Basing a company in Taranaki poses no logistical problems when that company’s stock in trade is web services.
Webfarm evolved out of a previous company (Exponnel Technical) owned by Craig St George and Richard Shearer. Exponnel Technical was a contractor to the Taranaki oil industry supplying control systems and engineering solutions.
Shearer and St George worked and trained in the petroleum industry for 15 years. Then, in 1996, they sold the oil business and went into the web.
While setting up a web company out of an oil contractor seems like a quantum leap in business dimensions, Shearer says it was more like a “small sidestep”. In the 1990s control systems were mostly computer-oriented, and the pair had been working with information systems for many years anyway. Picking up the new skills wasn’t a problem, and they could see possibilities in the information economy, in particular developing a hosting company “based on top support and good value”, says Shearer.
The development of e-commerce capability as a product to offer their customers began in 1996. Shearer says Webfarm became the first hosting company in New Zealand to offer multiple currency payment systems when it partnered with UK company WorldPay in 1999.
“We were looking for such a service for our own use. Nothing was available in New Zealand at the time.” WorldPay is platform-independent and bank-independent, says Shearer. An associated site, www.free-parking.co.nz, provides a simple interface to the New Zealand domain name registry. Shearer says this, and the best price for domain name registration in New Zealand, has been a large reason for its success.
Being based in Taranaki offers lifestyle benefits to the directors and their staff and Shearer says there are no significant barriers to business being based in a provincial city. He travels “reasonably regularly” to Auckland and Wellington to meet with customers, and goes to Singapore once a year to see the WorldPay people.
Webfarm employs seven full-time staff in New Plymouth, in support, accounts and development. It does all its services development in-house, and provides assistance to WorldPay integration for clients.
Shearer advises customers that bringing a business online is like opening a branch office. You need to devote sufficient resources to the e-commerce channel in marketing, advertising, training and back-office support.
Shearer is bullish on web business, particularly for smaller businesses.
“E-commerce opens new markets to us. It allows us to use our differentiation and uniqueness. It allows us to exploit the time-zones to our advantage.”