10 Years since WebCentral

SAMSUNG CSC

It has been 10 years almost to the day that I sold WebCentral to Malcolm Turnbull’s listed company FTR who then 3 years later resold it to Melbourne IT.

Given we started in a garage in Morningside in the late 1980’s and upon exit the business was valued at $45m, it was both a fun and rewarding ride filled with many great moments.

WebCentral, for its time, was an extremely innovative and forward thinking business.

We supported Microsoft Frontpage extensions on a Windows NT server when most hosting was done on Unix. We had to have technicians clicking RESTART Server every time a server crashed but developers wanted support for Microsoft products which latter become .NET and visual studio.

We built DeskControl in 2001 which was designed to be a single logon for businesses to access some basic shared services which included calendars, instant messaging and notes. But we also included more advanced products like “WebCentral Managed Exchange, as well as hosted instances of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It was a turn-key secure intranet for small businesses. I like to think of DeskControl as an early version of Google Apps.

WebCentral was also the first hosting company in the world to build the Managed Microsoft Exchange offering. You know you are doing something interesting when Microsoft sends two senior engineers from Seattle to your office for a couple weeks to find out how did you configure Exchange to provide a replicable and scalable service offering for small business. In recognition for this, we won the Microsoft Global Hosting Partner award for 2004.

Then there was our instantly provisioned dedicated server offering called 10 Second Server (10secondserver.com).  This was at a time when virtualisation was not even thought of. Thanks to some very advanced provisioning scripts mixed with the leading edge hardware management practices, our clients were able to join online with a credit card and a standalone dedicated web server would be provisioned from bare metal in just 10 seconds.

Then there were the many outstanding sales team achievements.  We provided white label shared web hosting offerings for many major Telco’s and ISP’s including Telstra, Optus, AAPT and OzEmail.

Of course, none of this could have been achieved without a fantastic team of talented and committed people. Many of whom have gone onto much bigger things. Old WebCentral staff now hold senior positions in Microsoft, Adobe, Google, IBM as well several who have moved to silicon valley and built successful innovative startups. It has been rewarding for me personally to follow the rise of many an employee’s IT career following on from their years learning the ropes at WebCentral.

Now, 10 years on and I find myself immersed in a new start-up business called Cloudstaff which is servicing the outsourcing and up skilling needs of many Australian small to medium businesses. Just like WebCentral, Cloudstaff also leverages a subscription revenue model that’s helping drive its triple digit growth.

Surrounded by a team of talented and enthusiastic individuals with a hunger and willingness to learn, I also find myself re-establishing many of the “use technology to make replicable and scalable service offering” lessons which under pinned WebCentral.

Cloudstaff now has twice the many people that WebCentral had at it’s peak and shortly we will have 5,000m of office space between 4 locations.

Also, the tenant of building a company culture of fun, blended with innovation and reward are also alive and well. Today, my staff members are my business. So CloudStaff has been built with company culture as its central pillar.

At WebCentral I copped a fair bit of flack from the board for spending AUD $250,000 on our Christmas Parties. Last weekend I spent 1,000,000 peso on our Mid year team building and took the whole company away to a beach resort. It was big, huge, loud and there was a massive beach fireworks party (WebCentral never let me set fireworks off from the roof of the datacenter).

In this part of the world the sign of a good team building is how many people do you find sitting on the beach having a beer and watching the sun come up and I am pleased to say we accomplished that with flying colour on Sunday morning.

The Internet for Business has changed the way we communicate, the way we research, the way we entertain, the way we play and the way that we purchase.

The one thing that has surprised me is how much similarities there are between these two business models. The knowledge and know-how gained from WebCentral to continue to establish Cloudstaff as a business that leverages the Internet while helping Aussie businesses to grow a globally competitive.

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