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Building a Global Technology Company from Australia: Avoka CEO Phil Copeland (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Nov 5th 2014

Phil bootstrapped Avoka using services around an Adobe product, and then developed core IP and a product of his own at Avoka. The methodology is tried and true, and worth learning from.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with the beginning of your story. Tell us where you’re from, where you were born and raised, and in what kind of circumstances.

Phil Copeland: I was born in Sydney, Australia in 1958. I attended school in Australia and studied Architecture in the late 70s and graduated in the early 1980s. People of my generation had little computer education at school and even at universities. My first exposure to computing was when I was writing my thesis on passive solar design. At that time in the early 1980s, the oil crisis was going on and energy efficiency was quite an interesting area. For my thesis, I wrote a fairly sophisticated computer program to help me analyze the impact of how you site and locate buildings on residential development to maximize access to solar energy and sunlight. I really enjoyed the computing part of it. Since I was really interested in the particular topic, it just seemed to fall into place quite easily.

Sramana Mitra: You came out of university and finished your thesis. What happened after that?

Phil Copeland: I, first of all, worked for a very successful firm of architects in Australia back in 1983. They were quite cutting-edge and were a very well-known firm at that time. Architecture is actually time-consuming where you have to physically draw up building plans. In those days, it was all done in drawing boards with pen and ink. It was time-consuming and demanding.

At that time, the first personal computers were just being introduced. I became interested in computer-automated drafting (CAD) systems. In fact, Autodesk had just launched their AutoCAD product. I got really interested in that. I thought this was the first step in a very big change in the industry. I ended up becoming the first AutoCAD salesperson in Australia. That was a pretty good time to be entering the computing industry particularly around personal computers.

AutoCAD went on to become one of the most successful technology software companies in the marketplace. I did that for four or five years. I was in the right spot at the right time and I got involved with the whole change in the computing industry. Later on in the late 80s, I went back and managed for a very large architectural engineering firm. I became their IT technology manager.

They had a really interesting piece of software that was very key to their business. Called strategic facility planning, they offered it as a consulting service to lots of large firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers to help them optimize their space. We wound up buying this piece of software from the original developers and taking over the development. We actually re-wrote that software. It was very graphical in its nature.

We re-wrote it in an early version of Microsoft Windows and using a fairly new database technology at that time from a company called Gupta Technologies. In fact, this was probably one of the first examples of a fairly sophisticated client server computing system.

We ended up being invited by Microsoft to exhibit with them at COMDEX. It was around 1989 and it was interesting the way the world was going to change with the introduction of client server computing. After spending that time with Microsoft and really understanding what they were doing and where they were going with the introduction of Windows 3, I started a company to specialize in client server computing systems. I’ve actually founded three companies. That was the very first one, which focused on client server computing. That was in January of 1990.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Building a Global Technology Company from Australia: Avoka CEO Phil Copeland
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