How Daniel Barnett saw a problem for SMEs and turned it into $2.5 million business WORK[etc]

Name: Daniel Barnett
Company: WORK[etc]
Based: Sydney

Daniel Barnett says the idea for his business management platform WORK[etc] came to him while he was running a different small business.

After finishing university, Barnett was leading a web design business that quickly grew to 14 staff.

He was travelling regularly and needed ways to operate his business remotely.

This led to him to develop a few “rudimentary tools” for remote work but it took several years – including time when Barnett worked as a management consultant – for these tools to flourish into a new business.

“I produced around 30 small business plans and my brain sees patterns,” he says.

“I kept seeing the same patterns in [the] plans, whether it was for a landscape architecture company or a marketing company.”

WORK[etc] was launched in 2009 as a way of providing small businesses with the tools necessary to operate online or in the cloud and the company is now turning over $2.5 million annually.

For Barnett, the aim of WORK[etc] was to coordinate all of the tools small businesses need to manage their teams in the one place, including email, timesheets, invoices, project management and sales.

However, he says the business has “changed significantly” since 2009, particularly as the team at WORK[etc] “drink our own champagne” as Barnett puts it, which means they use the product to manage and work their own business.

“If we don’t like something about the product then we’re the first person to complain to ourselves … we live and breathe our own product,” he says.

“Every single new customer is an opportunity to improve our business.”

Barnett grew up in Western Australia, where his father Colin Barnett has served as Liberal Member for Cottesloe since 1990 and the state’s premier since 2008.

For the past 12 years Barnett has lived in Sydney. He says being in New South Wales and having a large international client base for his business means people rarely make the connection.

“I think if I had stayed in WA it may have helped and hindered the business at the same time but being based in Sydney, I’m quite removed form WA politics,” he says.

SmartCompany caught up with Barnett to find out how he keeps his team motivated and why emotional resilience is essential for all entrepreneurs.


Like most entrepreneurs that run a business in multiple locations, Barnett says his “day isn’t your typical work day”.

Each morning for Barnett starts bright and early, with conference calls with the US starting around 5.30am.

“I obviously drink a lot of coffee,” Barnett says.

A Toby’s Estate strong flat white is his standard order, although his current workspace is around a two-block walk from his local coffee shop.

Barnett is currently working out of the co-working space Work Club Global in Sydney, overlooking Hyde Park with what he describes as “beautiful views”.

While the flexibility of working in a co-working space currently suits Barnett, he plans to shortly open a head office in Sydney and employ five people to fill it.

WORK[etc] employs a global team of 16 employees, with 65% of employees based in the US, in addition to development teams in Perth, China and Manilla in the Philippines.

The WORK[etc] support team is made up entirely of stay-at-home parents: three in the US, one in the UK and one starting shortly in Sydney.

Daily life

Barnett’s days are long – often around 14 hours – as leading a global business means keeping up with employees and customers across different time zones.

The middle of his days are typically spent working with his Australian customers, while the evenings usually involve one or two calls to Europe or the UK.

These long hours mean Barnett is conscious of taking time out in the middle of the day.

“My working days about 14 hours long, but I always make sure I have two hours away …just to refresh the brain,” he says.

“The middle of the day is actually quite quiet with the different [time] zones.”

WORK[etc]’s support team operates 24/7 and to keep motivation levels high, each day the sales team sends an alert to the entire support team to answer four key questions, says Barnett.

The questions are: What did I did today? What challenges did I face? How did I overcome them? What am I doing tomorrow?

Barnett says asking these daily questions is a method for bolstering team support, particularly when many team members work in isolation, like the stay-at-home parents, and are based over the globe.


Barnett’s leisure time is in short-supply but that’s part of being a business owner, he says.

“I get very little down time but I don’t see that as a negative,” he says.

“Starting a small business or any business just requires so much thought attention and focus.”

Even on the weekends, you’ll find Barnett getting up early so as not to fall out of his sleep patterns. But this time is spent working out in the gym or surfing near Bondi, where he lives. He tries to surf or swim every few days to stay active.

Barnett does allow himself holidays but admits work is never far from his mind.

“I can go on holidays but I can’t enjoy it if I’m not answering one or two emails a day,” he laughs.

“I love what I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

The future

Barnett is ambitious about the future of WORK[etc].

“I actually want to build a large business with a $100 million dollar revenue and it’s not about the money, it’s the ambition or desire to build something big that will have a big impact for small businesses,” he says.

“Every small business relies on their livelihood for them and their employees. The more we make WORK[etc] better, the bigger the payout for small business.”

