Cogent Conversations: Episode 7
Marty Andrews from Chargefox
Episode 7: Chargefox
Marty Andrews was high on our list of people to talk with on this podcast. One of Melbourne’s early adopters of the principles of Agile, Marty helped bring about changes to the way software products were created for digital businesses in this city.
The primary means for this was through co-founding Cogent 12 years ago, the Melbourne-based consulting business which produces this podcast. And while Agile is an important part of the Cogent story, so is its focus on values such as transparency and personal wellbeing, something Marty ensured was an integral part of Cogent’s culture.
Now, after recently completing his transition out of the company, he is the co-founder of the funded start-up Chargefox. Chargefox is Australia’s largest public charging network for electric vehicles (EVs).
In our conversation we talk about things like the difference between a services and product business, transitioning out of a business as a founder, and the legacy of Cogent’s focus on its values.
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Meet the host: Adam Murray
Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).
Full Episode Transcript
Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations Podcast made by the people at Cogent. Cogent Conversations is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best. We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer, so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at cogent.co.
Marty Andrews: I don’t notice it anywhere near as much as anyone else does. It’s been the way I’ve worked for 11, nearly 12 years, so it’s almost unusual not to be like that. And I find it unusual when people come in and they’re not transparent about salaries, for example, because it’s been so long since I’ve worked in a different culture, that I forget what the commercial world is like outside of Cogent, I guess.
Adam Murray: Hello, it’s Adam Murray here, and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. In this episode we are talking to Chargefox. The organisation I work for and the one that brings you this podcast, which is Cogent, is an organisation I consider to be thriving. I love working here and I’m grateful for all the opportunities they give me, like being able to work on this podcast. It was therefore high on my list to talk with one of the people that enabled such an organisation to exist. That person is Marty Andrews, co-founder and director of Cogent.
I wanted to talk with Marty, not only because he has helped create Cogent, but because he has founded a new start-up called Chargefox. I wanted to find out what he’d learned from founding Cogent and how he was applying that to his new digital business. Let’s get into it.
It’s a really amazing time to be chatting to you about the themes of this podcast, around thriving digital businesses because of the stage that you’re transitioning from and to right now.
Marty Andrews: Sure.
Adam Murray: Yeah, tell us a little bit about that and where you are?
Marty Andrews: Okay, so the background for this part of the story, I guess, begins a couple of years ago when two significant things happened, I think. So, Cogent had been investing in some small start-up business through the Ventures arm that we were doing a little bit opportunistically. People were coming to us that we liked, and were values aligned, so we took some small equity stakes in them as we were working with them. And Mark Wells, who’s now the CEO of Cogent, joined a couple of years ago as well, which was really kind of the beginning of the journey for me out of Cogent, I think. I was handing the baton over to someone else to run Cogent as a business, and we began that kind of transition slowly but surely.
And over that time, we got a bit more deliberate in our Ventures process. As I said it was opportunistic, we really liked the businesses that we were working with. Things like Fresho, and Taggd, and Six Park, who you might cover on another day, but all good values on businesses. We liked working with them, but we had come across them a bit by accident; they had come to us and worked with us, and we invested in them. And the journey for me out of Cogent into Chargefox really began probably 18 months to two years ago when Mark and I tried to be more deliberate about Ventures, and seeking out something that we specifically wanted to work… an industry that we wanted to work in or with.
And for us that manifested itself in a bit of an overlap of energy as an industry, which has been really big in Australia for a few years. The arrival of electric vehicles and a prospective future of autonomous vehicles, and we knew we wanted to play in that space. We thought those were big things, and it’s nice to ride a wave when you’re starting a business. To have a booming market rather than a flailing one. So, we began by just reaching out to everyone that we knew in those industries. That was a lot of people, so we had an enormous kind of whiteboard session where we mapped out a whole bunch of people, and the industries that they were in, and how they overlapped with other people. And began reaching out to people and having coffees and conversations and exploring what was going on in the market.
One of those people was Tim Washington, who’s the founder of Jet Charge, which is the largest supplier and installer of electric vehicle car charging stations in Australia. And we had met him a couple of years earlier, but not really gotten into anything deep. But the timing turned out to be right, around work that he was doing. He was using offshore software suppliers that didn’t support the Australian market very well. They were basically in a different time zone; Australia was a small market compared to the rest of the world. And he knew all about the hardware around the charging of electric vehicles, but needed some software skill to support that. So, we ended up building a small prototype over a few months to see if we could prove that we could do it, and that was true. And so began the journey of Chargefox.
