After 19 years in IT, SnapperNet director and keen fisherman Richard Paul has made his mark on more than just the name of the company.
He has worked in consumer sales, the components business and networking, but it was distribution of a different kind that proved useful for his career in IT.
After leaving high school in 1988 he was employed at his father’s fresh and frozen vegetable distribution company. Working there he picked up skills that would later become valuable.
“Essentially I was driving a truck for [my father] but I ... learned the ins and outs of dealing with vendors.”
Moving to Sydney in 1990, he started working for an Apple retailer called The Apple Centre.
“It was a fairly junior job in a retail store, but this was at a time when the Mac product was doing quite well. It was a high energy place and I got a baptism of fire into the IT industry — including the social side of things.
“I know it is a cliché, but there was a work hard, play hard mentality amongst the sales guys.”
In 1992, Paul returned to New Zealand and spent a year away from the IT industry.
“I came back for a rest [from IT] and worked for Seiko. I was selling to jewellery stores but after the fast-paced life in Sydney selling computers, watches and jewellery got a bit tedious.”
“Bored to tears” after a year, Paul decided to give IT another go and landed a job with Computer Connections, an Australian-owned component wholesaler. He says the 90s was marked by an increasing number of system builders in IT.
The Computer Connections role also brought him into contact with his future business partners, Mark Forbes and John Gould.
“They had just started Ultra Computer Company and became one of my customers at Computer Connections.”
He was at Computer Connections for two years before moving to NJS Technology in 1995. Paul says NJS also sold to PC assemblers, and distributed Intel CPUs.
However, he says some companies were importing Intel CPUs privately from countries such as Hong Kong, though this grey market activity was reduced as NJS developed Intel’s channel locally.
He jokes that Intel “thanked” the company for developing a channel, by bringing on Tech Pacific and Electronic Resources as other Intel CPU distributors.
NJS was subsequently bought in Australia and the new company discontinued its business operations in New Zealand, says Paul.
He anticipated that the company wouldn’t last and left in 1998 to begin a new venture reselling PCs from Ultra Computers.
“This gave me quite an insight into the challenges IT resellers face. I have said to resellers that I know where they’re coming from. That one year I worked as a reseller, gave me the best education I could get for moving back into distribution.”
Paul says a crucial lesson he took from the experience was not to get caught up in a price war.
“I went out there [with Ultra Computers] trying to compete with the big ads that were in the Saturday morning New Zealand Herald at the time. I realised after six months of hard slog trying to sell products based on price, that I didn’t need to do that.”
Paul also learnt that once he had a certain number of customers, he could keep the company going, and grow it, by looking after the ones on his books.
“[Customers] were asking me to source product for them. Luckily my brother, who is a network engineer, was running his own consulting business. He didn’t like selling hardware so we partnered up.
“He went in, fixed networks and suggested they needed a new computer or other hardware. He would recommend they got a quote from me. Then I would quote the gear and he would go and install it.”
When his brother shifted to the UK, Paul decided to move back into the distribution side of the business. He approached John Gould at Ultra Computers in 1999 and asked if the company was looking for extra sales staff. Paul says Gould created a role for him.
“My role at Ultra was product manager for the networking range. We found out at the time that Soho and SME networking products were about to take off. So we took the [networking] side of the business and created a value add distribution business.”
That networking company was, of course, SnapperNet. Paul is a director along with Mark Forbes and John Gould. Snappernet began in 2000.
Insite Technology subsequently acquired Ultra Computer in June 2006.
Paul says the company’s name was the result of a desperate search as time began to run out to register with the Companies Office.
A keen fisherman, Forbes noticed a truck from the Bream Bay Fish Company that had a huge snapper on it and the lightbulb went on. Paul is also a big fan of fishing.
“I have a 12-foot boat with an outboard and oars for when the outboard doesn’t work. We’re quite lucky in that we have a boat ramp at the end of my street in Whenuapai.”
The company now has six staff. The biggest change for Paul in his nine years with the company is the arrival of more networking distributors.
“When we first started, the SoHo/SME networking space was a happy hunting ground. But now with the likes of Cisco buying Linksys, that’s an admission they have realised there is a lot of business to be had in the networking space.”
Paul visits regional resellers at least twice a year. “I can empathise with some of the things they are confronted with. I know what it is like to support end user customers who don’t understand the technology.”
He says times are tougher economically, but SnapperNet is doing well.
“People know they have to invest in technology. They’re just delaying it. Just lately I’ve seen people are starting to engage more with resellers again.”
Paul’s big passion outside of work and fishing is rugby. “When I was in my teens I represented Auckland and got as far up to the under-18s. I realised that I stopped growing at about 15, whereas everyone else kept growing,” he jokes.
He continued playing social rugby until he was 35, accumulating a few injuries along the way.
Paul says his 19 years in IT have flown past. “I’ve only realised recently how fast the years have gone.”