Cameron Priest CEO and co-founder of TradeGecko
Highlights of my conversation with Cameron Priest
- Singaporean Government fostering a technology hub
- Global adoption of add-ons
- Setting up a start-up in Singapore
- Growing a business with a multi-lingual support
- Giving clients the “wow factor” during the on-boarding process
- The Smart Enterprise Software Wave
- Choosing a currency to price in
- Blk 71 Ayer Rajah Cr– the hub for start-ups in Singapore
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TradeGecko is a world-class Inventory, Order and Supply Chain Management platform with a comprehensive suite of functionalities – packaged together in an intuitive, cloud-based interface, designed and structured ‘user-first’ from the ground-up. Expertly manage your inventory as you save time, eliminate errors and streamline your sales channels, synchronized across all your stakeholders in real-time.
Heather: Welcome, Cameron, to the show. Thank you very much for being here.
Cameron, the first question I’d like to ask you is what did you like to do when you were twelve years old?
Cameron: Well, I grew up on a kiwifruit orchard in New Zealand, so a big part of my life was exploring and building go-carts with my brothers, building things with my father, so kind of creating things was a big part of being twelve and kind of exploring the property.
Heather: Wow. That’s amazing, growing up in a kiwifruit orchard. That sounds like the quintessential New Zealand dream doesn’t it?
Cameron: I feel like it’s the butt of every New Zealand joke because we had kiwifruit and we had sheep.
Heather: Did you? Oh, you mentioned the sheep. But that’s sensational. Was it like a big orchard?
Cameron: It was a large kiwifruit producing orchard. It’s not massive but my father’s full time job was managing the orchard, so it wasn’t insubstantial but he is still doing that today.
Heather: Wow. That’s amazing. You have come so far from kiwifruits to this. I’m surprised your businesses name is not Kiwi Gecko or something like that or Kiwifruit Gecko.
How did a guy from Auckland end up in Singapore as a CEO of TradeGecko?
Cameron: Yeah, well previously I’d had a business doing development of iPhone and web applications for third parties, so client based kind of web design agency, and we had some customers who were kind of having the issue that we now are trying to solve with TradeGecko which is managing the entire backend of their businesses, be they wholesale or retail businesses. I’d been searching and looking and kind of struggling to start a business that kind of … I guess the theory was always a business that made money while you sleep. That’s always the end goal for everyone isn’t it?
Cameron: So this to me was a great opportunity and the more I looked, the bigger the opportunity seemed. Yeah, I mean for us the move from Auckland to Singapore was just access to capital, access to international markets, and I guess just a shake-up. I mean it’s very easy to be very complacent in New Zealand. It’s beautiful and it’s slow and it’s easy to have a really good lifestyle but it kind of … a way to kick my own butt was getting out of my comfort zone.
Heather: That’s interesting.
Are you the founder of TradeGecko?
Cameron: Yes, so there are three co-founders. There’s myself and Carl Thompson who moved over to Singapore, and then I actually poached my older brother who is a great engineer a couple of months later to head up our product team.
Heather: I did notice some other Priests on the …
Cameron: We’ve actually recently hired the youngest Priest as well. He’s a great engineer.
Heather: Sensational, another … it does seems a lot of the add-on solutions are a family entity or exercise, so that’s interesting.
How many staff do you have based in your Singaporean office?
Cameron: In Singapore, we’ve got 29.
Heather: Wow. That’s a lot.
Do you have staff based elsewhere?
Cameron: Yes, we have a team in Manilla in the Philippines and we’ve just opened an office in San Francisco as well.
Heather: Wow, so you’re growing rapidly because the …
How old is the business? It’s only about two years old isn’t it?
Cameron: Yeah, just over two years. We’ve quadrupled since last November which is scary to be perfectly honest.
Heather: Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s amazing growth you’ve got there. So based on what you’re saying there, let me ask you … let me just jump ahead and ask you another question.
On your LinkedIn profile, you used the phrase, “We give the power of Walmart supply chain management to SME’s.” Where are your customers coming from and are you targeting the US market because obviously Australians don’t know Walmart. I’m presuming New Zealand doesn’t have Walmart, so it was a very American phrase for me sitting there in LinkedIn.
