UK software company Firefly sets up first international office in Sydney
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London-based education software company, Firefly, is finding Australia a perfect platform to grow and expand its international presence. The new Sydney office has enhanced the company’s ability to support its customers across the globe, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Launched in 2011, Firefly – a learning platform, parent portal, intranet and learning management system all in one – has proved highly popular in hundreds of schools across the United Kingdom.
Moray Souter, Head of Marketing, Firefly, said success is due to one market-defining characteristic – simplicity.
‘What makes us different is that our learning platform is very easy to use,’ Souter said.
‘Teachers like it because it saves them time when they create teaching plans and check homework. Students like it because the video, slides and audio tools give free rein to creativity. Parents like it because they can stay engaged with the school, and their children’s progress,’ he said.
By 2014, Firefly had 50 employees and a presence in schools across the UK, and had begun providing its learning platform as a hosted service. The product was also popular with overseas customers and accounted for 15 per cent of its sales outside the UK.
But to grow global sales further, Firefly executives wanted a permanent presence overseas and an office able to provide local support to its growing international customer-base, so the Asia-Pacific region became the focus.
‘We were seeking a market that was familiar, dynamic and open to competition. The new office had to take on technical roles as well, so it could support itself and drive regional sales. This meant we also needed a highly skilled workforce,’ said Souter.
Firefly executives reviewed two options, Singapore and Australia.
According to Souter, the education sectors in both countries have established reputations as early adopters of technology and were good business and cultural fits.
To assist in making the decision, in 2014 Firefly sent an executive team to investigate.
‘When we visited Australia, we saw a lot of synergies with the UK,’ said Souter.
‘First, it’s clear that the Australian education sector is investing heavily in technology, and that schools perceive technology as an education accelerator.’
Firefly executives also observed that schools had a positive attitude towards overseas technologies.
‘Australian education is open to new entrants and not afraid of market disruptors. We witnessed a great cultural attitude, and Australian schools always seem willing to try something new. We found genuine enthusiasm for new technology and it didn’t matter where it came from,’ he said.
The Firefly team was also struck by Australia’s appeal to ambitious, young technology workers from the United Kingdom. With many of the company’s customers needing technical support around the clock, Sydney’s time zone
provided the city with two distinct advantages over Singapore.
‘With an office on Australia’s east coast, we can easily provide 18 hours of live technical support to teachers around the world without asking employees to work out of hours. This is extremely valuable to a software services company,’ said Souter.
Second, with cloud services expanding, the time difference enables the company’s Sydney-based technical staff to execute server updates outside of the United Kingdom’s business hours, avoiding disruption to its customers.
Souter added lifestyle as another powerful attraction. ‘Australia is a great secondment location for London-based employees, and our employees are keen to work here.
‘Our workforce consists of smart young people who want international experience. Having a second office in Sydney makes us very attractive.
‘We chose Australia as a first step abroad because we knew there would be few, if any, cultural barriers,’ said Souter.
Ease in establishing a new office
Having made the decision to establish an office in Sydney, the company wanted to make it operational quickly, so it turned to Austrade’s London office for advice.
‘Austrade were really great. They gave us the information we needed to set up in Sydney. They provided an introduction to representatives from Trade and Investment NSW; put us in touch with lawyers who helped with working visas; and helped us understand how the schooling system works in Australia - particularly school budgeting cycles,’ said Souter.
As anticipated, hiring qualified office staff proved straightforward.
‘We found it relatively easy to hire someone to head our new Australian operations. We discovered a large pool of qualified people who knew the education market and had the relevant qualifications,’ he said.
Access to the Asia-Pacific region
The new Sydney office became operational in early 2015 and Firefly has commenced building a sales and training team, which will market the company’s technology to Australian schools and support it. Currently, the office consists of new employees from Sydney and staff members from the UK who have relocated.
As sales grow, Sydney-based employees will also take on a global support role. They will provide planning, training and support for new and existing Firefly customers in the Asia-Pacific region.
‘Once we are established in Sydney, we will use the office as a base for expansion into Asia,’ said Souter.
‘It will be easy to hire the sort of people we need to spearhead that expansion because of the common language and culture. The new Sydney office also means we will benefit directly from Australia’s links to Asia,’ added Souter.