So, before I kind of dive into that, that was 18 months into Mark’s tenure at Cogent; the baton was well and truly handed over then. He was running the business; I was a general manager in the business. And because that was going so well, and we had hired some other really good senior people to help run the business as well, I could very deliberately start to back away my time from the day to day running of Cogent to seek out the creation of a new business that was something that we had deliberately sought out and could start and create. And so that transition out of Cogent and into Chargefox quite deliberately began at that time.
Adam Murray: Yeah. It’s an awesome story, and I want to go into a bit more about the Chargefox stuff, but first, let’s go back to the early days of Cogent. Obviously, I’m an employee of Cogent as well, and I found it to be pretty amazing for a number of reasons. I’ll reflect on those and then I’ll ask you a bit about the origins and where you see the origins of some of these things. So, my experience of working here is, I think it’s the first place where I’ve felt comfortable bringing my whole self to work, and talking candidly about what my needs are and what I can bring, and not feeling like I needed to pad out things, or pretend, or shock and filter.
Marty Andrews: Yeah.
Adam Murray: Which has been amazingly liberating and has dropped a whole lot of extra energy that I found has been required in the past when I’ve shown up to work. That it means I’ve been able to direct that energy at really constructive things. The values that Cogent has, and we’ll dive into a bit of those I’m sure as well, something that, I guess, are probably more mindful in how they’ve been selected. They’re not generic values, they’re very specific and they’re meaningful, and they’re actioned on a daily basis in decision making. So, I want you to go back 11 years, just think about around that time… I know you know Cogent came out of the Agile process…
Marty Andrews: Sure.
Adam Murray: …of the Agile movement that was happening in Melbourne around that time, but in shaping and in creating a values driven business, did that come out of some bad experiences that you had, or was it more positive led? What was the genesis of that?
Marty Andrews: Yeah, I think there was some reaction to some bad experiences, though they weren’t mine, and the Agile influence helps a little bit in this story. So, I started Cogent with a man by the name of Steve Hayes. I’ll tell a couple of stories about Steve and we’ll check with him whether that’s okay or not.
Adam Murray: Sure.
Marty Andrews: Steve worked on Wall Street for a long time at Goldman Sachs, and you can imagine that that would be a very intense environment to work in. And I also remember Steve telling stories about him being… this was not at Goldman Sachs, at another organisation, where he would get up in the morning and dry retch in the bathroom before going to work, just in anticipation of how terrible the day ahead was going to be every single day. And I’m glad I’ve never had to be in a job like that, but he did that for a little while before he left that organisation. So, he’d come from some pretty terrible working experiences.
Now, Steve always had a background in IT and software engineering, so the Agile movement created a team working environment that was beginning to shift away from that. Getting people to work together on a day to day basis, and talk face to face, rather than in traditional kind of big corporate, throw a document over the wall style. So, whilst the values of Cogent specifically derived from that, they were influenced by the change in working style that was happening in the industry as it worked towards Agile. So, Cogent began really as a bit of a social experiment I guess, and we didn’t set out to have what exists today. Though, I’m very happy we ended up here.
But one of the simple examples was, we were transparent from day one, and we were very open with people about all aspects of the business, and how we worked. And gathered around us a small group of people who were like minded in their values, if you like. And we also set out to have a business that was trying to achieve an outcome that wasn’t just about lining our pockets as founders, but about achieving an outcome for everyone. And that manifested itself in a couple of ways, like the profit sharing policy that we have in place, and have always had in place in some form. Which meant that, we were demonstrating from day one what you were describing about, we take our values and we action them in various ways. So, people, even 11 years ago, could tell that we meant what we said, and we delivered on things we said we were going to do, to try and help everyone in the organisation.
Now, it’s a long journey from there to today, but if you wind the clock forward 11 years, that culture has evolved and adapted and improved. And it’s been difficult sometimes along the way, but the outcome has been quite incredible to us. A scenario where you get what you described today, where you can turn up to work without worrying about the fact that you might be feeling down, or you’ve had a hard week, or that you need to kind of put stories behind what you’re saying to people; you can just be open and work collaboratively with people on the team and have a really nice working environment. So, I don’t take credit for that culture, I think the people of Cogent take credit for that culture. And nearly 50-odd here today, but probably 100-odd over the journey, they’re the people that have created what we have today. And it’s quite an incredible environment to see and to work in. So, I’m really pleased with where it’s ended up.
