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.


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.






Hearing a speech at a leadership conference led Brendan Moloney to found $4.2 million business Darlo

Name: Dr Brendan Moloney

Company: Darlo

Based: Melbourne

Academia is a key aspect of Dr Brendan Moloney’s life and business.

Moloney spent many years working in administration at the University of Melbourne before leaving to start Darlo, a consultancy business that helps smaller education companies utilise the skills of academics.

Moloney, who turns 40 this year, has also spent his fair share of hours in lecture theatres, with a bachelor degree in history, a PhD in education, and even half a business degree to his name.

“I dropped out probably on verge of being kicked out, but I learnt a lot there,” he says.

Today, Darlo has several businesses under its umbrella, including businesses that provide consulting, technical writing and proofreading services and a division that helps employers find staff in higher education.

“There’s three or four good ones [businesses] and three or four under development,” he jokes.

Between degrees Moloney spent half a dozen years travelling around the globe, visiting and living in Canada, Japan, Korea, and Europe.

In 2011, upon completing another PhD in marketing Australian education in Asia, Moloney attended a conference for fellow Melbourne University PhD graduates, where a speech by economist Professor Ian Harper inspired him.

“Ian Harper’s chat put it to us that if we weren’t going to lead in business in our fields, then no one else was going to,” Moloney says.

“And I thought to myself ‘do I want to stick it out at Melbourne University and have a career in administration or academia or go into the big world and try to start a company?’ ”

Moloney left behind the ivory tower and launched Darlo, which now turns over $4.2 million annually.

“A lot of people I knew would create better quality work and companies that would support Australian professionals rather than a consultancy that started in America and spread around the world,” he says.

“I noticed a lot of people underemployed in precarious employment, casual lecturers working four hours a week, extremely talented people, and I thought there must be a better use of their time.”

SmartCompany caught up with Moloney to find out his passion for diversity in the workplace is setting up Darlo for further expansion.


For this Melbournian, every morning starts with a leisurely walk to work that Moloney finds relieve stress and helps him get on top of each day.

He walks for about an hour, before getting into the Darlo office right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD.

Moloney’s first part of the morning is then spent talking to his staff, as he says a good workplace culture is vital to Darlo’s philosophy.

“[It’s] going around the office, finding out how people are doing, checking if they’re looking too stressed or not stressed enough, and if they’re feeling well and productive and comfortable and ready to go,” Moloney says.

“[It’s about] aiming to ensure work conditions are great and people are happy.”

Daily life:

For Moloney, the rest of his days are spent checking up on various reports about project management and sales, accounting and assessments of where staff members are at working on different tasks.

Half of the employees in the Darlo office are under the age of 25 and a third of all staff hold PhD qualifications, predominantly obtained at The University of Melbourne.

“It’s a bit of snobbery I guess but I just find we get good people from there,” Moloney says.

Moloney is passionate about hiring young people as well as staff from culturally diverse backgrounds, with many of the younger staff involved in hiring decisions and overseeing projects.

His advice to other business owners is to get younger employees involved in hiring people and engaged in projects.

“People like to work in a growth company because the work is meaningful and the journey’s a little bit unwritten,” Moloney says.

“The productivity problem in Australia might be related to not being able to build or create things.”


Although Moloney says leisure time is “not really compatible” in the first stages of setting up a business, taking time out from work is something he advocates for himself and his staff.

“Usually I tend to escape to nature and the environment, when I can,” he says.

“It’s really important when growing a business, growing really rapidly for yourself and other people to step outside the company.”

Moloney enjoys hiking, visiting remote areas of Australia, driving to new places and swimming.

“[It’s] important to be involved in life as well, and not too caught up in the business,” he says.


Moloney sees big things in Darlo’s future and predicts an office change in the next six months as the company continues to outgrow its office spaces.

From small beginnings with a staff of just three at the start of last year to now having 45 employees, Darlo is continuing to evolve and expand its services.

Maloney is looking to New Zealand and South East Asia as Darlo becomes a more global business, but he says Melbourne is still home.

“I think we’re pretty lucky to be based in Melbourne,” he says.

“Melbourne’s such a great education city and being involved in education in Melbourne [now] is at the right place at the right time.”

Moloney would also like to expand within Australia, ideally setting up offices in Sydney and perhaps Brisbane in the future.

But Moloney says it’s essential for Darlo to remain true to its essence: caring about the link between the individual, the company and the community.

“The key aim for Darlo is to have a nice place with nice people and nice projects … if we can achieve these three things customers will be happy and we’ll be happy,” he says.


Originally published on SmartCompany on February 19, 2016.