It’s said that great fortunes are made in recessions. Think of household names such as AT&T, General Motors and Disney, which were all founded in economic downturns.
The same holds true for Melbourne-based NGage Technology Group, which has backed up last year’s No.1 win with a second-place finish in 2014. NGage director Jarrod Bloomfield says the double-header success validates the solutions provider’s focus on a ‘Triple-S’ philosophy: providing customers with speed, simplicity and support.
“Customer service in the economy is dropping,” Bloomfield says. “We knew if we brought a high level of customer service we would be in good stead.”
He says that in a downturn, service is “one of the first things to go”. That has helped NGage, born in the GFC, capitalise on the shortsightedness of competitors with its core focus on service.
“Companies cut people who aren’t driving dollars through the door but are a significant cog in an organisation. It’s one of those things that isn’t measured properly by a lot of organisations.
“It’s an important piece of a company – trying to maintain a high level of [customer] expectation. You’ll never see a drop off [in custom] quickly but it happens slowly and it’s hard to get back.”
NGage has measurement performance indicators to track how it services customers, such as turnaround times for phone calls and estimates, that it tracks on its internally developed SharePoint system. “It’s hard to say if it’s returning revenue but the customer feedback is a strong indication that they’re a lot happier and people want to deal with you.”
Net Promoter Score, a gauge of customer loyalty, is “on the radar”, he says. “But it’s not a massive selling point in Australia, yet.”
NGage has backed its services play. Last May, it hired former Data#3 people solutions team leader David Field as its technical services director. This helped NGage to drive into consulting and onsite project work, Bloomfield says, another core component of its continued growth.
But any reseller knows that it’s not enough just to serve your customers faithfully – they expect to be wowed. NGage still sells hardware and has branched out into disruptive technologies, becoming flash storage vendor Pure Storage’s first Australian reseller. NGage was immediately taken with Pure Storage’s thought leadership.
“They had thought out a lot of the stuff, a lot of the curve balls you get from customers.”
The company is also pushing hard with Office 365 and SharePoint because, while the cloud productivity suite especially has thin margins, it opens the door to other customer conversations. Bloomfield says: “We contract out resources for a sustained period; we’re starting to see the fruits of that investment.”
Cloud will play a bigger role in the business’ future as it doubles down on its relationship with IBM’s SoftLayer. Bloomfield says NGage was “looking at Azure” but chose IBM based on the ease of the partnership (it has been an IBM partner from the start).
“We attended a [SoftLayer] roadshow in Melbourne and then went on to trial their technology. We already had a partnership with IBM so we knew a lot of the people inside the teams and the ease of setup and use from our point of view.”
NGage owed much of its success to being a business with a conscious company culture. It’s not surprising considering co-founder Brent Valle is a former performance coach. It looks for the same ethic in partners. In the case of Pure Storage, apart from having slick marketing, they were “pretty quirky and were similar to us and have a bit of fun; they don’t have to be serious all the time”, Bloomfield says.
This “Work 2.0” approach includes the mainstays of any start-up: table tennis and gymnasium to encourage healthy, active lifestyles. “We’re trying to build a place to attract staff, not just a place where people come to work and go home. Work hard and stay happy and stay healthy."
Next year, NGage will stabilise its growth, consolidating around customers and coalescing processes. And it’s hiring in sales and development: “We’re looking for strong technical people who can bring ideas and something unique to the organisation”.
Bloomfield advises start-ups to play to their strengths. “You’ll have up and down patches but stay on the right track and keep staff on the right track and try to collaborate as much as you can internally.”
Despite its rampant growth, Bloomfield tells others “don’t try to do things too quickly”. He preaches patience, even if it isn’t something he always practises. “I’ve never been one to have a lot of patience so sometimes I make mistakes along the way but I’m developing patience. In a good way, when there are mistakes, I fix them quicker. And just try to have fun along the way.”
Key executives: Jarrod Bloomfield (director), Brent Valle (director)
HQ: Notting Hill, Victoria
2014 revenue: $6.6 million
Headcount: 14 full-time
Top vendor: IBM
Top distributor: Avnet Technology Solutions