Adam Murray: Yeah. It’s probably interesting for you now, that you’ve just recently stepped out. I guess, officially you’ve stepped out from the 1st of January, but it’s been a bit of a transition period as well. Not that you’re really external now, but looking… you are a little bit external, but looking back at the organisation, what are the things you notice about the culture today? What are the things that really stand out to you, and that, I guess, you admire or celebrate?
Marty Andrews: Well, the contrast to me is, I’ve had over the past few years, many people at Cogent comment on the values and the culture inside Cogent. And you’re an example of that. You tell your story about being a more recent arrival at Cogent. But the interesting thing for me is, that was a really gradual, slow process, so I don’t notice it anywhere near as much as anyone else does. It’s been the way I’ve worked for 11, nearly 12 years, so it’s almost unusual not to be like that for me. I find it unusual when people come and in and they’re not transparent about salaries, for example, because it’s been so long since I’ve worked in a different culture, that I forget what the commercial world is like outside of Cogent, I guess.
So, the thing that I notice, is when I see people come in, and they find it quite remarkable, the day to day culture and how we work at Cogent. And I have to check myself to understand, “Hey, that’s not normal,” and that it’s really unusual, and can be grating for people when they come in. So, whilst I think it’s been good to see people come in and work in that, I also have to be conscious that it can take some time for people to adapt and to get used to that as well. And I think the other thing about it for me is, the wave of momentum that has occurred. I think for a long time I pushed the values quite hard in day to day life at Cogent, but it’s probably been years now where I don’t have to, because it’s built its own momentum. The team as a whole lives and breathes it day to day.
So, people can join Cogent today, and have no idea who I am, or where that culture and those values came from, and that’s fine, because they get caught up in the momentum and it’s its own living breathing thing now. So that’s quite remarkable to me.
Adam Murray: Yeah. That’s really cool to have, I guess, planted some seeds. And you did a lot of watering – gardening – by the sound of it early on, but to be able to step back now and see, “Oh, that thing’s growing on its own.”
Marty Andrews: Yeah.
Adam Murray: Yeah. What about in terms of… I guess there’s the internal culture, but there’s also the work that we do with our clients, and I’m interested in your reflections on, say, the types of clients that we work with and the work that we do with them, what do you notice about that?
Marty Andrews: Yeah. I think it’s probably actually more interesting to talk about the clients that we don’t work with, than the ones that we do work with. There are lots of clients who align well with our values, and will work collaboratively, and it’s easy to talk about clients when things are going well. It’s harder to talk about clients when things are going badly. And it’s really the bad times when the values manifest themselves most strongly in behaviours; it’s hard to act in those times, but we try and do that in a values-based way. So, there will be examples where we talk to a customer about the way that we work, and we ask them to spend time together with us, whether that’s us going to their place of work, or them coming to our place of work.
Now upfront they might say, “Yes, yes, that’s fine,” and then a month or two down the track that’s not actually manifesting itself. So, to have a difficult conversation at that point and say, “We don’t think this is working very well, something needs to change. And the worst-case scenario for that change might be, we stop working together.” It’s happened a couple of times. And there’s also some examples where we just don’t work with people upfront for various reasons. And often I found over the years, actually those ones can become better customers later on. Sometimes people will come in with some money and a dream of a business, and it’s very clear to us that they’re not ready yet, and if they start doing things that they’ll waste money.
So, commercially it becomes actually a good outcome to say, “No, you need to stop and do a bit more research, or a bit more customer testing, or validate your idea somehow, or whatever that may be.” And then they can come back, six, nine, 12 months, two years later, and be more refined and more ready. And a couple of times, they’ve turned into quite good customers and businesses to work with.
