Episode Summary

Phil Haswell of ZonOps talks about Scaling Your Amazon Business Operations Using Software. 

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Find the Full Transcript Below

Yoni Mazor  0:06  

Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of Prime Talk today I’m excited to have a special guest. Today I’m having Phil Haswell. Phil is the founder and CTO of ZonOps. ZonOps is a solution that helps e-commerce sellers systemize and scale their business by functioning as a back office in a box approach. So Phil, welcome to the show. My pleasure to have you over today. Alright, so today’s story is gonna be all about you the story of Phil. So you’re gonna share with us? Where are you? Where are you from? Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where did you begin your professional career all the way to where you are today. So I guess without further ado, let’s jump right into it.


Phil Haswell 0:51  

Okay, thanks, Yoni. Well, it’s that’s interesting because that’s not something that I often like talking about is me. Usually finding out about other people. But I’m obviously from my accent Australian and I live in Brisbane, which is the capital of Queensland here. I grew up probably…Yeah. Well, close to it about probably about 30-40 kilometers from Brisbane and other city called Ipswich are born there. And I spent the first 20 years of my life there. Ipswich Town. Ipswich. Yes. So I think there’s another one in New York. Okay, if I’m not mistaken, there is another one in England and Ipswich was at one stage many years ago, long before my time was considered as one of the options for the capital of Queensland, but didn’t quite make it. So. But yeah, it was a small town of probably a few 100,000 people, it was quite prosperous for quite a long time in the mining and woolen industries. But again, that was just before my time, before I came along. And…


Yoni Mazor  1:57  

You say what this is the previous century what and the during the 40s 50s 60s after World War?


Phil Haswell  2:01  

Yeah, that yeah, that’s pretty much it. Yeah, yeah. And then my, my parents, my dad was a cabinet maker. And my mom was a broadcast journalist. So I saw her a lot on TV and on the radio and that sort of stuff when I was a kid growing up, and


Yoni Mazor  2:19  

That’s very cool. Was this national or just regional when she was reporting that


Phil Haswell  2:24  

it was mostly regional, but she did do national work as well, especially towards, you know, middle to later part of her career and then ended up lecturing in broadcast journalism at the University of Queensland. Before she finished up there, my dad was a cabinet maker did amazing cabinetry work and did a lot of work on the long-distance trains in the first-class carriages and things like that. Making them all first class I guess, And he was a top footballer or football as in soccer. And, and at one stage I think he was, I remember, I was told I was drunk for the first time when I was only a baby in my mother’s arms because he was being veted by an Italian club over in Italy to go and play over there. They put on a party for him and they kept topping up my mum’s champagne and obviously I was still like a baby. And I kept drinking out of it. In those days, I had the glasses that the champagne glasses were the you know, the wide ones not the tall flutes. So it was quite easy, apparently for me to get drunk without noticing.


Yoni Mazor  3:36  

Wow, yeah, probably sweet and tasty. So I was initially consumed probably. Yeah that’s probably so yeah, so grew up there went to school, I played all sorts of different sports. Football, ran track played cricket. And did was quite competitive. And trained probably six days a week I reckon. 50 weeks a year for cricket. For track for running. So did that was quite, quite serious back in those days. And then from there, I went to uni and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I grew up. I wanted to do at uni was physiotherapy. 


Yoni Mazor 4:23  

What year did you start university? Why did you enter?


Phil Haswell  4:27  

1986, I think.


Yoni Mazor  4:32  

1983 you hit the university not sure what you want to study? If so what did you eventually land on?


Phil Haswell  4:37  

Well, I ended up doing psychology to start with so I did four years of psych and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up and but I didn’t want to do psychology as a career. So I looked around and I noticed my aunt and my uncle were teachers and they seem to have a pretty good lifestyle. So I thought I’ll do teaching and I went and did education after I did psychology and became a teacher. I ended up finishing when it was 1990. I graduate in 90 I graduated with my postgraduate studies in education. Are you at university for five years? Yep, four years of that. And four years of sorry, five must have been five years, four years of psych. And any postgraduate course in education was another year. And you graduate say 1990? Or 91? 90, yeah, I started work for the first time on my 22nd birthday. I think it was full-time as a teacher. 


Yoni Mazor 5:39

So full-time out of college teaching. It wasn’t like any, any second-guessing was like, you know, you’re gonna be teaching you got a full-time job. And…


Phil Haswell 5:47  

Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’d done and was looking to get into the workforce and, started teaching. I went, I got posted to a school out in the country, probably about six hours from Western Brisbane.


