Peter Ricci – entrepreneur, software developer, ex-AFL player and creator of one of Australia’s worst video games – talks to Career FAQs about real estate, web development, working for yourself, and how he left the sporting field to become an online real estate guru.
We provide software as a service to real estate agents across Australia and New Zealand. The software allows real estate agents to manage all their vendors’ property listings in one place. We store all the information on our server, and the software automatically pushes that information via XML (Extensible Mark up Language) and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) data feeds to all the sites that they have membership with. The more sites they have membership with, the more time it saves them.
FYI: The purpose of XML is to encode documents, serialise data and aid information systems in sharing structured data via the Internet. RSS is a web feed format that is used to publish frequently updated works – such as blog entries, news headlines, audio and video.
I had video game stores. I owned five stores, which I sold in 1997, and used the money to start a web design company with a couple of other guys, called Little Devil Media. I helped to grow the client base from one to around 100 by the time I left in 2004. I developed the real estate side of things and wanted to push that, so we split the company up and I took the real estate part of the company with me.
I also developed a video game, Kevin Sheedy’s AFL 2000 – which is close to the worst video game ever released in Australia! But it still sold about 80 000 units. It’s a pretty big game now, so I was pretty proud of that because it was a really hard thing to do.
Like everything, I stumbled upon it. A real estate agency in Tasmania asked us to do some work for them, and we thought that if we’re going to build something for them, we should develop something that we could sell to other agencies. That was how it started - we developed a system so they could manage the listings for their websites. Then in 2000 we approached realestate.com.au about sending some feeds to their website, and we were one of the first people to do that. If you’re a real estate agency in Australia you have to have a system where you have such feeds.
No, everything was self-taught and learned on the job. I learned a fair bit about programming while I developed the video game, but now I leave the really hard stuff to my programmers. But it’s important to know a bit about what you’re doing. The only way to learn is to put something up and try to make it work – you learn how to put things together just by doing that.
The recession has forced agents to dump print media and put everything online, which has affected companies like Fairfax and News Limited, but they’re just going to have to adapt. It’s probably a good thing and will force them to make changes within their organisations. Web technology makes it cheaper and better for all, so everyone wins.
I’m not saying that print is evil, but if you want to sell your home on the internet, it costs a fraction of the price of print and can include much more information – and it’s online from the moment you put it up to the moment it’s sold, day and night, every day. Newspapers can’t tell you how many people have looked at a particular property, whereas with a website, you can tell exactly how many people have viewed it, for how long, and if the same person has gone back to it.
The first thing I do is open my diary, see what I have to do that day and get my team organised. During the day, I answer phone calls, I have a Twitter account and a number of blogs I write for – I usually put four to five posts up a week, plus moderating the comments. I try to get as much out of the way as I can early on so I can devote the rest of the day to getting everything ready for my developers. I run the business with my partner Ryan O’Grady, and we contract work out to designers and developers, who we pay by the hour. We have to keep these guys going or it costs us money, so we have to be very clear about what we want built, designed or changed. We use project management software to help us with that, which is really helpful.
It depends on what we’re working on. At the moment we’ve got 15 designers and developers, which is quite a lot, working on around 30 different projects, from little tiny ones to bigger ones. We’ve got people all over the world – from the US, UK, Indonesia and Croatia – and we keep them pretty busy.
Things like writing articles and doing consultancy for other companies – I love doing that sort of work – and being creative, coming up with different ideas that I can test for my own company or for others.
Until recently, I had to do the accounts – and I hated them. I chucked things in shoeboxes, but with Ryan coming on board as a business partner, he’s gone through the whole business and identified all the waste, such as unnecessary monthly fees for subscriptions to things I never read – and in three short months he’s saved me what amounts to $50 000 a year. I’ve never been good at things like that, but it’s very wasteful and over the years it’s cost me a lot of money. Ryan’s very strong in that regard and has really strengthened the business. He’s applied some rules, which has been good for me.
Some people find it difficult to get motivated, but I don’t understand how people lie in bed. If you’re going to work from home, you cannot be a lazy person because you’ll fail miserably. I just have a couple of rules that I try to apply, like getting out of the office every day for a walk or exercise.
I never had a dream of having my own business, but once I went to Tasmania for footy in 1991, everything fell into place. I needed work and one day I went to Salamanca Markets and just thought, ‘Look at all the people here, what could I sell here?’ I started selling baseball caps and Harley Davidson T-shirts, and did pretty well. Then I decided to open the video game store, and had five stores within five years. But I made schoolboy errors – I went out like a bull at a gate but had no idea what I was doing. I wound up selling all the stores or closing them down, and by 1996 I only had one store. I then sold that and used the capital to invest in the website development business in 1997.
I don’t spend any money on marketing. It’s mainly word of mouth. You could call my website business2.com.au marketing, but I never promote myself on there (business2.com.au is a blog which I’ve been writing about real estate and technology, and how that affects real estate agents in Australia, since 2001). If you look at that as a back door, agents read it, I have a reputation for being pretty honest and open about things, so the agents trust me and I can give them the inside scoop on things. Fairfax, News Limited and Google have all written on the blog as well, so that gives it more credibility. Around 2000 real estate agents subscribe to it, so every time we write an article they get an email.
I do. I work a lot of hours, probably 90 hours a week, though not necessarily 90 productive hours – I could probably do the same amount of work in 60. If I had a partner I’d obviously have to change my hours, or the relationship wouldn’t last very long!
I have a personal trainer and I work out pretty much every day, and that’s something I enjoy doing. I also enjoy reading, and I go to the movies every now and then.
Don’t be too broad in what you’re trying to do – target a specific industry for a specific need, and go for it.