I had the most incredible honour of being invited to make the main graduation address at the University of Western Australia on Saturday the 10th September 2016. It felt like I was VIP for a week at the university I love so much, attending the Gravitational Waves talk by Dr David Blair, the University Senate dinner and finally the Graduation Ceremony each with the Chancellor Dr Michael Chaney.
But how do you cram the lessons of one’s life into 7 minutes? I think I tried to speak faster in parts which was a mistake so here is the transcript for anyone who couldn’t hear it properly.
Introduction by the Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson
Graeme is a Technology Entrepreneur, Kite-surfer and “Cloud Computing” pioneer.
He began studying Physics at UWA to fulfil a lifelong ambition to forge a career in Astrophysics. Disappointed at discovering there were better job prospects cray fishing he consulted other thought-leaders around the student pinball machines he graduated as a Chemist. He says a short stint in industry shocked him into returning to UWA to complete a Computer Science degree. Graeme started his first IT company the year he graduated.
In 1995, he mistakenly thought the Internet had plateaued, but saw a new amazing opportunity for ISPs to host applications. Five years later the industry coined the term Application Service Provider (ASP) and his company Central Data Systems was one of the leading ASP’s in in Australia. It thrived during the DOT.COM crash and his team continued innovating to launch a freemium Desktop-as-a-Service base open source software in 2005 called GoPC.net. Graeme drove this from concept to commercialisation against mainstream thinking of the time.
After establishing a San Francisco office in 2008 the company found itself at the centre of the cloud computing revolution. In 2009 GoPC.net was recognised as one of the leading cloud start-ups in Silicon Valley at Silicom Ventures Investment Summit at Stanford University.
In 2013, Graeme’s team patented a new cloud computing platform called Rainmaker which builds future-proof virtual computer desktops and can deploy thousands of these within a few minutes. It was world-class, ground breaking technology recognised by Rackspace, profiled by tech evangelist Robert Scoble and was being considered for a pilot to 15,000 Stanford University staff when the company ran out of money.
Forced into a corner, Graeme applied a series of entrepreneurial lessons learned over a lifetime of innovation and risked everything pivoting the company to apply Rainmaker to solve a completely different problem.
The result is a new cyber device called BankVaultOnline.com which won the award of the world’s top FinTech Start-up at the World Cup Tech Challenge host by Microsoft and Silicon Valley Forum.
BankVault stops bank accounts from being hacked. It is relevant to every organisation and individual who needs to do secure online transactions.
Graeme’s ambition when he sells the company is to return to UWA to finish his Astrophysics degree and get a job with the Square Kilometre Array telescope. Or if BankVault is successful then perhaps he’ll just build his own SKA.
University of Western Australia
Graduation Address to Engineering, Science, Maths and Computer Science.
by Graeme Speak 10th September 2016
This is a very special day for me of course because I was a graduate here many years ago. I remember that day well because I hadn’t had many arguments with my father but that was one day we had one big stand-up blue. I was over ceremonies and just didn’t want to go. Finally Dad said “Graeme, this is not about you. It’s for your mother and I. And by the way you’re coming whether you like it or not”.
I’m lucky enough to have my Mother and Father are here with me again today. And it’s just as well because when I was getting nervous about making this speech Dad said ….“Graeme, this is not about you. It’s for your mother and I and them. And by the way you’re coming whether you like it or not”.
My team and I invented a little device called BankVault. It stops cyber criminals accessing your bank account.
In 2019 cyber-crime will grow from what is today a $500 Billion problem to reach $2 Trillion worldwide. BankVault is potentially a $multi-Billion opportunity for us.
On the 1st of June we won Top Fintech Start-up worldwide in Silicon Valley at the World Cup Tech Challenge.
So to get the business out of the way quickly, I’ve got a little bag of these here under my arm and will be out the back later if anybody would like to buy one.
I’m extremely honoured to be here today. Although I am here on the dais under the spotlights this is all about honouring each of you graduates. And if there’s a message that I want to deliver today it is:
- Follow your dreams passionately and don’t hold back for anything.
- If there is a theme for my talks it is: TAKE RISKS !
Stanford University and UWA are identical, Brick-for-Brick. The architecture is the same. But that’s where the analogies stop. I heard one of the university professors tell me recently that when she asked her final year class “Who here wants to be an entrepreneur when they finish”, not a single person put up their hand. If I had asked that same question at Stanford University there would not be a single hand held down.
- So why is this?
- This is what we have to change.
To share a little bit about my story. I guess I graduated a pretty mediocre student. Every semester I had fallen in love with another girl it hadn’t worked out just as exams were beginning. Truth be known I never studied for exams.
My career advice really did come from my peers around the pin ball machines. And when I realised finally that my life and dreams were ruined, I finally took stock and listened to my own instincts. That was when I decided to knuckle down and choose Computer Science to be my career.
I enrolled too late. I was desperate. However the Dean (is he still sitting here on the dais behind me?) said I was too late. The course was full. The answer is NO!
But I was highly motivated and so that NO didn’t stop me. I simply came up after my work as a Chemist and sat in on every lectures. Eventually, many, many weeks later they let me in.
- This proves that 80% of success is just from turning up!
I studied Full-time while Working Full-time.
