In case you haven’t heard, as of July 2018, KJR has been in business for 21 years! It’s an achievement we’re marking with a special series of blog posts…
This is Part Two
From a garage on the Gold Coast KJR’s founder, Kelvin Ross, shares his memories of the early years and what he thinks the special sauce has been that has ensured KJR is still successful today.
How did KJR start?
Before KJR, I completed a PhD and was working as business development coordinator at the Software Verification Research Centre (SVRC) at The University of Queensland. We did quite a bit of defence consulting work, which was interesting, but I always thought it would be cool to have a top team of five or so consultants doing interesting consulting work more broadly across other industries.
Having grown up in small business I had lots of crazy entrepreneurial ideas as a kid, so I realised it was time to just go out and have a crack. Which I did, without really having a plan or a clue. I rocked up to the business registration office, filled out the form, thought ‘crap what am I going to call this thing’…then K.J. Ross & Associates Pty Ltd was born!
‘Now I need to go out and find those Associates, oh wait, perhaps some customers first.’
In that first year, what was a typical day like for yourself?
It was pretty crazy. I was flat out trying to see customers during the day and deliver on my reports and projects in the evening. I also started doing some marketing, presentations and training events to grow the business. We kicked off a bit of work in Sydney not long after, triggering a lot of interstate travel, which lasted 12 or so years until I stepped back as CEO.
I was doing everything: invoicing, accounts, setting up the time and billing database, setting up stationary, writing portfolio documents, quoting, submitting proposals; and I hate admin!
That first year I didn’t take a salary. I poured everything back into the business. Actually, I may have had one of the lowest salaries in the business for the first three or four years. I moved in with Melanie, which meant I basically had no rent or personal bills. I think it was just that perfect window of time in my life where I could put it all on the line and give things a good shake. I don’t know whether I could have dealt with the risk if I had a mortgage or kids.
Describe the first office…
Thinking back that makes me laugh. The first office was in the garage underneath the granny flat at my future father-in-law’s house, where I lived with Melanie. Didn’t I just tell you, I didn’t have any rent. I moved in with Mel and she supported me.
Of course, I had to marry that women! Talk about trust and belief in me and my crazy ideas. And that’s why Mel continues to be a great business partner today and remains very active on the KJR board.
At one stage we had 12 people working from the “test lab” downstairs.
I fondly remember doing some all-nighters with the team from the lab and Sandra (our admin savior) coming in the next morning to cook us breakfast. In those early days we were a close-knit team, we even had a badminton court in our front yard that was a major source of fun with the team.
In your opinion, when did KJR reach its stride?
Like an artist, I don’t think the painting is ever finished. Today KJR is the most professional, stable and capable it has ever been. We have had so many steps up in maturity over the years. We had to transform, both as the technology changed, but also as the company grew.
I think software assurance is coming into a golden age, particularly with AI and other technologies that are placing greater needs and strains on technology trust. I think we have a great team on board that are going to take this to an amazing new level over the next 21 years. Who knows what technology will look like then, it’s certainly a lot different to when we nationally started just a couple of years after the world wide web was born. Adapting to change is what I love about my career in technology.
Sure, KJR might have the occasional hiccup but we have so much experience in the team from both the successes and learnings from failures that I have no doubt we’ll continue to change, grow and adapt.
Read Part One of the 21st birthday series: How IT has changed