Want to be an Entrepreneur? – First find a customer and make a sale!

similar to the machine used at Chrysler Aust in the 70s
IBM Maniframe – System 360 – similar to the machine used at Chrysler Aust in the 70s

In the late 70s I was a very young up and coming Analyst/Programmer in the DP Department at Chrysler Australia. Among the 3 systems I had some responsibility for was payroll…. an archaic in house developed system written in COBOL which ran on what was at the time a million dollar computer an IBM Mainframe … a System 360 Model 40.

One day my boss came to me to tell me he had been invited to attend a seminar at John Neller and Associates along with some other big name companies that used IBM Mainframes (inc Bank of NSW (now Westpac), SAGASCO ( now Envestra) ES &A Bank (now defunct)) to look at developing a computerised Payroll packaged system to meet the specific needs of Australia.

At this stage there was no standard Payroll package that was designed for the unique needs of Australia (eg RDOs, Leave Loading, Long Service Leave etc etc ). Large companies either modified and maintained a US package, developed and maintained their own in house developed system or they used one of the many payroll bureaux to do it all for them at great expense. There was no such thing as a package that was supported and maintained that met the unique needs of Australia.

Basically they started with a blank whiteboard …. John Neller issued the challenge to the assembled Payroll Analysts and Programmers from around the country to design what they needed to meet all requirements of Australia.

In the categories defined by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point – John as a great Connector had assembled a group of Mavens to work on a project at no cost to him… because he saw the Unmet Need and went out to find his customers …who then defined the problem and the solution for him.

At the end of two days what was to be Austpay was designed and the room was full of enthusiasm for such a package that would make life easier for most large companies in Australia.

To complete the triumvirate needed for a Tipping Point there was a need for a sale …and a salesman to do the job.

At this stage John the consummate Entrepreneur put his very subtle sales man hat on and proceeded to tell the room that his minnow of a company in the great big world of computer software would build this product ….on one proviso…… enough people in the room would not only commit to buy it but they would agree to put up a sizeable deposit before the design work…let alone the coding …. commenced.

To my amazement most of the people in the room including my boss put their hand up and signed on the dotted line.

What was to be a miracle of the Australian Sofware Industry was born ….IBM was the core – it was to be mainframe (not mid range) and Cobol (not RPG) based … a big and expensive leap forward for JNA. as mid range IBM systems and coding in RPG was their world. So John had introduced some disruptive innovation to the business as well.

But the real story here that has stayed with me for the past 40 years as I see young entrepreneurs in the IT industry come and moreso go…. If you want to prove you have got something the market wants ….get yourself a customer willing to pay real money before you invest your hard earned time and money in a project that you think worthwhile.

I guess these days Crowdfunding is a great alternate path …get lots of people to put small amounts in to get things going to proof of concept stage at least …and as such entice a major invest.

So not only was John Neller a pioneer in the IT/DP/MIS industry he was also an early Australian IT Entrepreneur…. and even a possibly the

inventor of CrowdFunding.

Not bad for an accountant who could never fathom how the fax machine worked.

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