Andrew Barnes10 March 2015
The business he started in high school now employs 50 people – yet Andrew Barnes is still only 24. The award-winning website entrepreneur explains why his academic work has been so important to his development and why he is excited about the practical applications of his PhD research.
What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? Is the career you’re in now something you ever thought you would be doing?
I always thought I would be a scientist, doing physics or chemistry or something like that. My major in economics was quantitative methods - econometrics and statistics – and today in business it is still the quantitative side of things that interests me.
Could you give us details about your career history? How/where did you start?
While I was at high school, together with a classmate, Vu Tran, I entered a few state-wide website competitions and won most of them, so we decided to turn the hobby into a commercial venture. We like to joke that instead of working in Woolworths for $20 an hour, we were working for ourselves for $2 an hour! My parents were keen for me to go to university and study medicine or law, so I compromised and did economics.
I kept the business running in the background while continuing with my studies. I went to study in the UK and was up at 2am on Skype pretending to customers that I was still in Brisbane. It was really only after I graduated in 2009 that I started to take the company seriously and put more effort into it.
I tutored in 2010 to stay involved with the faculty and then did the honours year in 2011. I’m currently studying for a PhD.
Could you please describe your current position?
The business primarily operates around three divisions - e-learning, web development and customer relationship management (CRM) software. We are an implementation partner for Salesforce, the world’s leading CRM software, while the e-learning system is one that we have created ourselves.
There are 50 people at Go1. I was always ambitious and had high hopes for it, but sometimes I have to pinch myself! It’s been exciting and hopefully it will continue that way.
I spend a lot of time travelling to meet with different partners that we are looking to secure relationships with. So last week I was in Melbourne working on a new project down there and then this week I will be in Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney.
I set aside specific days each week to work on my PhD, and when I’m flying I take the opportunity to catch up on readings, and writing papers.
What’s the most challenging part of your career?
The most challenging part is finding time to make sure everything is ticking along and working well – and managing different people and business partners. In 2012 we had a problem with a joint venture arrangement. Unfortunately we didn’t have a shareholders agreement so it was an expensive lesson to learn.
What is your proudest career achievement?
I was named the Young Manager of the Year at the Australian Institute of Management Excellence Awards, which was exciting and unexpected. Someone nominated me and I had to submit an online response, then went through an interview panel. I’m also proud of getting into the PhD program, and was fortunate enough to win a UQ Business School PhD Scholarship, which was exciting too.
How does the future look for your role?
Technology is really exciting, and e-learning in particular is going to revolutionise industries. The way it is currently used is just to put textbooks online, however, when organisations realise they can use the technology in a more sophisticated manner, then there will be a lot of change. If you think about it, six years ago we didn’t have the iPhone – things develop so quickly.
I like being involved with lots of things, so in addition to being a director of Go1, I am on the board of two not-for-profit organisations in Queensland. Hopefully I will continue to work on strategies and in a problem-solving capacity in those organisations.
UQ Business School’s tagline is “Challenging the future”. For you, what will be the most challenging business topic in the next ten years?
I think a challenging topic for Australia will be how to operate in a much more globalised economy. That’s obviously not a new concept but, as we are slowly starting to understand, our role needs to be more than just digging rocks out of the ground. For myself, I think it will be really exciting to see the symbiotic relationship between my PhD research studies and the business. I want to make sure the research is not carried out in isolation but has some applications. I think the Business School is really good in that regard.
What is your motto in life that you try and live by?
It might sound like a bit of a cliché but my personal philosophy or life goal is to achieve sustainable happiness. I want to ensure I’m thinking about the longer term, not just the short term, and also enjoying the journey along the way - not just working 80 hours a week for the sake of it!
What mentor or inspirational figure has guided or influenced your life in a certain way?
My PhD supervisors are fantastic. I also look to people like Bill Gates, who excels in multiple domains - in a business context, a technology context and now in a humanitarian context. I think it’s important to be diverse in how you approach things.
What’s your most positive memory of your time at UQ Business School?
The strongest memory, both positive and scary, was handing in the honours thesis. It was really important to be able to push ourselves collectively, as a group, and also individually to produce that document. I didn’t sleep at all the night before; we turned up for classes in the morning, after drinking a lot of coffee. You get to know each other well in the honours course and help each other, which is great.
What impact has the School had on the way you operate or think about business?
I have always approached things from a quantitative perspective and I think both the School of Economics and the Business School have helped me develop that further and be a bit more rigorous - rather than just dealing with numbers, also understanding how things come together. I also think, more generally, just being introduced to academia at a certain level of rigour has been good. Even though I thought I understood the scientific method before the honours year, it was only afterwards that I could say that I fully appreciated it. Often it was a matter of being able to understand the how but then the why.
What key piece of advice would you give someone wanting to start up a business?
In his book The Black Swan, Nicholas Taleb – an expert on risk and random events – discusses what you need to do to engage in risky pursuits like a business. If it’s an all or nothing bet, you have to put everything into it and be committed.
I was very fortunate that I was able to build up the business over a longer period of time, and I didn’t have to make any all or nothing calls. I think that if you are able to start a business and build it up with a sufficient buffer there, then that’s a better way to do it. It’s really hard to be an overnight success. If you create the structure so that you can foster it, nurture it and build it up, you are much more likely to be successful. That’s my thoughts on it anyway.
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