In 1995, at age 19, Matthew Drane started his own regionally focused IT integration business, D2K, out of a bedroom in his mother’s Bundaberg home. The goal was to address the needs of the business computing space and to help growing small businesses compete with enterprise business networking and computing.
Fifteen years on, his company spans six locations across regional Queensland with an average yearly turnover of around $10 million. D2K itself has over 23 staff and that does not factor in Drane’s other business ventures.
But it could have turned out differently for Drane.
He had left high school with good grades in computing and progressed into an associate diploma of business computing.
“At the time, lecturers and teachers were telling you what the world of computing was and what you had to do to get into it and, the way they were presenting it, really didn’t interest me; it didn’t package well,” Drane said. “So the logic was, if this is what computing was about and it's what I am signing up my life for – or a good part of my career – then it’s not for me.”
Disillusioned, he spent eight months on a nursing degree before the IT industry piqued his interest once more.
“It was during the 1993 to 1994 period, when IT changed a lot and PCs became more accessible to the average person,” he said. “The pricepoint came down and there were new products, software applications, operating systems released.
“I basically made up my mind the teachers were wrong and there was more to IT than what they said so I got my interest back into it.” He worked on D2K along with his full-time job as a marketing and IT personnel at a real estate development company. While scaling his hours back at the real estate job, he became a Microsoft certified trainer and started worked for Drake International. It was during that time D2K netted its first major client.
“While I was doing the Microsoft Training, I got some training delivery sessions with Drake because I was pretty much the only qualified person in the region,” he said.
“That led to me being introduced to Bundaberg Sugar.”
The client wanted training done for Windows for Workgroups 3.11 migration across to Windows NT 4.0 so Drane’s first job was to train them on the difference between desktops, operating systems and applications.
“As a result, I was offered contracts to take its desktop fleet from Windows for Workgroups to Windows NT 4.0,” he said. “That led to several years’ worth of large income which allowed us to employ more people, take commercial premises in high-rise buildings and basically get about building what is D2K today.”
The integrator now counts HP, Microsoft, Symantec and VMware as some of its major vendor partners.
Drake’s vision for his integration business was to service the majority of regional areas in Queensland. Now he has achieved that, there are plans to expand even further across the state and spread to northern New South Wales. While the opportunity is huge in the regional sector, Drane still feels the pressure from competition. But he feels his marketing background gives D2K an extra edge.
“Marketing and technology really pushes a business along and are the two main drivers that make a business work,” Drane said. “In a lot of ways, we are better in marketing and better at going to market.
“It’s like with Apple – it may not have had the best product for years gone by but it had really good marketing with Steve Jobs. Whereas Microsoft had good products but may not have marketed them as well.”
So D2K has got the marketing and technology down pat. What is the most frustrating thing for the business?
“We’re seeing less vendor and distributor love,” Drane said. “It is harder to get distributors to make an appearance on your behalf or to get a vendor to do something for you.”
He said the ever tightening margins in the hardware and software spaces have made vendors focus too much on pricing and not the finer details of their products.
“I’m not saying we need the big fat margins back but we do need more support in that space to differentiate the lower cost products from each other.
Vendors should invest more into training their sales staff on their own products and how they compare with competing products, according to Drane. He often encountered situations where vendors were selling their goods on brand and pricing alone.
“Back in the day they probably used to dismantle competitors’ products to assess their strengths and weaknesses,” he said. Despite the hurdles, D2K has plotted its course for growth and will plough ahead in its expansion plans. The company is also looking to take on new staff as it branches out to more locations across the East Coast.