Out of the Blue


I was genuinely flabbergasted. I’d never felt like that before or since, and now, 14 years later, it brings to mind all those fake awards night acceptance speeches where the humbled actors/actresses do their best to express surprise for their win. What do you mean surprise? You were in the final 5, and perhaps the bookie’s favourite! You fraud! Those that don’t win express in time honoured tones their thankfulness for being nominated (“it’s such an honour“). Gimme strength!

And yet it happened to me. May 2000. Our little startup was 5 months old and barely surviving. My cofounder’s father had passed away and so he was in France. Our team was somehow getting through the days, but I seriously wondered how many months, or weeks, we could last. It was two months after the dotcom bubble had burst. We had revenues appearing, but in far smaller numbers than had been on our first spreadsheets we’d used to plan the business a year earlier.

In this, perhaps our toughest moment, something sparked me to enter the grand sounding Asia-Pacific IT & T Awards (WA), in the ‘Best eCommerce’ category. The awards night followed a 2-day trade show including a pitch presentation to the judges at our stand. Frankly, I was amazed to even in the company of those that had also made it to the final 5. Really. We were up against major government web sites developed with millions by fancy pansy web design firms, and adultshop.com, a listed business which had TV ads and bucketloads of money. On the night of the Awards, we were seated with our fellow competitors, and as it came around to our category, the announcer said, “And the winner is a…“. At that instant, the lady from adultshop.com took her acceptance speech out of her clutch bag expecting it to be her moment. At the time, I thought the same to be honest. Yet the word “…aussiehome.com” came out over the hotel speakers.

My gob was smacked. I turned to my wife, amazed, got to my feet in a daze and shuffled up to the stage. I think I remember dedicating the win to Nick who had to be in France, and everyone who had belief in the company, shareholders and staff and thanked the judges. The rest of the night was a blur.

I still have that award in my study ~ I am glancing at it now as I type. It was to be the first of a few such awards over the years, which gave us all some confidence, press and credibility as we built up the business. If we’d not won that first one, we may not have entered many others. We survived that tough year in 2000, and by mid 2001 were truly up on our feet. Rather than a few months of life, we had 10 years ahead of us, and even now, 4 years after selling the business, aussiehome.com still exists as a site, with all the reiwa.com listings on it. It’s back-end system still powers 100’s of real estate and related websites. It lives on.

Looking back now, I smile, shake my head, and wonder about it all. For those embarking on such journeys, and are in tough times, all I can say is keep going, keep your chin up and take the odd gamble here and there on instinct. Entering the award at the time may not have seemed like something we should have been concentrating on. But it came off for us and galvanised our efforts in the coming months.

The Asia-Pacific IT & T Awards (WA) carried on for a few more years. A year later adultshop.com actually took out a category, and a year after that we won the ‘Business’ category (the one I’m most proud of) and the ‘People’s Choice’ award.

For those startups that might read this, I’ve added a startup award category to the Business News Rising Stars Award – registrations end in a week, so get nominating!

No matter how tough things are, you just never know…

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