- It wasn’t hard, it was exhilarating.
- I had discovered that following my passion was easy.
While I was at university I was also diagnosed with a neuro-muscular problem and I do at times struggle to even stand up without tablets. What seemed a real problem for me had a counter effect which in retrospect has become an incredible asset? You see I never wanted to miss out on anything and there was no option for me other than to continuously keep striving. I knew nothing else and excuses didn’t exist. That that embedded one particularly important quality in me to which I realise I now owe my success and that is:
With that backdrop I have 3 very short stories.
1st Story: Don’t Watch the Clock.
My friend’s father, John Georgeson once said to me: “Graeme, do you want to wait to the end of your life and then wonder if you might have made a success with that idea”? That was enough to kick me in the pants and I took the leap.
I started my first software company straight out of University. I worked 120 hours/week for 2 years. I took on 3 partners, each 30 years my senior, who then swindled me. I lost everything.
What was worse than that is that to get complete control of the company they went out of their way to crush my self-confidence, which they almost did. At rock bottom I had to start-building again from first principals. It was hard. Miraculously over the next 2 years everything went full circle. Obviously I was the only guy doing the real work and they crashed without me. I was re-united with my inventions, my brain-child. You can’t imagine how that feels. I actually still run that business today, some 30 years on.
Lesson I learned:
- Work hard and you’ll do well.
- Nobody can ever take away what you know.
- Business is simple. Do a good job and people ask you back.
2nd Story: Timing is Everything. Yet Tenacity Outlives Time
My team created some incredible technology. We grew to 16,000 users worldwide. I moved to the US and set up an office in Silicon Valley and discovered we were 10 years ahead of them. We had pioneered what became Cloud Computing.
I cut a deal with Yahoo! and was in the midst of a deal with Swiss Telecom when the Global Financial Crisis hit. On a flight back to Australia and literally as I was landing Lehman Brother’s went broke in 2008 triggering the GFC. We were out of money and the funding we were going to receive evaporated. And so started what I call the Long Dark Winter.
We sacked the sales guys and focused on our R&D which is where our core strength was. We started what we thought was an 8 week project. Every 8 weeks we would stop and look again and it would still be 8 weeks out. It became this endless horizon. It was like going to work every day and digging your grave deeper. And it was soul destroying. What else do you do? At what point do you decide to quit?
That lasted for 27 months. And the day we broke through, it felt like we had dug right through to the other side of the world. We were flying high. It was unbelievable.
We Patented something really incredible. We called it Rainmaker.
- It was Future-Proof IT.
- And we could build it within seconds.
Lessons we learned:
- Tenacity is like a river – it outlasts every obstacle.
- From Silicon Valley – Validate everything you’re working on FIRST. Then invest behind success.
3rd Story: The Entrepreneurs Roller-coaster
Being an entrepreneur is an up and down roller-coaster ride and at any one point in time you can only look straight ahead.
We were looking at doing a Pilot with Stanford University, which is incredible – it’s the heart of Silicon Valley. And all we could see was the Stratosphere.
Then suddenly a few bumps in the road and we’re looking at the horizon. It’s OK, we can still do this.
Then suddenly we are running short of money. We can see the ground coming up at us rapidly.
And when you experience this, what happens is
- Your ears start ringing
- Your eyes go out of focus
- Your heart is pounding
- You’re looking at Oblivion in the face.
- It is the end of everything you know. Your career. Your family’s future.
- There is nothing more scary.
What happens is that when you’re in that situation and you are painted into a corner, you learn that you can climb the walls.
- You get out of your comfort zone. You talk to people you would never normally talk to at a very deep personal level about your fears, what’s going on and what you need. Because you cannot imagine what’s in those other people’s universes.
- And that’s where the magic happens. That is what the whole of life is actually about.
What happened is that 2 days before we were going to close the business we got funded. It was a Fairy Tale. The guy who backed us was the top IT advisor in Western Australia for the last 20 years. He totally backed everything we were doing.
On the back of that we pivoted and turned our technology to address this issue of cyber hacking. We found the same technology had 1,000x leverage on what we were doing previously. And that is now BankVault.
The story is not over. We are still right in the middle of it. But I’ve been pushing this wheel barrow uphill against mainstream thinking for 20 years and suddenly it’s become easy. Everybody gets it now in half a sentence. I think we’re probably going to make it. I could still end up working for the council next year – but I reckon we’re there.
There is one important point I want to make about all this.
- If I can do this myself against the odds with just a little tenacity then honestly any one of you can do it.
5 quick bullet points to end.
- Dreams are important. Follow your Dreams. They are what has created everything.
- Doing something 99% is hard. Doing it 100% is easy because there is nothing else to do.
- A persons worth is not what they’ve done but what they’re about to deliver.
- If you met yourself as a 7 year old child, what advice would you give yourself based on what you know today? For me it is “Don’t care about what others think, just Go Full Tilt”.
- And the single most important ingredient of success is this: When you’re defeated and crushed, find another reason to stand up and keep going. That’s how you grow and take lessons into the future.
Congratulations to everyone graduating from here today, the University of Western Australia.
- TAKE RISKS
- FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS
- DON’T EVER BE THE FIRST TO GIVE UP!!