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The iiNet story – lessons learned along the way

Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, iiNet's Michael Malone

Earlier this month I joined 50 award winning entrepreneurs from other countries in Monte Carlo for the Ernest & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year awards, which was won by Dr. James Mwangi, CEO and Managing Director of Kenya’s Equity Bank Limited.

It was an incredible experience to represent Australia’s thriving entrepreneur community at a high profile event such as this and being given the opportunity to share iiNet’s success story with many amazing international business leaders.

These are the lessons I’d share with anyone thinking of taking that first step to start their own business.

You are your own customer

I’d always wanted to run my own business, but iiNet really came about because I was about to leave university and since there were no public Internet Service Providers in WA in 1993, that meant losing my Internet access.

The cost of a 14k link to the Internet was $25,000 per year.  Yes, that’s 14kilobits, not 14 megabits!  That was of course a huge amount of money for a fresh graduate, but I was pretty confident that other students, graduates and people with niche interests would also want an affordable home Internet connection.

I had about half the money that I needed and my parents loaned me the rest.  I had been living in rental accommodation, so I moved back to my parent’s home in Padbury and set up shop in the garage.  With two computers and five modems, I signed up my first customers for $25 a month dial up Internet access.

Start with what you enjoy

There’s no shortage of stories about people who turn their hobbies into a business, or start off with a part time project to earn extra cash before realising it has the potential to become their full time job.

My experience with iiNet was the same. I thought that setting up a local ISP would be nothing more than a side project and that I would eventually need to get a ‘real job’.

After two and a half years, I was now employing six people, so we moved to an office in Perth’s CBD.  We had about two thousand customers and the business had reached a stage where I could draw a small salary as well.

Start small, and enjoy it

Running a small business is a lot of fun.  Everyone chips in to do everything.  On any given day, I could be handling customer calls, coding on the billing system, handling domain name applications, and covering reception during lunch.

Everyone knows everyone else too and the sense of camaraderie is great.  Of course, we weren’t really sure if we’d still be around the following week! I didn’t have any management or business training so everything had to be learned on the job.

Every entrepreneur needs to focus on building a sound business, but there’s no reason not to enjoy the journey along the way too!

Put your customers at the heart of all you do

My mother taught me the most important lesson about running a business, which is to put your customers first.  This may seem really obvious, but I think too many businesses just focus on their cool product, and are disdainful of their own customers.

We’re here to help you get your Internet connection working and get the most out of it.  This is something which has defined iiNet from the offset and remains our biggest focus.

One of the ways we measure all staff performance at iiNet is through Net Promoter Score (NPS) rankings, which is derived from direct feedback from customers.  My own pay packet is tied to that, so if you’re not happy, I get paid less!  That certainly helps keeps the focus.

Give it a go

There will always be plenty of excuses to put off starting your business for another year and the longer you put it off the harder it’ll be.  If you have a great idea, give it a try.  The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work.  You’ll regret it a lot more if you never try in the first place.

Learning from others

It’s important to celebrate the huge achievements of entrepreneurs, whether it’s through government initiatives, awards programs or events where entrepreneurs can come together and share their successes, struggles and tips with one another.  Building a business is really hard!

Hearing the stories about other businesses can give great lessons and motivation. The event in Monte Carlo really hammered this home for me – everyone at the event was there because Ernst & Young had acknowledged their achievements in their home country and I got to meet some incredible people and hear some amazing stories.  Plus it’s pretty cool to have an excuse to spend a couple of days in Monte Carlo!

11 comments

  1. Great story Michael, I think I was one of those $25 per month customers. :-}

  2. Christopher Magson says:

    Thanks MM, for your awesome words its actually giving me more confidants that I can attempt and achieve my goal of creating a successful business. Cause it might be hard getting the ball rolling to begin with but when it is its unstoppable.

    Thanks again,
    Chris Magson.

  3. Travis says:

    I’d just like to say that I find iiNet to be fantastic and have been a customer, happy (most of the time) since about 2004-05 (not sure.
    As a worker in IT I know the challenges faced with the “technology infallibility” expectations.
    Michael I would liek to commend you and your team on fantastic business and service and as you grow, please hold onto those values that have made you so successful over the years. I stand by iiNet, by choice and refer many people to iiNet for internet access.

  4. Steve says:

    Great to see the local peeps make good.

    I’ve been with iiNet since you guys ‘ate’ Nettrek back in the late 90’s.

  5. Irene Poulton says:

    Yes, my daughter and her husband got me connected to your dial up service around that time. I too had just completed my Uni studies and wanted a web site…so although I am an oldie I am still with you. Good luck and keep up the good work.

  6. Brian Nowell says:

    iiNet acquired my first ISP. I had been there for some 5 years(?). I accepted the recommendation to relocate to iiNet. Since then, nigh on 10 years, I’ve interacted with staff, not always getting a solution first time but always being treated well. Always a solution has been provided.

    As testament I’ve even placed my phone services through Bob!

    Awaiting the NBN in our area which you cannot control. Thanks.

  7. an unhappy customer says:

    If all you can d is pat yourself on the back , you need to take a long hard look at your service and listen to your mother. I have had 4 months of hell trying to get my bundle sorted and am still getting bills from aapt and on my 4th modem. I have already had the ombudsman look at the disaster you call service and will reopen the enqiry if this moden does not work and the aapt bill I got today is not sorted.

  8. Omar says:

    An inspiring story.

    Having been with iiNet for almost 9 years (got my account as soon as you connected my exchange in Sydney), I was proud to be a strong promoter. When discussions with friends and colleagues turned to other ISPs failings, I would always promote iiNet’s great service and value and was a strong “promoter”.

    So it was a sad day when I had to finally call it a day with iiNet after a hellish month trying to get my connection relocated. Perhaps my case is isolated, but it certainly appeared that your service had dropped to the woe-some levels of your biggest competitor.

    As iiNet grows, please do not forget what it is that got you to “Number 2”.

  9. Wayne Snell says:

    G’day Michael,

    This is a great story, and congratulations to you on the success of your business.

    I feel it neccessary to comment here on your blog, after having what I considered to be a simple and easily executable request, turned down by one of your staff members.

    Especially after having read the paragraghs;

    “My mother taught me the most important lesson about running a business, which is to put your customers first. This may seem really obvious, but I think too many businesses just focus on their cool product, and are disdainful of their own customers.

    We’re here to help you get your Internet connection working and get the most out of it. This is something which has defined iiNet from the offset and remains our biggest focus.”

    I know find it laughable and quite poor, that my simple request to stay on my current contracted plan, but have a simple static IP address assigned it, is point blankly refused to be accomodated for me by your organisation.

    This flies completely in the face of what you claim to have learnt and be all about there, at iinet, as defined in your own blog.

    Because of the inflexibility of your (iinet’s) position on this matter, I reluctantly have to inform you that upon the end of my current contracted term, I will be leaving iinet and seeking another ISP.

    I genuinely do not want to leave iinet, but as I research other ISP’s that are available to me, and find similar packages on offer to what I am currently being offered from you, and that a good proportion of those packages come standard with a static IP address. It’s one of those ISP’s that will be getting my business in the future.

    I’m sorry that it’s come this. All over a simple static IP address. It’s very disappointing.

    Thanks for your time.

    Regards,

    Wayne Snell

    • Adam O'grady says:

      Hi Wayne,

      We do actually allow static IPs, however only on our business plans. Residential customers can still sign up to a business plan and residential phone service without an ABN (only the business bundles require one).

      Cheers,
      Adam

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