20 years on: Exonet – my first major software start-up exit

July 30, 2020

In July 2000 I was on top of the world. My co-founders and I had just sold “Exonet”, our New Zealand-based financial software start-up, to an Australian listed company called “Solution6” for AU $30M.

It was the culmination of a fast and furious two years since we started the business. I was the developer who had the outlandish idea to start writing an accounting system and bring in co-founders Maurice Bryham and David McKee Wright to help build a business around it.

Exonet was a “new generation” ERP client-server accounting system with a Windows interface, running on an SQL database. It was all new technology back then, when most accounting systems for SME businesses were still running on MS-DOS with proprietary databases.

Exonet opened offices in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Hwa Lian Tan led our business in Singapore and Simon Butler led our Australian business. Simon’s M&A experience was invaluable in our negotiations with Solution6.

Due to widespread fears about how old accounting software would handle the year 2000 and the market’s desire for the new technology that Exonet was built on, our sales “went ballistic” from the start and exhibited the upward “hockey stick” sales trend that software start-ups still aspire to. This was what attracted Solution6 to acquire us.

Exonet’s main investor was a VC company called IT Capital. At the time of the exit, I recall they had been with Exonet for about 18 months, had invested NZD $1.5M and effectively owned about a third of the business. A $12.7M return on an 18 month investment of NZD $1.5M – that’s still got to be one of the best investments ever made in the business history of New Zealand!

Following its acquisition of Exonet, Solution6 merged with another large Australian software business called MYOB (“Mind Your Own Business”) and so the Exonet software was renamed to MYOB-EXO. Today MYOB-EXO is perhaps the most widely used of the mid-market ERP accounting packages in Australia and New Zealand, with many thousands of companies using it.

Some of the lessons I learnt from the Exonet experience are;

  1. Success comes from a combination of skills, lots of hard work and lots of luck.
  2. Much of the skill required is in recognizing the luck that surrounds you, and knowing what to do with it.
  3. Business success invariably comes from a team of people; specifically, the combined skills, motivation and dedication of those people and the interplay of how they work together.
  4. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

After the exit, I worked for the Exonet business within Solution6 for a short while and then decided to take some time out, away from business. It was during that time out I realized that, although I reached the destination of an exit, I still missed the journey of getting there. I missed the energy and engagement of the business world, so I dived back in again and co-founded two new software businesses; Enprise and Datasquirt.

Much of the skill required is in recognizing the luck that surrounds you, and knowing what to do with it.

Enprise became of a group of businesses, of which two operated internationally, with a particular emphasis on the United States. One of those was EMS-Cortex, a SaaS software provisioning system that we sold to Citrix in 2011 for US $11M. Also in 2011, we sold ASX-listed Datasquirt to Silicon Valley-based LiveOps for a similar price.

The international software business experience and contacts I gained through Enprise and EMS Cortex set me up for my current role as CEO of Datagate, where I am now based in Vancouver, Canada. Datagate is a SaaS billing solution for MSPs who sell telecom services, which we sell into the USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Another thing I’ve learnt over the last twenty years since the Exonet exit; it normally takes much longer than two years to build a good business!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: