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Ten minutes with… Amplify-Now CEO Matt Williams

Business

Adelaide business management software company Amplify-Now has opened a California office, in a push for a piece of the giant US market. We speak to CEO Matt Williams about his international expansion and the challenge of skill shortages in Adelaide.

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Less than four months after opening a US office in Los Angeles, Adelaide software company Amplify-Now has signed a host of high profile clients and had its software translated into Japanese.

Amplify-Now became the first SA business to win a place in AusTrade’s Landing Pad program for tech exporters in January, which led CEO Matt Williams to San Francisco for an intense 90-day residency to help him establish a US office.

The company changed its name from Connexion Systems to Amplify-Now in July to coincide with the US launch and align it more closely with its flagship product, Amplify.

The office opened in El Segundo, on the Santa Monica Bay next to Los Angeles International Airport, in July and Williams’ wife and children have joined him in California for a 12-month stint as he attempts to build his brand in North America.

But the expansion hasn’t been all about the United States. Amplify-Now’s recent growth includes sales in Europe, the UK, the Middle East and Japan.

We spoke to Williams about the US move and the challenges of selling business management software globally from Adelaide.

How has the US expansion panned out so far?

The numbers are good. We recently closed deals with Pfizer and Parexel in the US and we’re just about to close one with an oil and gas company in Canada, our first major deal in Canada. We’ve sold our software in Abu Dhabi to Emirates Global Aluminium, to Spotless in Australia and we also then sold to a Japanese retail chain so we’re now in the throes of writing a Japanese version of Amplify to support them.

Sales of Amplify doubled in the Australian financial year to June 2018, and again in 2019. The figures for the first quarter of 2020 have already equalled 2019 full-year revenues with North American sales accounting for half of global sales and the remainder being driven from Adelaide.

There just aren’t enough local people working in the tech space in Adelaide and we’re having to employ from interstate or overseas.

While some of that was pull-through and we’re not expecting to quadruple sales this year, we’re certainly on track to double again and at the rate we’re going we might end up tripling.

In the technology space that’s what you want to do. Doubling is good but tripling is what investors, in particular, want to see because it shows there’s a lot of demand.

Certainly, the investment in the US has paid off. We closed our first deal and that paid for the whole adventure and everything after that has been icing on the cake. From a business standpoint, it’s been very exciting and better than I could possibly have imagined.

What does the growth mean for staff numbers?

Our biggest challenge is execution. We’re trying to hire five more staff in Adelaide to support this growth and we’ll hire some more staff here in the US office as well.

But right now the labour market is tight – particularly for skilled resources, definitely in Adelaide but in LA as well. There just aren’t enough local people working in the tech space in Adelaide and we’re having to employ from interstate or overseas. We’re always saying that Adelaide needs more hi-tech industries and job opportunities for our kids as we transition from an old economy to a new economy but I’m struggling to find the right people locally for our jobs. We’re an Adelaide-based company taking steps internationally and we’re putting our money where our mouth is by investing in hiring more people but it’s a shame that we can’t seem to find enough people to support our growth.

We need two or three software developers right now and a similar number of business intelligence analysts and that will just cover the backlog and we’ll probably need to hire another five in the new year. That will take us to 25 staff in Adelaide.

There are only three of us in the LA office at the moment and I think in the US office we’ll probably just need two more people in the new year. The US office just provides sales and marketing services but the Adelaide office is still the HQ. All our software is produced there – we’re trying to centralise things as much as possible and Adelaide is a more cost-effective place to do business than Los Angeles and definitely Silicon Valley.

In July we moved to our new HQ (in Franklin Street) because we outgrew our old one in Adelaide Arcade and we took all this extra space to support our growth. We can support 28 staff in total and we’ll probably hire the rest of those some time next year so at this rate we’ll be full by the end of 2020.

How does juggling the time zone difference between Adelaide and LA affect business?

One of the reasons we positioned ourselves in California was that the time zones have a small amount of overlap every day. The team here (in LA) deal with the UK at the start of our day, then they can work with the East Coast of the US, Central US, West Coast US and Canada. At the end of our day, the Adelaide team comes on line and we hand over to them. That follow-the-sun approach is working well and that’s why from a business perspective we set up in this part of the United States – and the weather is pretty good too.

Could the translated version of Amplify help attract more Japanese business?

Absolutely. Now that we’ve got a Japanese language version of Amplify, we will be promoting it to all of our consulting partners so they know they can then go and start selling a Japanese language version of our software. That’s been a barrier to date – we’ve been introduced a few times into Japanese firms but they are never genuine opportunities because of the language barrier so in 2020 we’re definitely looking to improve our partnerships in Japan.

The work we’ve done means that we are now able to translate Amplify really quickly. The software is now fully translatable, it then just requires a language pack and we can translate into a number of languages such as French, German, Dutch and Spanish. We already have a Dutch customer and we may look to do more work in Europe now we have the ability to quickly translate the software. It takes about three weeks and is easy to do so it is a big change for us.

What is the plan in the US going forward?

Right now my challenge here in the US to lay the foundations for sustainable growth. We’ve already got customers around the USA but now we’re looking to sign our first sizeable customer in Canada and there are some opportunities in Mexico. It’s really just making sure that we establish ourselves through strong partnerships in North America, which will drive more revenue growth.

The AusTrade Landing Pad program at the start of the year was a huge accelerator. I estimate it brought our plans forward by six months in the three months we were part of it because I didn’t have to scratch around to find the support network I needed – accountants, lawyers, immigration assistance, tax agents, even office space and especially the advice we got as well was really valuable.

Our development team and customer service team back in Adelaide have also risen to the challenge, which has been fantastic to see, so full credit to my team.

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