Cameron: You make a very good point. I hadn’t thought about that point of view. Yeah, we do target the US. To be honest, the US and Australia are our two largest markets. In terms of the Walmart phrase, there’s actually kind of a positioning statement we’ve used when raising fund raising. I guess I kind of internalise it and have been using it in market materials, and perhaps isn’t the most targeted for the Australian or New Zealand markets, but that was kind of theory. Yeah, Australia is a big market but US is now overtaking them as our largest market nowadays.
Heather: That’s sensational.
How are you approaching the American markets because it’s such a huge market to crack? How you approaching that?
Cameron: With trepidation. I mean effectively … I mean with us and obviously part of this conversation is the partnership with Xero and Shopify were the first real partnerships that started getting us customers. So in Australia and New Zealand, we’ve really been able to grow to kind of ride the coat tails of Xero, and Xero obviously isn’t dominant in the US, although I’m sure we all hope and I’m sure Rod really hopes that it does become so in the future.
Cameron: But it does mean that we’re kind of facing an uphill battle in terms of the way we kind of inch that market. Completely honestly, we don’t know everything about what our strategy is going to be to enter that market because it is such a different kettle of fish. It’s a work in progress.
Heather: Yes, it is.
So are you seeing movement into the UK market?
Cameron: UK is our seventh biggest country. US is big, Australia, Canada, New Zealand of course, Singapore is surprisingly large for us being based here but it’s still it’s a surprisingly small country and surprisingly large number of customers. I guess your classic western English speaking markets are large markets but then we’re everywhere to the Republic of Congo, Mexico, South Africa, some very, very … you know, 86 countries. It’s crazy the places that are using our software.
Heather: It’s sensational. I imagine that … you have an inventory based software, I imagine, and correct me if I’m wrong, that compliance and legislation doesn’t necessarily affect you in that it would be same for inventory based software no matter where you are.
Cameron: Exactly. I mean there are always going to be little things. I mean the Alcohol Tax in Australia, the Wet Tax, is actually another difficult issue we’ve had to tackle and we’ve had other issues in other countries. To your point, the US still has very complicated sales tax regime that we need to kind of work with.
Heather: Okay, so that comes from within your solution rather than within the point of sales solution?
Heather: Okay, that’s interesting.
How would you describe the Asia Pacific, Singapore, South East Asia start-up seem?
Cameron: It’s burgeoning. I mean Singapore has had a lot of money inject into from the Singaporean government. In fact our first round of financing, our investors put in $89,000 and the government put half a million in.
Cameron: You just don’t get that sort of thing in New Zealand and you have some similar schemes in Australia but they’re actually getting phased out not in. So we had this opportunity here which the Singaporean government has grasped to really invest, not … I mean not substantial money but we’re still talking kind of $30-50 million dollars which to a government is very little but that’s a hundred different start-ups that can come to Singapore and start in Singapore. They’re really, really trying to foster a technology economy in Singapore. South-East Asia is growing as well but Singapore is definitely the hub.
Are any of your founders, and excuse me you may have mentioned this, are any of your founders Singaporean nationals?
Cameron: We are all Kiwis.
Heather: Yes, you’re all Kiwis. Okay, that’s really interesting. Isn’t it? “I’m actually prepared to fund you so much coming over there.” That’s amazing. But I guess you have employed a lot of people there in Singapore.
Cameron: Definitely a lot of Singaporeans here as well.
Heather: Yeah. I know when I lived in Singapore, I was on a very nice salary there, and I never used to get taxed. I remember going down to the Singaporean Tax office and putting all my stuff out and I just said, “You’ve just got to tax me, there’s something wrong. You’ve got to tax me.” They looked at it and they said, “No, you don’t earn enough money.”
Cameron: It’s great. Isn’t it?
Heather: Yeah. I was just like going, “What’s going on here? This is crazy.” Yeah, but it’s an amazing place, amazing eco-system to live, so that’s really interesting.
Do you think Asia is a market that other add-on solutions should be looking to move to and to base themselves there?
