FROM winning website creation competitions while they were still at school to turning over their first $1 million in revenue, Andrew Barnes and Vu Tran quickly established themselves as digital entrepreneurs.
When Matthew Kurz left the company GO1 in 2008 to pursue further studies in the IT industry, Tran (right) and Barnes (left) set out to take the business to the next level.
Barnes says the trio met at school where they would compete in website creation competitions.
“All three of us went to school at Cannon Hill Anglican College and Brisbane-based IT company Technology One, used to run annual website competitions that we took part in,” he says.
“I entered and won the first competition in 2002, we entered as a team in 2004 and came second and then we won it again in 2005. They said we couldn’t enter the competition anymore after that, so we subsequently judged the next year’s competition, but by that stage, our business was up and running.”
Like many entrepreneurs, the trio started the business before leaving school.
“We started the company in 2005, and graduated from high school in 2006. Afterwards, I studied econometrics at the University of Queensland and Vu began studying medicine at Bond University – we like to keep our interests diverse,” says Barnes.
“So for the first year of uni, we were creating websites and really just seeing if the hobby could turn into anything more when we started getting quite a few clients under our belts. At that stage, it was just the three of us and we were working out of my parents garage in Morningside.”
The company was originally called Glass Obelisk, but they ‘quickly learned people found it difficult to pronounce and spell’, so it was changed to GO1. Tran says those early challenges helped to shape the future direction of the business and even at high school, the plan was to go big.
“In the early days, we also used to rock up to business meetings with clients in school uniform, which included the hat, tie, long socks and all and we’d hold our meetings in the school library – it’s quite funny to look back on,” he says.
“I also remember bribing our English teacher with chocolate bars in exchange for proof reading our business prospectus.”
About three years ago, GO1 moved from the Barnes family garage to an office in Underwood.
“At around this time, we had the capacity to rent an office space and employ staff so we started renting a large warehouse space in Underwood that we converted into an office space,” says Barnes.
“In 2008 Matthew also stopped being a partner of the company – he wanted to focus on his studies in IT – so he’s still involved as a shareholder, but he’s not employed by the business any more.
“At that stage we offered web design and development, so websites for cafes, restaurants, small charity groups – everything from small to large scale.”
Now with 26 staff and forecast growth of 300 per cent for the next FY, the company is seriously on the go.
“Chris Kettle from my247, which used to offer a website development service, approached us about taking on their clients. They had heard about us and thought we’d be a good potential partner. So in 2008, we took on board their entire clientele and gained a lot of hospitality customers through that,” says Barnes.
“Through those new contracts, we met Martin Duncan who runs the Queensland Food and Beverage Industry, so we also became partners in that business and that’s where we picked up quite a few more hospitality contracts.”
The new work became a leverage point for moving into the new office.
“Contracts range per client and could cost anything from $500 to $5000 and we differentiate ourselves by charging only what’s necessary – we don’t charge ridiculous amounts of money basically,” says Barnes.
“We strike the balance between being honest with our clients and not cutting ourselves short – there’s enough of a margin there that we can do a proper job. A lot of our customers come to us from other firms that haven’t been able to launch on time or on budget.”
Despite the steep learning curve the duo see their youth as an advantage.
“I think the fact that we’re so young works in our advantage – mostly people don’t meet us until they’ve gone through the proposal and when they do meet us, they see our youth as bringing an injection of fresh ideas to the company,” says Barnes.
“Plus there’s also the fact that we have a good record, we have no bank debts and we’re turning out a profit.”
In future, the digital duo are looking to expand offshore after setting up an office in Vietnam.
“From a global perspective, I think businesses are becoming a lot more decentralised – we just started up an office in Vietnam, so moving into a new country has been an interesting process for us,” says Barnes.
“We don’t have any major clients established there yet, but it’s a market we’d like to move into more and more.
“And from a labour costs point of view, it’s a lot cheaper, so I think having the ability to up-skill staff in another country helps and it also diversifies the company a bit more as well.”
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