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The Artful Trader | Series 3 | Episode 7
Confidence in a new perspective - Part 1
Join us as Michael McCarthy sits down with three CEOs who each turned ideas into empires, disrupting the industries they work within along the way. In this episode, we talk to Tim Fung - CEO of Airtasker on creating an outsourced service marketplace, Drew Bilbe - CEO of Nexba and his battle against the Coca-Cola giants with healthy beverage options and Oleg Vornik - CEO of DroneSheild on combining world-class engineering and physics to re-invent drone security intelligence.
We chat to each CEO separately on their start-up journeys and how resilience, determination and an unshakeable sense of purpose contributed to their global business success.
We couldn’t fit all of their stories into one episode - keep an eye out for Part 2, where we bring the CEOs together for a round table discussion on the importance of confidence. Coming soon.
Tim Fung is the Co-founder & CEO of start-up Airtaster, a services marketplace allowing people to outsource chores and errands to people in their local neighbourhood community.
Drew Bilbe is the Co-Founder and CEO of Nexba. Nexba is one of Australia's fastest growing drinks companies selling their low-calorie products at more than 3,000 outlets, including Coles supermarkets and Virgin Airlines.
Oleg Vornik is the CEO of DroneShield (ASX:DRO) a worldwide leader in drone security technology. DroneShields' leadership brings world-class expertise in engineering and physics, combined with deep experience in defence, intelligence, and aerospace.
Tim Fung: You know I think one of the things that's common in every entrepreneurial journey is that there are ups and downs. And you've got to be able to bounce off the downs and get back on the ups as quickly as you can. Drew Bilbe: You know, here is an idea we can achieve this together. Oleg Vornik: The thing about failures, you have to be in the environment that is supportive of you experimenting and trying things.
Michael: From CMC Markets this is The Artful Trader.
Michael: Hello and welcome to The Artful Trader. I'm Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, Asia Pacific. In our third season, we talk to the experts in their own fields to uncover what gives them the confidence to succeed. We uncover confidence, unlocking the secrets behind resilience, preparation and growth, and how it can make you a better trader. It's not often you sit in a room with three people that have had the confidence to disrupt industries, to disrupt people and the way they view the world, to even disrupt their own ways of thinking. In this first of a two-part disruptor special, we're speaking to three CEOs about their journeys to startup success. Stay with us as we speak to Tim Fung from Airtasker, Oleg Vornik from DroneShield, and Drew Bilbe from Nexba about how they've used their confidence to overturn industries. Tim Fung, founder and CEO of Airtasker, welcome to The Artful Trader.
Tim: Thanks for having me.
Michael: Tim, were there early life experiences that fostered your entrepreneurial spirit?
Tim: When I was a young kid I used to you know, when I put my mind to something I usually try and you know go out and get it, and I'd go to various lengths to be able to get what I wanted. So I remember, you know, there'd be like some specific action figure that I would want, and I would actually go and look through the yellow pages, call up the 20 toy stores and then, you know, ask my mum to go and drive me out to that toy store. And it was really like specific, that was probably like one of the early experiences. And then I remember when I was young, my dad used to pay me a couple of cents to pluck out each of his grey hairs. So he'd sit in front of the TV and I'd sit behind him pulling out his grey hairs, and usually he'd pay me two or 3 cents per hair that I pulled out. But I remember once he offered me 10 cents per hair, and then he actually fell asleep in front of the TV and I ended up picking 250 hairs out of his head and getting $25 which for a 10-year-old was like an incredible amount of money and I was super excited. So I guess that was one of my first entrepreneurial experiences.
Michael: Okay so you had a lot of determination obviously, and when you saw an opportunity you are prepared to take it?
Tim: Yeah, various, of various nature.
Michael: Outstanding. Before you moved into Airtasker, you worked in various places including at Macquarie Bank. You came there straight from university I believe. How did that inform your approach to the startup world?
