For Sam Bashiry, an emotional breakdown outside Centrelink and a $1000 second-hand purchase became a $25 million-a-year success story.
The Iranian refugee, who arrived in Australia as a child in 1989 “looking forward to seeing some kangaroos”, had recently dropped out of a computing and communications degree at Melbourne’s Swinburne University.
Now in his mid-20s and doing odd jobs but questioning his “purpose and direction”, for the first time in his life Mr Bashiry made the trip to the local Centrelink office.
“I remember getting back into my car and just bursting into tears,” he said.
Mr Bashiry says he felt “ashamed” that his parents had brought their family to Australia to give their children a better life, but he “still hadn’t really achieved anything and was now visiting Centrelink for payment assistance”.
“That was a really life-changing moment,” he said. “It just kind of hit me. I just felt really lost. When I look back now, it turned my life around and gave me purpose.”
Mr Bashiry says that was the moment he decided he was “capable of something better”. He applied for an IT helpdesk support job that paid just $10.50 an hour, but he “didn’t care”.
“Back then the internet was quite new, this was in the dial-up days,” he said. “I was quite excited going for the job interview. I worked under some amazing people.”
Mr Bashiry eventually moved up from tech support to sales, just as broadband internet started to take off. Soon he realised there was a gap in the market — and an opportunity.
“Back then, (it was only) really top-tier providers like Telstra and Optus, there were no real ISPs for the SME market dedicated to customer service and excellence,” he said. “For me it was really about finding a niche.”
In 2005, Mr Bashiry bought a second-hand router for $1000 to start his business, Broadband Solutions, renting “the smallest office in the whole building”.
“My number one aim was to cover my rent for the first 12 months,” he said.
“I didn’t want to be in the red. I remember selling domain names and websites to get some revenue. Generating revenue was the most important thing.”
He met his co-founder, Brad Hughes, soon after launch, and after “a bit of luck but a lot of determination” they secured their first big client.
Today, nearly 15 years later, the company is a major internet provider for schools, hospitals, hotels and small businesses with annual revenue of $25 million.
The business is growing, but Mr Bashiry says there are “all sorts of challenges”.
“When we started it was the start-up challenge, then generating revenue, now it’s about hiring staff, HR, mentoring, making sure not only the business is growing but we are creating a brand,” he said.
“We’ve got under 30 staff. We focus on running a slim business. The revenue model is customers that sign two or three-year terms. It’s about making sure we have all the right systems in place, so we invest a lot of money in automation.”
Broadband Solutions operates in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and is setting its sights on the US and further expansion in Asia.
Mr Bashiry says the company invests “a lot of time and effort” understanding the business challenges for each of the sectors it works in — mainly hospitality, health and education — to be “part of the team”.
“If you don’t you find a very high churn rate in the telco industry,” he said.
Mr Bashiry, now 41, stepped out of the chief executive role 12 months ago to focus on new business innovation and to set up a scholarship program in conjunction with Swinburne University.
He wants to “give back” to young Australians who, like him, may be struggling to find direction. “A lot of people going through high school, year 11 and 12, are lost and not really knowing what you want to do,” he said.
“For me I fit that category. Going to uni I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. It’s about letting the younger generation know it’s OK to be lost and not know what you want to do. It’s OK to fail and make mistakes, to not be perfect.”
Mr Bashiry says the younger generation today face unique challenges. “There is a lot of pressure on them,” he said.
“When I grew up there was no Facebook and Instagram. I think it’s very challenging to keep up with what people see. There is a lot of pressure on young kids to be perfect and successful. It’s very, very daunting.”
Mr Bashiry says he has a “duty to let the young generation know that it’s OK to be lost at certain times in your life”, but in the end hard work and persistence pay off.
“Find something that you love doing,” he said.
“Because if you love doing what you do, you’re not working for a pay cheque, you’re doing something you’re passionate about. Time fixes everything, and just don’t give up.”