Cameron: I think it’s a premature step to take it too early. I mean effectively, the western markets: Australia, US, Canada, they adopt a lot faster. We see that. I mean we are here and we obviously have a big story about Asia, even saying that we’re still seeing the fastest adoption from the western markets.
We are probably getting customers in the Philippines and Malaysia that we wouldn’t have otherwise and we have some very large customers, multi-thousand dollar a month clients that we wouldn’t have been able to capture if we weren’t here but I do not think that you need to be here for your first 10,000 customers.
Heather: Yeah but it’s something perhaps they can look at down the line because it wouldn’t be the first place I would have thought of setting up a head office there, unless I wanted some great food and great travel access points, which is what Singapore is very well known for.
Cameron: For us … sorry, the one thing I would say is that Singapore and Hong Kong especially are just logistic hubs. For us, we’re very focused on the industries we work with. It’s got its own … we’ve got our own reasons for being here and those wouldn’t be true for a lot of other add-ons but they are true for us.
Heather: Fair enough.
So Singapore has four official languages, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, how do you deal with so many different languages in Asia both from a business perspective and from a software solution perspective?
Cameron: Well, firstly, we’re very luck that everyone in Singapore’s first language is English, so that’s never been an issue for us in that regard but obviously as you exist Singapore, there’s a lot less of that, there’s a lot of local languages. So to kind of work with that, we do have a very multi-cultural and a very … what you’d think of as a melting pot in terms of our teams and in terms of the different languages.
We Aussies and Kiwis are the odd ones out with our one language of English. Most countries in the world, they have 3, 4, 5 languages if they’re lucky. A lot of our team do speak multiple languages and as we’re growing our support our sales team around the region and around the globe, we are looking for multi-lingual support and sales people. I think that’s kind of the only way you can tackle it because while some of the people can speak English, they still like to spend their time, their days with what they’re comfortable with which is the language they grew up in.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
How difficult is it for a software solution to overlay a different language across the solution?
Cameron: Technically not that difficult. The difficult part is the supporting and the documentation, it’s converting everything. But actually if you look at a piece of software like TradeGecko or Xero or any other add-on, we’re probably talking of a dictionary of less than a couple thousand words that need to be translated into a dozen different languages, and there are third party providers that will do that and maintain and keep that up to date for you for quite a low cost.
But for us, that’s not the issue, it’s the selling, it’s the marketing, it’s the positioning, it’s the different brand images, it’s the different cultural disconnects that become quite difficult.
Heather: Okay, that’s interesting. TradeGecko has one of the best on-boarding platforms that I’ve ever used or seen. For the people listening, I’ve tried a lot of them out there.
So what is it? How did you develop it? What are you using? Maybe just share with our audience what you’re happy to share about your on-boarding training.
Cameron: I think the one thing we really think about and we probably don’t think about enough is trying to really understand what is the “wow moment” for a new user. What we want to do is we want to get our customers to wow as soon as possible. I’m sure we don’t get that for everyone but we’re trying to get as many people to understand and see how good their business could be with our solution as fast as possible. That’s kind of driven our focus on really developing a really smooth on boarding, hopefully showing them the different pieces of what we do and how we can help them.
I guess that’s just a really big focus of mine, and because it’s so important to me that obviously affects everyone in the organisation and we have some great designers who spend a lot of time thinking, interviewing customers, going out to visit customers, seeing what their day-to-day looks like, and really understanding and making sure that we are building the right thing effectively.
Heather: Yeah, so what I really liked was when I went into TradeGecko and started up, it seemed like sort of a slither or a pane came across and it told me to go in and setup a customer and suggested I went here and clicked on this and did that. Then another pane came across and they were all quite colourful, beautiful panes, and they came across and they just kept telling me how to do it.
Was that something you inbuilt into the solution?
Cameron: Yeah, we developed that in-house. I mean effectively we believe the wow is important. The other thing is you want people to understand what we do and don’t do as fast possible just to … otherwise … so they can identify, “Is this for me or is this not for me?” That’s kind of why we built the beautiful kind of show them as much the product but not too much as fast as possible.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I always say to people, “Look, if you’ve got 90 minutes spare, go and sit down and go through that introduction process on TradeGecko because you just get a real good understanding on A) how an inventory solution should work and B) how your particular inventory solution works because for us as advisors, it’s so difficult to learn all these new solutions out there, especially I think we’re sort of hitting 300 out there and we don’t have the time to sit down.
