With a new baby in tow, Zoe and Isao Hida made the decision to move from Sydney back to Zoe’s hometown of Bathurst, in northwest NSW, at the height of the global financial crisis.
They weren’t the only ones to make the switch; between the financial climate being what it was, and the relaxed, family lifestyle that Bathurst allows, Zoe saw that a growing number of people who had grown up in town before going to the big city to launch their careers were also coming back home.
Despite Zoe having worked in communications and PR for a number of government departments in Sydney and Isao having managed large-scale IT projects across the public and private sectors, including the testing of Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ’s new banking system in Australia, they couldn’t quite find the right work.
“After a while, we just couldn’t find the right jobs to meet our skillsets or our interests, and there were too many people coming back, so we thought, it’s either move back to Sydney again or create our own business, so we went with that,” she said.
The business they created is AppiWork, a development agency working with startups, government departments, and other businesses to build their apps and systems, while also creating its own internal apps, too.
Their first clients came from personal networks and word of mouth; while they frequently work on remote projects, Zoe said being able to sit down side by side with someone has been crucial in growing in Bathurst.
“At the beginning, our first customers came because people knew us personally and so they trusted us with their projects, and though people find us online, that’s still how the majority of our work comes to us now,” Zoe said.
“Our local customers all know us, have met us, and trust us, and even though we employ developers offshore, when people are developing their dream business, something they’ve been thinking about for two, five or even 10 years, they really want to have a partner they can meet and sit down next to and spend time with.”
While Zoe pointed out that Bathurst is growing fast, it’s population still sits around 40,000 – despite that, it’s “a really entrepreneurial place” and that has helped push both AppiWork and the businesses it works with.
“We’ve got your traditional real estate agents and professional services, but we also have a number of entrepreneurs who have built very successful, multi-national companies who happen to like living here and they’re quite generous in sharing their knowledge and experience with others starting up,” she said.
“There’s a real sense of, we’ve got to support local and we’ve got to support each other to succeed. In terms of starting a business it’s a really great place for it because people want to see you win, and there’s a real sense that we’ve got to look after our own.
“I think that although there’s many tyrannies of distance in working in a country town, there’s real support that local communities lend to each other, particularly when they want to see someone start and move forward, and giving people a chance when they don’t have a track record yet. We’ve really benefited from that sort of thing.”
As well as local startups and businesses, a key client for AppiWork is the state government. The agency has worked with departments including the NSW Department of Primary Industries and State Records, the NSW Government’s archives and records management authority.
With the number of projects for AppiWork and their scale growing fast, the Hidas made the decision several years ago to hire developers offshore; they now have a full time staff member in Bangladesh and a team in Vietnam.
As business development manager for AppiWork, Zoe said she is “the first port of call” for any project, sitting down to hear each person’s ideas.
“I get to flesh it out with them and find out what they really want to achieve, and then Isao makes it happen…I’m frequently contacted by people with weird and wonderful app ideas; some of them are genius, others are crazy, but meeting people and hearing about their ideas is one of the major highlights,” she said.
The team also regularly travels to conduct site visits, particularly if an app is going to be used by staff in a workplace.
“We’ve been everywhere from the State Records bunker, which is like something out of a Get Smart episode, to factories and industrial areas in Western Sydney, we’ve been in sheds on farms, you name it.”
One of the projects Zoe is most passionate about is internal project WabiSabi, cofounded with Owen Palmer. The platform looks to help ensure that all a person’s friends and loved ones are informed when they pass away.
“Death is a really topical area for disruption at the moment, there’s a lot of unhappiness around the funeral industry and how much they charged and people know so little about their options,” Zoe explained.
“This app will help people in a very difficult time to do something quite emotionally challenging, which is try to figure out everyone who should be informed, and then actually tell them.”
Image: Isao and Zoe Hida. Source: Supplied.