"That’s an incredible journey in one generation."
John recalls, “My Dad worked a lot in factories, as we were growing up, my parents had no one to look after us. There was no day care then, so they decided to set up a family business; a milk bar, with no experience.”
His parents’ idea was to be there for their children as much as they could. The only way they saw to ensure that happened was to start a business which enabled at least one of them to be with the children.
A migrant Greek couple, living in Melbourne and deciding to run the local corner store, mightn’t seem like a brainwave but, on reflection, John believes it set in motion the principles which have dictated his success, not only in business, but also in life.
Rather shy as a child, John remembers his “sister was always in the shop serving clients while I stayed out the back and the customers would say ‘oh, you have a son!’ But that interaction with people was good. The school was just around the corner and a lot of the kids would come to the store afterwards. Some would take advantage, be nice to you at first, but then turn nasty later on, while most were pretty genuine. There was good and bad to being the kid who lived at the local milk bar.”
Then he clearly remembers the moment his parents’ business began to grow, virtually by accident.
“There were a lot of factories around – it was a working class growth area. Mum was surprised when she made her first deal, because her sandwich was better than the one the guy got from another milk bar. He told his workmates, and then the whole factory came over. That was the first opportunity maximised. That always sticks in my mind.”
But what makes a sandwich better? More chicken? Thicker bread? Mayonnaise instead of butter? Tasty cheese? What John recalls is that none of those made the real difference.
He proudly states, “Mum did good quality work, and in the food trade, you don’t make your money by how much product you put in the sandwich. It’s about the quality and the experience for people to come back. So, customer service is always important – respectfully, it’s not just a transaction. I remember the people and the interactions from those days and from that came a good, solid pride in what you were doing and good business.”
Some sound lessons there for the prospective entrepreneur; a young Greek Orthodox boy, who went from being the shy kid in the milk bar to a ‘cool nerd’ in a Catholic primary school.
“Generally I did well at school. I was always in between; I wasn’t always with the cool kids, at the same time I wasn’t always with the nerds. I was probably a cool kid and nerd at the same time. And later when I look at areas of business analysis in which I’ve had a lot of experience, you tend to be the glue, you have the ability to translate for groups of people.”
There were other lessons he learned during those formative years which have played an integral part in his success, and it’s not surprising, for a kid growing up in Melbourne, that football would be a teacher.
“I relate it to business and coaching especially; those communication skills, how do you get over something you’re not happy about, how to strategically think ahead and the influence of good coaches.”
There are clear parallels over the years during which John has been teaching. “They have the same human instincts, scare them a little, motivate them a little, give them a road map, guide them. So you visualise a coach on the field, having a word in the ear to one player, going over and motivating another, or a stern word to another – they’re good techniques. It’s a real Australian thing, I feel. Those early sporting activities were important, especially as a stress relief.”
John loves his sport; he grew up barracking for Collingwood – “don’t hold that against me” he says. Why are Collingwood supporters always apologetic? If you’ve got a brainwave on that, there’s every chance John could help. But, according to John, that highlights another key area for a successful entrepreneur; having a passion for what you believe in.
“One of the most important things, as an entrepreneur, is to love what you’re doing. If you love it, as the saying goes, you never work a day in your life.”
So even when John moved to Sydney and settled in the Sutherland Shire, that passion for Collingwood never evaporated, even under pressure from the Bulldogs supporting in-laws in a Rugby League dominated city.
That passion for the Magpies is a quality that transcends his love of sport and is a big part of his business life. It’s character building. “It helps you measure a person by how they react to adversity, rather than everything going beautifully.”
John claims having a passion for your project also helps build confidence, and that is vital when you’re out in the marketplace selling your idea, trying to get investors interested. “Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, investors won’t. They can smell it.”
These are thoughts on success gained from doing it; walking the talk, and from taking advice from people he respected and trusted.
When your business is helping others turn their ideas into reality, John has a wealth of experience from which he can draw. He understands the hurdles, the setbacks, the mountains that have to be climbed, because he’s been there.
As a year 10 student, with a dream to be a doctor, John remembers the odds being stacked against him when applying for work experience positions. “To get a job in a regular hospital was pretty much impossible, you needed connections. I went to Mont Park, a psychiatric hospital near where we lived. I approached them directly – the school didn’t know. I had an interview and got it.
Fortunately for John, the rules were different them. “You could go on rounds with doctors and the first week was quite intense. I buddied up with a doctor, had my suit on and everyone thought I was a doctor. He was diagnosing psychiatric patients, and some were potentially quite violent. I was doing what a trainee doctor would be doing – even lodging reports on patients. I still remember the family trees we did, with the squares and circles for males and females, father and mother.”
When the time came to go to University, the doctor dream had been replaced by a love of computers, but there was a hurdle. A hurdle which opened up another learning experience which has proved crucial in business.
John enrolled in computer science/instrumental science. He explains, “Instrumental science is interfacing analogue devices with computers. Now it’s part of engineering. We were guinea pigs that year, because you had to have Physics as a prerequisite and I’d never done Physics at High School. So we did twice as much Physics in that first semester, but we had a fantastic teacher.” That was John‘s first exposure to the value of mentoring.
“I still remember him. Back then he looked like Paul Hogan looks like now; he had that larrikin attitude and if you had a problem his response would be ‘well you’re up that well known smelly creek without a paddle, spearing bullfrogs with a crowbar for a living’. He simply made learning fun, and I’ve used that same philosophy when I train and teach. It’s about enjoyment. That way people have more fun, and remember more.”
John’s next mentoring moment came near the end of his University degree, when he was again back doing work experience, this time with IBM. “I did a year of work experience and, during that time, one of the engineers was leaving. So, while I was still a student, there was the chance to take on that full-time position. I grappled with the decision and had a good chat with Neil Boyle, my manager at the time. I respected him a lot and he said ‘John I would love to have you in this role, you would be able to do it, but I think you should complete your degree’, which I did and a year after I got the job anyway.”
That hands-on experience is critical in John’s view. “I think it’s really important for Uni students to get that experience and the opportunity to be tested before you get your degree. It was also a chance for them to test me out, for me to try new things and it channeled my thinking in those early days.”
When the opportunity finally came to start his own business, to get MYbrainwave off the ground, John employed the same tactics he now teaches. It started with an idea.
“The inspiration goes back to growing up in my teens with my friends. We played a good old Aussie game of ‘mate, I’ve got a fantastic idea – I’ve got a brainwave’ and everyone sitting around him would say ‘nah, forget it, it’s already been done, it’s not worth it’, and I hated that. So that was the inspiration for ‘no, you can do something with it’.”
In the lead up to opening MYbrainwave, “it was all about planning, being clear on what our markets were, who we were going to target and what our services were. Then working out, what are we good at? And what do we like doing?. When MYbrainwave was registered, it really was a bit of a melting pot of things we liked to do and that we were good at.”
John likes to refer to his company as “a start up with an old soul” and by his own definition, he’s successful. “Success is being happy with what you’ve achieved. Not really having regrets, even though you go through some hard times, because it all contributes to what you’re doing.”
As an innovation management company, “We help people make ideas real. We provide consulting, advisory services in the process around innovation and we help find good people you can trust to help your capability and execute that innovation. Working with clients, “we coach and mentor; help them with a pitch and prepare them for investment with an entrepreneurial level business plan.”
John’s now looking ahead to a bright and prosperous future, admitting there will be some challenges, but relishes the thought of embracing them. Within 10 years, I envisage $175 million revenue coming in and taking equity in the execution of some of those ideas when we can afford to.”
Business growth is in progress. “We’re taking small steps globally and I’d like that to grow. “We’re doing work in the Philippines, chasing a decent deal in Singapore and looking at opportunities in the U.S. We have partnerships in New Zealand and there’s an opportunity in Ireland as well.”
The John Katsiris story is as far away as you can get from a Greek tragedy, although looking at his father’s history, it could easily have been different. “I look at where my Dad came from- no shoes, living on a mountain – to where I am now and think WOW! That’s an incredible journey in one generation. Looking now at my sons, and if that materialises the way I envision it and what the world will be like for the next generation, it’s amazing.”
Giving back to the industry in which he’s succeeded is a driving force behind the success of John and his company and over a decade ago he made a conscious decision to improve the image of his profession. “At the time, business analysis had various different meanings and definitions. In the corporate world, there weren’t any standards: what does a BA do?”
As a result, John founded the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA™), Australia Chapter in 2006. The IIBA a global, not-for-profit organisation for business analysts, and it publishes a standard called the Business Analysis Body Of Knowledge (BABOK™).
“The first event I held in Melbourne had 100 attendees. Later that week, we had our second inaugural event in Sydney, and we had another 100 people come along. At that time people needed representation, they needed a voice. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration, so we chartered to a local Australian entity and we went national, really to give Government and large corporates a single entity with which to communicate. Now approaching our 10th year, the standard in all the major banks for business analysis is the BABOK™. The ASX, has the BABOK™ as their standard as well.
“So from people not knowing what the BABOK™ was – a better name would’ve been nice! – to now being the standard to help you work out your requirements.” It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
Many not-for-profit organisations have had their ideas realised through the generosity of the team which makes upMYbrainwave. “That’s been a focus for MYbrainwave. When we teach, it’s about giving back; it’s a drive -you want to teach. Giving back to the community can be through work, and we’ve done work for not-for-profits. That can be an important lead-in to formulate the direction of the company too.”
John’s also a major contributor to the community, practising what he preaches, being prepared to take himself outside his comfort zone to raise awareness and money for the Sir David Martin Foundation. “They help kids who are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, and just the other day I abseiled down 1 Market St in Sydney, a thirty-three storey building. That’s about conquering your fear, and your business is about conquering your fears. It was a great experience with some wonderful people, encouraging each other for a good cause.”
- “We’re taking small steps globally and I’d like that to grow.”
- “Believe in yourself, because if you don’t, investors won’t. They can smell it.”
- “It helps you measure a person by how they react to adversity, rather than everything going beautifully.”
Leading a company which encourages those with new ideas was almost a natural progression for John Katsiris; something he saw as a child, but never really understood until he began to reflect on his own journey.