"Big data is nothing to be afraid of."
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1978, Jeremy was a budding entrepreneur even in his childhood – always trying to find ways to make a buck and do something differently. His first job was delivering newspapers at age 13, and it was then he discovered that ‘business’ was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Since then he’s wanted “to be an entrepreneur and identify opportunities as well as really being passionate about what he does, while making a difference to other people and industries as well.”
Jeremy’s work history included time with the largest retail technology distribution company in Africa where at one point he thought “I can do this better” and started his own business, eventually ending up in Australia and all through a common connection in, of all places, Croatia!
“A company director I knew suggested I set up the distribution division for their products in Africa as a stand-alone business and grow from there. The business progressed well and then he happened to be meeting one of his colleagues, Evan, in Brisbane,” said Jeremy.
“That introduction led to an offer for the opportunity to have the business expand to include a large Asia Pacific distributor, a $150 million company, and doing really well. They had a listed parent funding their business in New Zealand. The idea was that they would fund the whole business for us in South Africa and we were working toward that,” Jeremy added.
The GFC then intervened and the money ran out. Vantex loved what had been done to date and suggested they’d be happy to have Jeremy join the business in Australia instead.
“I promptly walked downstairs to my wife Michelle and asked ‘Hey, you want to move to Australia?’ She said ‘Yeah, alright, that’s fine.’ I phoned back and said, ‘Okay. We’ll be coming.’ It all took about 30 seconds!” That was the start of the journey which saw the family move in 2009, settling into leafy Gordon in Sydney’s North.
That business was consequently sold to Ingram Micro, one of the largest technology distributors in the world. Jeremy spent about two years working with Ingram and their teams, enjoying the stability and continually learning. Again though, there was that moment when he thought to himself, “I can’t do this anymore, I’ve got to spread the wings and do my own thing again, which was always the intention.”
Jeremy then started his own company, initially in a consulting capacity, and that has now evolved into what MAC (Media Access Control) Telemetry is today. In a nutshell, Jeremy describes the core business today as “aggregating foot traffic in a particular location using mobile devices.” The business is all about “providing ‘anonymised’ foot traffic analytics for medium and large retail groups. This drives some really interesting operational and financial efficiencies that haven’t previously been available,” Jeremy explains. He – and his business – are now at the cutting edge of creating new avenues to provide even greater value to his clients using this technology.
Looking back, Jeremy reflects on the immigration process. “The art of managing the challenging situation of a high-risk move to another country is keeping your head down and keeping focused on the goals. We moved over here without any family, we didn’t know anyone, and my oldest son who’s now six was only five months old at the time. My wife just picked up and ran with the household, making sure we had a place to stay and everything else.”
Even though culturally South Africa and Australia are quite similar, moving to a foreign country meant many challenges, predominantly from the business standpoint. Although having a silent co-founder in Gordon Ewart, starting without any staff or significant investment meant Jeremy had to be very careful about what he did and how he did it.
“We risked everything. For the business, the biggest challenge we had was just time. It takes a long time to start a business, build the momentum and then get it to a position where you’re quite valuable.”
Jeremy reflects that “you have to work very hard to get the clients, add the value, and through adding that value you’ll succeed. That journey just takes a long time. They say it’s a thousand days to grow a business, and that’s exactly what it is. By the time you get to the end of three year, you’ll have a business of substance. How big it is, is entirely up to you.”
“Furthermore, the art to this is to self-fund the business if you can. That way you retain equity and keep control. I think some people see that as a positive and others see it as a negative. From my standpoint, as long as we don’t have to invest too heavily, we can grow something valuable first and then we can be calculating in terms of when we need that investment to come in. Between now and then, it’s a big risk, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. It’s a lot of fun and we’re having a good time doing it,” said Jeremy.
Jeremy’s view is that organic growth is the right way to grow a company. “Some businesses I know have done the opposite; they’ve ended up with 100 staff without a product or any sales revenue, and then they’re trying to prove their technology works in the marketplace. I don’t believe in doing that, I believe in taking the other approach. Let’s first get a product to market, make sure you get some customers who love it, get advocacy for your brand, and then start investing heavily in business growth. It takes a couple of years to do that and in between there’s a risk component but the market must lead your business forward, not the other way around.”
MAC Telemetry is now the leading provider of anonymised foot traffic analytics with the primary focus being Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. They also have a collaboration with Euclid Analytics in the US, who have $25 million invested in this technology.
Jeremy explains: “They’ve been partnered with us for a couple of years and we’ve been representing their technology in Australia and other nearby territories because their primary focus is the US and European markets. This is as opposed to an independent operator who’s licensing the technology.”
Earlier this year the relationship became even more collaborative. The two parties had a discussion about what each was developing, and the decision was made for MAC Telemetry to strategically partner with Euclid by providing some of its IP to their business in order to “help their development grow consistently in line with what we both require.
“We have a good agreement with them that allows us to become their agent, but also gives us the ability to appoint resellers of their technology in the territories in which we operate as well. That was quite critical because now we have the route to market and the ability to get other companies to sell this technology, and our strategy is all about creating this large-scale data network effectively,” Jeremy adds.
MAC Telemetry is unique in that they work with completely anonymised data. They don’t track individuals; they don’t know who the shoppers are, and they don’t get the name of the mobile device. They work using a mark in the system which tells them the device number. They know the device walks past a retail store once or twice a week, and they know that when that device goes into the store it stays there for however many minutes at a time, and they know there’s a certain amount of other devices which do the same thing in that particular retail location.
