Ready to play host to the world - at 25
MICHAEL McGoogan was the teenager that grown-up friends and family went to when they wanted their new VCR connected or needed computer advice.
A decade later, he has leveraged that knowledge into a multimillion-dollar enterprise with global ambitions.
Now aged 25, McGoogan founded his business - which went on to become UberGlobal - as a 14-year-old high-school student in Canberra, after being inundated by requests to help people he knew build websites and get online.
"I realised very, very quickly that I was able to make $500 once off for helping a small business put together a website and then $20 a month forever for hosting it," he says.
McGoogan, who describes himself as a "self-taught geek", says he signed up about 500 businesses in his first six months and quickly realised he couldn't handle the volume of work. So he farmed out the website building to friends and concentrated on website hosting, which remains the basis of UberGlobal's business.
"This was right at the start of the dotcom boom and bust, and being in the right place at the right time and supplying a service that everyone in the market wanted was extremely opportunistic," he says.
The business won its first government contract with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority when McGoogan was 16. But there was a catch. The authority said it couldn't do business with a sole trader, so McGoogan had to incorporate his business, but as a 16-year-old he was too young legally to be a company director. He found a solution when his neighbour, retired public servant Michael Mossop, agreed to act as a director in the new company and hold the shares in trust until McGoogan turned 18. He was the first of several adults to show extraordinary faith in the teenager and back his business.
"I had enduring confidence in the business and I sold that very, very well to people I came into contact with. It's that ability to back yourself," McGoogan says.
Mossop also lent $15,000 to the business, supplementing the funds that had been raised in small amounts from family and friends. And he remains an employee.
All the while the business was growing, McGoogan was also working 20 hours a week at kebab shop Ali Baba and attending full-time school. He had a dispensation from his teachers to allow him to take a mobile phone into class and duck out whenever he received a business call - essential for a 24-hour business like webhosting. "My customers were none the wiser that I was a high-school student," he says.
In 2005, UberGlobal bought larger competitor Aussie Hosts and became a much bigger business. McGoogan's father, a retired Australian Federal Police agent, agreed to mortgage the family home, which he'd just finished paying off, to lend his teenage son the $150,000 he needed to make the purchase.
It was the first of several acquisitions by UberGlobal, which earned revenue of $13.3 million in the past financial year and is now the third largest webhosting company in Australia. McGoogan is planning more acquisitions, which will soon make the company the country's largest.
The next big step up for the business came when BRW Rich List member Mark McConnell contacted McGoogan. The serial entrepreneur became McGoogan's mentor before investing in the company and joining the board. McConnell brought other investors on board, who injected several million dollars into the business to back its acquisition strategy.
The company also moved into the corporate and government sector - building the infrastructure to host classified information for the federal government and large transactional sites for online retailers.
Recently UberGlobal launched a wholesale division, which McGoogan hopes to take worldwide. This division delivers services to internet service providers, telcos and distributors. It also signed a partnership agreement with Nasdaq-listed Ingram Micro, the world's largest distributor of computer and technology products, where UberGlobal will provide the company with website hosting services that Ingram can sell under its own name or under the name of its customers, such as computer shops.
"When we've proved that this is successful in Australia, we will then replicate that business model in Ingram's other subsidiaries," says McGoogan.
He still has his old school friends - three still work in the company - and likes spending time with his family and his girlfriend. Nonetheless, he bought a home at age 18 and recently splashed out on a top-line Mercedes that retails for about $250,000.
McGoogan is chief executive and managing director of the company and says he plans to remain in the post as long as he's the best person for the job. He still owns 13.5 per cent of the business, and the family and friends who backed him at the outset are reaping the rewards of owning about a fifth of the company.
Michael McGoogan’s five tips for entrepreneurs
■ Get yourself in a position where you can handle the risk of starting your own business.
■ Find and nail your big idea.
■ Don’t get obsessed with a business plan.
■ Identify your weaknesses and hire the smartest people you can find to fill them.
■ Back yourself.