City Leaders: Danny Maher's vision for a technology hub

Jenna Rathbone | March 2017

Gold Coaster Danny Maher is at the forefront of what has been dubbed one of the fastest growing business software companies in the world.

While many might assume the businessman is based in Silicon Valley, New York, Sydney or even Melbourne, Maher is actually running the award-winning business from the heart of Surfers Paradise.

Maher, the founder of Opmantek, a business providing commercial open source network management and IT audit software, says there is no better place in the world to establish a tech company.

Since its inception in 2011, Opmantek has grown to have a global customer base of more than 115,000.

“We get a new organisation using our software every six minutes, it is used in more than 130 countries, and we are said to be the fastest growing business software company in the world,” says Maher.

Opmantek came to the fore in 2015 when Maher edged out two corporate heavyweights, Telstra CEO David Thodey and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, in the Stevie Awards to take out the title of Executive of the Year.

However, there is still more to be done, with Maher saying the business is expected to grow revenue tenfold in the next year, double staff, and open more offices around the world, including in Silicon Valley, Brazil and Europe.

Maher talks to We Are Gold Coast about the importance of his home town embracing the IT industry, he answers whether or not he plans to list on the ASX, and explains his vision for an IT mansion on the beach.

Who have been some of your biggest influences in life and in business?

Most of the time the biggest influences are people who are close to you like your parents and friends.  But one of the biggest influences in my business life was Ed Yang, a leading Asia business executive who built Wang Labs and EDS, who took me under his wing for three years, travelling around Asia.  It was an opportunity that no one could buy – I learnt a lot and built trusted relationships with many leading Asia business people that very few people could get in front of.

I have met so many people in my life and sometimes you can get a lesson from a homeless person, sometimes you get a lesson from a billionaire.  You have to just listen to what everyone has to tell you and if it makes sense and is useful to you, then take it on board.

What was the childhood dream? 

I always wanted to breed racehorses.  I own numerous racehorses now (one which won the Magic Millions as a part owner of Sweet Idea – a horse I only bought in to because I had moved to the Gold Coast).

I also wanted to fly and join the Air Force and fly a fighter plane – I always liked a bit of adventure.  I don’t have my full pilot’s license but I did get a scholarship and went to learn to fly in New Zealand and I did actually apply for the Australian Defence Force Academy but I ended up going to Canberra University.

Computers are not that far from my childhood dreams, as strange as that may seem; I love maths and always liked computers.

Do you have a favourite quote and how does it motivate you in the workplace?

My favourite quote is a Buddha quote: ‘don’t believe anything anyone tells you, even if I tell you, unless it makes sense to your own reason’.

I believe you have to keep an open mind; your own thoughts are not necessarily correct. I think you should listen to everyone and that quote backs that up. Listen to everyone and if it makes sense to you then take it on board, no matter who said it – if it doesn’t make sense to you then ignore it, no matter who said it.

What have you learnt about leadership during your career?

Richard Branson said you should be the first one naked in the pool, if you are the CEO.  I am a big believer in that you have to be yourself and be real. You shouldn’t be something out of a book.  If you, as the CEO, can’t be yourself at the office, then no one else can.

What are some of your leadership strengths?

I am a big believer in celebrating the wins and the good moments – it is super important.  And, you have got to work hard. Running a marathon is hard and climbing Mount Everest is hard, but no one says those things are not enjoyable.  Hard work can be enjoyable. People who want to climb Everest have that passion in their life and everything comes second to it.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of your career and how did you overcome those?

Challenges come and go and how you overcome them is by seeking them out.  That is the whole reason you are working, to find those challenges and overcome them.  I am not interested in actually working anywhere where there are no challenges.

I refer to Opmantek as a safari. You know where you have to get to, but there are challenges you can’t anticipate and as a result you really don’t know how you are going to get there.

How do you manage Opmantek’s exceptional growth?

It is really important to have a very strong company culture and you can no longer rely on individuals who are smart.  If there is not a culture of people supporting each other, it won’t work.  The second thing in managing that growth is that you sometimes have to hold back against growing too fast, which is painful, and test what you are doing before you start replicating what you are doing.