The other ultimate test really is about industry. So, we’ve turned away many times work in the gambling industry, for example; that’s not that uncommon. It’s a bit more common for some organisations to do that, but that can be quite a lucrative industry to work with, but it just kind of clashes. There’s been once or twice some customers that Cogent has been happy to work with, but some of our people have not been happy to work with. And that’s a really interesting overlap of company values and personal values. And again, that’s an example of the people in the team are happy to be open about how they feel about those things, and we talk through it and accommodate those scenarios, if that’s true. So, they’re the examples for me, that have been interesting in testing the values about the way that we work with our customers.
Adam Murray: Yeah. That’s an interesting thought about… Well, I think it’s something that I’ve noticed recently at Cogent, and some of our clients too, that it’s great to create a whole lot of documents and maybe theories about values, but it’s actually when they get tested in real life that we understand what they mean, and they can be refined. And I think that’s where I’ve also noticed some of the, I guess, the principles of Agile coming into how the organisation is run, as well. Like, it’s not a waterfall, top down kind of vision from the top, it’s much more, lots of different sources and lots of different testing along the way, in an iterative approach to creating this organisation, too. Was that then an intentional thing, as well?
Marty Andrews: I think it’s been more intentional in recent years. I think it’s an aspect of this that Mark has brought really well to Cogent, and part of it is a function of size. Like it’s… when you’re a 10-person company, that kind of process can happen actually a bit organically, because most of those people sit in the same room, you talk to them all regularly, and your goals and directions as an organisation can come through. But when you’re 20, or 30, or 40, or 50, it’s harder to seek the opinions of all of those people, so you have to get a bit more structured in the way that you set the direction of the organisation.
And Mark’s done an excellent job of trying to filter through working groups within the organisation, and roll that up into company strategy, so that the team as a whole has input into our organisation strategy and the direction that we’re heading in, the culture that we have and the way that we like to work on a day to day basis. And I think that will get a little bit harder again, as we continue to grow some more, but we will continue to try and do that in our values aligned way and embrace the input of the team. Yeah.
Adam Murray: That’s something I have noticed, even over the past… We’ve moved office recently, so we’re in Donkey Wheel House now, and it’s like that has been a marker of a new stage. Like it is the time that you’ve transitioned out, we’ve kind of got more space now, and it seems like there’s a bit more rigour that we’ve noticed that we need a bit more structure and formality to some of our… create management activities as well because of that scale. We can’t all know about every project just incidentally anymore; we need some intentional practices around that.
Marty Andrews: Yeah. It’s interesting to note… Here’s an example of something that’s changed. It can feel a lot like it’s democratic; it’s not democratic, and I’ve said that very deliberately over the years, but it certainly has felt democratic to many of the people. Whenever things come up, many of the staff will like to have input, and in some cases we’ll say, “Hey, let’s have a vote.” And the answer to that has always been, “No, there is someone in charge who will decide, it’s not a democracy.” I’m pretty clear that probably for five or six years, I never had to play that trump card, where I just decided. We could always have a talk about it, and the consensus decision aligned with how me, or the management at the time, wanted to decide things.
But certainly, in the last four or five years, there’s been a few times where management, be it me or Mark, or Rachel, or the GMs, have said, “This is what I’ve decided.” And it’s nice to see that that’s accepted, and that the team is… the input of everyone is gathered so much, that we trust the management to do the right thing by the organisation and in line with the strategy. So even though that has happened, and it might only be once a year that it happens, it’s still accepted. But it’s a way that things have changed a little bit as we’ve grown, and I think for the better.
Adam Murray: Reflecting on the stage that you’ve just gone through, and which you alluded to at the start where Mark came on board, and that was the start of you transitioning out, how have you found that?
Marty Andrews: Surprisingly comfortable. I didn’t expect it to be so comfortable. I think early on… You know, I started the company… when I started the company with Steve, Steve is older and wiser than I am, and certainly a personal mentor to me, so when he left and I fell into running the company, I don’t think I was ready. I think I struggled for a good 18 months, because it was a bit of a baptism of fire. But thankfully I got through that and learned and became much more confident over the years, and got some more help.
One of the things that I struggled with early on was delegating, I think; getting other people to help. So, going through a process of deliberately finding another CEO for the organisation, and handing the reigns over, I anticipated that I might struggle with. But it’s been surprisingly easy, in hindsight. And I mean easy emotionally, not easy in the practice of getting the reigns handed over. And probably a lot of that manifested itself in one of our key criteria in hiring someone to run the organisation, was around values. So, Mark is incredibly well values aligned to Cogent and to me personally, and we’ve gone through some ups and downs together, and tested the decision making around the values together, and made the same decisions.
