Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Crossing the ditch - Kathy Ross, iCOS LIVE

Kathy Ross is managing director of iCOS LIVE, an online transport management software provider. The Auckland-based company has seven full time and two part time staff.

Kathy Ross, managing director of iCOS LIVE.
Kathy Ross, managing director of iCOS LIVE.

When and why did iCOS LIVE go into the Australian market?

Going into the Australian market has always been part of my vision. From our inception, we've had a strong sense of mission to help family-owned transport businesses run efficiently and as New Zealand has a limited number of family-owned businesses it was obvious early on we'd be going into a larger market. As a result, we've built our product with exports in mind.

We started receiving calls from Australian businesses and their accountants after we became part of the Xero family and we noticed they ran their businesses in a similar fashion to those here. Our product is seen as an obvious add-on to the Xero accounting system and many Australian accountants are now seeing the benefits of using a cloud-based accounting system and wanting to move their transport clients across. We also integrate with other accounting packages so Australian firms and accountants have many options.

What is the current state of your business in Australia?

It's early days for us.

Most of our current Australian customers are in Queensland - mainly in and around Brisbane - with increasing enquiries from Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia.

We target both small to mid-sized transport companies and their accountants. In addition we are currently working with Australian transport operator groups and that will see our software being adopted by groups of operators that are moving to paperless business systems. For now we are targeting transport businesses with fleets of between five and 20 trucks that specialise in container movement, general freight and bulk haulage.

Currently Australian customers make up about 5% of our annual sales, and we anticipate our Australian business will grow at least 25% over the next financial year.

What kind of preparation did you do before entering the market?

We didn't do a lot of direct market research. Once we started receiving enquiries from Australia we just began to look at the businesses that were making the enquiries. We have worked on the premise that where there is interest there must be more of the same sorts of companies that could benefit from knowing about us.

It's easy to search the Yellow Pages and then find out what sized fleets companies have and the sort of freight they carry. What's more difficult is to find transport company accountants and convert them. However accountants talk to each other and we are seeing increasing enquiries from them. ??

What strategies have worked well for you in terms of growing your business there?

In New Zealand we have formed alliances with well-known GPS providers and that has worked well for us here. We are just starting to work in Australia with these same companies as well as partnering with Xero and accountants that use it.

Do you have any war stories to share?

I was due to go to a conference in Brisbane to look for new opportunities when the Queensland lowlands flooded. Transport operators' offices were being flooded and their office computers and servers ended up under water and, in some cases, were carried away downriver. During the flood, trucks were without communications, drivers couldn't get information about where to pick up their next jobs and if they could pick up deliveries, no paperwork could be produced to track and invoice jobs.

It was during this time I realised I had to get our web-based product across to Australia so that transport operators could carry on with their businesses after a disaster such as a flood or forest fire. This was an epiphany for me about another benefit of having web-based operating business systems and I know many Queensland business owners gained a new appreciation for cloud software as a result of this too.

What are three key pieces of advice you'd have for other small business owners considering entering the Australian market?

1. Be careful about who you take advice from. There are so many paths you can be led down that look good but turn out to be best for someone else's company, not yours. The most reliable advice comes from people who have already done what you are trying to do - even if it's in another industry.

2. Make sure you have the resources to support your product. It's probably going to take more trips and time away from New Zealand than you anticipated so you need a team who can carry on pleasing your existing customers while you are away from the engine room.

3. Even though we have a web-based product we have needed to go to Australia and meet people to understand operating differences. When you are in that market you can stand in potential customer's shoes and gain an appreciation of your offering's strengths and weaknesses as seen by them - not you. You can also see new opportunities that you wouldn't see from New Zealand.

Coming up in Small Business: Wearable technology is one of the hottest sectors in high-tech. What are some of the cool companies operating in this space in New Zealand? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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