If you look at the year before this one, it was not a good year because we changed the structure of the company, we opened offices overseas, we spent more and we had a lower income – but it worked, enormously so.  That was a pain that we had to go through to test how to open these offices and test what sort of people we needed, what we could sell, who we could sell to and how much we could sell it for. That was painful for both the company and investors.  Although, we actually didn’t have a single investor complain (we have 70 investors) and it was really fantastic the way they supported us going through that process.

The Gold Coast isn’t considered an IT and technology hub. Do you think the perception of the city can change?

The reality is if you are outside of the Gold Coast, and especially if you are outside of Australia, and you came up with a brilliant idea in technology, you wouldn’t immediately think to move to Australia to make this idea a success.  You certainly wouldn’t move to the Gold Coast to do it.  But one of the things that we are passionate about doing is changing that.

The whole purpose of Opmantek is really about commercialising these first products, and about creating a commercialisation process and working out what it is in Australia that can be leveraged over and above other countries.

Why is IT such an important industry?

Diversifying the economy protects you against all sorts of ups and downs – in the case of the Gold Coast, especially in relation to ups and downs of tourism created by fluctuating currencies or sentiment.

If you create an IT industry, you don’t need to diversify any more than that because you are naturally diversified.  If you create an IT industry, you are in every industry and it is the easiest industry to get export dollars from.

For example, when Opmantek signs a contract for $1 million, all we send is an email with a license key and an invoice – that’s it.

The customer doesn’t even get a user manual and they don’t get a person going over to install something. We don’t even need a distribution channel.  All they get is an email with a license key and an invoice for $1 million.  And, what industry are we in?  Every industry – healthcare, banking, telecommunications, education, government; every industry uses our software.

We, as a company, are diversified against any downturn in any industry and as a city, if the Gold Coast has a good IT eco-system, it is an economically diversified city.

Opmantek has been presented with a number of prestigious awards. Why do you think it is continuously recognised on the world stage?

It helps to have a good technology to start with, but you have to have good customers as well.  From there it is about seeking out the awards which you deserve.  It is the same way you would go for a tender or a contract but we win a lot because it is a great business – great people, great products and I like to think a great story, a classic lean startup which gave birth to a true high growth company. We are thrilled to have the recognition we get and some of the awards we have won have been mind-blowing.

What award are you most proud of?

Australian IT exporter of the year 2015, because that is what we are setting up to do – to change the landscape in Australia and show how you can commercialise and export technology.  Plus, it was a cracking night – a great awards function and most unexpected.

If you had a wish-list for the Gold Coast, without any budgetary constraints, what would be at the top of that list?

I would like to see a funded commercialisation hub, including an accelerator with appropriate connections to overseas funders and commercial partners set up in a geeky, cool, surf-style IT mansion on the beach – with wild geeky IT parties every Friday of course

What is your ultimate vision for Opmantek?

Our vision is to have not just Opmantek, but other companies leveraging what we are doing.  Ultimately, whether people like to hear it or not, companies like Opmantek, nine out of 10 of them will end up as US companies.  But, as a vision, we will keep every person that has been through this and we will establish that mansion with the funding and have loads of companies come through there to benefit those companies and reaching out to the wider Gold Coast community.

Would you ever list Opmantek on the ASX?

I am on record saying it is ‘possible but improbable that we would list on the ASX’.  Things have certainly changed on that front recently. Opmantek has a variety of options at the moment – there is an incredible amount of money in Silicon Valley and we have opportunites to work with US investors.

All the same we are working through a potential IPO on the ASX and the Pre-IPO capital raise is under way now. As we go through this process we will continue to investigate other options that are presented to us – especially those from the USA but we do intend to IPO. It’s been five years now for Opmantek since founding at the Gold Coast – an early investment of $25,000 at that time has retuned on paper $1 million but the stock is very tightly held and it is time to create some greater liquidity for our investors.

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