So that process has given enormous comfort to me, I think. And also, the growth of two things, one is the GMs, Amin and Amelia, coming on board, who’ve both done a great job. And then expanding into a bit more of a senior leadership group at Cogent as well, that you’ve been a bit involved in, has been quite incredible to see, and have things taken up and see it happen in process, such that there was evidence that it was all going to be fine. And that all happened during a time when I was deeply involved anyway, so if things happened, I could have gotten involved, but I didn’t need to. The fact that that process happened slowly, and with a group that was incredibly well values aligned, I think just made it quite emotionally easy.
The week before I officially finished, I grabbed Amin and Amelia, so the two other general managers at Cogent, and sat down in a room and said, “Hey, I’m finishing Friday this week, are there any last minute things that we kind of need to do? Is anyone stressed?” And they kind of looked at me and shrugged and said, “Yes, so what Marty? It’s fine. We’re fine, everything’s in train, everyone’s been doing this for so long, nothing’s going to change.” So, it was really quite comfortable. It’s a bit like, the metaphor for me is, in the way that we build our software, releasing features to production should be anticlimactic. Because you’ve got that testing process, and there’s so much rigour involved in getting to that point, that by the time we switch the lights on, it should just work and there should be no real issues. And it was like that.
I finished and started at Chargefox the next week, and there were just no issues. Everything was so well tested that we were done, and it was fine.
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Marty Andrews: And that was nice. Anticlimactic, but nice.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Thinking now about what you’re doing next, Chargefox, a different business. Not a consulting business, a product business. What are the key learnings that you’re taking from your time at Cogent and even prior to that, in how you’re starting to plant the new seeds for a new organisation now, in terms of its culture and the way it runs?
Marty Andrews: Well, the first thing for me is, some people have asked me, and in fact almost stated to me, that they expected that the values would just transition across, and I’m very clear that that is not true. A business like Cogent, which is a services business and well established over 10 years, is quite fundamentally different to a funded start-up, in particular with some of the time stresses that are imposed on you. So Cogent is very good at trying to balance work life balance, personal wellbeing, and trying to make sure that people can get home in time to see their kids for dinner, et cetera, and there’s enough people around that we can kind of balance that load. And occasionally you need to push the edges, but very rarely. And that’s one of the great things about Cogent, I think, for family life.
But that’s not necessarily conducive to a very early stage start-up, where our products are in the field around the clock, and support calls will come in at 11 o’clock at night and you’ve got to answer it. So, for the team that I’m building around me at Chargefox, that’s an aspect that I’m very clear with them about, to say, “This is a start-up. There’s some rewards that come along with being involved in a start-up, but there’s also some down sides, and one of which is, we’re only half a dozen people or so today, and it’s all hands on deck. If something happens, we have to be able to fix it.” There’s also a unique situation where we have hardware in the field at our charging stations at locations around Australia, that might need to have someone walk up to them physically to test and fix. And they’re hours away, so it’s literally jump in a car, get on a plane, go. And that’s a quite different thing to what happens at Cogent. It’s much more deliberate and planned, and you don’t need to react as urgently in those cases.
So, that is one aspect that is different, I think, for Chargefox. I am still transparent with people, and I think that’s largely just a function now of who I am, rather than a value that’s necessarily embedded in Chargefox. We haven’t deliberately stated that as a Chargefox value. It’s just that after 12 years, I find it hard not to be transparent. And with such a small team, it’s actually quite easy to be transparent from day one with everyone, anyway. So mostly for me, it’s about finding the right team today, and I will probably sometime soon, deliberately have some workshops with those teams to try and define some values of our running, and let them emerge.
The other quite different thing for a funded start-up, compared to Cogent, is we have external investors who have reasonably large stakes in the business as shareholders, and we have responsibilities, legal and moral, to those shareholders to deliver on the business plan inside the business. And that has an influence on how you work and act, and may or may not influence the culture. I hope that we’re transparent and open with those shareholders as well, but the day to day things that happen are different to Cogent. At Cogent, I’m the largest stakeholder, so I didn’t really have to answer to anyone else. I tried to be deliberately open and work closely with the other shareholders, and we know them all very well, and they’ve spent a lot of time in Cogent, which is quite different to getting an external party to be a shareholder, as happened in Chargefox.
