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.

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Originally published on SmartCompany on March 4, 2016.


How Assetic co-founder Ashay Prabhu built a $10 million strategic management business in 10 years

Name: Ashay Prabhu

Company: Assetic

Based: Melbourne

Ashay Prabhu first came to Australia as a cricket player and university student in Tasmania. Today, he leads a multi-million asset management business.

This year marks a decade since Prabhu launched asset management business Assetic with co-founder Joel Brakey and the business on track to hit $10 million in revenue for the anniversary.

Assetic is a software and service business that specialises in strategic management of infrastructure assets.

“Basically what is does is it solves a trillion dollar infrastructure problem globally caused by an infrastructure gap,” Prabhu says.

The business began primarily working with local governments, which is still its core business. However, in the past few years it has diversified into other industries such as rail, water and power.

Assetic has a staff of 75, with a head office on Collins Street in Melbourne and international offices in Seattle, Toronto and London.

Prabhu first began working as a young engineer in the late 1980s.

“I was part of a New South Wales Government team that embarked on building the world’s first asset modelling system and then the government sort of ran out of appetite in a couple of ideas leaving me the option of continuing in the government or looking at the asset management role,” he tells SmartCompany.

“The appetite for strategic asset management was rapidly increasing in the Australian local government market because of rising cost and high expectations from the community and I was itching to convert that into a commercialist outcome”

“The entrepreneur in me said there’s an opportunity to make change – the passion [was there] to do something that can make a difference and commercialise it.”

Prabhu was still working with local governments in the early 2000s. It was at his wife’s instance that he met with a plucky young software engineer – his future co-founder Joel Brakey.

After spending the whole day together hashing out what an asset management system looks like, Brakey came back within three weeks with all of Prabhu’s ideas on a web-based platform.

“I will never forget that day 14 September, 2003,” he says.

Prabhu describes his co-founder as a “genius” and the “absolute backbone” of Assetic.

“When we become a $1 billion company we’ll write a book called ‘Behind every successful founder is a co-founder’,” Prabhu says.

SmartCompany caught up with Prabhu to find out why he doesn’t have his own office and how he manages to find time to write a series of children’s books.


For Prabhu, part of the attraction of owning his own business is not being restricted to conventional work days.

“I’m not a 9-5 person and it was just too frustrating working in that type of environment,” he says.

Prabhu’s typical morning begins with getting up and having a cup of tea.

“[A] cup of tea is my pre-cursor to checking what’s gone on in the US the night before,” he says.

The global reach of Assetic means that after this ritual, Prabhu spends much of his mornings checking emails and WhatsApp.

Daily Life:

A typical work day for Prabhu combines both structured and unstructured activities.

His morning could be spend going over a deep-routed science query from one of his developers. In the afternoon, you might find him doing a demonstration, followed by a video conference at night and spending time with customers in between.

Although Assetic has an entire floor for office in Melbourne, Prabhu himself doesn’t have an office.

“I’m probably the only founder-CEO I can think of that does not have a physical office,” he says.

“I prefer to work on the iPad on the iPhone. I’m not necessarily in the Melbourne office any day, I’m anywhere in the country. I was in Singapore last week and India the week before,” he says.

Prabhu relies heavily on technology and the ability to work remotely from wherever he is.

The rise of the smartphone and internet banking has made operating businesses remotely easier over the past 10 years, he says.

The Assetic office has also been designed to foster creativity and innovation, whether it’s in the yoga room and the innovation room that people use to work on their ideas.

Prabhu says his business philosophy has always been to back his employees.

“Backing people, not backing a product, and allowing people to be crazy and innovative,” he says.

“I encourage people to send me emails at 1am, which happens all the time.”


Whilst many entrepreneurs don’t get as much downtime as they would like, Prabhu has a range of hobbies he is passionate about pursuing in the evenings and weekends.

His hobbies include canvas painting, being a part time singer and writing poems and children’s books.

In fact, Prabhu is currently working on a series of children’s books called The Class of ’84, which he was inspired to start after reconnecting with school friends and learning how differently they have all grown up.

Prabhu has written eight of the books, which cover what a class of 60 people have gone through from grades one to 10, and is looking at getting his works published over the next three years.

“Drama, acting, writing has been in my DNA since day dot,” he says.

Prabhu is also still a big cricket fan – with an equally cricket mad 12 year-old-son – and never misses a game.

He also plays socially, coaches a junior cricket team and sends his staff weekly newsletters that feature cricket analogies for business, because he believes there are plenty of similarities between losing runs on the cricket pitch and business pitfalls.

“I find just having a brainwave and sending an email to everyone at Assetic during a cricket match is better than having a meeting for 2 hours,” he says.

The future:

Assetic is continuing to expand, having recently launched a cloud-based suite of asset management software, which Prabhu says is the future for business.

He sees Assetic continuing to use the cloud and continuing its expansion into the US and Europe in a way not backed by the traditional business models.

“The more rapidly we can scale that, the more likely we can become a global business,” he says.

He believes the business will look and feel completely different in another two years and will be supporting on a cloud based system 24/7.

However, something that won’t be changing is the three things taught to Prabhu by his grandfather, which he’s never forgotten.

“One – never venture outside your area of expertise stick with what you do and just keep doing it better and better,” he says.

“Two – always back people, don’t back your product back people and let them innovate

“And three – don’t give up. Sometimes the trick is to just hang in, and hang in and it’ll happen.”


Originally published on SmartCompany on February 26, 2016.