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This interview was conducted back in 2016 but we feel the insights gleaned are still applicable today. Enjoy!
What started as an idea by two friends is now a worldwide order and inventory management software platform in 140 countries and counting. Originally from New Zealand, Cameron Priest and his team of over 100 at TradeGecko (acquired by Intuit in 2020 and now known as Quickbooks Commerce) are based primarily in Singapore where they’ve found success with the country’s mission of fostering entrepreneurial spirit and offering opportunities for technology and funding. Learn more about the history, struggles and successes of Quickbooks Commerce and what it’s like to manage a global startup company.
How did you come up with the concept of Quickbooks Commerce?
I had a business doing development of iPhone and web applications for third parties, a client-based kind of web design agency. We had some customers who were having the issue that we now are trying to solve with Quickbooks Commerce which is managing the entire back-end of their businesses, be it wholesale or retail businesses.
So, me and my then co-founder, Carl Thompson, came up with an iPad application for sales reps. The application was a catalog, order management application plugged into big, old ERP systems, such as Netsuite, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft systems. We found that there was a lot of demand for the iPad app. After a while, we got sick of working with and integrating into the ERP systems, so we decided to build our own.
A couple of months after moving to Singapore my older brother Bradley joined as our Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder as well. Funnily, a couple of years later another brother Lachlan, joined us as an engineer (there’s one more brother running product/marketing for a seed stage startup and crushing it).
what was that process like to get Quickbooks Commerce off the ground?
Bloody hard. We had no idea what we were doing and the support infrastructure for learning this stuff is non-existing in New Zealand (NZ). The big step function for us was that we jumped over from Auckland, NZ to join a local incubator based in Singapore.
We made the move to Singapore for a couple of reasons:
- To base ourselves more globally
- Easier access to capital
- Access to international markets
- A way to kick our own butts to JFDI (Just f’ing (or focus) do it). It’s super easy to keep it low-key in NZ and have a good life without challenging yourself.
Where did the name Quickbooks Commerce come from?
There were lots of geckos in Singapore and Trade, well for obvious reasons. Also, we played the ‘write two lists of words and match them up on a piece of paper’ to see what sounded right. The gecko name actually came from a friend’s startup, Jon YongFook, “Goodgecko”, which had a cool logo and we liked the idea of creating a character! (Sadly, the cute gecko and associated company is now defunct).
What challenges has the company faced and how do you overcome them?
The first difficulty we faced was selling to Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs). They’re hard to acquire in a cost-effective manner. Singapore is considered a good market, but SMBs here are not as quick to adopt the latest software. In Asia, we’re still in a transition to the cloud stage, although I’m dubious about everyone moving to laptops and PCs – I think regionally a lot of companies will skip straight to mobile business software where possible. In the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, U.K., etc., they’ve already gone past that. So regional awareness and education are very important. How do we teach the 80,000 SMBs in Singapore about cloud-based order and inventory management software? That’s a challenge. And then how do we scale to support our customers globally (140 countries and counting. Iran, you’re next…).
The next would be finding and sustaining good talent. Quickbooks Commerce went from 30 people to 100 people last year. Helping our team understand how they can grow and have a career path is very important. We didn’t do that at the start and we’re still struggling in some areas with really delivering the culture and structure our team deserves. We just assumed everyone was happy. Now, we ask people: where do you want to be in 6 months, 12 months, 3 years, and then help them grow into the jobs they want, making sure they have a career path. When a startup begins to become successful, it has to learn how to become a company, and that’s a very hard transition.
What is it like living and doing business in Singapore?
Singapore is burgeoning. I mean the country in all sectors has had a lot of money injected from the Singaporean government. We had this opportunity here where the Singaporean government decided to really invest in kicking off the funding of the technology scene. Not billions like China, but we’re still talking hundreds of millions of dollars which to a government is very little, but that’s supporting hundreds of startups, that can come to Singapore to grow. That’s kicked off the seed and Venture Capital industry pretty substantially. They’re really, really trying to foster a technology economy in Singapore. Southeast Asia is growing as well, but Singapore is definitely the hub, and we’re definitely glad to be here!
What’s the company culture like at Quickbooks Commerce?
It’s a constant work-in-progress, but we’re trying to build the best place to work. It’s very multicultural and all the good stuff which stems from that. We have internal values such as ‘Mana‘, which means pride. We believe in always getting better. I think everyone in Quickbooks Commerce should be spending almost all their time on getting better at being themselves, or whatever it is that they’re doing in their lives. Longer term, we want to build the largest Asia tech company, the Singapore Softbank.
How does Trade Gecko differentiate itself from the other inventory managers?
Our goal is to enable and simplify global commerce. We’re really trying to build a business around helping our customers improve their businesses, grow revenue stream, reduce time in operations, and get back to doing the things they love in their companies. Sounds familiar because it’s very similar to what we try to create in our own team.
Who is your business mentor and what have you learned from them?
I have a couple of mentors, to be honest our investors have been some of the biggest help. The other great resource of mentors is the blog posts, books, biographies and podcasts of amazing people, of which I consume thousands of every year.
What apps can you absolutely not live without and why?
Outlook on mobile is ridiculously good for a Microsoft product. Kindle and Instapaper are another two super important apps for reading. Evernote is my second brain.
What advice do you have for other tech entrepreneurs?
That you just have to kick it off. There’s a great quote from W.H. Williams that I won’t quote, but in short it says the act of just starting, putting your neck on the line and kicking off the project starts a reaction in you, people, your acquaintances and doors start opening and people start aligning to help.
Also, see the regret minimization framework from Jeff Bezos,
When you are 80, would you regret having done x? If not, just do it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
JFDI (Internet slang for “Just Focus and Do It“).
Video: Cameron Priest Interview
Want to learn more from Cameron? He shares some additional insights with JFDI Asia CEO Hugh Mason at the Quickbooks Commerce headquarters in this ten minute or so conversation.
Thanks again to Cameron for his time to chat with us about Quickbooks Commerce and we wish you and your growing business continued success. See how Quickbooks Commerce stacks up vs the competition in our inventory management software comparison.
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