Adam Murray: Yeah. That’s interesting. I guess there’s a couple of interesting factors there. The team that you are forming in Chargefox, those half a dozen or so people, a lot of them come from Cogent as well, or they’ve got some influence from Cogent, so they know about the Cogent culture. And it’s going to be interesting to see how that does translate for them when you have some of those workshops to see what pops out. I’m intrigued to see how that unfolds.
Marty Andrews: Yeah. I’ll try and give you a reasonably specific example because that’s been… I think that’s been quite open internally, so we might check this one back later. So, Peter Young, who’s working at Cogent now, as Chargefox got formed, he just openly asked, “I’ve been working on Chargefox for Cogent, should I join Chargefox as a permanent employee and work there instead?” Mostly because he just wanted to do the right thing in that situation, not because he was specifically seeking to transition. But Peter works part-time; he works four days a week, and he and his wife take long sabbaticals overseas every year, and I was really clear that that’s not a conducive working environment to being in a start-up. You can’t just disappear for six weeks. He likes to take a couple of extra weeks leave every year, and travel overseas, he’s got family overseas. So that I don’t think that benefits itself well to being in an early stage start-up.
We had a conversation about that, and I’m quite happy to still engage him via Cogent. He certainly understands the system, but it’s a different thing to building a permanent team.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Do you think that there might be a stage where, presuming and hopefully Chargefox gets through this start-up phase, where that might shift again? Where, I guess, the balance might be more in favour of someone doing what Peter does?
Marty Andrews: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of functions that can influence that. One is, at some point a start-up’s no longer a start-up, it’s just a business. I’m never quite sure how to define that; I know that people still call Atlassian a start-up for example, it’s 15 years on. But to me it’s probably a transition from a growth goal to a profitability goal, I guess. So, lots of early stage start-ups raise capital to grow quickly in anticipation of future profits. So, that’s very true for us, we’ve raised some significant capital, and we’re spending that capital to try and grow the business quickly.
And that may happen again in future, but at some point you can switch to, “Okay, let’s make sure that the company is actually in a mode where it’s healthily generating its own profits to stimulate its own growth, and doesn’t need to raise external capital to do that.” That’s one factor. And another one that probably goes with it a little bit, is just a function of size. Like today, half a dozen people, if something happens there’s not many people to call on, but when you’re at 10, or 20, or 50, or 100 people, you can spread the load a bit. So, it’s actually much easier to deal with balancing work and life for the team when you can share the load across a much wider group of people.
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Marty Andrews: Yeah.
Adam Murray: One of Cogent’s values is personal wellbeing, and I feel like that’s something that’s… transparency is just who you are now, I feel like personal wellbeing is a bit of that as well. So, I’m interested in how you’re thinking about that in the Chargefox world, given that it is a start-up and there’s six people, and sometimes people just have to go, or they have to answer that 11 o’clock at night call. First of all, is that still an important thing? And secondly, how are you incorporating that?
Marty Andrews: Yeah. Personal wellbeing is an interesting thing to reflect on for me personally, because the buck stopped with me for a decade at Cogent. So, if anyone had to sacrifice their personal wellbeing, it was me, and that did happen a couple of times. I can distinctly remember times when I went without pay for example, for short periods of time when I was up in the wee hours of the morning trying to help customers. But it’s always been really important to me that I could make that as true as possible for everyone in the team, and I think I traded that off in my mind, because I was in a position where even though I was the one that ultimately had to do something if something went wrong, that it also afforded me a lot of flexibility in my lifestyle as well. Part of it’s about the role, if I needed to take a day off to help my kids, or do drop off and pick up, I could.
And certainly, I’ve done that for some time. I drop my kids off at school a couple of times a week, and I pick them up once a week. So, I can shift my hours around, which is a useful manifestation of personal wellbeing in my life. So, I still try to make that true today in Chargefox, but I’m also very aware that the buck does stop with me right now, and that those calls are much more likely to come in right now than they were at Cogent just a month or two ago. And the examples that I gave about Cogent tapered off over the years as we grew and got more structured and had more people to share the load with.
