NBR Rich Lister Steve Outrim's tips for entrepreneurs: emulate heroes, be persistent
By Fiona Rotherham
Sept. 14 (BusinessDesk) - Kiwi-born Steve Outrim, estimated by the NBR Rich List to have an $85 million fortune, had a number of tips for kiwi businessmen when addressing the annual Morgo conference for entrepreneurs.
The 42-year-old made his first millions when he became the youngest ever chief executive of an Australian public company at the age of just 23, when he floated Sausage Software on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1996. The programme he wrote, Hotdog, let users put up their own content online and became one of the most popular programmes on the internet at the time.
Last year he floated another company he co-founded, Urbanise, on the ASX, raising A$20 million in the initial public offering. Outrim has retained a substantial shareholding in the building software services company, despite resigning from the board. He also sold his Australian nutraceutical business Aussie Bodies to New Zealand's Healtheries and is an early stage investor in about 50 technology companies including Connect.com and Grid-Net.
Now resident in San Francisco and an ardent conservationist, Outrim is writing a book on the shadow history of technology. “I have 12,000 pages of notes that I want to turn into a compelling narrative. I’m finding it an intellectual challenge and didn’t realise how long it takes.”
He’s also looking for real estate deals to round out his investment portfolio which he said was over-weight in tech companies.
Outrim, described by a former girlfriend in a bitter Australian court battle in 2013 over their relationship split as “a fat slob with body odour, gout, and a drinking problem”, has largely avoided the media limelight since selling Sausage.
He doesn't fit that description at the Morgo conference for entrepreneurs. Sporting a suit and with a glass of red wine in hand, Outrim said in an interview when he first went to Melbourne as a 19 year old, he coded an accounting software programme which he tried to sell to local businesses. The problem was back then most of them didn’t have a computer.
The Hotdog programme was an idea that came to him in frustration at wanting to make a Web page and post a picture of himself and put up information about the music he liked.
“It took eight hours from the idea to it being up on the Web,” he said. He sold his stake in Sausage just before the dotcom bust for about A$60 million to Australia’s SMS Management and Technology in 2000.
Born and raised in Wellington, Outrim said successful entrepreneurs have to be persistent and overcome any obstacles put in their way.
“When you’re staring at an abyss you have to somehow find a way to keep going, keep persisting and believe in yourself,” he said. “When I was a young entrepreneur Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems said to me that ‘business wasn’t hard, it was just gruelling’. You have to be tough to stick it out.”
He said the key to success in the technology industry was knowing something someone else doesn’t know and finding a way to exploit that.
Outrim had three other key bits of advice.
The first was to emulate your heroes – in his case, Richard Branson and Donald Trump. He observed that Branson was a master of publicity stunts to get his businesses written about on the front page of every newspaper or website.
“People love gimmicks and I used that strategy when it came to making our mark in the media with Sausage,” he said.
Another key strategy was making alliances with well-known brands that can help build the credibility of your start-up. Sausage initially did a deal with Hewlett Packard, Netscape and then Intel.
“Suddenly when Intel came in there was a stamp of credibility on the company and people were willing to put their own money in,” he said.
The third strategy is to lean in to your customer and focus on making money for them rather than just yourself. “How can you make money work for others? If you can find that out, it will give you the world,” he said.
Outrim recited a story about meeting his business hero Donald Trump in the US some years ago and asking for his advice on how to be successful in business. At the time Outrim was accompanied by a female companion and said Trump leaned over and said ‘you’re with such an attractive young lady, you don’t need any advice from me’.