Tim: Well, one thing is that I think it's really good to get a basis of learning in a really high-performance organization. So I think Macquarie was a great learning ground for getting the basics right. And some of these things I think we might take for granted, like, you know being able to write an email, set up a meeting, you know, all of these things that seem to be basic. But I remember when I was at Macquarie, there were little things like typos, like, you know, sending an email out without checking your spelling and rechecking your spelling and they're all just basic things that I think were a really good foundation for later moments of my career.
Michael: And you were also a founding team member and an investor at amaysim.
Tim: Yeah, so in 2009, so I was at Macquarie from 2004 to 2009, and after that I was watching a lot of the show Entourage and I wanted it to be like Ari Gold, the Hollywood agent. So I went out and tried to apply to work in a few talent representation agencies. So I actually made like this, it's really embarrassing now, colour brochure about myself and I sent it to all of the talent repping agencies in Australia. And I was really lucky I got picked up by an agency called Chic Management, which is run by quite a famous model scout called Ursula Hufnagl. So I went there, I started working for her for free, doing a whole lot of PowerPoint presentations because I was really good at that from my days in investment banking. And it was actually her partner in the modelling agency happened to be a really senior Telco executive and entrepreneur, and he offered me the opportunity to work with him on building a mobile startup, which was amaysim.
Michael: What personal characteristic has been the biggest asset to you in building Airtasker?
Tim: My wife tells me that one of my greatest strengths is probably that I can, you know, take a beating, get up and go do it again. So, you know, I think one of the things about, that's common in you know in every entrepreneurial journey is that there are ups and downs. And you've got to be able to bounce off the downs and get back on the ups as quickly as you can. I guess it's a combination of confidence and chutzpah to keep going. So, yeah, I don't think there's any specific skill around like numeracy or speaking or language or anything like that. It's just I think I'm willing to put in the grit and put in the effort.
Michael: So we've spoken with all kinds of disruptors in this series Tim, but when you started up Airtasker there wasn't an existing industry to disrupt. Instead, you changed the way people thought about local services. What were the challenges in bringing that to bear?
Tim: I actually think, so it's quite interesting the parallels between something like amaysim, which was a more I guess traditional challenger opportunity. You know we were looking at Telstra had a certain amount of market share in mobile Sims and so did Optus. And we were coming into you know, very specifically, create a simpler product with a lower price and try to grab some market share doing that. And you're right, with Airtasker we weren't doing that. In fact, the biggest competitor that we had was really like apathy or jobs just not being done. You know, people thinking, oh, I've got those boxes over there that I really should be throwing out, but I'm just not going to do that.
Michael: I'm very familiar with this.
Tim: I think everyone's sort of familiar with that you know the, I guess the biggest competitor is the couch you know.
Michael: You're giving my secrets away pal.
Tim: So I think that's everyone's secret, so that's probably why it's an interesting problem. But it did make it actually more difficult because you actually had to go out there and in a way frame the problem for people. And then actually, you know, offer them the solution to being able to solve that problem. The way we went about doing that is by building Airtasker as a demand-driven open marketplace. And that's I guess a fancy way for saying, rather than us thinking about what do you need, like us thinking, we're going to find cleaners and plumbers and electricians and carpenters. We actually started the platform out as simply an open box that said, what do you need done? And you could actually type anything into that box that you wanted, and that was a signalling for the customer to say, this is what I need. And the great thing about that is that because so many people have various different kinds of skills they were able to go, oh wow, someone's looking for that, I can do that. I've got the skills to be able to do that. And that was a really different approach compared to what was traditionally done, which was, yeah, I do these things, this is all I'm offering. And if you don't need what I'm offering, then nothing's going to happen.
Michael: I've heard Airtasker described, and please tell me if this is unfair as a dating site for services?
Tim: Well we have had a few love stories appear on the platform, you know, we've had a few, yeah there's been, certainly romances, there's been a bunch of like wedding proposals. So there's definitely some great stories that are happening there. And I guess, yeah, to a certain extent it's a similar thing. It's somebody saying, hey, I need this service done or I need this problem solved, and another person saying, yep, I can do that. And it's about matching the most relevant people together to get that done in the best possible way.