Yoni Mazor  6:03  

So when you say posted, you’re working for the public school system, so they can kind of…


Phil Haswell  6:06  

I was in the public school system. Yeah. It wasn’t private or anything. No, not at that stage. So I started out in this in the public school system, teaching and I started in primary schools teaching in a primary school. The town had 600 people in it. And that wasn’t just the town actually, the was the area. So all of including all the farms in the region, it was 600 people. So it was…


Yoni Mazor  6:29  

And how far was it from Brisbane or Ipswich? Or where you’re where you were kind of working? 


Phil Haswell 6:35

Yeah, probably about six hours. Yeah. Six hours southwest.


Yoni Mazor 6:38

So you relocated your life? You start living there? 


Phil Haswell  6:40  

Yeah, yep. Pretty much. So I started that. Yeah. And then, and then I took some time off after a couple of years. And, and I was looking are still looking for what it was that I wanted to want to do. 


Yoni Mazor 6:57  

Let’s, so how many years were you basically teaching and you know, until you basically just…


Phil Haswell  7:01  

Just a couple. Yeah, just a couple of years to start with. And then. And then I took a couple of years off, and I traveled, I went, I went to Europe, and traveled around Europe for a while and came up. 


Yoni Mazor 7:15  

So what year did you leave teaching and start traveling, let’s put some chronology into this.


Phil Haswell  7:20  

Okay, so that would have been it. I can’t even remember what happened last time on Yeah. Oh, that would have been probably around about 1993.


Yoni Mazor  7:37  

So close to three years where you are, you’re kind of tasting the life and world of teaching and especially in a remote little town..


Phil Haswell 7:46  

Yeah, remote area, it was, it was a great experience. And, but it was still I was still unsure. So I headed off to Europe for a little while. And to places like England and Scotland and France and Austria and Italy. I spent a few months traveling around there. And then came back home.


Yoni Mazor  8:07  

But what compelled you to be in your 20s, mid-20s to uproot yourself and go travel the world? And like what was the dynamics? you started your career you’re teaching, you know, in a primary school? What a start up? I want to get to that mindset. You know what, at the time if I may?


Phil Hasell 8:22  

Yeah, so I knew that I could. As such a young person, I knew that I like I was getting the hang of the whole teaching thing. And there were aspects of it that I enjoyed, but I wasn’t really it wasn’t really me. I did it because I wasn’t sure what to do and but seem to have a good lifestyle with you know, the hours and the holidays and once was tough, it was a holiday. 


Yoni Mazor  8:49  

So what compelled you as a lifestyle, but when you actually tasted the reality for a bunch of good years, you put you know, I guess you start to feel like some sort of a void where maybe there’s more to your talent, skill, and motivation and your energy to be placed somewhere. So you take yourself out of where you know, which is Australia, and travel the world especially focus on Europe. Is that kind of the dynamic?


Phil Haswell  9:08  

Yeah, pretty much that that was it and I traveled because I thought I need to do something different. I need to find out a bit more. I hadn’t really been too far from where I’ve grown up in though in those first 20 years I’d traveled a bit been overseas a couple of times and we’ve been on holidays around the place but I was still looking so you know what is it that I wanted to do and to be.


Yoni Mazor 9:31  

Let’s touch here for today for a second so if you could mouse over there what you discover anything that kind of was dramatically or kind of give you an epiphany of something or what was the taste of your


Unknown Speaker  9:38  

No, No. It took a few years longer to start for the light bulb to start to go on but it was just fantastic to experience other cultures and see the beauty that’s in the world. There is so much magic and beauty and learning about other people and where they are from And it was just yeah, it was just my experience. Yeah, you’ve got to experience it.


Yoni Mazor  10:11  

Yep, so when go back to Australia, what was the next station?


Unknown Speaker  10:14  

Yep, came back here and I was going home wondering what I’m going to do now. And I ended up working in the ski industry for a couple of two or three years. So I worked as a tour guide. But our ski resorts here in the southern part of Australia, and I’d live places apart much further north. And I worked for a ski tour operator and I took I was a tour guide, and I took coach loads of people from Brisbane, down to the various ski resorts for a week-long, travel overnight, spend five days in the snowed, make sure they’d have a good time and sort out all their problems and no issues about tickets or boots or ski hire or whatever it was and…


Yoni Mazor  10:56  

So you organize the whole environment, make sure everything is streamlined, your experiences superb, it’s flawless, it’s good.


