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The story behind SLI Systems success

24 Jan 2014

If you have ever contemplated running your own  'start-up' enterprise but worry about the potential pitfalls and lack the motivation - look no further than New Zealand's own SLI Systems and CEO Shaun Ryan.

SLI Systems formed from the ashes of original company in the late 90's after the dotcom bubble had burst.

Ryan bought his technology back from original investor NBC Interactive and decided to sell his site and web search software as a service rather than offloading it to a single buyer.At this time for those of us who remember, the internet was far from organised with a lot of links leading to spam. So quality search engines were few and far between and Ryan admitted he sensed a 'huge opportunity' to provide quality search engine software.

In 2001 he 'boot strapped' the company which he admits was a difficult time to find investors and customers, but every time he gained a customer or made a sale he invested in his team, bringing on engineers, sales and marketing people to propel the company forward.

Today SLI Systems is truly a multi national business with their main office in Christchurch and others in London, San Jose California and Melbourne not to mention resellers in Brazil and Japan.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing and the company had to deal with the global financial crisis. Ryan attributes the success of the company through this period to the engineers who kept developing and evolving the software.

As their main customers are online retailers there was only a slight dip in revenue from January 2009 to July of the same year. With more companies closing bricks and mortar stores during this period many enhanced their online services to reduce costs and as a result SLI Systems could pick up more customers.

Ryan explained to The NZ Business podcast that as a result of increased reoccurring revenue the company once again expanded their team, with additional software engineers, sales and marketing people.

Since that brief dip in 2009 Ryan says it has been 'onwards and upwards' for SLI Systems. He says success comes from developing a product and service that people and customers trust so that they do not want to move away, which also helps with the reoccurring payment model.

In recent years the company has seen further investment come in the form of Pioneer Capitol, who bought out original share holders NBC. Pioneer then used their experience to help list SLI Systems on the New Zealand share market on 31 May 2013 and take their product to market.

The company now turns over around $20 million a year in reoccurring revenue, in the last year business grew by 25% and the growth forecast for 2014 is 34%.

Ryan said the company invests in people to achieve growth with 65% of business in the USA.

The company now receives 5% of their business from Brazil, one of the fastest growing markets in the world buit also one that is rife with bureaucratic processes. However Ryan believes that because the market is notoriously difficult to penetrate it puts a lot of foreign businesses off trying to set up in the region and there are huge rewards for those who persevere.SLI Systems has opted for a reseller model in Brazil and Japan and they have taken a long time to research and select the right partners so local people can sell to local people.

As the company is no longer in its infancy they have turned to focus on their cultural and leadership aspects as there are now offices and teams around the world. Ryan says the company strives to create a working environment that people wish to be a part of which helps to create 'a nice place to work'.

At the main office in Christchurch there are stand up desks, a masseur visits every week, they have shared lunches and morning teas to promote a social environment. In turn the staff have an environment to work hard, which is rewarded through recognition and job growth. Ryan also states that staff retention is high at SLI Systems.

He also admits that running different offices is difficult as you can not be in two places at once, so his solution is to use a robot controlled with an iPad so he can roam the office floors and communicate with staff members at different locations on a daily basis and converse with them as you would if you bumped into the corridor. This early communication helps identify any issues early which can be relayed to the development team in Christchurch to help enhance the software.

Ryan says that customer focus is ingrained in the DNA at SLI Systems. A point which is driven by their CTO and co-founder Wayne Munro, who has the ethic to do well for the customer to give them a quality service and value for money. The value for the company is long term subscriptions and revenue, which will help SLI Systems to continue to grow.

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