What is Good Dog Design?
We’re a multi-disciplinary digital firm. We started off life in 1994. Before I even began, my brother Tom and his wife Laura started Good Dog Design in San Francisco. Previously Tom was a toy designer with Lucasfilm. I finished my commerce degree at the University of Adelaide, but after a year as an accountant was looking for a change. I went over to the United States in ’96 when we got our first web contract and at that stage the world was desktop web and simple html. Over the years we’ve evolved to the point where Good Dog is a digital development firm that can find solutions for companies on screens of all sizes.
That means we develop web applications for companies, which may include iPhone applications, Android applications or particular application services in a website. What’s important is that all of these services work seamlessly together. Ten years ago we were very heavily involved with traditional website design but these days there are many automated services out there that can handle web services, and we have seen our specialty move into application design and development.
When did the company expand into Adelaide?
I moved back in 1997 with the concept to work out of Australia and it’s been a slow and steady growth ever since. I was by myself for three years working in a very small office and then in about 2000 we realised that we needed our own developers to match our design sensibilities and values. The concept was to build our development services here in South Australia. At that stage the Australian dollar was very weak and it made a lot of financial sense. More importantly, the people here in South Australia and the skill sets are fabulous. It would be very difficult to find those sorts of skill sets in the United States.
We continue to work directly with Good Dog in the US on about 60 to 70 per cent of our projects. In Australia we have a team of nine and in the States we’ve got a team of four.
It almost allows us to work 24/7 – by the time the office in the US is closing down for the day, we’re coming online so we’ll have a chat, do a handball of services and go from there.
What is your family connection with the United States?
I was born in Adelaide but I grew up in Dallas, Texas. My dad was an accountant with an oil firm. We were supposed to be there for a year but 12 years later we were still there. I feel very passionate about Adelaide and South Australia and I always wanted to come home. I returned in 1991 to study a commerce degree at the University of Adelaide and my brother stayed in the US and studied an industrial design degree and met his wife Laura Foley (the third principal of Good Dog Design) and they moved out to San Francisco.
Adelaide seems to punch above its weight in app development, why is that?
These days you can be anywhere and do development. All the press is always about Silicon Valley and yes, if you are trying to raise venture capital Silicon Valley is the place you need to be. But what that also means is that there is a very high turnover rate of staff because all these start-ups need developers. When they start in Silicon Valley they need about 10 developers so they just poach them from each other. In South Australia there’s obviously not that degree of high competition but it means you can have amazing people with exceptionally good ideas creating great work. There are some spectacular people here and you don’t have to move to Sydney or Melbourne or San Francisco. If you’ve got a great idea or a great concept, you can do it here. We’ll occasionally bring staff from other companies we are partnering with from the United States out here for a few weeks and they are blown away by the place. It takes 15 minutes to get most places, we’ve got great beaches and wine regions – it’s an unparalleled lifestyle.
At what point did you study an MBA and why?
I started the MBA at the University of Adelaide part-time in 2010. The main point of doing it was because my industry particularly is all about ambiguity and change. What we were 10 years ago is almost completely different to what we are now. I had gone as far as I could with self-learning and the company had grown to a point where I needed some more skills. I had a friend who had done the MBA and he really loved it so I put my hand up to do it and I just loved it too. The skills that I learnt were fantastic and have helped me view problems from a couple of different angles, which I hadn’t been able to do before.
Good Dog is all about curiosity and the MBA was great for that because I got to learn a whole suite of problem-solving abilities. Every time we work with a client we have to learn their business, we have to learn what their problems are and then we have to work out how we are going to help them solve those problems. The MBA helped me look at problems with a whole new suite of tools I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
I graduated in 2013 and my last subject was at the University of Economics in Prague. That was really amazing. Not only were you getting the different learning and experience of European lecturers but we also got to mix with a group of American students from Chicago Booth University, one of the top MBA programs in the world.
How has the industry changed in the past 20 years?
When we first started, the internet was basically online brochures. It slowly transformed into services where you could do things online but it was still all desktop based. The launch of ADSL and speed allowed users to do more things and that’s when our business changed from being purely website design to more application style development. People started becoming more comfortable putting their credit card details in to buy things and the next major shift came with the advent of mobile phone services when the first iPhone came out. That dramatically changed the web because all of a sudden content had to be viewable on all screens at all times and users wanted everything now.
Certainly the introduction of Apps into phones and the way they have become embedded into people’s lives has been the biggest change.
What have been some of the keys to success for Good Dog Design?
We act as a start-up dream team. A lot of companies may have the capital, but finding the experienced developers, project managers, designers and all of the other bits and pieces that you need to get an idea out the door can be almost impossible. The digital development community here in South Australia is fantastic, we all speak the same language, we are able to work while they are asleep and that’s a huge bonus for those American companies. We’re very proud of the people that work at Good Dog and they continue to amaze our clients.
We never outsource, we like to do things ourselves. If it gets to a point where we need a skill set that our company can’t provide, we like to team up with another South Australian firm, which is what we’ve done for the past five years, and it’s always been a great experience.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you have to be curious and creative. You have to be constantly looking for new ways of doing things better and faster. We might do a job for a client in the banking industry and some of the skills we pick up will give us ideas for a food retailer or a toy-based start-up.
What sort of clients do you work with?
Our client base is very diverse. One of our biggest clients is Tata Communications. Tata Group is the Indian multinational that produces everything from airlines to telecommunications. Here in Australia we look after a number of wineries including d’Arenberg, SC Pannell and Glaetzer Wines. We also look after a number of start-up companies, and one of the major projects we are working on in the United States at the moment is called myTheo, which is a California-based real estate company providing some extraordinary services for Real Estate Professionals.
What do you see as the opportunities and challenges going forward?
What’s going to come next is always hard to guess and it’s almost a fool’s game to try to do so. I imagine that the next big shift will be service-based opportunities – whether it’s watch or mobile-based applications. We’ve seen a huge shift in manufacturing in the United States – 30 per cent of Americans worked in manufacturing 20 years ago and it’s down to 8 per cent now. I think the next shift we are going to see is in services. There’s a lot of smart AI applications beginning to appear now that can do a reasonable job of customer service. It’s still a few years off but I don’t think we are too far away from these bots taking over more and more service based tasks. There will be new jobs but a lot of areas that currently exist are going to shift. Change is always happening, but the pace of change is happening quicker and quicker. Being flexible, curious and always wanting to learn has never been more important.
Solstice Media has partnered with the University of Adelaide to profile MBA graduates.
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