It was sad to hear that Leprechaun Software — the last remaining Australian-owned and operated antivirus developer — had stopped selling its wares and was offering customers a conversion to Trend Micro. It is not that ARN has anything against successful international vendors, it’s just that there is something very appealing about a local family-owned company standing tall against the might of multinational powerhouse competitors.
In truth, this seems to be something of a national obsession. Even when arriving in this country from the UK — where the population is actively encouraged to Buy British if they can find anything still manufactured within its borders — the considerable weight Australian companies attach to being locally-owned and operated is still something of a surprise. Even jam companies spread it thickly all over their advertising.
But for several reasons, most notably the cost of labour for anything that has to go through a manufacturing process, it is becoming difficult for local companies to compete on a level playing field in an ever growing number of industries.
Leprechaun and the security software market is a case in point. The developer has been a family-owned Australian business since its managing director, Jack Kenyon, founded the company some 15 years ago. Despite several acquisition offers from major multinationals over the years, which saw its local rivals cashing in their chips, Kenyon stuck to his guns and refused to budge. His VirusBuster products fared well in independent reviews, while the flood of sympathetic emails Kenyon received from users — after announcing his decision to close the business — speaks volumes for the thoughts of his customers.
Having seen the industry change so much during the past decade and a half, Kenyon realises better than most that the prospects are bleak for any Australian security start-up trying to make space for itself in the local market. As a parting shot, he laid some of the blame on the lack of support local software developers receive from the government in comparison to other countries. This, Kenyon suggested, would come to pose a threat to Australia’s software development industry as a whole.
But although ill-health was behind Kenyon’s decision to stop selling and developing his flagship VirusBuster II product, dwindling user numbers — which had fallen from about 100,000 just three years ago to little more than 10,000 when he decided to call it a day — suggest the company had already been reduced to doing business with a loving hardcore of supporters cultivated over the years.
While Kenyon and everybody concerned with Leprechaun are no doubt proud of their achievements, and have every right to be so, the security market has now matured to such an extent that competing as a local vendor had become nigh on impossible. We are now living, after all, in an increasingly 24-hour society where the multinationals have support staff working in Asia, the Americas and Europe to provide round the clock support across the world to tackle any problems their customers encounter. That, it seems to me, is pretty stiff competition for a family business in Capalaba, Queensland. What do you think?
Brian Corrigan is Editor of ARN. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org