TBS sat down to chat with two inspiring innovators changing the Australian landscape of technology for field services.
With innovative pricing structures, capabilities to help Australian business owners of all sizes find more profits, we wanted to understand the story behind Ron Hayward and David Younger.
TBS: David and Ron, can you please tell The Big Smoke audience a little about your background and how you came to lead The Service Manager (TSM)?
David Younger: I started my company in 1986, after graduating from the University of Technology with a Major in Computer Science with Honours. I was working as a marketing support rep and I ended up demonstrating all the software for the sales people, because back in 1985 sales people had no idea how to use computers. After a year, I realised I didn’t want to work for people who didn’t know what they were doing, and I really liked programming, so, I literally set up shop in the front room of my house and placed an advertisement in Australian Personal Computer and the Sydney Morning Herald computer section as a custom programmer.
The first year I got a call from the Hi-Fi shop in Dee Why. They said they wanted a job ticketing system, so I wrote them that, and that was my first little program called TSM. Their contacts soon followed and said they wanted something similar, so I wrote that, and from there it evolved and evolved and evolved. By the mid-1990s, I had what I would consider the world’s best field’s service software product for DOS, which included mobility with palm pilots out in the field. I combined my experience writing TSM with writing 150 custom solutions for other companies to really have a product that had a depth of features customers needed by customers telling me what it needed to have, and that’s why I believe I have a very good empathy with the varied needs of our client base.
In 1995, Microsoft Windows 95 was released and nobody wanted to buy DOS software anymore, so we rewrote the product in Windows, and about 10 years ago we dropped all custom software and all other activities and we simply focused on The Service Manager as our core business. From that experience, I gained a great understanding of the field service industry, and I realised you cannot easily fit everyone with a single product – and anyone who tries to, fails. The reason is because the field service market is not one industry; it’s a hundred different industries each with their nuances and workflows. Even air-conditioning has differences within its own industry – between commercial and residential, between break fix, preventative maintenance and installation work; it’s different to plumbing and security and fire; they are all very different so you need a product that really is very flexible in terms of design and feature set to be able to suit those different industries. TSM as a product has those attributes, and this was only possible due to the long-term feedback of hundreds of field service clients.
Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to significantly grow the company but I knew it was really not structured particularly well for growth, so I engaged Ron Hayward as a consultant to assist in planning the restructure. My relationship with Ron goes back 10 years when I approached Ron’s company as a potential partner, because Ron was very strong in mobility where I wasn’t, and I was very strong in back office where Ron wasn’t. Unfortunately, things came to pass and it didn’t really occur at that point in time. We happened to re-engage in 2014 when Ron had a need for field service and he thought of me, so we started talking about that and it just pretty much became obvious after some time that we should both create a new TSM company, which we did on the 1st of July 2015 when we merged the assets of Ron’s and my company. The restructuring was crucial and ruthless, it was brutal; of the 23 staff that we had, we have three that were left after the restructure, and we’ve now rebuilt that up to about 15 and are continuing to hire. So, we literally got rid of 20 of the staff because we really needed to make a new start with what we call the new TSM – our approach as a company has changed completely.
Ron Hayward: My background started in the early days with Coopers & Lybrand which is now part of PriceWaterhouseCoopers when they were the first people in the world that took engineers and other professions and built a consulting practice. So, I went from New Zealand to London to work in that and, at that time, one of the first accounts I worked with was a company called Racal, which became Vodafone, and I set up with a farming family assistance business in New Zealand, with a partner, Tony Nigro, which was the third mobile service provider in the world. Ericsson bought the business, so then I entered into a life being a Director in Ericsson and effectively working with them, in places like Lynchburg, Virginia, where they took over General Electric Mobile business. Following a global economic crisis about this time, Ericsson put off a lot of people, as did a lot of big companies, and I ended up being pointed by them towards Microsoft. Microsoft had a new thing called Everett which became .NET, and I built the first applications for Great Plains and for SAP-B1, which was an Israeli product, and wirelessly enabled them both using a the first HP Jornarda – one of the first of what they then called PDA’s. Today we call them smartphones but in those days they were PDA’s, and believe me, they were ancient. They were the first true PDA following the Palm Pilot.
I established this business and the product ConnectiX, which was done with the support of Microsoft, and that is what David was referring to. I competed with David, but realised that he had better technology in his system at the back end and I had better technology in the front end, mobile. From that, another Kiwi called Mike Rich from Attache said, “Ron I want you to build a field service product in the cloud” (because my products are cloud products, that I build). I explained that it would take me two-and-a-half years, so I said I would meet with David Younger to see if I can get him to do what I wanted in the cloud.
So from that, David and I came together.
TBS: What is the one thing you wish clients would understand about TSM the first time they connect with you?
