How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur In Adelaide: An Interview With Stuart Snyder
Stuart Snyder was a co-founder, director, and CFO of YourAmigo, the South Australian exporter of the year in 2008. YourAmigo was incorporated in 1999 and successfully commercialised novel search technology acquired from Flinders University.
YourAmigo was a technology leader in the search marketing space with installations on websites in over 30 different countries including many of the world’s top 100 ecommerce companies. Today, YourAmigo’s company headquarters are still in Adelaide although virtually all sales are export.
Stuart grew up in Silicon Valley, starting his career as a CPA with KPMG in San Jose, California and migrated to Adelaide in 1993 when he married an Australian citizen. He is now semi-retired, mentoring in entrepreneurship.
In the following interview we wanted to find out how a former Silicon Valley resident, now successful Adelaide entrepreneur got started, kept going, and about his career highlights.
Adelaide Tweet: Thanks for talking to us Stuart! How did you get the confidence to start in business?
Stuart Snyder: I moved to Adelaide from Silicon Valley in 1993 and worked for a defense company with the people who later became the key management team at YourAmigo. I was blown away by the quality of the talent of the team which was vastly superior to any team I ever saw in Silicon Valley and suggested we should one day start our own company which is a common thing to do in Silicon Valley.
Adelaide Tweet: Okay, so once you started, what kept you going?
Stuart Snyder: Once you make a commitment and take money from investors, you must give it your all. For me I always strived to achieve my best and believed we had the talent and technology to make something significant happen. I had always worked hard for others and thought, “why couldn’t I work hard for myself and reap the rewards.” Part of my passion was to prove an international technology company could be headquartered in Adelaide. I knew from my experience in Silicon Valley that talent and ideas were the key, and as long as you had a sales presence in the USA, geographical location was less important.
Adelaide Tweet: That makes sense, but why is entrepreneurship right for you?
Stuart Snyder: I felt I was a high achiever who wanted to give it a go and see if I could achieve success. I met a lot of successful entrepreneurs that I thought were not as smart or talented, but who took the risk. For me it is something I wanted to try once in my life and even if I failed, I would have at least given it a go. Fortunately we were very successful and I was able to retire at the age of 57.
Adelaide Tweet: To help that, who was your “tribe,” how did they support you and how did you find them?
Stuart Snyder: The key staff and founders worked at a defense company that was a world leader in developing radar environment generators. This defense company went from zero to 55 people in three years and signed over $30 million in defense contract beating out large multinationals for a very large tender. I thought with talent like this, we should do something more globally commercial selling to private companies which are easier to deal with and more profitable than defense or government work.
After working at the defense company, I worked at Ellex Medical Laser systems an ophthalmic medical laser company cofounded by Victor Previn who became a cofounder of YourAmigo. I worked with Rahmon Coupe, the CEO of YourAmigo, at the defense company where he was the managing director and he was consulting to the commercialisation arm of the Flinders University when he came across a novel search technology concept that could find the “invisible web” or information in databases that Google couldn’t find.
We invested our own funds to get things started and over time raised capital from private investors and matched the funding with government grants.
Adelaide Tweet: Leading on from that, to succeed, who do you need to avoid and what personality traits do you need or need to work on?
Stuart Snyder: As an entrepreneur you must network and reach out to anyone who might possibly help grow your business. You need to suss out very quickly those who are time wasters and consultants who would charge alot of money, but not add real value. YourAmigo had a strong management team from day one and did not use consultants and figured out how to do most everything in house. I think the key trait of a successful entrepreneur is passion. I went to high school with a guy who was an average student, some thought was kind of weird, but had passion for what he believed in. His name was Steve Jobs.
Adelaide Tweet: Wow, what a great story – why then is entrepreneurship important?
Stuart Snyder: Entrepreneurs can create enormous wealth and jobs. This is a given to me because I grew up in Silicon Valley which is one of the wealthiest places on the planet where huge companies like Apple, Google, Intel, etc were founded as startups. I don’t think entrepreneurs are as highly regarded or their value understood in Australia.
Adelaide Tweet: Entrepreneurship is important for jobs, but why should someone consider entrepreneurship over “stable employment?”
Stuart Snyder: I grew tremendously as a person by being an entrepreneur. Before that I was an accountant who sat behind a desk crunching numbers in what I look back at as fairly boring jobs. As an entrepreneur I got involved in a broad range of activities such as capital raising, sales and marketing, developing strategies for success, etc that I previously never did. Even if YourAmigo did not succeed, I still would have done this for the experience which made me a much rounder and more confident individual. I met a lot of interesting people along the way, something that rarely happened in my previous accounting jobs. Another consideration for high achievers is why make money for someone else when you can make money for yourself?
Adelaide Tweet: What is the best way for someone to get involved with entrepreneurship?
Stuart Snyder: Just do it! It’s OK to make mistakes from which you will learn, but if you never give it a go, you will never learn. Try something small or part time, or better yet get involved with friends who are trying to do something entrepreneurial. YourAmigo had a great team from day 1 which is a major factor for entrepreneurial success. I recommend others who want to be entrepreneurs find outstanding partners with different skill sets. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely if you are doing it by yourself and having team members with different skills increases the probability of success.
Adelaide Tweet: If you started your entrepreneurial journey again, what would you have done differently?
Stuart Snyder: I think I would have tried to be an entrepreneur at a younger age instead of waiting until I was 45. Entrepreneurs work long hours and need a lot of energy and if things don’t work out, it is easier to bounce back and do something else if you are younger. Having said that there were advantages of starting out at an older age when I was more financially established with a lot of business experience which reduce mistakes. I thought the team at YourAmigo executed brilliantly and made very few mistakes.
Adelaide Tweet: Sometimes people are disparaging of Adelaide, what would you say to them?
Stuart Snyder: I grew up in Silicon Valley when it was known for agriculture not technology and Adelaide today reminds me of Silicon Valley of 40 years ago with great universities, quality lifestyle, defense industry, and bright people with innovative ideas. Silicon Valley forever changes when Apple computer became a success and attitudes changed overnight. All it will take is a bit of success to change the culture in Australia to embrace technology entrepreneurship.
Adelaide Tweet: What are the highlights of being involved with Your Amigo?
Stuart Snyder: Along with financial success, YourAmigo was the South Australian exporter of the year in 2008. There were many who said we would fail and it gave me great satisfaction to prove them wrong. There is a tall poppy cultural problem in Australia that you would not experience in Silicon Valley. We need to change the culture in Australia where entrepreneurs are not only encouraged, but respected in society as they make an incredibly valuable contribution to job and wealth creation.
Adelaide Tweet: What “successes” have you had with Your Amigo?
Stuart Snyder: YourAmigo had no Australian customers and had site installations in over 30 countries. We were the world leader in what we did in automating the optimization of large ecommerce web sites to drive online traffic and sales to our customers. I was proud that this was all done with our headquarters in Adelaide so many in Australia and the USA said it couldn’t be done. Of course, financial success enabled me to retire at 57, but I soon got bored and found I like to keep busy mentoring young entrepreneurs.
Yes there is. Stuart is a mentor at Venture Dorm, a practical startup entrepreneur’s education course coming out of Flinders Partners, the commercialisation company of Flinders University. The course includes a field trip to the startup hub of Austin, Texas in 2013. You can learn more here: http://www.venturedorm.com and by following @venturedorm on Twitter
Have questions for Stuart? Post them in the comments below!