Co-worker profile: Aware Group, taking on the world with tech
In the Soda co-working space, we have all sorts of companies, Aware Group has been with us since 2017 and has an incredible story. They have grown so much since they kicked off that they now need a bigger space! Our resident journalist, Kyra Dawson, caught up with co-founder Brandon Hutcheson recently to learn about their journey.
Just over two years ago two young entrepreneurs entered the Tertiary Information Technology Awards, now they have a global multimillion dollar business.
Aware group was formed in October 2016 by Jourdan Templeton and Brandon Hutcheson, both contractors for Wintec. Brandon was a project manager and Jourdan a solutions architect.
The pair had spent a year developing a business intelligence information system for Wintec and when they presented it at the Tertiary Information Technology Awards, they won.
After that they had nearly every other tertiary institute at their door, asking them to do the same thing for each of them.
Brandon said their business intelligence information system used data to make an organisation more efficient and give it an advantage over its competitors.
“For this one piece of work, we scraped every tertiary institutes websites where they list their international agents. We then put all of that into a giant map which showed every tertiaries market share and who was competing with who.
“This hadn’t been done before. We used unconventional data to do something that people assumed was either illegal, you needed an agreement for or wasn’t public information. But it wasn’t and it's what really propelled our place in the market”
After the win, the duo had a customer base and a proven track record. Their first contract was over 6 figures secured within three to four weeks and they picked up a big contract with Microsoft, which made them cash flow positive and able to hire more staff.
“We continued going through those kind of implementations, for the first year we specialized mostly in tertiary education and Microsoft. They were our two biggest clients.
“Now we look after 63 percent of New Zealand’s tertiary education providers. We also get well over $1m a year for work we do on Microsoft products.”
The company, now called Aware Group, not only have customers in New Zealand, they have them in Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, United States, and Taiwan.
Just last year they took home the 2018 Deloitte Rising Star Award for the Central North Island. And now their latest project, LittleBot, was a part of the Vodafone Xone Accelerator. LittleBot is an AI-based live transcription knowledge management and customer analysis solution for call centres.
LittleBot empowers agents to provide faster and more reliable information to customers; while on live calls. By also recognising sentiment within the call – LittleBot can help sales teams to not only pinpoint sale opportunities but also optimise conversions for promotions and up-sells.
“We’ve tripled in revenue since we started and have had ten times customer growth in the last 12 months, which has been fantastic. Our team has grown by about 250 percent and another five hires are on the way.”
Aware Group’s first office was in Rostrevor Street in Hamilton, it wasn’t much bigger than an average walk-in wardrobe and there was a team of five.
“We didn’t want to overspend at the start and the office was costing us next to nothing. We had a small office in the United States too – our team there looked after our Microsoft relationship.
“About five to six months in, we decided we needed something a bit bigger to start growing our team. We weren’t doing this to make money any more, we were doing it because we wanted to create a company. It actually took us about four months before we had a name for the company. We were doing work under contractor accounts instead of doing it under our main company because we didn’t have one.
“We decided our team was too separated, they weren’t actually seeing each other. So, we had to work out how to bring everybody together.”
Brandon said they realised most of their customer base was in the CBD so it was the logical place to base themselves.
“We wanted to give our team the opportunity to all work in the same place or at least be able to have lunches together within walking distance. We jumped on TradeMe and started looking at few different leasing options, Soda was the only one that provided modern facilities.
“There were not only modern facilities, but events rooms – which was massive for us, there was the ability to be part of a community, and you have access to networks, so after viewing a few other options we decided to come down to Soda.
“At the time, we had about six staff when we moved into Soda, within 12 months we were at 12 and we got to the point of capacity – we’re at 13 in New Zealand now and 6 in the States with more coming on.
“So, when we got to 12 staff we had to have a discussion on what we were going to do next. We have outgrown our current office at Soda, which requires us to have a separate presence outside of co-working. The co-working space has been great for us as a start-up and even as a scaling up company."
Brandon said Soda had been a great help in certain areas when it came to the growth of Aware Group.
“There are three main things that Soda has provided which have helped us grow. The first is Rachel Adams (Soda’s Head of Operations) and her ability to connect, answer questions and provide opportunities.
“One of those opportunities was Innes48, personally I gained some really cool things from that – I meet a whole bunch of really cool people and we got customers out of it.
“That ties into the second thing, which was all of the events that were put on. I made the conscious effort to be a ‘yes’ person and say yes to everything that came along. That was everything from networking events to entering competitions to advisory and mentoring opportunities. Lots of good things have come from those.
“And third, having Erin around for the High-Tech Awards, I had no idea she was even a judge until we got through and it was a big surprise. But having the ability to bounce feedback off her was incredibly useful and helpful.
“Also, between Rachel and Erin, having the ability to ask a question about different individuals in the business community to find out if they are honest and worth my time, they spend their whole life working in the community and they know, was so valuable. It’s like having a trusted business connection that doesn’t cost you anything extra.”
Brandon said the best thing to come out of Soda for him overall was the connections and events.
“We have made the most of everything and from a start-up to scale-up prospective Soda makes it easy, you didn’t have to worry about the tidily things, like cleaning,” he said.