But when there’s something fast, easy, beautiful, and you could almost probably watch House of Cards while you’re doing it, like at the same time, it’s so simple to go through. It’s like a game I guess. I know that seems to be one of the things that some of the software developers are doing is building that sort of gaming type of thing into the solution.
What were the biggest challenges a Kiwi guys faces doing business in Singapore?
Cameron: The biggest issue that we’ve had is probably not being a Kiwi guy in Singapore. It’s being anyone that’s running a company that’s growing so fast. It’s kind of being introspective and being able to learn to work with a huge array of cultures, huge array of personalities and learning how to work with … I mean it’s just something that you don’t get taught. I think unless you’ve had experience, you kind of have to make it up as you go.
I think I’m very honest in saying that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I hope I know a little bit more than I did in a month ago and I definitely know a lot more than I did 12 months ago but I’m sure I’ll know a lot more in 12 months than I do right now. I think that’s probably the most important thing and the hardest thing for me has been understanding different temperaments, different cultures, different people.
Heather: That probably is more because you’re situated in Singapore perhaps then being in other places.
Heather: When I was there, I found them, the Singaporeans, very welcoming of the expats.
Do you find yourself very welcomed there?
Cameron: Very much so. I mean some of our best employees are obviously local guys and girls, and they’re just fantastic. They have a really good work ethic and they have a great education system here, so that really helps us obviously with our hires.
Heather: Yeah absolutely, completely agree.
Five major trends have dominated the Silicon Valley recently in the last hundred years: electronic tools, semiconductors, enterprise, telecom and consumer. A sixth trend is emerging which venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale of Formation 8 has coined The Smart Enterprise. How would you describe the Smart Enterprise Software Wave that Lonsdale is referring to?
Cameron: Yeah. I guess this is exactly what we are trying to tackle and a lot of other cloud based solution providers are trying to tackle, and that’s the … today you can build online management software and that’s fine and that’s good and that’s pretty and that’s easy to use but what we really want to do is we want not to just give you tool to run your business, we want to give you the ability to make decisions and have insights. The Smart Enterprise Software Wave is kind of this discussion that as we kind of move everything online, there’s this huge amount of data.
We don’t just process sales and manage inventory, we can also see things in our business and within our industries that can make us … we can make decisions that can affect things like not just forecasting but global trends.
That’s what the Smart Enterprise Software Wave gives us, it’s that big data access, the ability to make decisions to kind of couple, really easy to use, analytical software with smart people, to do things that previously could only have been done by team of scientists probably working in Excel for quite a few months, being able to bring that data and those insights to fray very easily at a click of a button. We’re not there yet globally but I think that in the next five to ten years, just the decision making power that a small business owner will have which previously you’d have to pay SAP a hundred million dollars to get, is just going to be fascinating. That’s really what we’re trying to help do.
I think you’ve answered this but how can the other software development companies, listening in, leverage off this Smart Enterprise Software Wave. Should they be looking towards this analytical dashboard that you suggest?
Cameron: It’s very easy to think about as a dashboard but the way I try and think about is if you can imagine the life of your user, and in our case you probably have some guys in a warehouse, some guys in an office, maybe some sales rep on the road, the guy and the CEO and maybe the financial controller, there are all these different people and they have all these really important decisions to make every day.
Instead of them having to think, “What do I need to do to do my job?” As a software provider, we can actually bring to the surface the right information that they need to make a decision and to actually tell them … maybe not make the decision for them but to at least kind of really point them in the right direction.
I think you can only work that out by really understanding the day-to-day life of each of your products users and really thinking about what really impacts their day-to-day, their weeks, their months, their planning for the year. I guess that’s kind of what we really try and do. I’m not saying we’re perfect at that but really thinking holistically about your customers. I mean best case scenario you go and work in a customer’s work for a couple of days, immerse yourself in their life, truly understand where you can help them with data.
Heather: Yeah, it’s very difficult I imagine because your solution, while is inventory, is probably being used by so many vastly different bespoke companies, trying to adapt to everything that’s out there that’s using you.