Michael: And in the process, creating new industries, new opportunities and getting more done?
Tim: For sure. I mean, you know, we have 30,000 active workers every month using the platform and they're earning close to $120 million a year doing this kind of work. So it's something that's sort of started out as you know, a side hustle for a lot of people, but over time has been able to become a professionalized fulltime job.
Michael: And what gave you confidence that this would work?
Tim: Well, I think probably a moment of lapsed thinking perhaps, and I say that jokingly, but also I think that there is some truth in that. Which is that I think when you go and start a venture, if someone was to ask you to write a document laying out exactly what are the probabilistic chances of each step of the journey kind of working out, I'm almost certain that you know, you would back right out and go that's insane. Why would I go and do this? The chances of me being able to do something else and earn an income doing that are way, way higher. So I do think to a certain extent, it's an irrational thing where you're like, I just want this to happen, it would be really, really cool if it happened. So that's where it kind of started. But I think throughout the journey, one thing that we found is that when we went out and we saw the taskers who are doing the jobs and earning an income doing it and we heard about their stories, it really was quite inspiring. It was quite emotional actually, and that's the thing that really gets us out of bed now the opportunity to create really good jobs for humans. And I think, you know, in the age of things like AI coming and automation of jobs, like that's exciting stuff. We want that to happen and we want a lot of these kinds of jobs to be automated and make progress in that way. But on the other hand, we want humans to be able to find the next, what's the next thing that only humans can go and do. And I don't think there's any danger of there not being jobs for humans to do. You know if you look a couple of hundred years ago in America, you know, 20% of the country was employed in agriculture and farming and now it's only a very small percentage in agriculture and farming. But you know, there's new jobs, there's Snapchat Market Art, there's AI Data Scientists, there's all these other kinds of jobs, so we're really excited about being able to create those opportunities for humans.
Michael: Have you ever hired anyone off Airtasker?
Tim: Of course, yep I've got my cleaning subscription on Airtasker. So we've just recently launched our subscription, our product so that you can engage the same Tasker to come over and, you know, do your cleaning, your lawn mowing and things like that. So I've got my cleaning on autopilot with Airtasker, but I've also recently you know, had a hole patched in my roof. I've had my air conditioning moved, I've had my tiling done. Yeah, I use Airtasker a lot. I get some free credits though.
Michael: Pleased to hear it. And I can see that there's a lot of satisfaction that comes from being able to see the changes that Airtasker has bought to people's lives. But you've described the first three to four years of it as quite gruelling. What kept you going through that?
Tim: Well, I think there were a couple of things. So I think definitely the inspiration of working with the people on the platform was an important part of it. Another part of it was that we raised money early on to build the Airtasker platform and we kind of had to do that because it is definitely an infrastructure type business. You've got to kind of like lay out this network and invest this huge amount of money into building the platform, building all the communication, the payment system, all of this stuff. And you know, when you're doing 20 jobs a day, you're bringing in about, you know, $15 of revenue a day or something, you need to raise money to be able to do that and do it well. And so one thing was the responsibility that we'd taken on. I think me and my cofounder Jono, both took that responsibility really, really seriously. And yeah, I think that that was one thing, which kind of felt like we jumped out of a plane, you know, make a parachute, you got to figure this out or at least go down trying.
Michael: Tim Fung thank you very much for joining us on The Artful Trader.
Tim: Thanks so much for having me.
Michael: Drew Bilbe, CEO of Nexba, welcome to The Artful Trader podcast series.
Drew: Thanks for having me Mike. Very pleased to be here.
Michael: Drew, Nexba went from an idea on a beach in Mexico to one of the leading brands in Australia. Can you tell me the story of Nexba?
Drew: Yeah, I can. It's, how long have you got?
Michael: Shortened version please.