So, it’s still important to me to try and get personal wellbeing to be true for the staff, and I have to try and balance that with the ‘all hands need to be on deck’ scenario. And mostly I just deal with that by talking to people as they come on board. So, I describe the fact that, if something happens, we need to jump and deal with that, and everyone needs to be okay with that. But I also say, “If you get a call at nine o’clock at night, I’m not going to expect you to be at work at 8:30 the next morning if you’ve had to deal with something for a few hours over night, mate.” I have lots of empathy for those situations, so try and balance that personally with people. And I work to try and help people balance their lifestyles in combination with those things.
So, an example is, we’ve just had the Christmas break, Rob Mitchell, who’s my CTO and I were both on leave at various locations, but we were also both on support calls. So, the answer for us is, we’re going to try and share the load while we’re away on holidays. We just need to be somewhere where there’s mobile reception, and we need to have our laptop with us, so that if a call comes in we can answer it, and we can try and solve someone’s problem, even if that means I’m sitting in a hammock at a holiday house near the beach. And that happened a couple of times. So, it’s all hands on deck, but we still got a break kind of thing. So, try and share the load as much as we can in those situations.
Adam Murray: Yeah, that sounds good. A couple more questions for you before we wrap up. One of them is about the actual thing that Chargefox is bringing into the world. So, there’s some of that maybe that you can’t really talk about right now, but what excites you about this business?
Marty Andrews: I think the great thing for me about it is, I’m working in an industry that’s in the process of being disrupted, the automotive industry and the energy industry together, and they’re both being disrupted in big ways. The automotive industry is being disrupted with electric vehicles coming to market, and with autonomous vehicles off on the horizon, there will be massive change coming in the next five to ten years in that space. There’s less than 10,000 electric cars in Australia today, out of about 16 million-odd on the road, so that’s a really tiny number. That will begin to change quite dramatically this year.
There are several cars that have just come to market or are coming to market this year, that will begin to give Australians more choice. And we’re following kind of a global trend where that’s happening. So, it’s something like 0.1% of sales in Australia are electric cars, and we’re going to see that tick up to approach single digit numbers, and then over time double digit numbers. So, it’s quite exciting to be in an industry that’s moving so rapidly.
And the other one is the energy industry is being disrupted as well from this centralised, fossil fuel burning power station model, to a decentralised renewable energy source model, where even at large scale, rather than one enormous coal fire power station, we have some hydro stations and some wind farms, and some solar stations. So, you end up with many of those things. And then at micro scale, there’s now two million houses in Australia with solar on their roofs, and there are more and more people getting batteries in their homes as well. So, there’s massive disruption in those spaces, and we’re kind of working in the merger of those two fields. So, it’s really incredibly exciting. And to be able to provide solutions for everyday people to leverage their electric car, and their solar and their battery to do useful things like just charge your car, save money on your energy bill, is really quite powerful.
So, for me, it’s about being able to get to a point where I say, “I helped bring that to Australia.” I helped bring that renewable energy opportunity in that field around electric vehicles and charging and managing the energy around that charging, to make a difference, I guess.
Australia’s been, frankly, pretty poor at government level in terms of policy around energy and hitting targets for reduction of omissions for some time now. Hopefully, we’ll see that discussed quite heavily in election this year, maybe, but to be part of that change, is I think really powerful to me, to be able to say that I helped bring that to market and make the world a better place for my kids, rather than leaving it worse off.
Adam Murray: Yeah. What sort of timeframe… just very briefly, but what sort of timeframe do you think will see a really noticeable shift in our day to day lives, and other stuff?
Marty Andrews: That’s a good question. So, I think we… to touch briefly on some of the Chargefox story. We raised $17 million in capital last year, to build an ultra-rapid charging network across Australia. We’re planning to finish that ultra-rapid charging network… Sorry, the first part of that network, which is that project, by the end of this calendar year. And that will unlock intercity travel between the major cities of Australia, which is one of the big barriers to entry for EV buyers. Some people worry about price of cars, and they worry about will there be somewhere to charge, and can I travel between cities? So, we’re trying to make the second of that problem go away. Price is beginning to take care of itself. There are cars that are coming to Australia now that are cheaper and cheaper all the time.
