Gordon Cobb, Alternet's managing director, talks to Mark Jones.
ARN: How was the company formed?
Cobb: We started in 1991 and at that stage there were three of us. Timelink closed its Canberra branch so we decided to start out on our own. In 1991 everyone was in recession and Timelink decided to consolidate its business around the Melbourne and Sydney offices.
What is your company's greatest challenge?
At the moment, it is keeping the doors open in Canberra. As the Government has become more and more outsourced there is less opportunity for a company like ours. I don't believe companies like mine can survive [easily] much longer. We either need to change or die. We have elected to stay as a player.
We have moved away from networking and increased our retail and small business offerings. In particular, retail and refurbished PCs offer very good growth in a regional area like Canberra.
Who are your typical customers?
We've moved away from networking big time because of the Government's outsourcing. Some opportunities do exist in SMB networking and Telstra and 3Com's alliance is good.
On the second-hand [PC] side, we have people looking for a PC for children, complete for $600.
We only just started offering 3Com Palm computers and HP's Jornada in the last week but I think there's a good future in it.
How are you integrating services into the business?
We are still getting to grips with that, especially with small business and retail. In the future we would like to offer PC home installations, for example. We approached the big retailers who init-ially thought it was a good idea, so we went away and drew up our plans, but when we came back they were not interested anymore.
I think people baulk at the prices. We would charge $60 per hour, which I think is a bargain. We charge corporates $120 per hour.
What is your attitude to partnering?
We have a partnering agreement with Telstra and IBM for example, but we don't have any formal contracts.
What are your company's key business strengths?
Out main claim to fame is attention to detail. If someone wants something we will do it for them, big or small.
What areas of the industry are you keeping a close watch on?
With regards to Compaq selling direct, I don't think it's a problem. If you look at Dell, I don't think they took the [reseller] world by storm with their direct selling.
Internet shopping: I don't really know where it is heading but with the new financial software we are installing we want to make sure we have the capability to do Internet commerce in the future.
How would you describe your management outlook?
It's always been to put on the right people and let them manage themselves. We've very much a team. We don't talk about staff meetings, for example, we always have team meetings.
What is your five-year company outlook?
In five years I do see a future for us. We will move more and more into retail. We perhaps won't be as big as Harvey Norman, but we will have shops around Canberra that are probably a bit more up-market.
Turnover: $4.5 million, 1998-99 F/Y
Growth rate: 10 per cent
Services: PCs, handheld computers, SMB networking, peripherals