Cameron: Exactly but you can probably think no company wants to sell this product. No company wants to have worse relationships with their suppliers. You can kind of go, “Okay, every company in the world would like more customers, would like better relationships, they’d like more advanced forecasting, they’d like to know more clearly what their profit margins are.”
So I think there are some kind of general rules you can probably make which you can really help these guys answer in a way that the CEO that used to have to sit down for two weeks to do kind of Excel spreadsheets to understand the last 12 months of his business, he doesn’t have to do that anymore. He can press a button. As long as we understand what the right questions those people should be asking, I think we can really help these guys grow their businesses and of course grow our own businesses by doing that for them.
Heather: That’s really interesting. Thank you for that Cameron.
So TradeGecko’s pricing is in US dollars, why did you make this decision?
Cameron: Again, it’s the Singapore thing. Being in Singapore, we had to choose a currency, it didn’t make sense to do it in Singapore dollars. Ultimately there was also a bit of technical decision there because we couldn’t do it in too many currencies, and so US dollars was just kind of the same default and the global software as a service space, in the future we may do regional pricing. To be honest, to do that, we will need to change the way that we bill but at this stage, again, I was just thinking globally, US dollar is identifiable by everyone, yeah, that was the thought.
Heather: Fair enough.
So how many customers do you need to look at or do you need to on-board to generate one million dollars US a year? What sort of you looking at for that?
Cameron: Each additional million dollars … so we would be looking at … if we look at our current revenue, every kind of 600 customers would give us US dollars a million in revenue at this stage. We’re actually in very nice position at stage. We’re actually reducing the number of customers we need as we start to bring on larger and larger clients.
Heather: That’s interesting. That’s exciting for you.
Cameron: Yes, very much so.
If you’re bringing on these larger clients, how many transactions, maximum transactions, can you deal with a month?
Cameron: In terms of these, so we work with some very interesting clients, so the biggest automotive parts supplier in Europe, Oscar, and they’re doing somewhere upwards of 1800 sales a day through our systems.
Heather: Oh okay, that’s amazing.
Cameron: Admittedly they have done some customer integration into their customer e-commerce store, so they’re not taking advantage of every piece of what we do but nothing really limits us there. I think in our opinion, the limitations then becomes the workflow, it becomes very difficult to pack 1800 items. You’re talking about having a proper warehouse management system. That’s something we’re really trying to improve at all times is to cater to these bigger guys doing these larger numbers.
Heather: Excellent. That’s really interesting. Thank you for sharing that.
So what are of being some of the key successes of TradeGecko?
Cameron: So really important, that first customer that wasn’t a friend or family member, so that was really, really good for us. I don’t know why, there’s just something about that first order.
How many friends and family members did you have that needed an inventory solution?
Cameron: Well, because one of our co-founders was in the fashion industry, it wasn’t insignificant. I think we had our first kind of 11 customers, seven of which were friends and family, but that’s kind of changed now obviously. So what other significant milestones? I mean getting to where we are today, I don’t know why but each … how we make it, it’s significant to us because this is another person who is depending on you for their livelihood.
Cameron: So that’s a big one. Opening up the team in Philippines was big because we hired some really high quality people there to help us with products and sales. When you’re hiring people that have kids and you have got stable jobs and they’re joining you, you realise the responsibility, so that was a big one personally for myself.
Heather: Yeah, amazing.
So one of the things that you released, probably maybe it was about six or eight weeks ago, was a beautiful infographic of inventory workflow, how was that received?
Cameron: Surprisingly well. To be completely honest, I wasn’t that involved with it. We have a great … one of our marketing team members, Clara, was kind of running the show on that one.
Heather: Clara Lu, was that right? Clara Lu.
Cameron: Yes, surprisingly well. So it’s been picked up by a lot of different people and it’s kind of formented some really interesting discussions especially with some of our customers. It’s great when you have a customer come on board who says they saw that inventory thing, they finally understood something, and then they started to think, “Well, if this is what you can do to help us, then I want him,” which I’ll be honest, I was little bit sceptical about but they proved me wrong which I’m always happy to be proven wrong.
