Entrepreneur shows software can become hard core in US
How to make it in America? Sam Chandler has a few clues. He turned a small Melbourne software company into a bustling industry disrupter with global headquarters in San Francisco and a long list of bluechip customers.
Like many good ideas, Chandler's company was born from thinking he could do better than what already existed.
"I was an Adobe user and I understood the frustrations in this space," Chandler told IT Pro, diplomatically.
There was also the added lure of a potentially huge market that appeared relatively untapped. Chandler's launch team had research that suggested Adobe was making millions in revenue from its Acrobat PDF product but it was still being used by only a relatively small sector.
"We discovered that even among some of the Fortune 500 companies, true document collaboration capabilities extended only to five or 10 per cent of the total number of users inside that organisation."
"Most companies were just looking at the documents - they wouldn't collaborate on them. It's like giving someone a piece of paper but not a pen to mark it up."
Nitro started in Melbourne in 2005. Fours years later, the founder and CEO left for San Francisco intending to be the company's sole US "employee".
Nitro now claims 90 staff in the US, in Nitra, Slovakia, (that's not a typo) as well as its original office in Australia. It will open an office in Dublin next month.
Statistics provided by the company claim more than $US25 million in revenue from 400,000 businesses that run its paid product Nitro Pro. It has customers in nearly 200 countries and hosts 50 per cent of Fortune 500 companies. Oracle, Dell, Nike, Pfizer, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and General Motors are clients.
The key twist in Nitro's American success story was arriving in San Francisco not needing to search for investors. Then, Nitro was already generating revenue and could control its own destiny.
"Anecdotal evidence would suggest most Aussies who have been successful have come here and taken US institutional investment and venture capital," Chandler said.
"We were a bit different. We didn't know anyone and didn't have a US investment partner who said 'do this'. We had to feel our way around."
The company recently took on $US6.5 million in venture capital. In Silicon Valley that's not news but if you're not desperate for money those dollars can be spent on more than survival.
Chandler said a company with stable proven revenue and a successful management team would always attract solid investment.
Chandler, 32, said he began his first start-up at high school aged 16, launched another at 19, and created what would become Nitro at 24.
"I was very disappointed to be missing out on the first dot-com boom," he said. "But the great thing is that I'm in the middle of the second.
"One of the traps entrepreneurs have is not extracting themselves from the business to see how far they have come," he said, recalling his mother's visit to California.
"This is amazing," she said, on a tour of his office. "That's a nice fresh perspective to have," Chandler said. "We often don't appreciate that."