Symon Thurlow is the co-founder and CEO at Parallo, a specialist service provider to many SaaS businesses, Software Creators and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) in Australia and New Zealand.
Business Type: Technology
Number of employees: 32
Current Business Situation: Experiencing exceptional growth despite COVID-19 and integrating people and services through recent acquisition
Relationship with The Icehouse: Owner Manager Programme Alumni
'Since completion of the OMP, working with Symon has been good. The relationships he built and the conversations he had with the other participants on the course has boosted his confidence in his strategic decisions and he is now able to bring real-world business experiences to these conversations.' Nicole Schaefer, co-founder and GM Operations
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an owner?
I’ve always had an urge to own a business from an early age. As I progressed through my IT career I saw opportunities to build something of value, and intrinsically wanted to make those ideas come to life. I also came to understand that as a business owner you have the capability to create a culture, and I wanted to create a fabulous place to work, where people went home happy and that flowed through in to their personal lives. That’s what we strive for, but not always possible to achieve.
How did you become the owner of your business?
My co-founders and I worked together at a previous business and we got to see first-hand how most NZ IT services businesses operated and we were astounded to see that many apparently successful businesses didn’t have the customer at the forefront of their thinking. However, they still managed to stay in business! That gave us confidence that if we started a business and did the basics right, along with putting the customer first, we’d have a stronger business than many, so we went for it.
In 2011 I established the business with co-founders Nicole Schaefer and Shaun Webber as a subsidiary of another business. In June 2017 we bought out our majority shareholders and re-branded to Parallo. We grew pretty rapidly – solving IT infrastructure problems for blue-chip customers across every industry. In 2014 we started managing cloud platforms for SaaS businesses, and that part of the business now represents most of our revenue and is growing rapidly. In 2019 the business had grown almost 40% year-on-year for the previous six years, which in the latter years was significant growth, and in September 2020 Parallo was acquired by rhipe for $4.25 million, plus multiple earn-out opportunities.
How does 2021 look for you compared to 2020?
Well, 2020 was pretty intense! We went through an acquisition and I graduated from Owner Manager Programme 48 two weeks before the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. We were actually going through one of our best-ever years and then, in the latter half of the year, we joined forces with rhipe. So it’s been quite a few months!
Throughout OMP 48 I was in negotiations with rhipe regarding the acquisition of the business. As we are an IT services company that primarily services the SaaS sector, we weren’t greatly affected by the global events of 2020, and with the acquisition we now have access to significant capital and in-market presence in Australia and APAC. Our already significant growth is ramping up!
What are currently your biggest challenges?
We’ve seen a few of our clients struggle, which is a shame – they’re primarily in the transportation and hospitality sector, which we all know has been hit hard. However, our business wasn’t hugely impacted by COVID.
The industries we serve live online – which is a growth sector in COVID scenarios – are doing well and as we also specialise in critical infrastructure, we’re not first in line for cost-cutting. At our end, we planned for all possible scenarios around cash conservation and where we would need to pull the lever if the need arose. Thankfully, we never got to that stage. We did receive the first wage subsidy but as soon as it was clear we didn’t need it we gave it back.
As a technology company we are incredibly well set up to service our customers, and dealing with business interruption through IT is one of the things we do, so we’ve done well during COVID-19. I always say that we’re a technology company that works remotely from the same office, so the day-to-day operations were no different during COVID.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
I’d wanted to do some sort of senior management training for a while but, as an owner, you’re always thinking that there are ‘better’ things you should be spending your money on, such as recruitment. As the three founders of the business are all engineers, I was looking for something to help me grow as a business leader and be more capable in specific areas.
I looked longingly at OMP for about three or four years because I’d concluded that it was the best option and the most appropriate programme for me. After some initial wrangling I jumped straight in and within the first session of the first block I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
Obviously there was the academic side, which was fantastic. But, for me, a huge part of the learning experience came from the guest speakers who were working in a bigger space to us, and it was reassuring to get their input and reflection on what they had been through.
One thing I learned was about eradicating imposter syndrome – no one has it sorted and has all the answers, and we’re all working it out as we go along.
I never had a boring conversation. The group would start talking about business at 6am in the morning and those meaningful conversations would go on late into the night, and that was incredibly powerful.
OMP actually helped me during the acquisition process – because as the programme developed it clarified my decision-making on why and who I was selling the business to, what it needed to grow, and why the new business was a good fit for our long-term strategy.
OMP taps into your courage as an owner. You learn in a safe environment and you are able to let your guard down and be open, so everyone can help each other. I was able to ‘dump my bucket’ every month and get some perspective. So the people side of it shone through for me, and we are all still in touch.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
I think anyone (in a business context) who is creating something new, pushing boundaries and persevering through adversity should make sure they own it, or part of it. If you start thinking you could probably start a business and be successful – you can – go and do it, be brave!
So much of my business advice to others came from OMP. One of the things that has really lasted with me and something COVID has taught us, is about diversifying your products and not being reliant on just one vertical. Things happen in business that you cannot plan for, and if most of your income is derived from just one source, you’re terribly exposed. So you have to look for ways to mitigate against that and spreading your offering.
The moment you think you’d benefit from OMP – don’t be like me and delay – honestly find a way to make it work. If you think you’ll benefit, that is the indicator that you need to attend it. I didn’t find out until later on that there were scholarships from some of the big banks and regional development organisations to help with the cost – so find a way and get on it. My business would be bigger and it would have been a smoother journey if I had attended sooner.
Follow the link for more information about Parallo and its range of products and services.