Drew: Right. So in a nutshell, I was lucky enough to spend about a year on exchange in Mexico whilst I was studying my degree back here of civil engineering. When I was over there you know as you do when you're in a different environment, you see things in a different light. And I really noticed that, you know, the better for you beverage space was much more well developed in Mexico than it was in Australia. You know, I focused on the Ice Tea category at that point, and it was about one to 2% of the market back in Australia, but in Mexico it's about 12 to 14%. So I saw, you know, a real opportunity to come back to Australia, you know, start this better for your beverage company and really see, you know, and try and you know, show Australian consumers what we can do and what we can drink that's better for you in Australia.
Michael: So you found a gap in the market, but what made you confident that it would work in Australia?
Drew: I think, you know, when you're 22 and a little bit sort of unfamiliar with the industry and a little bit naive, you can often see things like that as just a real challenge and a real opportunity. You know absolutely throughout the process we've had huge speed humps and different things. But one of the things I did when I first came back to Australia was tap my brother in law, Troy Douglas on the shoulder.
Michael: He wasn't your brother-in-law at that stage though was he?
Drew: No he wasn't my brother-in-law at that stage. We, yeah so I tapped him on the shoulder and said, mate look I really believe in this opportunity. We looked at it together, and we agreed that it was a really big potential in Australia. Having that business partner to go through the whole entire process together really gives you that confidence and it's basically a shoulder to lean on and a team to go into the process together.
Michael: What was Troy's reaction when you told him your idea?
Drew: He's about as crazy as me so he's
Michael: Fired up?
Drew: So he is super passionate about health and wellbeing. He's incredibly passionate about business, as we both are. So it was almost like you know, we gave each other the strength and passion and motivation to jump on board together. It really made us stronger as a team to go into this and give us the confidence to think, you know, here is an idea, we can achieve this together.
Michael: Now, Drew I've got to say a lot of people say you should never work with family, but that wasn't the case for you?
Drew: Well, as you mentioned, he wasn't family to start with but. Nah, look I think the biggest thing when kind of looking at a business partner relationship is making sure that the person that you're partnering with has really contrasting and complementary skill sets to yourself. One of the biggest things about Troy and I is that you know, I'm really passionate about the operational side of things, the running of the business, innovation, etcetera. Troy's really passionate about stakeholder management, the finance of the business, the marketing piece. So given that we've got such different skill sets, it's really easy to kind of work on different things in a collaborative way and you know, you find that you're clashing less. Whereas I think, if you get someone that's absolutely like-minded to you and wants to work on the same things, you're probably in for a bit of a tougher ride.
Michael: So you'd started with a canning machine that you bought sight unseen off eBay?
Drew: We did. So the product we wanted to produce, there was no one in Australia that could produce it for us. So we jumped on Alibaba, which is kind of the Chinese eBay and bought a 2000 an hour canning line in a 40-foot container you know sight unseen. Rocked up with, you know no English writing on it, so we had to kind of muddle our way through putting that together. It took us about six months and finally got a machine or you know, developed a factory in Hornsby in Northern Sydney that was functional and could produce you know canned Ice Tea. And then spent the next three months pulling all family and friends favours from everywhere, working 18 hours a day whilst still working at our jobs. And you know, basically produced a whole warehouse full of canned Ice Tea, naturally sugar-free without a customer. So, you know, you talk about chucking yourself in the deep end, that's absolutely believing in what we're doing, and believing we can go out there and the opportunity exists.
Michael: So you had your production facility, you had your factory full of goods, then you had to sell it.
Drew: We did.
Michael: That must've been a tough part of the business.
Drew: Absolutely. And you know, I think you're jumping on the road, knocking on doors and hearing firsthand from you know, owners of retail outlets and customers about what they thought about the brand was incredibly powerful. Because that was our very first product that we brought to market, and it was never going to be perfect. So hearing that feedback and understanding where we should go next and where we should take the portfolio was a really important stage of the business.
Michael: So that feed, I've heard to a story how a customer let you know that they'd lost 15 kilos by switching into Nexba products away from soft drinks?
Drew: Yeah, that's right, yeah.
Michael: That's the sort of story that gave you the confidence to keep pushing?
