Plum pickings

Plum pickings

TPP Internet has gone through some twists and turns since its launch as Two Purple Plums over 10 years ago. Co-founder and managing director, Peter Shilling, talks to ARN about the company's roots and what's in store this year.

What was your first job?
I started out in Web development after leaving music school. I am actually a trained musician but I did not get very far with that. We [Chris Collinge and I] started a Web development company in about 1995 and spent four years building websites and undertaking database programming for customers. We built up a good Web design business over that period and hired about five people. Even though it was small, it grew quickly.

What was the name of your company?
It was called Two Purple Plums - that is where the 'TPP' comes from. When we became a registrar we had to become a bit more serious. We dropped the plums and just became TPP Internet.

How did TPP progress to where it is today?
As part of the Web design business we were selling domain names to customers. In 2000, we saw a domain company for sale, which we bought. It was Net Names Australasia and they were a subsidiary of Net Names UK, which was a publicly listed company. The timing was just brilliant because a year later the .au domain space was deregulated. It was all Melbourne IT - they were the registry as well as the registrar. As part of the deregulation process, eight registrars were given a licence and we kind of got an underdog licence because a lot of bigger companies were granted licences. We ran our two businesses in parallel for a short period of time. It was obvious the domain business was going to take off, so we ended up closing down the Web design side. At that point we had picked up some pretty major customers - such as Telstra BigPond, ANZ and Australia Post.

We sold TPP Internet to Destra in 2003, and Chris Collinge and I bought it back in 2006. It was still selling lots of domain names.

What do you like about your current job?
The interesting part of the job right now is realising opportunities to cross and up sell other products to the increasing domain name registration client base.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?
Starting up a company from nothing and growing it up to the point where we sold it to a public company was certainly a big milestone. I suppose it is a bit overshadowed by buying it back but selling it in the first place was an achievement.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
In our part of the industry we are selling commoditised services, so people want the to talk to somebody over the phone, access good telephone and sales support, but pay nothing for it. It is frustrating because we know we put a lot of work into making sure our people on the phones are professional and work well with customers, but it is disappointing to see that it not as recognized as it should be.

What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
There are lots of things going on - for example, with domain monitoring, where people are holding very large portfolios of domain names and making revenue out of traffic. It's not new, but it is certainly something that is rapidly growing.

What is the main focus for TPP this year?
What we have been doing this last year is starting a hosting platform where we are selling virtual hosting products and email hosting. We just made an acquisition of a pay-per click Queensland company that sells Google adwords - Hot Goanna. From now until the end of the calendar year our focus is on bedding down that acquisition and introducing that product to our domain name and hosting client base. What we are trying to do is become a one-stop shop and provide all sorts of different services to small business.

What do you do when you are not at work?
I play a lot of football (soccer). I still play a lot of music but, unfortunately, I spend a lot of the time working.

What instruments do you play?
I played the guitar and keyboards. I used to travel around the countryside playing in pubs in a five-piece band straight out of high school. Being very naive about the world, we thought we were going to do all sorts of wonderful things. The name of our band was Astral Taxi. Two of the guys are still playing in the band.

Do you still play?
Not that much anymore. Just from time to time with friends or at private parties. But it's nothing like the old stuff we used to do.

Are you involved in a football team?
I play for the Narrabeen Youth Club on the northern beaches. We recently lost the grand final, which was very upsetting.

Do you like gadgets?
When Apple releases Leopard, the new operating system, I will be the guy lined up at 9am in front of the Apple store. I'm a keen Mac user.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
For a long time I wanted to be a musician. I probably wasn't good enough but it is also a challenging industry to be in because only a small number of people end up making a living out of it. For a long while I wanted to pursue that but a few years on the road with people with smelly feet in a band, and earning no money, tells you to try something else.

What is your biggest ambition?
Right now I would like to see the company grow and achieve our goals. When we set out to do this, Chris and I were on the same page trying to grow the business and sell the products to customers. I've always been an entrepreneurial type of person and I have got a bit of a hankering to do something besides IT, I'm just not sure what it is yet.

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