Typefi CEO Chandi Perera explains how a small Australian business became a global force in publishing.
Hi Chandi. You’re a small business from Queensland, Australia, but you’re also a global leader in ‘single-source automated publishing software’. Can you give us the dummy’s explanation of that?
Traditionally, a writer wanting to create a publication first authored the document in a package like Microsoft Word. Then the manuscript would go to an editor and then a designer, who would create a typeset version of the book for printing and distribution.
Done manually, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Typefi essentially automates this process and makes it much faster. After the author has written their book, editors and designers can use Typefi to significantly automate their tasks and cut their effort by up to 95%. This is what ‘automated publishing software’ means.
With the proliferation of the web, tablets and mobile phones, creating a publication in print only is often no longer sufficient, and that’s where the ‘single-source’ part comes in.
Using Typefi’s software, a publisher can use the edited manuscript as a single source of content, and publish it automatically in multiple formats for print, web, EPUB, Kindle, iBooks and more. Typefi currently offers over 30 output options as standard.
Typefi began in 2001 and started exporting to North America in 2006 and Europe in 2009. How did you move into export markets?
Very early in the start-up process we realised that the Australian market was too small to sustain the business profitably. If the product and the business were going to succeed, we had to sell globally.
In the software business, you incur 95% of product development and production costs long before you get your first customer. Every customer after that carries only a little incremental cost.
We knew very early on that to make our production costs back and make a profit we needed customers outside Australia.
And who are some of your biggest customers around the world?
Our first major Australian customer was Lonely Planet in 2006. They are still one of our biggest customers, but these days over 90% of Typefi’s revenue comes from exports.
We have a lot of international organisations amongst our clients, including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Telecommunication Union, and the World Meteorological Organization.
Some other Typefi customers you may have heard of are the New England Journal of Medicine, Rough Guides, Insight Travel Guides, Fodor’s Travel, Pioneer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and the United States Geological Survey.
So you’re connecting with all these high-profile international clients from the Sunshine Coast in regional Australia. Why there rather than a big city?
Typefi began on the Sunshine Coast because that was where the founders lived. In the past 18 years there hasn’t been a compelling reason to move our business.
Superficially, it makes sense to move physically closer to our customers. But the city with the largest number of our customers is Geneva, Switzerland, which accounts for around 10% of our customers. Even if we moved there, 90% of our customers would be somewhere else.
Finding good talent on the Sunshine Coast is difficult but not impossible. We’ve built a small but exceptional team of software engineers, communicators and support staff here, and they come with experience from all over the world.
We also hire staff in-market so we can service our global customer base. Overall, we have a team of 45 people based in 8 countries around the world — Australia, the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Romania, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
What do you love most about your role with Typefi?
We do exciting work and have an amazing team, so it’s fun to get to work each day. Our customers seem to like what we do — our best sales come from customer recommendations. We’ve been to customer meetings where they’ve prepared a Typefi cake to thank us for what we’ve done for them!
On a more personal note, in a world of ‘alternative facts’, working with publishers like the World Health Organization and the New England Journal of Medicine — who value integrity and quality — gives a strong sense of pride.
I know you travel a lot. Where are you off to next, and why?
Most months I spend two weeks in Australia, a week in Europe, and a week in the USA. On this trip I’ll attend the annual user conference of one of our business partners in Boston, meet with some our key business partners to finalise some product strategy for 2019, and join our six-monthly staff get-togethers in the USA and Europe.
You recently won the Small Business Award at the Premier of Queensland’s Export Awards 2018. And you won the same award in 2016. What’s your secret?
We focus on building a great product that meets and exceeds our customer expectations, and on building a great team of experts who collaborate to help our customers achieve their business goals.
We don’t focus on winning awards, but it seems that achieving good business outcomes leads to getting awards.
What are some of the benefits of being an export awards winner?
We have very few customers in Australia, and have little brand recognition here in the government or corporate space, even though we have strong brand recognition in the US and European government sectors.
Winning the Premier of Queensland’s Export Award and the Australian Export Award for Small Business in 2016 helped us get our brand into the Australian government sector. More importantly, it served as a strong validation and morale boost for our team to know what we are doing is good practice.
You were also a finalist this year in the Digital Technologies category of the awards. Do you plan to bring that one home next year?!
We plan to focus on delivering world-beating digital technology solutions that meet and exceed our customers’ expectations. We hope that this will result in winning the Digital Technologies category next year! There is strong competition though, which is great — it’s very encouraging to see other Queensland tech companies doing well.