It’s true – you do learn from mistakes
An early business error almost cost SEQTA co-founders Grant and Sharon Grosser their family home. But Grant is philosophical. The wrong path was the only way forward at the time, he says.
So, ironically, if not for that early mistake, they would have never ended up where they are today – at the helm of a thriving, award-winning software company.
A one-time deputy principal with a passion for education, Grant’s business idea grew from seeing first-hand how heavy administrative workloads were impacting teachers and, ultimately, students. They were running just to stand still.
Companies had been designing software to streamline business processes for years; the Grossers set out to design a similar system for schools.
Mistake: Choosing the wrong technology/cheapest option
When he ran his idea past two separate software designers, one told Grant it would cost $2 million to develop.
“The other guy said it’s going to cost you $77,000 and I’ll have it ready for you in three months.”
The Grossers chose the cheaper option because, financially, it was their only option.
“I wouldn’t have been able to start it on the pathway with the $2 million option. We just couldn’t afford it. But $77,000 seemed achievable,” Grant says.
In 2006, he and Sharon, also a teacher, quit their jobs, mortgaged their home and set about building a software company.
By 2010 they had their product in 13 schools, but it just wasn’t working as they hoped.
“It required so much maintenance that I would literally work through the night – so many nights I just never got to bed – just cleaning up data that had gone wrong, deleting ghost records, doing all sorts of jiggery pokery to keep the software going because it wasn’t an option that a teacher would come in and the software wouldn’t work for them the next day.”
They came to the heart-breaking realisation the foundation of their software was wrong.
The idea was sound but the tech stack – the combination of software products and programming languages used to build the suite of applications – was wrong.
It meant starting again – from the ground up.
“At that point we were at the end of our borrowings; you wonder where you’re going to go next,” says Grant, who admits they came close to losing it all.
Thankfully angel investor John Vickers, considered a co-founder, had come on board in 2008 and was able to source additional finance from family and friends to fund the gruelling rebuild.
“In hindsight, I say we didn’t have a minimum viable product until 2012.”
Since then, SEQTA hasn’t looked back, with rapid growth that has placed it in Deloitte’s Tech Fast 50 – which recognises firms with the fastest revenue growth – in 2015 and 2016.
They employ more than 60 staff and their suite of applications to manage everything from homework and report cards to attendance and curriculum planning, are used in more than 400 schools across Australia and Asia. In 2017, SEQTA were western region winners of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Lesson: What you may see as savings can cost you more in the long run. But even mistakes can take you forward, so look for the positives.
“The actual problem was wanting to develop cheaply,” says Grant. “But even though that particular mistake almost cost me everything, in hindsight I would and say there’s always blessings.
“It could eat me up with anger and regret, but we’ve got this successful business that may never have got started if it wasn’t for that promise of something that was going to be cheap and quick. I guess the lesson out of this too is: always look for the silver lining.
“Had we not made that choice we wouldn’t have gotten started and I wouldn’t be here, I’d still be a principal in a school.”
Find out more about SEQTA here.