Jeremy adds “We’re able to deliver some really advanced foot traffic analysis of what is going on. The lifeblood of bricks-and-mortar retail is about getting people to walk into a store and buy. Our technology tells you in real-time how many people walk past your store every day, how many are walking into your store, how long they’re shopping for, how well engaged those clients are, and how often they shop with you as well.”
Given the rise of internet sales, a logical question for Jeremy is around the demise of bricks and mortar retail and the effect that would have on his business. He responds by saying “I think it’s a healthy blend between online e-commerce and also marketing of products in the store. One of the key things that people forget, is that people buy from people.” It’s clearly all about a store experience in the bricks and mortar world, versus the expediency of the internet and some people, situations or purchases are better suited to one or the other.
So is MAC Telemetry part of the new ‘big data’ buzz? “Yes, but big data is nothing to be afraid of,” explains Jeremy. “It needs to be utilised in the right way. We’re a very small cog in the wheel of this big data strategy for business around the world, but it’s a very important little cog, that is not easily understood and not easily accessible to a lot of big retail groups. Our objective is to deliver it to them as cost effectively as possible, to add as much value as we can.”
Another value-add project underway at MAC Telemetry is linking real-time foot traffic information to weather data. Jeremy defines this as “using GPS coordination to understand how weather impacts a business. It would analyse how a weather condition could impact a café differently to how it would impact potentially a swimsuit store, for example. We’re then leveraging existing big data in the world, correlating it to what we do to provide unique and valuable products to retail groups”.
Given his business is technology-based, it was quite logical that “the first thing we did was build this business in the cloud in every sense from the accounting system and CRM to document management and presentations. That has been a fundamental benefit. Information needs to be accessible in real-time to be nimble and execute a commercial strategy quickly.”
To Jeremy’s mind, business is no longer about being an Australian company. “Everything you do needs to be done on a global basis. And with that in mind, the only way to do that is by having cloud-enabled technologies to scale quite rapidly, and have information from various team members around the world to utilise.”
Using software as a service cloud-enabled technology also reduced Jeremy’s investment cost significantly. “We have a number of independent contractors we work with and we’ve structured our own business in the cloud because that’s the way we approach the market. Our sales team are effectively strategic partners we’ve appointed, such as Wi-fi providers for example, and we see them as an extension of our business.”
“New technology is the backbone of our business, and has only been available probably the last five years, because the infrastructure layer that we utilise is all using Wi-fi networks, which have only been cloud enabled for the last five years. So, that’s the reason why we’ve only been able to do what we’re doing today, and that evolves quite quickly and rapidly.”
Collaboration also provides extended resources. As Jeremy comments “through our agreement with our US partner we have access to a quite a sizeable data science team which analyses information and makes sure that clients are set up and working properly, saving the investment in such resources here.”
Future plans for business expansion are already in place. “Over the next 12 months we’ll bring on about five or six new heads in the business in Australia to manage Australia and New Zealand and then we’ll also consider Singapore offices. Thailand is a potential location as well as we’re looking where the big market opportunities lie. Again, these things need to be client-led and we’re certainly not going to open up offices without having big opportunities to fund those offices first.”
The joy of customer satisfaction is what drives Jeremy. “The biggest motivator for me personally is to create happy customers. It’s exciting to talk to somebody when they’ve got a big problem or they don’t understand they’re having a problem and we’ve done this time and time again with a number of businesses. We’ve demonstrated some very unique insights they weren’t aware of and, if you don’t have the information to analyse and look at, you’ll never know about an issue affecting your business.”
Happily settled in their new life here, there is still much work to be done and Jeremy is clear that, again, family support is vital. “The work life balance is easy to do, provided you have your family on board with you and they understand that when it’s time to do work, then it’s time to do work and it may be inconvenient. It may be on a weekend, it may be late at night. I always make sure that the next morning I can spend at least an hour or two with the family. I’m very fortunate and I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have family members who really support what I do and believe in me as an individual as well.”
Jeremy’s wife provides significant support and he enthuses about her willingness to assist. “She’s an amazing woman, she’s really incredible, and she’s very tolerant of everything I do. I’ve always said I’ve got the best wife in the world. And I say that because she picks up all the bits and pieces around me that fall apart, and puts them back together again, and makes sure I’m focused every single day right from when I get up every morning. She’s very appreciative as well and it works vice-versa.”
Passion about what he does is a major driver for Jeremy, and what gets him out of bed every day. “One of the most critical things is to be passionate about what you do. Without the passion, you don’t have any drive and you’ll never succeed. People have unbelievable potential to do amazing things. If you just believe in yourself to get there, you will get there. There’s no question at all.”
Jeremy describes himself as a thought leader “because of the way I approach my clients and the way we approach the market. We do that with a value-first mentality which means we guarantee our performance success. And that’s really important for our clients. It means that what we deliver, works.
“I don’t see myself coming to a job every day. I see this as a life experience. What I have is a commitment to deliver a solution to the market, and I’m passionate about doing that and I believe it will make a big difference to this industry, both in Australia and internationally. That’s the core focus of what I do.”
- “We risked everything.”
- “Big data is nothing to be afraid of.”
- “The first thing we did was build this business in the cloud in every sense.”
- “One of the key things people forget is that people buy from people.”
Jeremy Biggs left the ‘dangers’ of South Africa behind and came to Australia with his young family and nothing more than a brilliant business concept. Now he offers Australian retailers a rare insight into their customers’ behaviours. Connections and collaboration have been key to his success.