Drew: Yeah, I think you know the whole Nexba proposition is our products are naturally sugar-free. So, we in 2015 developed a blend of natural sweeteners which is now patented globally. And it allowed us to create a whole range of soft drinks, sparkling waters, Kombucha's, functional beverages that were naturally sugar-free. So hearing stories when people approach us on social media, give us a call or email us and let us know that, you know, what you guys have created has a real impact on my life. And in that instance that person lost 15 kilos from just making a simple switch of a full sugar soft drink into a naturally sugar-free Nexba products. Absolutely it gives you the confidence to say, you know, we're on the right path here. What we're doing is having impact and is making a difference, and you know, we absolutely are committed to completing this journey and continuing on the path we're on.
Michael: And you're close? Nexba will make a profit next year?
Drew: You know we've been in business coming up to 10 years and we've invested heavily throughout that process in our portfolio, in our people, and it's, you know, not until, yeah, I guess FY20 that we'll turn our first profit, which is really exciting for us. You know it's something that is a really big milestone, but also something which shows us that, you know for the last nine years of business, the investment we've been making into product, innovation, marketing, is starting to really pay off.
Michael: Right, but it's not the money that kept you going?
Drew: If it was the money we would've been out five years ago. So, you know, we are so passionate about what we're trying to create. We are so passionate about genuinely making an impact and having a difference in people's lives with a particular interest in diabetes and obesity. And a stat that I heard really early on that diabetes is the sixth highest cause of death in Australia is mind-boggling. And you know a major cause of diabetes is all these high sugar soft drinks that we have in the market. So we felt compelled and we felt that we had really an obligation to create something which was going to give an alternative to those people, and have a better impact on the wider health of the community.
Michael: I mean, you're obviously a very positive person too right. Tell me about the tough times. Tell me, did you have any long, dark nights of the soul?
Drew: You know in the last nine years, there have absolutely been times where you're down to your last $20 or you have a major, major invoice coming in for goods that you can't see how you're going to pay and you don't have the money in your bank account. And you know, in the last two years in particular, there's been times when you're not sure how you're going to get to the next stage of the business. And you're staring down the barrel of a significant debt if the business was to fall apart, because at the end of the day being the director of the company obviously the debts fall on you if the business was to go under. I think to get through those stages you have to remain positive, you have to be passionate about the cause that you're trying to achieve, and passionate about the business and the direction of the business. There's no doubt that having a business partner that I have in Troy as well, and the ability for both of us to, you know, you can't be up all the time. And sometimes you've got to rely on the other person to bring you back up. And then, you know, as well as that, having a fantastic family, beautiful wife who is incredibly supportive, a wider family as well, which was supportive throughout the whole journey is such a crucial element. That foundation gives you the confidence to keep going. I think without that yeah, it'd be very tough to kind of just continue to take all the blows yourself and not be able to share that, and look after your mental health as well.
Michael: You took on the giants. I mean you're taking on people like Coca Cola in this space. Speaker 2:. Yep, right.
Michael: Was that foolish? Speaker 2:. I think it's, you know looking at it now, it's a bit of a David versus Goliath type story. What we wanted to do was be everything that they weren't. So we wanted to be the naturally sugar-free brands. When you look at the behemoths of the multinationals, you know they are still full of sugar or artificial sweeteners. So that naturally sugar-free space was something we wanted to invent. We wanted to completely invent another category of beverages. So in our view, we weren't actually trying to take on, you know, the Coca Colas and the Pepsis of the world. We're actually trying to recreate what people drink as beverages, and give them the opportunity to really take advantage of the anti-sugar sentiment that's happening. You know give people an option when they have diabetes or obesity, give them that natural sugar-free option that didn't exist in the beverage world. So we wanted to create something that they weren't and everything that they weren't. And I think that's where we're carving out our niche, which is now turning into a mass-market product.
Michael: Right. So you're often described as a disruptor, but in essence you're trying to help people find what it was they were looking for anyway?
Drew: Yeah, and like everything, this is a 10-year overnight success, right, so it's, you know, formulating that strategy has taken a really long time. But I think we're certainly on the track of that really nice little sweet spot of getting a loyal consumer, which is fiercely passionate about Nexba, which is actually now creeping into the mass market.
