crushing it that way. That’s sensational for Re-Leased.

What one tip do you have for another business wanting to enter a business award now that you are the expert in wining these awards?

Tom:               Good question actually.

Heather:        Is it get Inga on board?

Tom:               Yeah, get Inga to proofread everything I write in terms of the entry forms because she does all the spell checking for me and finds the whole bomb of it. I don’t know, I think we talk about … we’re very honest about what we do and I think we lay our plans pretty bare in terms of what we’re trying to achieve. We don’t really hold back a lot. We’re pretty honest.

A bit like Xero really, we all know that they’re going out to the US market. They’re not trying to sneak up and surprise, they’re telling people that they’re going for it and it’s pretty inspiring. A lot of the old side of business was to sort of keep everything closed, big walls are up with what you’re doing but we’re just pretty open with what we’re doing.

We’re not trying to build a small family sort of company, although it is quite family based, we’re not trying to build a small sort of quiet company that just gets by, we’re really having a go and trying to build the biggest company we can. We tell people that. We tell them how we plan on doing it and I think being honest and open with that is what sort of gets people excited. Just basically keeping it honest is a pretty good approach. There’s not much that we do or plan to do that we don’t talk about openly.

Heather:        Thank you very much for that. I have one last question for you Tom.

What advice would you have for a school leaver who wants to be the next Tom Wallace and found his own tech company?

Tom:               My first advice would be that the traditional pathway, which is school or is ingrained in you through school and things, is to do well at school then go to uni and do well at uni, and then get the best job you can.  I just think that’s so wrong. There are so many different ways to do … there are so many options and no one tells you at school. It would have been great if more people at school said, “Hey, you can just start something yourself. It doesn’t even have to be technology. You can go up and do something, you don’t have to follow that beaten path that everyone else does,” so that’s one.

The other side of things I would say is that in New Zealand and I’m sure in Australia as well, in fact I know in Australia, there are so many talented amazing people that have done really, really well, much bigger and better than I’ve done, and everyone that I’ve ever approached was so open to talking. You don’t want to just go with the goal of getting something from them but if you contact someone that’s done really well, I’ve found that pretty much as long as you’re polite and have a good reason, then they’re willing to sit down and talk with you. There are just so many people.

I was really lucky that where I was living in Hawkes Bay was a little town called Havelock North and there are only about 15,000 there. One of them happens to be Rod Drury. I managed to track down his phone number and he’s running I think it was … well if it wasn’t a billion dollar company at the time it was pretty close to it. I don’t think he would have ever heard of me so I just gave him a call and said, “Hey, I’m thinking of doing this. I know you’re super busy but if you have a chance to talk about it?” I was sitting down having a coffee with him probably two days later and said, “This is what I’m thinking of doing.” He said, “Well, it sounds good but come back in a month with a plan.”

So we did that, came back with a plan and he said, “Go for it. Go do it.” I’ve had the opportunity to go back every now and again and give him little updates and show him what we’re working on and he’s … just to have that reassurance that we’re on the right track from someone like Rod. He even came up with ideas. Some of our mapping functionality was actually his idea which is kind of cool.

I would just say get out there and talk to people and learn. In the same sense as well, the amount of blogs and material that you can read and be inspired by it. I just started pouring through blogs and books, books like Rework by the 37signals guys, love their book. It’s all out there. No one really … and it’s all free on the internet too, so there’s no real excuse for not, if you really want to do it, going out and finding how.

Heather:        Absolutely, but as a writer I hope you buy books.

Tom:               I do. I do.

Heather:        Not you but the listeners. Buy books.

Tom:               The listeners, yeah. I actually … the one sort of ticked thing that I’m behind on is I actually still buy them in paperback because I kind of share them around with everyone in the office afterwards. So every couple of weeks or every week or so there’ll be an Amazon package and I can’t even remember what we’ve bought until we open it up, so it’s like Christmas every time.

Heather:        I actually find that very tech people buy paperback books and the not so tech people buy them via the iPad or the eBooks. It’s actually interesting because I’m watching who is buying what and people are telling me. So that’s kind of a really bizarre observation that seems to ring true several times.

Tom:               I don’t know why. I spend all day on the screen and I just kind of like having the … knowing my bookshelf is full and I just quite like having them there. It’s a personal thing. I think it’s cool but I can understand have a … I’m travelling around a bit as well, it would be quite nice not to take books with me everywhere, so there is definitely a place for the Kindle as well or the iPad.

Heather:        Absolutely. Thank you, Tom, so much for speaking to us today and sharing so many insights with us. I’ll leave details in the show notes on how you can get in touch with Tom Wallace and find out more about his solution, Re-Leased.

My name is Heather Smith and you’ve been listening to Cloud Stories.

Tom:               Thanks Heather.

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