Heather: Yeah, some people only think visually. It’s interesting because some people are like, “I didn’t get that until you drew a picture of it.” I’ll include the infographic in the show notes for people to have a look at and the concept is you actually share it, isn’t it? That’s the concept?
Cameron: Of course, that’s the concept, yeah.
Heather: I noticed that when you shared it … so other people whom I have seen having infographics, they actually have it all linking back to your site and I noticed you didn’t have a direct link back to your site with the sharing of it but maybe that was just because it was for the first time.
Cameron: We’ve had some people linking back to it. I know some people can be very aggressive about that. I mean end of the day, if someone doesn’t want to link back to us and they want to share, I don’t have any problem with that. If we were doing everything just to get link backs, we’d be kind of probably creating quite sad material and output.
Heather: No, I certainly think an infographic as a marketing tool is very … can be very useful, and for business advisors being able to say, “Hey, have a look at this. This is what TradeGecko does.” Again, it makes our life a little bit easier and it is an infographic out there for anyone to use.
So if you were 17 years old again, I don’t think you’re actually very old because from looking at your LinkedIn profile, but if you were 17 years old again and wanted to become the next Cameron Priest, what’s the quickest route to get there?
Cameron: Well firstly, I’m 27, so ten years ago. I think the biggest thing for me was just starting. I know it sounds very trite but it’s very … I mean I can remember when I first learnt how to build software. The way I learned was finally … I oversold my abilities and I got a project from a client, and then I had to quickly learn, I actually roped my older brother because he’s lot smarter than I am, to help me build something.
I guess it’s very easy to talk about wanting to do something and very easy to kind of read everything and watch all the videos, but actually kind of committing yourself. There’s a very famous quote about this but I won’t quote it now because it’s quite long but it’s about just starting and when you start, providence moves, everything just kind of falls into pieces, everyone starts to help you, things just align. Things don’t always align in the right way but nothing helps you learn how to start except starting.
Do you think that your university qualification helped you to get to that position?
Cameron: Not at all.
If you were 17 years old again, would you do that again?
Cameron: At 17, I still needed to grow up a bit, so probably yes. But I mean I tried to start businesses when I was 17, they weren’t in the technology space. I tried all sorts of different things, so I don’t begrudge that but I feel like starting is one thing and then also being exposed to people who have done it because some people are very lucky in which their parents are quite successful.
Hence, they understand that the ability to create a business is not that hard. You don’t need to be super smart. You don’t need a 160 IQ. You just need to do it but I think for a lot of us, being exposed to people just like us who are successful makes you realise that it’s just about hard work. Again, that sounds very trite but being exposed to those sorts of people as young as possible, I think is very valuable.
Where were you exposed to these sorts of people?
Cameron: So definitely after I moved to Singapore but before this my father is an entrepreneur. I can’t say he was a super successful one. He was a great Kiwi inventor, not a great businessman. I think that definitely exposed me to the ups and the downs of business but I do see friends who were kind of exposed to very successful business people, very young, and to them the idea of starting business has always been an obvious and relatively easy endeavour, whereas I think that majority of the population, it’s kind of something that’s always been a bit out of reach but it doesn’t need to be.
Heather: Okay, thank you. I’m just throwing one more question out there because you might have the answer, if you don’t know, no worries.
If a business person was to go over to Singapore, are there any start-up hubs that they should visit that you know of?
Cameron: Yes, there’s one big one. Again, another government organisation has put it together which is a place called Blk 71 and there are probably 400-500 different start-ups there now and a bunch of investor capitalists. So it’s just Blk 71, and that’s just the name of the area and that’s the name of the building, it’s blk 71. That’s where all the technology companies, especially the younger ones, that’s where you start in Singapore.
Heather: Oh okay, that’s good. I’ll search that up and put that up in show notes. What suburb is that based in?
Cameron: That’s in Ayer Rajah, I can bring you the actual address for it afterwards.
Heather: Sensational. So, thank you so much for speaking with us today Cameron. I really enjoyed listening to you and hearing all of your insights about Asia and about TradeGecko, and I’m sure the listeners gained a lot of information from hearing from you as well.
Cameron: It was my pleasure Heather. Thank you very much.