Software boss attributes success to other Kiwi entrepreneurs

FIONA ROTHERHAM
Last updated 11:35 10/10/2011

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ProjectManager.com founder Jason Westland likes to refer to his company as a Morgo spin-off.

That's because its genesis was at the annual Morgo event in 2007 after Westland tapped into advice from the likes of IT entrepreneurs Sam Morgan and Rod Drury.

The New Zealand-based Software as a Service (SAAS) company launched a year later after $1 million of investment.

Projectmanager.com is already profitable, enjoyed 400 per cent revenue growth in the last year, and now numbers Telecom, Nasa, the US Defence Department and the United Nations among its customers.

Westland already had two software companies that were doing okay when he attended the 2007 event but while listening to a presentation on how to grow a scaleable business, he realised neither business met that criteria.

In the lunch break he created a concept for a new business that got the thumbs up from both Morgan and Drury after he gave them a five minute pitch.

After honing the business plan further, he got stuck on how to price the service and once again turned to Morgan and other conference-goers with SAAS experience to help provide the answer.

"If I had not attended the conference I would have continued plugging away at my other businesses and may not have had this idea until years later," the 41-year-old said.

"One of the things Sam said to me was to have the best name, best people and best marketing, and that rang true," Westland said.

One of his first steps was to grab existing website, ProjectManager.com, which always ranked in the top three in searches online for project management software.

Within 48 hours Westland had persuaded the American owner, who was in financial strife at the time, to sell the domain name for much less than its market value.

That was the best name taken care of; he then went on to follow Morgan's other advice including another tip on making the software as fast as possible.

It's taken three years and several versions later to get there but Westland's now satisfied with the software's speed.

Since the last version was released in December, user numbers have quadrupled. The fastest-growing segment is US government departments which have had their capex slashed.

Six months ago ProjectManager.com linked up with Google apps, and Westland has already rejected two VC offers in favour of funding growth from cashflow, for now.

Morgo is an invitation-only event for 120 senior executives and entrepreneurs of high-growth companies and organiser, Jenny Morel, is staging the ninth one at Taupo later this month.

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"Every year I ask 'shall I do it again?' but after the success of last year I was not left in too much doubt about doing it this year," the venture capitalist said.

Two sponsored places were also available this year to cool companies and students.

This year's theme is Ecosystem - with a little help from your friends, because Morel said "everyone has stories about that crucial bit of help" that contributed to their success.

One of the international speakers is David Hanson, the founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics which develops humanlike robots.

He's bringing along child robot, Zeno, for attendees to play with which will complement the Yike Bikes from Canterbury and Segways well-utilised last time.

Morgo's main aim is for entrepreneurs to recharge their batteries and encourage each other on growing their companies and networking.

Currently in Europe, Westland can't attend this year but he had some advice for those that do:  "take notes" and "really listen to the presentations and apply it to your own business". It worked for him.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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