When Ben Hamilton moved to Singapore from Melbourne in 2009 to explore the Southeast Asian market for education software services, he didn’t realize that seven years later Wisenet would be based there.
Now his message to Australian technology companies is simple: “Come to Singapore,” he says.
Mr Hamilton has nothing but praise for the ”motivation and commitment” of the Singapore Government to small companies, and to technology companies in particular, something he believes the Australian Government can learn from.
“They recognise that small and large businesses are different – and have different resources,” says Hamilton.
This difference is reflected in the Singapore tax and regulation system, where small companies get different treatment to larger corporations.
“In Australia, my tiny little company operates on the same tax laws as BHP. I have to play by those rules,” he sys.
Instead, in Singapore he points to a progressive tax and regulation system where smaller business are exempt from what he describes as “the more onerous compliance responsibilities.”
There are tax exemptions for start up and low earning companies and a flat company tax rate of 17 per cent.
“In Australia payroll tax, income tax – so many layers of tax – as well as the tax rates, were stopping is us from being able to re-invest the profits in our business,” Mr Hamilton said.
Wisenet builds enterprise resource planning software for privately-run vocational education colleges.
“There was no decent record keeping or reporting, you couldn’t see the status of different students – the government was investing a lot of money in the sector and a lot of statistical reporting was required,’” he told InnovationAus.com.
“I wrote an application and sold it to them, not long after we jumped in the car drove all the way top Brisbane and picked up 50 customers in 3 weeks.
“Now Wisenet software runs the whole business – it helps our clients to recruit students, manage their whole life cycles, sales, content delivery and back office – we don’t provide the content, but the platform for the content.”
Mr Hamilton said that in Australia the company’s focus is to help student completion rates, but in Asia the game is about opening up new markets
“Cloud based software applications required scale, and Australia is too small a market to be constrained by,” he says.
“Australia is looked on as a reference model for the education system in Singapore and Malaysia, where they have not had an education framework for students who don’t go to university.”
In fact, Singapore has just introduced such a framework and other countries in the region – such as Indonesia – have announced plans for up skilling workers as their economies evolve.
“As the world moves to lifelong learning, shorter more skills-based courses will be required to do a job – this sector is ripe for massive growth. In places like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia – education absolute top priority in households,” he said.
“We want to be the de-facto application for this sector in those markets
“We looked at the US, but Asia while not uncomplex for us, we thought was a good fit. It was as long-term plan and we have been patient and it’s starting to pay dividends now we are 6-7 years ahead of our competitors,” Mr Hamilton reckons
And while Australia is a reference point for Singapore, Singapore is a reference point for the rest of Asia.
He noted that Singapore is a natural destination for Australian companies because it is English speaking, has a favorable legal and business environment and is great base for exploring Southeast Asian markets.
But Mr Hamilton said that the only way to tackle the region properly was “to come up to Asia, don’t attempt to do a fly in an fly out.”
“The question I am always asked is ‘how long are you in Singapore?’ People are surprised and impressed when I say I live here. “
“If you are really serious about the region, I think you need to be there with the CEO, or the founder. It has got to be someone serious and senior,” he said.
“Localising the product is obvious, but pretty much everything else has to be localised too – like hiring practices, training practices – and that was a lesson it took a while to learn.”
“We are now a Singapore-headquartered company. When we first went [to Singapore] that was not the intention but it’s where we ended up.
“And therewould not be a day goes by when I run into someone from Australia who is not also doing the same thing,” Mr Hamilton said.