Three Victorian high school friends, Cameron Brookes, Chris Munro and Martin Cooperwaite, banded together in 1995 to carry out some small business network configuration and support, as well as PC building.
The rest, they say, is history.
Representing a familiar starting point for many technology businesses, the trio worked from the basement in the home of Cooperwaite’s parents, nestled in Kiandra Close in Greensborough, a suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Building a tech business
“In our second year of university, an opportunity came up and I reached out to those guys, they were the nerdiest people I knew that could help out,” recalled Brookes, when documenting the early rise of Kiandra IT.
Through word of mouth, the fledging business kept growing, having started in a year of Windows 95 and Marc Andreessen’s web browser, Netscape Navigator, alongside the start of the dot-com boom.
With the brand name paying homage to the company’s early roots, Kiandra IT initially worked off a specific customer base, including small accounting and law practices ranging from three to five employees.
“Surprisingly, the business quickly evolved and there were a whole bunch of referrals that kept growing,” Brookes said. “We picked up a law firm with about 15/20 seats pretty early, and at that stage we thought it was massive.
“This is when we realised that this business was becoming something and that we needed to take it more seriously. We decided to do university part-time and instead focus on growing the business.”
Brookes and his team established the company’s first office in 1999, housing a total of four staff, with the business evolving considerably since the early days of that single room, open plan, city-based office.
Today, the organisation employs almost 90 staff, with offices spread across Sydney and Perth, including overseas locations in Singapore, New Zealand and Canada.
“Thinking back 22 years ago, there weren’t many remote tools like there is today, and a lot of the work we did was on-site,” Brookes said. “Therefore, being central to our clients and suppliers was more important back then, than what it is today.
“It’s become a much bigger beast and with geographically dispersed offices, it comes with its pros and cons and fortunately, the technology element of our industry is supporting a lot more remote work and offices.”
Sticking to what you know
Despite a tendency to try and be all things to all customers, Brookes said central to Kiandra’s success has been its ability stick to its core capabilities, seen as a valuable lesson for any emerging business.
“As much as you want a bigger part of the customer pie, you need to make sure that what you can do, you do it pretty well and partner when necessary,” Brookes acknowledged.
During the past five years, the managed service provider (MSP) has turned a sharp eye to security, building up a dedicated team focused on penetration testing, social engineering, advisory and audit.
And with the country’s new mandatory data breach notification laws coming into effect early in 2018, Brookes believes the business is well placed to capitalise on the need for greater protection.
“Not only does it impact on our technology and cloud services side of the business, but we’re also building software that is secure, certified and validated so that it passes these security assessments,” Brookes said.
“That’s important for our customer confidence and our brand. Security is also another way that we differentiate ourselves in the competitive market.”
Specifically, Kiandra is currently made up of two departments — a custom software development business and a technology services team which involves managed services, security services and professional services, including implementation and cloud expertise.
“If I look back at the technical skills and coverage we used to have in our managed and support services in the early days,” Brookes recalled. “You had to get low-level with hardware but there’s things you don’t even consider these days.
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“The complexity of what a small business needs to consider in terms of technologies is vastly more complex and important today.
“Particularly when it comes to things like security and availability, and scalability. These weren’t such a big priority when we started the business.”
Change of approach
As Kiandra evolved from a business perspective, the company wasn’t always going to be the best fit for some of its smaller customers, with expansion naturally attracting a new type of buyer.
“We did have to go through the process at times, amicably part terms and recommend someone else that was better suited to their size company,” Brookes explained. “But we still keep in touch and tell stories about the past.”