VentraIP is a success story in the unpredictable world of tech startups. We sat down with founder Angelo Giuffrida to find out what makes them tick.
Many tech companies are popping up in the Australian start-up space and securing funding, however you launched VentraIP in 2008, and have since built out a platform that serves over 200,000 customers. What do you believe has been the key component to that level of growth?
I honestly think that the key component to our success is our people and the culture that we instilled in the organisation from the day we started. It also goes without saying that backing your product and actually building a quality product does help, but ultimately you need to surround yourself with the right kind of people and that’s what I think we did, and continue to do. If every member of your team shares your passion and drive, you all to want to succeed and therefore you motivate each other.
Being agile and responding to market changes quickly is also key. Identify your market and work an edge to make you stand out from the rest.
What were some initial barriers that you faced when launching the company, and how did you overcome them?
The main initial barrier that stands out to me would be picking the right vendor. In our infancy, we didn’t have the capital or true technical expertise (or experience) to become an accredited domain name registrar so we needed to pick a vendor that was reliable, trustworthy and made commercial sense. We evaluated multiple provides and nobody really fit into what we were trying to do, so we had to hold back on some of our plans. Once we were able to become an accredited registrar the challenge was then around how to handle migrations onto our own platform.
I should also point out that having barriers or challenges in business is what really defines you – nothing else gives you the opportunity to really take a holistic view of your organisation and come up with ways to solve the challenges you’re faced with.
Australians have a love/hate relationship with their hosting providers, what have you found that VentraIP naturally solves for them?
I don’t think the love/hate relationship is just limited to the hosting provider space – it’s found in every industry!
The difference in what we do compared to our competitors is offering 100% Australian support. Most of the times a client will need to contact support is when something goes wrong, so they’re already frustrated and “hate” the situation that is at hand. If the person on the other end of the phone (or email) isn’t empowered to actually help, the frustration only grows. Additionally, Australians are inherently patriotic and find it easier working with each other – things just work better – and that’s what we do. We have a team that is a short phone call (or email) away, take the time to listen, take ownership and are technically able to provide resolutions. There are no scripts, no handballing from person to person and no hard to understand accents. Just true, genuine support provided by a team of industry professionals.
What has been your proudest milestone to date?
Honestly, the proudest milestone would be when we moved into our first “real” office. We had operated for several years out of Cheyne Jonstone’s house – growing the business and expanding the team until we physically ran out of space and decided it was time to focus on our team and secure office space. It wasn’t an easy process by any means! We wanted to remain on the south-east of Melbourne, close to our homes and existing team members and we wanted to provide an environment that people would love to come to every day.
The business was already into its next evolution of growth and was beginning to make critical investments into our core infrastructure, so it was perfect timing for a cultural change across the team, and the move into office space helped to achieve that. From that point on we implemented structured policies and processes, and evolved our entire product range and customer technical support.
With a team of over 40 people at your headquarters in Melbourne, building a strong company culture has been an important element for you – many businesses discuss strategies to building a strong company culture, but you are actually doing it. Can you explain to us how you have gone about that?
Our strong company culture is one of the most important elements for us and it’s something that we developed from the very start and continue to evolve. The mistake that I think other businesses make is in the sense that they treat it as a “set and forget” thing. It’s not. People are constantly changing, evolving, and as you grow, you learn that no two people are the same. It’s about listening to what your team actually want and then actually making changes based on that. It is all good and well to listen to your staff and come up with action items for change – but if you don’t actually enact the changes then the whole endeavour was a waste of time.
The best way for you to build an environment that others will love is to make sure you love it first. Build your environment to be a place you actually enjoy coming to and build your team with people you would naturally socialise with. Encourage organic friendships within your team and support them. Provide opportunities for growth and incentives for going above and beyond. Keep them engaged and empowered and allow them to take ownership and make a true contribution to the business. And remember that culture is something that develops and changes so keep reviewing and fuelling it.
Without sounding cliche, it’s akin to gardening; you need to devote time and effort to it – but do it right and you’ll see the fruits of your labour.
You have an ongoing $100,000 cash giveaway, as well as recently taking your staff to Fiji for your Christmas party… How important has it been to you to integrate fun milestones and opportunities for customers to engage?
Integrating fun milestones and opportunities for customers to engage is fundamental to our vision.
If I’m being honest, website hosting and domain name registrations aren’t a “sexy” product to sell. It is essentially a utility that most forget about (until something goes wrong!). Having a fun differentiating factor and taking the time to really engage our customers on a range of social media platforms is paramount as it allows us to gather real-time feedback from them, makes us more relatable, and keeps us top of mind.
There is more to our business than just selling a product. It’s all about engaging and showing our customers that we are real and helping them fall in love with our vision and direction. We want to empower them to take that leap of faith and show them it’s actually really easy to “get online” and then support them in their journey online.
What does a normal day look like now for the VentraIP team?
No two days are the same! We have almost completed our implementation of the Agile Scrum framework across the organisation which offers structure, transparency and accountability whilst providing a mechanism for consistency.
For the most part, when everything is humming away nicely, it’s pretty smooth sailing – teams continuing work on our larger ongoing projects, our technical team providing assistance to our clients, engineering and development teams working on system enhancements and improvements, and our business development team building ways to grow the business and develop new products.
Due to our incredibly low staff-to-customer ratios (namely due to a reliable product and business automation processes) when something does go wrong it can be the opposite of this – causing controlled madness. Having said that though, we have built a tolerance into our business operations and whilst it would appear as madness to an observer, it’s something we are very well equipped (and experienced!) with handling.
Having developed the internal processes and policies with scalability in mind, we minimise the load on our teams at all times – especially frontline team members – to ensure a consistently great experience for our customers.
And finally, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to launch their own concept?
Go for it!
Plan it out in detail, identify what sets you apart (if you are entering as a market disturber) and put documented processes and measures in place from the beginning. Before bringing something to market though make sure it is something you are genuinely passionate about, and focus on the problems you are trying to solve and what the journey would look like for a potential customer. Don’t count or bank on success, and be prepared to make mistakes – but learn from them, and continue to adapt and change.
Consider every roadblock you face a new challenge and don’t be afraid to let it shape you.
As your team grows, take care of them and keep your mission top of mind. Empower your team, provide them with opportunities and don’t be afraid of sharing your knowledge with others. Engage and network with others in your industry (yes, even your competitors) and do things “now”. In that sense, don’t kick your problems down the road – address them immediately and come up with proper solutions.
Most importantly though, have fun and take a moment to enjoy the journey because you’ll blink and before you know it, ten years will have passed.