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GoPC - Entire Desktop in Cloud

In the ongoing coverage of exploring new startups coming out of Australia, today we explore a promising startup - GoPC - is next generation “cloud computing”. It is your entire PC desktop along with your applications and data, but runs across the Internet from a super computer and projects a screen image to any device you happen to be sitting at. It's founded by Graeme Speak from Perth, Australia.

In email-based interview with Graeme, conducted in Dec 2008, he explained how he is progressing with his venture. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
My name is Graeme Speak. I’m the CEO/Founder of GoPC and currently based in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. I also founded and ran another company in Australia, Central Data, which operates a data centre and specialises in Outsourcing projects (network and software development). It’s now been running for 28 years. I studied Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science and Management. These days I have a strong interest in philosophy, social evolution and particularly Micro Loans.

My recreational passion is Kitesurfing. I broke my neck after coming down head-first on the beach and after recovering joined the WA Kitesuring Association as an office holder to actively promote kite safety awareness. I’m proud to have been one of the founding organisers of Kitestock which is now the biggest kitesurfing event in the southern hemisphere, and along with the other committee members grew the WAKSA membership from 140 to 540. I believe WAKSA to be the most organised kitesurfing organisation worldwide.

• Please tell us about your venture/company?
GoPC is next generation “cloud computing”. It is your entire PC desktop along with your applications and data, but runs across the Internet from a super computer and projects a screen image to any device you happen to be sitting at. You no longer need to own or have anything installed on a single physical PC. The floating PC desktop, applications and data are compatible with standard file formats like MS Office and others, but without any licence costs. So it is a fraction of the cost of setting up a normal PC or network and gives you the freedom to run your floating PC in the cloud from anywhere.

GoPC has the most comprehensive “cloud computing” solution in Silicon Valley today, virtualising not only the desktop, applications and data but also virtualising the complexity of the entire corporate network in the “cloud”.

We first started developing the technology in 1995 and were a pioneer of what became known as an Application Service Provider. GoPC was spun off as a separate company in 2005 and has now been running live for 4 years with 99.999% uptime. The world media has recently picked up on the term “cloud computing” and this has dissolved our biggest barrier to adoption – people’s awareness.

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
I’ve always been an inventor and entrepreneur at heart but with the day-to-day distractions most of my ideas were never given enough resources to be finished. I was determined to make sure this one did.

In 1995 I thought the Internet had plateaued. A few guys working in Central Data had left to go start different ISPs and had become very successful. Their problem was the burden of supporting the home users who mostly had terrible PCs. I decided to marry a Citrix Winframe/Microsoft server network with an ISP. I couldn’t afford to buy the ISP so set one up myself. It worked. But the cost with Citrix and Microsoft licenses was very high and the only people who could afford it were businesses. So from late 1995 that became our focus. In 1999 when the industry coined the term Application Service Provider (ASP) we had been doing it for 4 years, and had an Australia-wide network with live paying customers. That business has been very successful and is still running today.

In 2002 I wanted to have another crack at doing the same thing with Open Source software. We had pretty deep technical skills and most of the data centre was running on Unix/Linux. It was originally geared at business customers as an alternative to a Microsoft/Citrix solution and would be a fraction of the cost. By 2005 it was flying. More scalable, more robust, and equally functional.

We then set about building the business and working out how to market it. The penny dropped while I was visiting China. I had always been focused on the corporate sector. The two women who came to our hotel each day to work as our interpreters went to the Internet cafe each morning to use Yahoo email. I realised if I gave them a GoPC account each it would be better for them than owning a laptop computer and even though they had little money, if I could get 100,000 of their friends to pay for something then we had substantial business. The friends I was travelling with are also entrepreneurs and threw down the gauntlet saying I was dreaming and I couldn’t convince them there was a real need. I was absolutely certain I was right so committed fully to turning our technical project code-named “Linframe” into what is now GoPC. Both of these guys are now two of my biggest advocates and have invested in the company.

There’s been a large technical team over several years who have built and refined the business. Taking the product to market has been just as difficult a journey. This was helped enormously by Mr Aidan Montague, the co-founder of Cisco Systems Australia, who became a Director of the company heading up marketing and business development.

We’ve now got a presence in Silicon Valley and have found enormous interest and support there for our technology. This has been crystalised with a new Advisor to our board Mr Ben Lyon, a veteran of Silicon Valley with several successful ventures now including TellMe sold to Microsoft and Ingenio sold to AT&T. Ben will become a Director of GoPC once the company incorporates in the US. The business has taken on a new level of energy now having forged business relationships with industry giant Yahoo! amongst others I’m not able to disclose at this time. There are very exciting opportunities now everywhere around us and we’re incredibly lucky to have someone of Ben’s calibre on board.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
We built the technology over 3 years while running in parallel with the existing ASP business of Central Data. We had the technical skills within the company running the data centre and created this as a side project. There was a lot of R&D and experimentation.

