Phocas – Christchurch Talent Wins Over Global Software Company
Not all of Christchurch’s success stories are “home grown.” Phocas Software tells a slightly different story – of a successful Australian company being won over by the talent they found across the Tasman and the persuasiveness of a man who didn’t want to move!
Phocas Software is a Sydney-headquartered company developing business intelligence tools that enable people to make better decisions through easy access to information. They plug into dozens of ERPs and describe themselves as being experts at getting data out of them. Helping businesses in distribution, retail and manufacturing make better decisions without needing analysts and machine learning expertise; clients include Sistema, Repco, Bayer and Bupa.
Founded in 2001 out of a backpacker job in a hostel (that’s something you’ll need to listen to the Podcast for!); there are now over 200 staff working across the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America, servicing more than 2,100 clients.
Jumping to 2019 and Blair Cassidy was approached to join the team as their Chief Product Officer. He loved the people, the culture and the product, but didn’t want to move to Australia. After a three-day strategy session in Sydney, the Phocas CEO said having Blair based in NZ wouldn’t work out and said ‘no’.
Blair countered with a proposal to consult for them to help deal with specific issues while they looked to fill the role permanently. Once he started, both sides saw how well it was working and so, Blair was offered the job, allowing him to remain in Christchurch,“…so I never left!” he laughs!
Building A Christchurch R&D Team
Blair had previously been the Chief Product Officer for SLI Systems until its acquisition by ESW Capital LLC in early 2019, after which the whole NZ operation was delisted from the NZX and downsized. During his initial interviews he’d pitched the idea that Phocas could employ a bunch of the really talented people that were spilling out of SLI. Without knowing Blair at that time, or the Christchurch talent, it seemed like too much of a risky move and so the opportunity to have a ready-made team seemed to be lost.
By the time he’d been on board for a few months, he had built confidence and credibility within the leadership team and had started to build the team in Christchurch. By June 2021 they had a team of 50 people in Christchurch. Development is done on AWS serverless stacks and this makes it super exciting for the teams to work on, as it’s cutting edge technology.
Christchurch is now Phocas’ main R&D office and the one they are looking to grow. Another office in Orange, Australia also has an R&D team, but Blair says the availability of talent there means it is hard to grow the team. They are about to move offices again to allow for the growth of the team – their 3rd office in two years. They are looking to bring on another 40 people by the end of this year and if you look around the office, you’ll see a few familiar ex-SLI faces too! In a couple years time they may be around 200 people, but aren’t fixed on that being the ceiling of how far this can go in Christchurch.
“There’s amazing talent here,” Blair adds.
Culture is Everything
Culture underpins everything for the team; the company values are “fun, fulfilling, forever.” Blair says while they are looking to grow the team, it’s less about specific roles and more about finding people who want to be the best in product development.
“We don’t hire people to fit into a particular role – full stop;
We want to help them grow themselves,” he says
He describes a lack of hierarchy across the organisation and the value of having a diverse team, about half of whom were born outside of NZ. The Christchurch Office Manager is known as the “Chief Fun Officer.”
Phocas’ culture is driven by their energetic CEO, Myles Glashier who creates videos of all the things he’s been thinking about and invites the team to reach out and chat with him directly. It’s not all management talk either, Phocas performs well on the employee review platform, Glassdoor (currently 4.5/5, with 100% CEO approval).
A Balance For Good
Phocas is currently seeking B-Corp certification, recognising their desire to balance profit with purpose and extending their values to their ability to impact the world around them. They like B-Corp as it supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and have identified 3-4 priorities to work on. Blair says having this long-term view has made his job easier – thinking about how to build a sustainable business for the long-haul needs a mindset shift away from typical profit maximisation. It changes all the decisions they make as an organisation.
To find out more listen in to the EPIC Podcast with Blair Cassidy & Bill Stalker