Hear from Brad Dunn, Director of nazori, a creative technology firm based in Melbourne, Australia. An avid supporter of FreshBooks and cloud software, Brad explains how to build an amazing team, being picky about your clients and the importance of getting rid of egos.
Tell us about your business and why you do it?
The nazori business is as simple as they come. We help companies use new technology. Sometimes we build customers their own mobile applications, and sometimes we’ll help them integrate with something that already exists which we think will meet their needs. Our customers are stunned by how simple things can be. 2 years ago, they’d only be offered a $10k–20k server package with no alternative.
We embraced cloud technology from day one and aren’t interested in selling a ton of physical equipment just to stay in business. We found that people find it hard to get their heads around technology when it’s not their core business, and when it keeps changing so quickly. At last, we can offer those same solutions for a tenth of the price, with a thousand times more reliability. Instead of shifting tin to stay in business, we’ve found telling people the truth about what could work best for them has a lot more value, both for us and our clients.
How do you approach each day?
As far as our day-to-day business goes, balance is the key. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. Our people are everything to this company, and personally, I’m really protective of the culture, I consider it a priority and a major responsibility. I’m somewhat of a human behavior nerd and these days we’re experimenting with social, behavioral, and cultural changes that we think will help the business in the short, medium, and long term. Simply putting people in an open plan office doesn’t build culture; it builds furniture.
Who inspires you?
I love what guys like Tony Hsieh at Zappos have done; the guys from Atlessian in Sydney are a great example too. We tried to understand why those businesses worked so well for their staff as we also wanted to build a company that people liked to work at. A place people could be proud of.
What’s the key to your success?
Experimenting with behavior can really do wonders. You just have to have the guts to give things a go. When ideas don’t work, we don’t force the issue either. I think that’s the key to successful incentives. When something fails don’t be afraid to admit that you’re wrong. I do it all the time. There’s way too much ego in technology and if you can’t swallow your pride and fess up to things that don’t work, things will start to buckle.
We’re also very picky about who we do business with – clients included. Trying to win every job is the fastest way to dilute your brand and your business.
What is the biggest challenge in your business at the moment?
I love this question. It’s like when you go to a job interview and someone asks you what your weakness is. For us, the biggest pain in the business at the moment is people. It sounds like an odd thing to mention, and I could have said something like ‘managing growth’ which I suspect most people say because it’s self congratulatory. But in all truth, good people really are extremely hard to find.
What characteristics define your team?
To work at nazori you go through countless interviews. We need people who not only to fit the culture but are also unnaturally adaptive. Our business is all about innovation and technology. One week we’re building a new network for a client in the Middle East, the next we’re designing an iPad game for a client in New York. You need to be quick on your feet, and lots of people in this business have a hard time rolling with the diversity. On the plus side, it means the people we have are amazing, and we protect them aggressively.
We firmly believe in the distribution of equity among our employees, while this is something quite common in the US, it’s still a rare concept in Australia. We ensure folks spend a strict amount of time on non-work related projects to keep their creativity alive (and keep them sane), and most of all, we ensure they have a decent work-life balance. The last thing we want is people here at midnight trying to get things done. We’re careful with that kind of thing. Our expectations are always realistic with clients. There’s no point promising the world, if all you’ve got is a stressed out team. Stressed people make more mistakes. And mistakes cost money and clients.
What lessons would you pass on to other businesses?
We’ve built a really good reputation for being, in some cases, way too honest. Most people respect that. However, older more traditional institutions can see it as a little cavalier, and perhaps to some degree, a little arrogant. After all, when a large company is run the same way for decades, it’s hard to convince them that change might put them in a better place.
Australia and Asia can be quite conservative in this regard. So larger organizations, in truth, are not a space we play in too much. We probably don’t wear enough ties. We tend to stick to smaller international companies, trading firms, private equity, architecture, venture capital, and people who are keen to utilize technology as an edge, not just as plumbing and wires. Our clients need to see the value in innovation. If they can’t see that, we’re the wrong people – and we’re more than happy to say so.