The hardest part for me however has been the personal journey, losing confidence in myself, risking everything I have, thinking the rest of the world is a lot smarter than me and knows something that I haven’t yet realised. Each week for years I would look over my shoulder to see if anybody else was doing this and couldn’t find anyone. Then somebody would send us an email saying they loved what we were doing. That was a joy to read these emails and just one ounce of encouragement is all it takes sometimes to keep you going. It was really only after moving to Silicon Valley and seeing what others were doing there that my personal confidence started to soar. It’s been a real roller coaster journey.

Now in the last few months the world has suddenly adopted the term “cloud computing” and every media outlet is talking about this being the next wave. Suddenly we’re an overnight success, although we have been doing it now for 14 years.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
GoPC is a "disruptive technology" which changes everything!. It's our purpose to empower people everywhere with either free or ultra-low-cost computing. At present users who pay for the added services subside those users who can't afford it.

• What services it provides for consumer or customers?
GoPC is a floating virtual PC desktop that does everything a normal physical PC does at a fraction of the cost. You can run it across the Internet from almost any device, anywhere. Being a fully managed service running from a secure data centre it is far more reliable than a normal PC.

Individuals no longer need to upgrade their old PCs, worry about viruses, spyware or backups. They will never want to carry a laptop again as you can run GoPC from home, work, campus, or Internet cafe straight from a web browser or using a USB key as a key to your virtual PC.

SMEs can set up a new network using GoPC within hours, not weeks. Users will have identical managed desktop environments accessing centralised storage with collaboration equivalent to MS Exchange. GoPC gives Local Area Network (LAN) functionality running over a Wide Area Network (WAN) for a fraction of the cost. Old PC hardware can be recycled or new low-cost hardware can be sourced at about $100/device. There are large cost savings in the set-up but the biggest pay-off is the elimination of ongoing support costs.
  • Save 90% of the cost of a new PC,
  • Save 90% of the logistics in setting up a network
  • Save 90% of the ongoing support.
• What type of customers/people you are targeting?
GoPC is targeted at SOHO, SME, Enterprise, Education, as well as Not For Profit, Clubs, individuals and children. The markets are global spanning First World through to Third World countries.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
We’ve been grooming an Internet marketing campaign but held back from releasing this because we needed to throttle the growth of the user base. It would have killed us in the early days to suddenly have 100,000 users subscribe in a day.

We are now implementing a B2B approach having other businesses sell GoPC to their established customer base.

An example of this is the partnership with Yahoo! which introduced GoPC to lead their products into large corporate accounts. The edge we bring is making their corporate products run manyfold faster in addition to providing our other desktop services.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
Yes, we use a lot of metrics. Basically everything, in every campaign can be measured.
Of course, the main metric I’m interested in is customer numbers, revenue and growth rate.
We’re pretty open about most of what we do but we don’t publish those metrics.

• What's your thought on being an aspiring entrepreneur?
I’ve got a lot to say about this but will keep this succinct. Potential won’t get you anywhere, only action does.

Being an entrepreneur is the greatest adventure in life that anyone can take. It far outweighs any personal development course and you’ll learn more doing it for real in one month than talking or thinking about it.

If you’ve got an idea, try it. Don’t risk everything on the first go. You need to be able to weather some failure. Learn quickly, play hard, always be fair with people and make friends, not enemies. It is certainly possible to succeed in business by keeping your integrity and there’s no satisfaction if you cheat. My personal goal is to contribute something of value to the world and I believe we all have something unique in us that the world needs.

My passion is microloans in the third world, helping seed entrepreneurship. My hero is David Bussau from Opportunity International who at the time I heard about him had funded 250,000 micro businesses and indirectly helped 5,000,000 people get out of the poverty trap.

• What's your thought on the start-up culture and innovation coming out of Australia?
It’s fantastic. It’s far more realistic and pragmatic than most of what I’ve seen in Silicon Valley. The difference is that funding support is very difficult to find here if you’re not a mining company or a property development project.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
I’ve been extremely disappointed at the level of bureaucracy in grants and decided to do it all myself.

I think there’s a great deal more the government should do to improve it. In my case, I thought the people administrating the process cost more in salaries than the grant would have been.

• If you are allowed to change the nation, what 3 things you will do?
I’ve got a strong interest in economics and know I’m no expert, but it seems that this looming recession requires the government to stimulate the economy by spending on new large projects.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
Silicon Valley has numerous industry seminars and groups. You can choose from a dozen to attend almost every day. I’m fairly selective in what I attend as they can be a waste of time, however, the intangible benefits of a good idea sometimes are priceless. I try and do at least one a week.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
I’m full of encouragement to anybody who wants to start a new venture. It doesn’t matter whether it's big or small, so long as it stretches them to become a bigger person than they already are. It’s one of the things I love doing most - giving others encouragement to chase their dreams.

I’m also extremely pragmatic and grill them as hard as I can so we make sure they continue to refine their ideas so it will work. Dreams without a reality check can lead to disaster.
The bottom line is to step forward but don’t ever gamble everything. Taking a blind risk is just stupid and should be guaranteed to fail. Treat people well and look after all your relationships. It’s people that will help you succeed or pull you down if they don’t like you.

Thanks, Graeme for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.
For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, and tech trends, check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here


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