David: For me, I would like them to appreciate the depth of the TSM product and how in the long run it will benefit them as a business. They may only use 20 percent of the product upfront, but as their business grows they can turn on more and more functionality – I see it similar to the layers of an onion. They can delve into the layers of an onion and turn on more functionality.
I used to say “Think big, start small.” You can start as a very small company but as you grow to be a big company, TSM will go all the way with you.
The downside of a product that has the depth of TSM is that it can be slightly daunting up front to look at, so you don’t appreciate the depth of it. There is a saying, “Looks sell, but features keep you as a product,” and finding that balance between a product that looks good enough but has the depth of features is quite tricky. So that’s the one thing that I would like from the product’s point of view, as it’s very hard to understand and appreciate what TSM can really do for client’s business in the long run, far and above what competitors can really do.
Ron: We have now developed, with David’s technology, expertise in the cloud that presents a field service platform managed through a fixed price tariff. We have the “Lite” tariff which is for only three users – the husband, the mate and the wife. We have then a step up to a young company growing with our “Pro” tariff, which only gives them what they need from the platform at that time but it is able to be extended. Finally for those companies that come to us that are big, our “Enterprise” tariff can handle anything. We can compete against overseas big companies because the technology that we’re now using enables us to scale, so David’s vision has now become reality.
TBS: What has been the toughest obstacle for TSM to battle so far since the new iteration of the company?
David: The biggest obstacle we face as we plan for growth into larger and larger volumes is how we are going to manage our main potential bottleneck – the ability to implement new installations quickly. TSM is not the kind of product that you can sell off the shelf at Harvey Norman and just tell customers how to use it. It really does require some level of workflow analysis, customisation and user training to really make it work for the business. This is because TSM affects all aspects of the business – literally every single member of the staff of the service company will use TSM in a different way.
So how do we approach that?
We came up with the idea of creating the TSM University. Without going into too much detail, TSM University is an education platform that was created for our customers and consultants, to train them on the use of TSM. But TSM University goes much further. We will use it as a tool during the implementation cycle to actually gather in a structured way a lot of the upfront information that we would otherwise have had to spend man hours doing ourselves, minimising the amount of up front time and cost required to implement. You can imagine as we grow all over Australia, all over New Zealand, if we then expand to foreign countries US, UK and so on, we really do need to have a process that we can repeat multiple times as we grow. Our biggest challenge has been creating these processes to allow us to implement and support our customers quickly in an exponential scale model.
Ron: Say we have a man called Mr X, who is a physicist, who has to know how to break problems down into their individual parts and can put these skills into understanding the workflow. He would love working with TSM, and we will effectively project manage more Mr X’s coming in, whether it be mathematicians, science graduates or more physicists. Men and women that have no preconceived attitudes but have a high education base, but are unable to get a job in their field – we will teach them a new platform.
This is a new disruptor to the industry; it’s not a malevolent disrupter, but one that brings about employment. This is a unique model to TSM, and it’s Australian.
TBS: How do you manage your work schedules; do you have daily rituals you can share with us?
David: I actually use TSM to run a lot of my own internal tasks and so on, which is very helpful to me because if there is something I need, I just have to change it to suit that task. So for me having control over the systems I use – whether its my own TSM or whether the ability to customise outlook or so on – is very helpful. But there is one particular tool that I use that I find extremely helpful and goes well with the way my mind works: I’m a huge fan of mind mapping software. If I were to go to a consult or meet with a customer, or need to come up with a new project or work-flow, I use mind mapping software as a tool, and it helps me a lot in my day. Not a lot of people know about it, but those who do find it invaluable to use mind mapping software. It’s a big plus for me.
Ron: And on my side, my early education (before I went to university) was all about self-discipline, so when I start my day, I put down my tasks that have to be completed that I don’t want to do, and I do them first. I hate it, but I become more productive by doing it.
TBS: And finally, what is your best advice to entrepreneurs?
David: Based on my 30 years experience – and you have to realise in that 28 of those, I ran my business with very little external input – it’s been a revelation since Ron has come onto the scene. It’s given me the ability to discuss topics backwards and forward with Ron (and other people we bring into the company). So my one piece of advice is to not be afraid to seek assistance, to bring in other external parties to talk to, or have internal parties to bounce off ideas with. Collaboration is invaluable. Ron has skills that I do not have and I have skills that he does not have, but when you put us together, we seem to have a complete package. If I can sneak another in, it’s to not be afraid to have a partner. Don’t always reinvent the wheel, but find other companies that add value to your products or service, and see how you can work toward a better outcome for everyone.
Ron: Two things. The first one is beat the big cartel companies by collaborating with other small businesses and use collaborative outsourcing. The second is, do not, no matter what the cost, get so embedded in your business that you cannot sit above it.
Because once you sit above it, you can see what’s wrong within it.