Phil Haswell 11:02  

Yeah, I coordinated everything and just made sure everyone was having a great time. And that was a fantastic opportunity for me because I was a pretty quiet, very shy kind of person before that. But it allowed me to start to step out of that I had to wear a hat, some other hat, that wasn’t me to be a whole lot more engaging with people and finding out about them. And helping them have a good time and making sure that their experience was the best possible one that they could have while I was there. So that was great. And as a bonus, I got to ski five days a week, every time I was down in the snow. And I did that for a couple of years. And then one of the years I spent the entire season in one of the resorts here at Thredbo Resort, working for that ski tour operator. And then I spent another season in Whistler in Canada. And then another season after that in, in France in Aptos, which is a very famous stage of the Tour de France. It’s one of those old-fashioned ski resorts there.


Yoni Mazor  12:04  

I gotta stop you right here. Let’s create this little small triangle just to summarize on the skill level between I want you to kind of, in a nutshell, give me the comparison between the skiing Australia, Canada, and France go. In a nutshell.


Phil Haswell  12:21  

[Laughs] Comparison, Australia’s got nothing on the quality or the amount of snow when either of the other two in either of those two places. And the atmosphere is very different spending Christmas in Canada. Was, It was great. Yeah, that was the first experience of cold, White Christmas compared to the hot sweaty summers here in Australia.


Yoni Mazor  12:47  

Right, because you’re under the equator. So it’s a flip. Yeah, right. That’s true. Yeah,


Phil Haswell 12:51  

Yeah. So it was a wonderful experience because it was so different. Yeah, having a Christmas, white friends between


Yoni Mazr  12:56  

France and Australia or France and Canada and nutshell?


Phil Haswell  13:05  

Um, probably just the people that again, the cut, you know, the type of people who live there, the culture that they come from, and the way they live their life.


Yoni Mazor  13:14  

The environment that they build, usually, it’s not it’s turistico, but also there’s actually a community around it that kind of is attached to the resort. That’s kind of the unique thing with Europe. Really.


Phil Haswell 13:23  

Yeah, that’s that. That’s, that’s right. Yeah, it was, it was great. It was great to meet the locals and be with them. When I was in France, that was that was a big, big thing.


Yoni Mazor  13:33  

Gotcha. So you get a taste of basically the ski resort but also the cultural life. That’s kind of the added value there are beautiful so you spent a few years in the ski industry. You get all this experience once again, Expand your horizon and master organization and also wearing a hat and being more outspoken and really putting yourself out there. And what was the next station after that?


Phil Haswell 13:52

I went back to teaching for a while, I thought I’m better what year was that.


Yoni Mazor 13:56

What year was that? So because remember you swept away from teaching 93 and then when did you go back what year?


Phil Haswell 14:03  

So that would have been 90 roundabout 96 or 97? Probably 97 I think it was.


Yoni Mazor  14:08  

So three-four years and travel the world you focus on this industry and then you go back into teaching?


Phil Haswell  14:14  

Yeah, so in that three or four years too, I spent a lot of time focusing on sport as well. So as well as the skiing I did triathlon pretty much almost on a full-time kind of basis just not as a professional or anything but just because I really enjoyed doing that. Yeah, so we went back to teaching, and again I went out west, probably about five hours west southwest of Brisbane again, I spent the year out there I think. And then I got a job as head of a department at a private Boys School in Brisbane. As for special needs, looking after special needs, just for this for the school. That was a couple of years and probably three years in total in there. But it was while I was at that school where the light bulb went off for me. I was still looking, I still need teaching wasn’t for me, I was still going on, what am I going to do? And that’s one day when I was standing at the school sports, Carnival is the athletics Carnival within the school. And I was standing behind a couple of dads, most of these parents at this particular school, they’re either in business or they’re very skilled and highly paid professionals. And a couple of dads are talking and standing behind them talking to one of the other teachers, but I overheard them and one of them said to the other something that kind of made me go hang on a minute, what’s going on here? Which was something along the lines of why should I work more than two days a week if I don’t have to. And that’s sort of taken out of context of the whole conversation. But that kind of went that be it made me go, what’s going on there. That was combined with my observation of the kids, the students in that school had very different attitudes to the ones in the public schools that I taught at so. And I’d been aware of this for some time over the last few months, I was trying to put the finger on what it was. And it finally dawned on me after sometime after this, overhearing this conversation between the two dads it was the boys that that that private school where they grew up in a different environment at home and their parents were those highly skilled, highly trained, highly operational Rafa. Yeah. And, and business people and they were learning something completely different. Because most of the teachers, including me, like I’d come from, I guess, almost like a blue-collar class into the, into the middle-class sort of stuff. As I was growing up, our family moved into that sort of space. And most of the teachers are in that middle-class kind of space as well. And, and we’ve all been taught, you got to study hard, go to school, study hard, get good grades sake, and get a job and all those sorts of things. And, and these kids were different at school, it was kind of like they didn’t, they knew that they were okay without having to go and get a job because at home that was sitting around the kitchen table and listen to their family. We’re talking about business and entrepreneurialism, and all those things that I had no idea about. And I think that was the difference in the attitude or the types of kids that were at that particular school compared to the other schools that I’ve been to, and that started me on my quest, I guess to find out what is this other way of being.