Barnett says his idea is to create a large business that helps “literally thousands” of SMEs, if not more.

But if there was one thing about his business journey he could change, it would be not addressing what he calls his “technical debt” early on as the small low-priority issues begin to snowball as the business grew rapidly.

“It’s not until you start to get thousands of small issues every week that [I think] I should’ve put effort into solving that infrequent problem,” he says.

Barnett believes it’s key to not get too hung up on the emotional roller coaster of starting a small business.

“[You] ride the high highs and the low lows,” he says.

“It’s about emotional resilience, not to get too invested in the day-to-day happenings and just moving forward.

“If you don’t have strategies to deal with that at an innate level of resilience then maybe you do need to turn off and go on holidays for two weeks and recharge.”

Barnett also advises entrepreneurs to “think global” and that the adage about businesses needing to dominate their local area first isn’t necessarily how an SME has to think.

“There’s no reason you can’t sell your products internationally from day one,” he says.

daniel_barnett2 (Large)


Originally published on SmartCompany on March 4, 2016.


Valentine’s Day: How small businesses can prepare for the busiest days in their calendar

The impending anniversary of St Valentine is a chance for people to show how much they and value that special person in their lives – and a time when consumer demand for products such as chocolates and flowers spikes.

SMEs around the country have been busy preparing for the romantic holiday on January 14 in a bid to shares in the millions that Australians spend on flowers and chocolates each year.

Flower retailing in Australia was worth an estimated $716.6 million last year while the specialty chocolates sector is worth a cool $307.5 million, according to research by IBISWorld.

Sherpa is a new Uber-style courier service operating in major cities across Australia and the business is anticipating 3000 flower deliveries will be made using its service between February 12 and 14.

The startup, which allows members of the public to use their own vehicles to make deliveries within 10km of a central business district, estimates 30% of its deliveries are for flowers alone.

Sherpa co-founder Ben Nowlan said in a statement the fact Sherpa delivers seven days a week will also give it an edge this Valentine’s Day.

“We’ve built up a fantastic relationship with florists all over the country … some of our drivers are earning their income almost entirely from deliveries from local florists, which must make it one of the best jobs around,” he said.

“With Valentine’s Day falling on Sunday this year, we are calling on all of our drivers to be prepared to put in extra hours to meet the increased demand in weekend deliveries.”

Man with roses

Another popular choice for Valentine’s Day is chocolates, with Noosa Chocolate Factory co-founder Chris Thomson bracing for a hectic weekend of trade.

“[We’ve been preparing since] probably mid-December last year and the reason for that is we need to select our chocolate moulds in time and come up with a Valentine’s Day campaign a couple of months ahead,” Thomson told SmartCompany this morning.

“The actual chocolate is only made two weeks ahead to ensure it’s as fresh as possible.”

This Valentine’s Day Noosa Chocolate Factory will be stocking 1000 hand moulded and hand painted chocolate hearts  – with each taking a painstaking 16 minutes to make.

Chocolate Hearts

“You want to make sure you’ve sold them all before Sunday, they’re very low margin with the work that goes into each product,” Thomson says.

“You always hope that when someone comes in to purchase a few hearts that they purchase more from our regular lines.”

Thomson says Valentine’s Day is a big event for his business, almost as big as Easter, and being organised for the events is crucial.


Thomson’s top tips for businesses to prepare for times of high demand:


1. Be organised

For Thomson, preparing for a peak trading time takes around two weeks of planning what products are going to be made for any event, from which promotional marketing is decided upon.

“Before every event we team up with a local business designer so that marketing materials can be done… the designer we had for this Valentine’s Day did some quirky eye catching designs for our little gift cards,” he says.


2. Forecast sales

Anticipating the your business’ sales levels to avoid having a stock surplus is crucial, Thomson says.

“With chocolate you obviously don’t want to make too much, you need to read how busy it’s going to be,” Thomson says.

This is especially the case with chocolate Valentine’s Hearts, which Thomson says are not going to sell well after February 14 has gone.

“But no matter how much we make, every year we almost sell out anyway,” he says.


3. Consider extending trading hours

Thomson has extended trading hours at each of his four retail stores, keeping them open until 8pm every night this week, except Sunday when they will close at 6pm.

He anticipates the final two hours before trading closes on Sunday will be extremely busy for sales, potentially bigger than any other year due to Valentine’s falling on a Sunday.


4. Capitalise on the day

Like Sherpa, Noosa Chocolate Factory will be reaping the rewards of Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday.

With most people finishing work on Friday afternoon, this will leave two days for them to buy their Valentine’s gifts, with Thomson expecting Saturday to be a busy day of trade.