Michael: So what's next for Nexba?
Drew: A lot of exciting stuff. So we domestically is our core business, and we're really passionate about continuing to expand that beverage portfolio. We're also looking at, you know, snacking and naturally sugar-free snacking in the functional space as well. So I think we'll see in the next 12 months Nexba enter you know maybe the functional protein ball space or different things like that, which will be really exciting. But you know, I think that there's, Australia is quite a small market and we actually entered the UK about 12 months ago and have had a hugely positive response to that. So that market for us will grow significantly over the next sort of, you know, one to two years. We launched over with a major retailer over there with our sparkling water range, and it's taken off really well. And that whole portfolio over there will sort of triple in the next 12 months. So you know, really exciting global expansion, and really focused on continuing to develop that household penetration and brand awareness in the domestic market as well.
Michael: Drew, I want to thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with The Artful Trader podcast audience today.
Drew: Perfect. Thanks for having me Mike.
Michael: And now it's my pleasure to introduce Oleg Vornik the CEO of DroneShield. Oleg thank you for joining us today.
Oleg: Thank you Mike. Good to be here.
Michael: You haven't always been in the defence industry Oleg. You've got a background in investment banking, you worked with ABN, RBC, you work with Brookfield Asset Management, you work with Leighton. You've had many different paths to where you are today, and in fact even at DroneShield you didn't start as CEO, you started as CFO?
Oleg: That's right.
Michael: How do you find this stepping up to the CEO role?
Oleg: I think there is a major difference between being a CFO of a business and being the CEO. That said in a small company perhaps the difference tends to blend a bit more here and there. So there are different types of CFOs in different companies, even in the public space. Where naturally some tend to be more project management-oriented, almost blending the chief operating officer space. So that's kind of what I was from day one in any case where you start to flow into the sales side of things and to even product development side of things. So for me the step was probably a little easier. But look, I mean, being a CEO, you're fundamental in charge of every major stream of the company. So you are looking after the technology side of things, after the sales side of things, being a public company after the relations side, the industrial relations side of things. So you basically have to be good at all of those. Now you are assisted by your team and every one of them, but at the end of the day your name is what people see and how they react.
Michael: Right, the buck stops with you?
Oleg: That's right.
Michael: Before you started with DroneShield you were a frustrated investment banker who'd been in the industry too long. What was going on for you then?
Oleg: Well, I have to say that investment banking was very different pre-GFC and post-GFC in a sense that the environment was different, the volume of things, volume of deals was quite different, teams were different. So the industry has fundamentally changed from GFC onwards. And also perhaps what tends to happen is a lot of people go through more junior roles within the banks and you get amazing talent that goes there and you form great relationships with people and you learn great skills. But it does take a very particular kind of person to remain within the walls of investment banks into your senior career, and I don't think I was one of those people. So over time I start to think, well what else can I do where every day I get up energized and I want to move on with my day, and right now I'm certainly at that point.
Michael: DroneShield has about 35 employees is that right?
Oleg: That's correct.
Michael: So that's not a large company, and yet DroneShield punches well above its weight?
