Sapphire market booms

Sapphire market booms

Australian financial software development company Sapphire thought it saw a catastrophe looming on the horizon for small-to-medium enterprises. The GST is fast approaching and small businesses were still largely unprepared for the changes it would bring. But the company also believed that it had the solution, with its Sapphire 6.5G software.

Sapphire's John Adams believes small businesses in Australia should seize the opportunity provided by the GST and use it to become computerised if they are not, or to upgrade if they are using legacy systems. `It's a great opportunity for the country as a whole to become a lot more savvy with the control of their business in a financial sense than they may have been previously.'

The company is an Australian startup based around the product it produces - financial software. Adams said there is a team that has been working together since it started developing the software in 1985. The team had had a previous business and used that to fund the development costs of the first five years. Sapphire currently has some strong directions for its R&D, and all of this is 100 per cent self-funded and carried out in Australia, Adams added.

A software company believing it has the product to solve a problem is not new. But Sapphire decided it wanted to help small businesses out, and offered them a free single-user version. Sapphire hopes that a percentage of those using the freeware will, over time, purchase the client/server version. Both versions have the same functionality.

Like all staff at Sapphire, Adams has no job title. `We have a fairly flat structure here within the company,' he said. In his own words, Adams `tends to head up sales and marketing'. And the flat structure goes beyond job titles - everyone answers their own e-mails and voice messages. Adams said part of the reason for this decision was to make people have some ownership of all the issues, to a degree.

Sapphire has achieved extensive sales in Australia and New Zealand, and its software is also sold in other countries in the Asia-Pacific, the UK and US.

Although Adams admits that Sapphire is very small in the worldwide scheme of financial software development companies, its freeware offering has provided it with the opportunity to access bigger markets. `That strategy has certainly paid off, in that the product is becoming well-known.' He added that people had also been extremely complimentary of the software.

Sapphire developed the core technology on an Apple Mac platform. `To a degree we were hamstrung in the 80s and early 90s, in the respect that we were only in the Mac environment,' Adams said. `We had a product which was 32-bits but it wouldn't run under early Wintel operating systems.' He said that it was not until Windows 95 came onto the market that there was a true Wintel 32-bit operating system available.

Version 1.0 of its software was released in 1987. Adams said the software was platform-independent and could run on Windows NT, Windows 98 and Mac operating systems concurrently.

Sapphire expects to distribute two million copies of its freeware version by the end of next year. Adams said it had an enormous number of downloads from the US, and from elsewhere around the world. `It's surprising [to see] which countries download [Sapphire product],' he said.

According to Adams, when Sapphire started developing the software it tried to think about it from an international sense from day one. `So Sapphire now has the capability to set up many foreign ledgers, and that was something we didn't envisage in 1987.'

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