Sometimes I look at what used to be my little Melbourne startup and think, how the hell did we get here?
Yellowfin today is over 100 people. We’ve got offices in Japan, in the UK, in the US, and in Australia. We’ve got a partner network that reaches even further around the globe – hundreds of partners in 70 or 80 countries. Our client base ranges from small organizations in almost every country on the planet to large multinationals that use Yellowfin as the platform to power their global analytical apps.
How we went global
In 2003 we started as a two-person operation with our first deployment into local law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth. Now, no matter which way you look at it, there’s no denying Yellowfin is an international organization.
Unlike a lot of Australian businesses, we went global at a very early stage and now less than 25% of Yellowfin’s revenue comes from Australia. The broad distribution is about a quarter of our revenue comes from each of Australia, Japan, the US and UK, which means there’s some obvious room for growth in the mega-regions.
The fundamental difference between Yellowfin and so many of our competitors is we’ve bootstrapped the whole way. We did it all ourselves, rather than relying on huge slabs of VC money to drive the business forward.
It’s very trendy these days to raise a $20m+ round of funding. But with major injections of capital come certain expectations, which I think can stifle innovation in the early stages of a company. We made a conscious choice in the early days to do it more slowly, but also more sustainably.
As to how we went global, I can’t point at one meeting, one time when we said, “It’s time to go international now” even though that was always the plan. The reality is, people found us. We did some trade fairs, had organizations approaching us wanting to buy our product and that’s what kick-started us.
Sometimes things just fell into place. The guys who brought us into our first deal in the US ended up founding their own consultancy business, from which they drove Yellowfin into the US. That was a really good outcome for us all.
The lessons learned along the way
There were times in the early years where we were stretched way too thin and things started to fall apart. The greatest challenges came in getting the right people around the globe, doing the same things to create a consistent experience in every country we operate in.
We got there. I can safely say we’ve crossed the global consistency hurdle, but there’s been a lot of sleepless nights along the way.
On a personal level it was a steep learning curve. At some point as CEO I had to accept that it’s impossible to be the totally hands-on leader I was in the early days. When a company gets to a certain size, the CEO doesn’t lead a global organization; rather, it’s a matter of providing a framework and drumming into each region what matters to Yellowfin: the customer, the culture, the business we are trying to build. Then it’s time to stand back and trust your people to run the business.
The other lesson was getting up to speed on global cultural differences. How business is done in Asia is very different to how it’s done in the US. The segmentation of our business in the US is very different to the segmentation of our business in Japan.
Understanding how to allocate resources is vital to our business and has allowed us to specialize in the US in one area and in Japan in another, while seeing similar growth in each market. Let’s be honest: most US-centric organizations just don’t understand those nuances.
Where to next
Our European office is relatively new, and it’s been going great guns – experiencing triple digit growth. We can see a huge amount of opportunity there. The way we are structured, global sales for Yellowfin is run out of the UK (by our great SVP of global sales Peter Baxter). We’ve got a fantastic partner in the Netherlands, First Consulting. They have got some great deals coming. UK and Germany are offering some exciting opportunities in the short-to-medium term.
We’ve also had significant growth in the US and it represents a huge opportunity. 48 percent of the global spend in BI and analytics happens in the US. Yellowfin currently captures a tiny fraction of that. As a region, the US represents just a quarter of our business. So I think there are some real opportunities for us to grow and really supersize that region as well.
Every region we have expanded into has huge growth opportunities, and we’ve got strong momentum. Like anything else, once you start to win and grow, it really does take on a life of its own.