Entrepreneurial IT: A little luck, a lot of hard work

Rebecca Tohill describes the early days of Fusion5, a professional services provider specialising in ERP, CRM and HCM

Rebecca Tohill and three business partners started Fusion5, a professional services provider specialising in ERP, CRM and HCM, in Wellington in 2002.

They were all working at Capgemini and Ernst & Young at the time, but with some changes happening in the company, they decided the timing was right to leave and set up their own company.

It was scary to take the step to being self-employed, she admits.

“From my own personal perspective, I was the only income-earner in our family, so it was quite risky. We all had different circumstances. But we looked at ourselves and thought, ‘we’ve got the skills that we need to be able to do this’. It felt risky but if it didn’t work out, we could all just go back and get a job.”

The team of four did go without salary for a few months, she recalls. Fast-forward 10 years and business is thriving. The company employs 170 staff across eight cities – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand, and Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in Australia.

“We’ve had a bit of luck, if you like,” she says. “And the timing was really perfect for what we wanted to do. The market was buoyant and the products we were involved with were booming in the market.”

Fusion5 went for nine years without a bank loan, a bank overdraft or any funding, Tohill says. It was when the company acquired Empower-HR in 2012 that it went to the bank the first time, she says. That acquisition brought on 50 staff, 160 customers and the Adelaide, Perth and Christchurch locations.

Fusion5's directors (from left): Chris Radley, Maree Fitzgerald, Sven Martin and Rebecca Tohill

You have got to have the right timing and the right mix of people, she says.

“When we started we had strong business development focus as well as strong consulting and delivery focus. Sometimes companies start with one or the other but you need both. You need someone that is going to go find customers and you need a product to sell.”

If you don’t have funding, her advice is to get involved with customers as fast as possible and start building up revenue streams.

“It all comes down to customers at the end of the day – if you don’t have customers you don’t have a business. Find your market. Build relationships with customers and stay engaged. You can build a fantastic product but if you can’t take it to market and sell it, there is no point.”

This is the final article in a Computerworld series about IT entrepreneurs.

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