Being available on the weekend also gives your business an edge over competitors who choose to close on Saturday and Sunday, he says.


Originally published on SmartCompany on February 12, 2016

Why giving is good for business: TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie shares six steps for building a global social enterprise

For entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, the act of giving is fundamental to business success.

Mycoskie is the founder of popular ethical shoe brand TOMS and during a visit to Melbourne this month, he advocated for continuing cohesion between business and philanthropy.

The 39-year-old is attributed with pioneering the one-for-one business model: for each pair of TOMS shoes purchased, a pair is given to a child in need.

“Giving doesn’t just feel good it’s good for business and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mycoskie says.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the TOMS brand, which Mycoskie founded in 2006 after rising to notoriety on US television show The Amazing Race as the contestant who caused his team to lose the million-dollar prize by just four minutes.

TOMS now gives away shoes in 60 countries and according to The Guardian, the company was valued at $US625 million ($890 million) when private equity group Bain Capital purchased a 50% stake in 2014.

Speaking at an event to launch a partnership with Australian NGO Save the Children and the Australian Olympic Committee, Mycoskie shared the story of how TOMS started and his top tips for an ethical business.


1. Use entrepreneurship and business to solve the problem

TOMS began when Mycoskie took a month off to visit Argentina, after spending between 80 and 100 hours a week launching an online driving education company. While on holiday, Mycoskie spent a day donating used shoes to children in Argentina.

The day felt initially heart-warming but Mycoskie says it led to pangs of guilt.

“What happens when people stop making donations? When there’s a hurricane or a tsunami and people are putting their efforts for that?” Mycoskie says.

For these children, who would need new shoes almost every five months from growth spurts, one random donation would not suffice.

Mycoskie used his business background to consider the shoe business, the basic maths involved and the significant mark-up that would allow consumers to buy a pair of shoes for themselves and fund a donated pair.

This sparked the TOMS philosophy: shoes today shoes tomorrow.


2. One-for-one is a human idea

The concept behind TOMS shoes, of being able to buy something and help someone at the same time, is a very human idea that transcends geographical boundaries, according to Mycoskie.

“It’s not a Californian idea, it’s not an American idea, it’s not an Australian idea it’s a human idea,” he says.

Just a year after starting the venture, 10,000 pairs of TOMS had been sold.

“Today we’ve been able to give 50 million pairs of shoes,” Mycoskie says.

“The reason we’ve been able to grow and evolve is because I believe humans truly want to help one another.

“I believe that given the choice between purchasing something where there’s going to be profit on the bottom line versus one that can be caring for the planet and its people they will make that choice.”


3. It doesn’t have to be a big idea

Mycoskie is often asked for his “epiphany moment” for when the notion for TOMS struck him but he says a winning idea doesn’t have to be particularly big.

“Often times when a business has success things get kind of mythical and the truth is it wasn’t a big idea,” he says.

“It was a very small idea: wanting to help 250 kids. And had it only stayed that way and had it only helped those 250 kids, it still would’ve been awesome.”

“The truth is had it not worked it still would’ve been an idea worth creating.

“When I think back to the life-changing moment that everyone wants to talk about, it wasn’t the idea, it was actually when we first went to deliver the shoes to the village.”

4. Your personal brand matters

“Giving feels good…and that in itself is a reason to do it,” Mycoskie says.

“Giving incorporated in an authentic can have a positive impact on your business and your personal brand.”

Mycoskie believes spending on traditional advertising is not necessary: if your story is important, your supporters will tell your story.

“What we found is our customers became our marketers, no one who wore a pair of TOMS in that first year or two didn’t tell our story,” he says.

“We didn’t ask them to but they were proud to tell the story.”

5. Have a purpose

“Business is all about people and how you can track, retain and motivate and what I’ve found is the best way to keep people motivated is to give them a purpose and not just a pay check,” Mycoskie says.

By having a vision to be a for-profit social enterprise business, TOMS is able to keep consumers invested in the TOMS mission.

“We have a purpose beyond profit,” Mycoskie says.

6. One-for-one becomes one-for-something

The future of TOMS is now in not only donating pairs of shoes, but offering other services, such as vaccinations or eye surgery.

TOMS are now manufacturing in many of the countries where the giving takes place, thereby adding an additional aspect of supporting social enterprises, something Mycoskie hopes other businesses will adapt.

“When you make your life about something that is more than your own personal gain then people want to partner with you, they want to see you be successful,” he says.


Originally published on SmartCompany on January 27, 2016.