Exclusive: Richard Paul of SnapperNet
FYI, this story is more than a year old
Richard Paul, SnapperNet director and owner, talks to Heather Wright about industry changes, the founding of his company and life beyond technology.
Richard Paul jokes that SnapperNet, launched April 01, 2001, was a good April Fool's joke – and one that's now been going 13 years.
Co-founded by Paul and Ultra Computer's John Gould and Mark Forbes, the genesis of SnapperNet formed within Ultra. The local computer assembler had begun importing networking gear, with Paul looking after that area of the business.
With Ultra wanting to focus on its core business of PC assembly, a decision was made to spin off the division into its own business.
Gould and Forbes would prove to be valuable mentors for Paul.
“Mark had tremendous experience with administration and logistics and John had an accounting background which was essential because that was somewhere I was weak. Their assistance was invaluable.”
Four years ago, Paul bought the business off Gould and Forbes. “By then, we had a formula that was honed and working. Nothing much has changed since then as far as the way things are done.”
Paul's entry to the world of technology wasn't so straightforward. At school, technology held no interest. “To be fair, it was the days of Apple's Lisa, and we had four in the computer suite and that was about it,” he says, laughing.
While Paul describes himself as fiercely competive ('I can remember throwing some serious temper tantrums when I, or my team, lost anything when I was a young fella!'), when it came to a career, he didn't really know what to do.
He did know he didn't want to go to university, despite being a 'good' student. “I couldn't find the right thing to do at university, and I couldn't see the point in it,” he says now.
The technology bug bit when he got a job at the Apple centre in Sydney. After two years working as a bank teller and with his father's food distribution business, the Apple job got Paul excited about IT.
“Even then it was really fast paced, things were changing all the time, there were always things to learn. And the social side of it was fantastic as well.
"Eighteen months of working in Sydney with Apple related product and being close to the Apple people there, I had to come back to New Zealand for a rest,” he laughs.
Jobs at component sellers Computer Connection, and later NJS Technologies, marked his return to New Zealand. When NJS was bought out and closed, Paul decided that, having dealt with resellers during his time there, he'd try his hand at reselling.
“I thought how hard can it be, I'll have a crack at this.
“I learned quite a lot, including how difficult it is in reseller land and having to deal with end customers. After a couple of years doing that, I really had some empathy for those people who had been my customers and were about to become my customers again.”
Paul had decided that he enjoyed being in distributor land more, and approached an old customer, Ultra Computer, for a job. And so came SnapperNet.
“When we first started we had literally five products and that was enough to sustain a small distribution business. Prices were high, the margins were quite good.
Five products, 30 resellers and we did $1 million in nine months, which was a pretty good start,” he says.
“Now the 540 ethernet switch we sold for $2500 dollars is worth $25, so guess how many more we have to sell. But the appetite for product is keeping up with the lower costs and lower margins.
“So we are actually selling thousands more units because people are using technology for things you wouldn't have dreamed of 13 years ago.”
The distributor now has 2500 listed SKUs, with access to about 10,000 products across its vendors, and has around 800 resellers and integrators it supplies to on a monthly basis.
Paul says his management skills have been picked up on the job.
He enjoys reading about the Mad Butcher. “He's very clever, very astute. I have a lot of respect for what he's done and how he's done it.
“Because essentially he started working in a butchery with no skills and no education to speak of and taught himself everything. He's somebody I admire.”
When it comes to his own management style, Paul says he's acutely aware of the numbers, 'but they don't rule me'. He reads industry publications and talks to 'a relatively wide group of people' to help identify trends and make sure SnapperNet is 'pointing in the right direction'.
When it comes to managing his team, he's somewhat of a micromanager, and says he's 'guilty of having to always know what's going on, while being able to leave it up to individuals to do what they need to do'.
“The size of the business [with a team of eight] still lends itself to me being a little bit of a micromanager.
“I don't know if the staff enjoy that or not,” he quips, “but it does mean I can still step into any of the roles in the company and do a half-decent job at filling in for anybody if they're away.
“That said, the more my staff know and the better they are at it, the less I have to do and I'm really enjoying this point in the business where my team can essentially run the business themselves. I don't have to be there all the time – though I want to be there all the time!”
Sixty hour weeks are the norm and Paul admits even when he hands the business over to a general manager, 'I'll still probably do 60 hours a week, it will just be different stuff'.
“I enjoy getting out of bed in the mornings and going to work. While it has its usual stresses, I don't ever dread going into the office.”
Outside of work, he loves to be involved with his two sons' sport, with one playing rugby and one playing soccer. Until last year he coached rugby, having played until he was 35.
His competitive side makes him an 'occassional' runner. “I go through stages where it's three or four times a week and then I push myself too hard and get an injury and that's it for six months.
"Even if it's a casual jog around the block, if I see someone in front of me, I have to pass them. That's me, competitive in everything I do!”
A beach house provides a break away from everyday life, while his wife's love of food sees the couple eating out and checking out new restaurants whenever they're travelling.
“While it's her thing, I'm enjoying supporting her in it.”
Looking to the distant future, Paul says retirement may just bring some of the tertiary education he passed up on earlier.
“It will be something completely useless of course because it won't be something I'll be using in my career, so it might be something like history.”