Oleg: We certainly do. So a lot of it, and that's one of the things I learned from investment banking is, team is critical. So every one of our people are consistently good. So right across the teams, from the engineers to our sales guys, to the rest of the crew. You leverage as much as you can, so today we're present in about 70 countries around the world, mostly through in-country partners. So we do have our own offices in the three key countries, being US, UK and Australia of course. But then a lot of other places, like for example, you look at Saudi, you look at France, you look at Columbia. We don't necessarily have the relationships, speak the language or know how to do the business. So we rely on experienced representatives to work with us on effectively success only basis as our in-country agents. And then we train them, we go together into demonstrations to various customers, they have militaries, law enforcement, etcetera, and they become our force multipliers. So a lot of it is about leverage and basically making sure that you build a business in a way that you get exposed to a lot of customers. The other thing that came a lot into our favour is we caught the momentum on a number of fronts. So the defence industry in Australia is very much a new thing. It hasn't always been that case. So if you look at maybe 10 years ago, there was really not as much focus on buying Australian developed, Australian built defence products. And now from about two or three years ago, Australian government is undertaking a major focus on building up our domestic industry, both from the export point of view and also for use by the Australian military and land law enforcement. So we very much experience the benefits of that. So whether you get taken around the world with support of defence attachés, Austrade etcetera you know, for example, you speak with the French. And a very easy conversation to have is, well Australia buys a whole lot of things like the French submarines, attack helicopters, etcetera, and also on the other end of it is counter-drone industry itself. So when we started five years ago, people were saying, well, what are you guys doing? Nobody can actually do anything bad with drones to start with. A drone can fly 50 meters smack against the nearest tree and that'll be the end of the drone. So you couldn't do anything bad with it, even if you were you know, an ill intending terrorist. But we said just wait, things are going to change as with every technology, Drones were going to get better, payloads going to get better, flying distances, batteries, navigation, etc. And sure enough, all of that happened. Swarms of drones. So probably about three years ago, we started seeing terrorists deploying drones in the Middle East to inflict terrorist attacks. We started seeing people disrupting airport flights. So Gatwick most famously last year, but now we're seeing drone attacks or flights around airports almost on a weekly basis disrupting flight. And you may ask, well, why is it such a big issue? The reason for that, if a drone gets sucked, we're talking about small consumer drone that's what we deal with, gets sucked into an engine of a plane while engines of planes got built to withstand bird strikes. They're not so good at plastic objects with lithium-ion batteries inside of them so that can cause a blow out of the engine and take down the aeroplane. So today if an aeroplane sees a drone approaching into its territory, it just halts all planes, you imagine the inconvenience, the cost, etcetera. So we're working with customers like that to effectively make sure these things don't happen. And the market is enormous. So part of the reason why we punched so much above our weight is we're very much going with those tailwinds of both Australian government support. But also counter-drone industry rapidly rising and us being there right from the start five years ago.
Michael: So like many emerging technologies, Drones have been used for evil as well as good, and as you rightly point out, some people are using drones to disrupt. You're disrupting the disruptors.
Oleg: That's correct. So we often see ourselves as an antivirus on this kind of approach. Where with all the good applications of drones like you said, there's all the negative applications, and drones themselves evolve all the time. So new communication protocols come around all the time. Drones get smaller or faster. You think of racing drones and the payloads get better, distances get stronger or larger. So with all of that in mind, we have to constantly refine our technology. So at the heart of our team is a couple of dozen engineers who are basically constantly working to continue refining those technologies and make sure that we stay in front of the developments of drones as they happen.
Michael: And what gives you the confidence that you'll be able to stay ahead of those threats that people want to deal with with DroneShield?
Oleg: It's a good question. So we have very much been successful with it up to now, we see the quality of our team. And one thing that I have to say is that in Australia you get the quality of both engineering talent and sales talent which is world-class. So I just spent two years living in the US and I've seen a lot there. And the US is a little bit like in the defence, a bit like an acting the world capital of the industry and still very much so. In Australia, we see similar, if not better talent as we're seeing there. So I look at the world-class standard of our team, I look at all the success we've done and with that is the confidence that we'll continue pushing forward.
Michael: So in 2016, you brought DroneShield to the share market. You launched an initial public offering and became a public company. What did that mean for DroneShield and what did it mean for you personally?
Oleg: Sure. Look, great thing about being public when you're dealing with government customers, which is the majority of our customers for number of reasons, is you get high profile. So in a lot of cases, assessing the company itself or assessing manufacturers, is a very big part of the assessment, not just the products for the customer. And being a high profile public company certainly helps our sales, helps approach towards the customers, because we're definitely seen as more credible than perhaps similar size, similar profile company but they'll be privately held. And it certainly helps the marketing. Look, I think our kind of technologies great for public markets because it's relatively easy to put out interesting things that people intuitively understand. I think the issue with defence industry generally is that due to the nature of the products, due to the nature of the customers, there's not a lot that you can productively put out and educate investors with. Which is also why I think a lot of these companies are not public. But I think counter-drone is a bit of an exception, where there's enough that you can put out so people get their heads around what you do, how big the opportunity is, and why it's so exciting all the growth ahead. For me personally, look it certainly means high profile, but look over time you get used to it and in some ways again it helps sales. You know, you go to some pretty high profile customers and they're like DroneShield, you're famous, we've heard of you.
