Growing up, Julie Boulton dreamed of being a brain surgeon, because she was fascinated by the way humans work. A couple of years into her medical degree, however, she was diagnosed with a brain disorder; having developed tremors, a career as a surgeon was suddenly off the table.
“One day I was sitting on the floor pulling apart a computer, and my husband said to me, ‘I’ve never seen you sit still for so long.’ I had been sitting there for about three hours and I said, ‘I just love this stuff’, so he asked me if I had ever thought of being an engineer,” Boulton recalled.
At the time, she barely knew what an engineer was, but after seeking out some information, Boulton thought it might be up her alley.
“I thought, if I like the way people work, I might like the way things work, so I just took a leap.”
Having started her new degree at 27, Boulton is now completing her honours in Computer Engineering at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, and already has a wealth of industry experience under her belt.
Boulton is one of the founders and directors of Audacious Digital, a development and digital marketing agency helping Queensland businesses get online.
The agency came out of a Global Startup Battle weekend run at Toowoomba coworking space Canvas in 2015. Boulton and her team – Felicity Dougherty, Matthew Findlay, and Glenn McGuire – originally came together on an app idea, which they are still working on in their spare time, and then found themselves building Audacious Digital almost by accident.
One of the team members was also part of another business, which needed a website built; Boulton put her hand up to do it, and Dougherty, who had worked at Colgate Palmolive for 10 years in a brand management role offered to do the graphic design. With that, they had built their first website.
“It was just to generate a little bit of revenue but we thought, we can’t really go into the small-scale website business because it’s not profitable locally, so we looked at where our niche market falls and followed the money trail and found our niche to be in full-scale digital management and keeping it all small and local,” Boulton explained.
Two years on, Boulton describes Audacious Digital as a team that “takes audacious ideas and turn them into digital realities”.
This might mean working with businesses to flesh out and create an app, website, or some other piece of software, or taking on digital management for a business, which can incorporate the services such as digital branding, blog writing and development, email marketing campaigns, and social media marketing.
The agency’s clientele is split almost 50/50 between Toowoomba and Brisbane, the three hour round trip there and back to visit clients once a week no barrier.
“At the end of the day, they still spend more time in traffic than I do because after my three hour trip, I’ve got no traffic for the rest of the week,” Boulton laughed.
Boulton’s favourite part of the job is the creativity; Audacious Digital calls itself a “digital business partner” for clients, with Boulton saying the majority come to them with more of an idea of the outcomes they want, as opposed to a set of instructions they want carried out.
“It’s a lot of butcher’s paper on the walls, with a lot of client meetings to make sure we really understand them. We use a lot of visual mediums; if we’re trying to get a vision, we’ll just create a Pinterest board for the client, and say pin away, because then we can look and see what they want,” Boulton explained.
With this in mind, Boulton said that while Audacious Digital builds tech, at the end of the day its revenue and business model lies in client management and trust.
“We do a lot of ongoing training for our clients to ensure that we not only know where they are now, but also where they want to be so we can make sure we properly build for them and equip them with the resources they need to build on later,” she explained.
“That defines our platform choice when we build something for them, thinking, how well are you going to be manage this?”
The business’s digital management packages offer clients a number of hours with a team member that they can either put towards updating of content, or one-on-one training around a particular aspect of their digital presence.
To build on this, Boulton and the team have also developed a new offering they hope will help scale Audacious Digital’s reach itself while also building the skills of the local community. Running for six weeks, the WordPress Build-a-long course will look to help a group of people build their own website.
“It’s peer to peer learning, as well as that mentored learning with professionals. They not only build a system that works for them, but they’ve built it, so they know how to use it and they know where everything is, they’re not coming into it foreign,” Boulton explained.
“It’s a good way to establish ourselves as leaders in our community, and support our community in education and learning and help people build their own businesses.”
The education aspect is one that Boulton is particularly passionate about following her own experiences in coming to the tech sphere.
“I came from a background where [engineering] wasn’t an option for me, but I haven’t looked back since. It really feeds my fuel for creativity that I never knew I had; it allows me to be curious and inventive, but it also taught me to be procedural, manage projects, and lead teams. It really ticked all the boxes for me,” she said.
As well as intro to coding classes at Canvas, Boulton has been running robotics workshops for girls in schools for several years, her goal to show them that STEM is open to everyone, not just boys.
“I’ve worked with kids from primary school through to year 12, and girls just don’t see engineering as an option, they don’t know what it is. The world needs hairdressers and journalists and everything else, but it also needs female engineers,” Boulton said.
By helping to get girls into the space, Boulton hopes to help the Toowoomba tech and startup ecosystem continue to grow and diversify.
“Some people might think it’s hard to find talented people in a town like this, but we’ve got a lot of under 30s screaming for something innovative and interesting to do; when we posted our most recent job ad for an all-rounder, we were inundated with applications from qualified, fantastic people,” she said.
“The advantage that we have in Toowoomba is that it’s cheaper to live here and to rent office space, and it’s got a big support network for innovation.”
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Image: Matthew Findlay, Felicity Dougherty, Julie Boulton. Source: Supplied.