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TBS spoke to CEO and entrepreneurial wizard behind eWAY, Matt Bullock who shares his tips in succeeding in business from the ground up.
TBS: Can you please tell the TBS audience a little about your background – how did you get to the point of being CEO for eWAY?
Matt Bullock: After graduating from the University of Wollongong, with a background in application and system development, I worked in a number of tech companies, including Optus, who were still in their startup phase.
In 1998, right as the Internet was just taking off, I realised there needed to be a better way to accept payments online. So I thought it would be a good idea to create a secure payment gateway that made it hassle free to accept credit cards online. My friends thought I was crazy, especially with all the dot-com bubble drama, but I gave it a go and started eWAY in Canberra in 1998. I wrote the code myself, gave one guy a case of beer to create a banner and another a case of beer to design the logo.
At that time, the connection to the web server was 64k and the business ran on just one server. I placed an ad in an internet magazine and found my first customer, a Queensland man who sold bike parts.
I thought eWAY would get bigger a lot quicker than it did, but when it’s just you, it isn’t easy. I would be mowing the lawn on the weekend and my phone would ring and I would say, “Hello this is eWAY, how can I help you?”
I did that for a long time.
I used to be really happy when we got one customer a week. Then it became one a day. I had it set up so that my phone sent me an SMS when we got a customer. Eventually, years later, the phone was beeping too much and I had to turn it off. Now, nearly 20 years later, we process payments for more than 20,000 online stores in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the UK.
We have expanded to over 60 employees, partnered with all major Australian and New Zealand banks and opened additional offices in Auckland, Edinburgh and Toronto.
What do you think is one core message the public doesn’t get about eWay that you wish they would?
MB: Where eWAY stands out from the rest is that we offer equal parts technology and humanity.
Being in business for 20 years, I’ve learnt that partnerships are key. A lot of people go into starting a business with the “build it and they will come” mentality. It’s nowhere near as easy that. Yes, having a great idea is a start, but at the end of the day, you need to put in the hard yards to get other businesses and brands to integrate with your business and then you’ve got to reciprocate as well.
We wouldn’t be able to connect to 27 banks and more than 500 shopping carts and web platforms internationally if we didn’t hustle and work together with brands like Salesforce, Xero, Shopify and more.
eWAY is the kind of business that could be run from anywhere. I could live on the moon (if there were oxygen and internet), but we have no plans to move from Canberra. It would be great to see a shift in people’s perceptions of Canberra from it just being a government town, to it being a modern, up and coming, tech hub.
Our offices are designed to foster a strong and creative team culture. All our team members enjoy access to a pool table, music selected by them, a bar and pet visits.
How do you manage your own schedule, do you have any daily rituals you could share with us?
MB: Being a truly global business, the first thing I do each morning when I wake up is check my emails.
I then start my day very early speaking to the overseas team in our Canada office.
If I’m not travelling, I take my two boys to school. When I do happen to be away for work, I always make sure I call the kids before the leave for school. Once I’m in the office, it’s then time to go through plenty of phone calls with partners and our other offices. From then I have meetings with team to discuss priorities for the business and what we need to focus on for the week ahead.
I always ensure that I don’t schedule anything in around lunch time. I go outside for a walk as it’s the best way for me to step away from the desk, clear my head and get some fresh air before I get back into the office for an afternoon filled with meetings with customers, media interviews occasionally and checking in with my management team.
It can really be hard to switch off, especially with a business that operates 24/7, which is why having a work/life balance is very important to me. I always make sure I’m back home in time to have dinner with my boys and my wife.
I round out my day by reading the news, entrepreneurial stories and business management books and make sure I’ve got no outstanding emails to action before I go to sleep.
What has been the toughest obstacle so far in 2015 for eWAY and how did you tackle it?
MB: The world of E-commerce and payments has taken so long to be where it is today, but now it’s booming.
There’s a lot of innovation on its way, and the pace of change is so fast that it’s a never-ending job predicting and staying ahead of where the industry will be in six months or even six weeks from now. Some of the key challenges we face are speed and growth, having people on board who can keep up with that pace that we set.
My wife says that patience is not one of my strong suits. I’m in a crazy hurry for everything and sometimes it becomes hard because you want everyone to run at your speed. That being said, when we have a problem I get everyone in the room, we listen, I listen. We throw ideas around and then we make a decision collectively. When there’s a problem it’s all about fixing it. We’re incredibly lucky at eWAY that we’ve managed to find a team that live and love what we do.
For me it’s about having the right structure – at one stage I had 30 direct reports. Now I work closely with five people who are phenomenal at what they do. They manage 40 other awesome people who really care about what they do and that’s really helped us to streamline the business. A CEO’s job can get really lonely at times, but I’ve finally got the balance right and I’m surrounding myself with the best people in my team.
What would be your main piece of advice for aspiring CEO’s/entrepreneurs?
MB: Never, never give up.
I even have this up on the wall in our office. It motivates me every day because the way I see it, a “no” is a journey to “yes”. It took eWAY six years to get into Asia.
Most people would have given up 20 times over.
But I never gave up, it’s not in my nature. It’s the best advice I can share – if you want something, you’ll find a way to get it eventually.