Michael: So being willing to experiment and try new things must mean that as well as successes there are failures, and in fact, you've been quoted as saying Oleg, and I do hesitate to bring this up. But you've been quoted as saying that you don't necessarily know the right way to run a business, but you know, a hundred wrong ways to run a business?
Oleg: Sure. I think I might've got a thousand wrong ways to run a business, there are many. Look we had a lot of successes so far and I'm very happy with the way business is travelling right now. But that said, I think there's naturally a lot of experimentation that goes with running the business. So you're looking at the nascent industry, nascent, for a lot of customers when they buy products from us, this is the very first time they ever buy this kind of product. So in terms of the go-to-market strategy, in terms of building the technology itself, it's inevitable. You try a whole lot of things and some things work and some things don't, and you just have to do this. So whether it means appointing new agents in the country and then swapping them. And there are some places where we had spectacular good agents from the get-go and we're really happy about that. But then we also had cases where we had to change multiple in-country agents because for whatever reason they were just not doing what we were expecting of them to do. And look, a similar thing would tech. So some products become widely more popular than others. Over time you can get a little better at predicting what the customers want. Right now we're very fortunate in that most of the new products we bring to market are in response to the end customer demand where you basically don't bring the product to market until you get customers who say, okay, well here is specifically what I want. And also when you refine the product, in the beginning we used to think okay, well what could be things that the customer could possibly want? And a lot of that led to trial and error. Now things are becoming a lot more refined where our customers tend to adopt, you gain their trust. And they say, okay, well this is great, but I want this switch in this way, this design in that way. So you're I guess error making starts to reduce and you become more and more on point with the customers.
Michael: Okay, but certainly at least in the early days, you factored failure into your business model. Was it ever discouraging?
Oleg: Look, I have a very understanding board and a great chairman, Peter James who chairs a number of large and smaller companies, and I have a great relationship with him. So the thing about failures, you have to be in the environment that is supportive of you experimenting and trying things. So both from a perspective of the team and from the board and from the investors, I was very fortunate and able to try a whole lot of things. Now that said, the idea is that you try a whole lot, but you need to have enough successes for the business to continue moving forward and evolving.
Michael: There must be a balance?
Oleg: So, the balance has to be net positive, even if some things don't work out as much as you would like them to be.
Michael: Does intuition play any role in your continuous experimentation?
Oleg: I think it certainly does, but there's a question, well, how do you see intuition? So I think to me intuition is subconsciously absorbing a lot of things that you've seen in the past. So once you see a lot, you kind of start making connections between things. So for example, when you look at a product and you think what could be the features and you look at different customers who suggest different things, you reflect on the situations like that in the past. When you have different in-country agents who want to represent you and you basically want to make a decision which one you want to go with. And you assess them based on your discussions with them, again, you reflect back in the past and think what has worked and what hasn't. So I think intuition as in decision making under uncertainty kind of happens all the time,
Michael: Traders are very familiar with it?
Oleg: But I think in many ways is just a product of your brain making connections between how the current situation related to what you've seen in the past and just kind of extrapolating from that. I was once told to never confuse smarts with experience, as it's a slightly different ways of making right judgments, but the idea is that as you, whether you can or cannot build smarts is a separate thing. But as you get more experience you certainly judge better based on reflecting on similar things in the past.
Michael: Oleg thank you very much for being part of The Artful Trader today.
Oleg: Thank you Mike.
Michael: That's the end of part one of our Disruptor Special. But make sure you tune into the next episode of The Artful Trader as we bring our three disruptors into conversation together and unpack how confidence can turn an idea into a thriving business.