They’re still expensive compared to petrol vehicles, but far closer than they were 12 months ago. And I think within 18 months or so, they’ll be quite comparable in price, to a point where your average car buyer will walk into a showroom and a petrol car and an electric car will be a similar price. So, I want to make sure that people genuinely consider those electric cars – and hopefully because they realise that they can powered through renewable energy, rather than petrol that’s puffing carbon out their tailpipe – and that the infrastructure in Australia is great at that time as well.
So, we will by the end of this year, have that national ultra-rapid network, plus quite significant growth in other charging stations around the country. And we’ll be talking about plans in the coming months about what they will look like in the year after that, and the year after that, and how big, and how accessible it will be for everyone. So, I think we’ll see real change begin late this year, and start to manifest itself next year. And as the cars come out this year, and they get talked about in the market, and all the reviews come out, and electric cars are incredible to drive. So, not a day goes by where you see another review of an electric car that’s really positive about the experience of driving those sorts of things. So, once the price comes down, and the infrastructure’s available, they will start to grow enormously. And I think that happens next year, for me.
Adam Murray: Wow.
Marty Andrews: Yeah, that’s pretty exciting.
Adam Murray: Yeah. One last question for you…
Marty Andrews: Sure.
Adam Murray: … and that’s reflecting about Melbourne, actually. Cogent founded in Melbourne, Chargefox is founded in Melbourne as well. Cogent really confined to Melbourne as well, intentionally. Probably partly due to personal wellbeing, I imagine. Maybe some other things as well, but I’m interested in your reflections on the tech start-up environment ecosystem in Melbourne, and what maybe is a little bit different about it from other cities, and what kind of things thrive here? What are being the ingredients that enable things like Cogent, Chargefox and our clients to thrive here?
Marty Andrews: Yeah. It’s gone through a couple of phases over the years for Cogent. In the early days when we were born a bit out of the Agile development community, Cogent did really well because of the transitions of a few large companies towards Agile delivery methods. So, Sensis was one of those, realestate.com.au was one of those. They were kind of big early customers. Then MYOB, so there were lots… there were some big digital companies that were based here in Melbourne, that we worked closely with as they began adopting Agile delivery methods early in Cogent’s life.
And over the years we transitioned more towards being a product delivery company, rather than an Agile tech consulting company. And that kind of coincided with the growth of venture capital in Melbourne. So traditionally, Sydney was the big VC home in Australia, especially over the last four years or so, that’s grown quite remarkably in Melbourne. So, more and more we get small to medium size companies who’ve done a capital raise, who need not just engineering skills, but product delivery skills, and they want to move quickly because investors always want people to move quickly. And we’ve brought that element of design thinking, and lean start-up, and product management, and that’s still backed by those high-quality engineering skills that we’ve always had.
And companies like Redbubble or Envato, or Culture Amp have started to grow in Melbourne as well. And many more smaller companies that are backed by VCs. So, I think that that’s been really nice for Cogent to kind of grow in that space. I think Sydney equally has a large market as well, probably other capital cities less so. And the location in Melbourne has… We’ve considered going interstate before, but it’s been as much… the difficulty for us has been the culture, really. Trying to keep that culture. It’s nice to be able to know everyone, and to be able to speak to them face to face. So, we may have a problem with scale anyway if we ended up with a couple of hundred people, but really no one’s been in a position where they’ve wanted to go and start a company interstate. We’d probably consider it seriously if one of a handful of people wanted to go and do it, but we’d have to be very deliberate about culture.
And in hindsight, I’m really happy with the fact that we’ve stayed in one location. It’s been incredibly valuable to be able to get people all together regularly face to face; that has an enormous impact on your culture. So, I don’t regret it at all staying in one location. In fact, I think it’s been a really positive thing for Cogent over the years – and one that happened as much by accident, as by deliberate steps. But as I look back, I think that that’s been a good thing for Cogent. So, I like being in one spot.
Adam Murray: Marty, excellent to chat with you today. Thanks for taking the time, and wish you all the best with Chargefox and what’s next.
Marty Andrews: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Cheers.
Adam Murray: Thank you very much for listening. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what Cogent is up to, including when new episodes of this podcast come out, you can do that by subscribing to our blog updates at cogent.co/blog. And of course, to help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite podcast platform. And finally, if you want to tell us about how your business is thriving, or you know of another digital business that is thriving that you think we should hear about, the best way to do that is through e-mailing us at email@example.com.
I’m Adam Murray, and I do look forward to hearing about how your business is thriving.