Netspace's Stuart Marburg talks to ARN
What was your first job?
I guess you could say I have always been an entrepreneur. In the year after I finished school, I started my own Bulletin Board Service business, which was run from my parents' house off a Unix system that I put together. Over time it evolved into a dial-up service - an electronic message centre - that allowed people to dial in with a modem, review messages left by others and leave their own messages or find free or cheap public domain software. At that time it was still pretty much a hobby, run in my spare time on user contributions, but when the Internet took off, so did the service. Pretty soon I had to think about whether I wanted to keep it as a hobby and focus on my studies, or ride the wave. I chose the latter and went on to start Netspace.
How did you end up in the IT industry?
I guess you could say it was a natural evolution. I always had an interest in technology and computers, which led me to start the Bulletin Board Service business while I was at university. My career pretty much grew from there.
How did you progress to where you are today?
When I started Netspace I was 18 years of age and still at university studying fulltime for a Bachelor of Business in Information Systems. Around 1992, the Internet started to boom and ISPs started to emerge. We were at the right place at the right time. I remember one day we had 10 Telstra trucks and a digging machine parked on my parents' nature strip getting ready to accommodate 100 telephone pairs. I realised then that it was time to get an office. That's also when I decided to scale back my university commitments and focus on building the business. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Fourteen years on, and we are still going from strength to strength.
What do you like about your current job?
I love the challenge of running an ISP. It's a business where things can change overnight: one day you're on top, the next day somebody has released new plans or products that instantly affect the sales or the features you have in your own products. Needless to say we have a great team and we enjoy what we do - improving the business - whether it be products, marketing or just working out how we can keep the business lean.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
For any entrepreneur, seeing the business they conceptualised grow and prosper is an achievement in itself. Other than that, I would have to say being awarded Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year (southern region - young category) in 2002.
What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
I would have to say the lack of a true service culture. Many companies focus on shipping products out at the lowest cost to the detriment of service. Also, there is an element of one-upmanship, especially with regards to pricing, that goes beyond just competitive spirit.
What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
I think there will be a trend towards more businesses taking up hosted solutions - simply because they allow you to access leading edge technology without the cost or complexity of managing it inhouse. I also think that over the next five years VoIP will have taken off in the consumer and small business space. Even the smallest SOHOs will be replacing their phone systems and switching to IP telephony solutions.
What is the main focus for your company this year?
We are looking to re-establish ourselves in the SMB communications space with the relaunch of Netspace Business Solutions later this year. The SMB space is a very important market for us. However, we recognise that in order to be competitive, we need to strengthen our strategic focus and invest in new product development. Our intention is to be able to offer our business customers a full suite, including an expanded range of voice, data and Internet solutions as well as managed services and hosted business applications.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I am currently building a new home, so that is occupying a lot of my time at the moment! Other than that, I love to travel and ensure that I have a good work/life balance.
Do you like gadgets?
Of course I do, but these days not at the expense of functionality. For instance, I am a Mac user and love the fact that they provide great usability, functionality and stability, thanks to their Unix-based operating system. Many of the toys I have played with in the last few years have become standard for many people, such as VoIP, watching and recording TV on the computer, and putting large amounts of Cat5 into my house.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
An accountant with an IT bent. Thankfully, I did not take up that occupation full-time as I prefer working with people than numbers. However, you could say that I am fulfilling that role when I am running my business, as I have always liked to run a tight ship and keep a close eye on the numbers.
What is your biggest ambition?
To continue to grow Netspace into a bigger company while still staying true to our commitment of keeping communication technology simple, fair and accessible for all Australians to enjoy.