Yoni Mazor  17:53  

It’s fair to say that this little competition between these parents in the private school you were teaching at, basically, you know, put the light bulb on but also kind of put the entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial bug in you. Is that fair to say?


Phil Haswell 18:07  

Yeah, I would say so. I think that entrepreneurial bug had been there a bit. But because of my, my experience, my history of my upbringing, and my experiences, I didn’t know what that was. And it wasn’t something that my parents or their parents knew much about at all, or at least didn’t impart my perspective. And I started to look, so I started reading books, I started going to seminars and courses and, and I started, and I heard about, there are opportunities everywhere. And I thought I can’t see any opportunity. Where do I start? Yeah, where are these opportunities? Where do I start. But these days, it’s, you know, I see opportunities everywhere too, because I’m much more open to them. Now I have a different, hopefully, a different mindset.


Yoni Mazor  18:58  

Yeah. Calibrated differently, to recognize these vast opportunities as an entrepreneur that has confidence in your abilities. Okay, so what we’re already heading into the 2000. What was the next stationt for you, after the private school?


Phil Haswell  19:12  

Um, well, while I was there, I was doing my master’s of education. And that was in was finishing that off, but I also decided to retrain and get into the IT world. And so in 2000, I finished my masters of education, I’ve finished retraining in it, and I found another job which was pretty hard to do back into that tooth out towards the end of 2000 in the IT world because everything just sort of crashed at that point in the IT world industry. Yeah, not just a burst. So so that was pretty hard to do. I’d applied for all sorts of different jobs in the IT world looking to start a new career. Still trying to get a handle on this entrepreneurial thing and I ended up finding a job in Sydney, I had to go to Sydney to get a job. And it was with a very small software development company. And I think it was the fourth developer on board at the time. And they had a contract with the Royal Australian Navy to develop the mind Warfare Command support systems for the Navy and which. Naval or naval mine warfare, so mine warfare systems so that we’re developing technology, you know like the ship hits the mind and blows up. Yeah. That’s very aggressive. All right, good. It is, but it’s it was all the software that was for the mind hunters and the mind sweepers and the clearance divers to actually find those mines and to dispose of them was not the aggressive side, the defensive side. So I had a fantastic opportunity to learn from a fantastic company that was small, and I learned how to develop software really well. And I got to do something that was pretty exciting at the time around these tactical displays, and, and all sorts of really cool things like that. I mean, Google Maps didn’t exist back then. But it was, you know, we were doing things with, with satellite images, and all sorts of other things. And it was, it was a great place to start. So I did that. And for a couple of years, and then I had my first child was born, then. And we decided we decided to move back to Brisbane closer to the family because we had no support down no family around us anyway. So we’ve moved back to Brisbane, and I set up a more established reverse business set up as a software development company in Brisbane and, and started developing bespoke systems for, for businesses, developing database systems and those sorts of things. 


Yoni Mazor  22:01  

And so what year was that when you move back to Brisbane and set up the business?


Phil Haswell  22:04  

Yeah, it would have been around 2002, probably around 2003, I think that would have been…


Unknown Speaker  22:10  

Go it, so about two, three years, you’re already getting your experiences, you know, with the software development, as your firstborn, you know, it gets born, you need a family environment, you go back home to Brisbane, but you have enough confidence and experience under your belt to open up your shop.


Phil Haswell  22:24  

Yeah, pretty much I think I don’t know about the experience. But I was, I was confident enough that I and had enough of that entrepreneurial, bent that I just wanted to jump in and do my own thing and start my own business. So did that. And we had a small business going and was getting work with different projects to do. And one of those projects was for a school. As it turned out, the principal approached us and said, I need this system to help me support my staff and my kids. And it was around behavior management and student welfare. And they would try and it was in a low socio-economic area. And they had lots of problems within the school. But he knew that most of the problems were only minor. And if you could get everything on track, most of the kids would pull their socks up and get on with it and start behaving themselves better. And that way, they could then focus more on the kids who didn’t need a lot of help. So we developed this system for him based on the framework that they used. And because of my educational background, I started to get excited about this. And I ended up commercializing the product…


Yoni Mazor 23:41  

That’s great it’s a nice closure where you take your school experience as a teacher or along your software development skills and created almost like the perfect storm for you to be excited about.


Phil Haswell 23:52  

It did yeah, and I was seeing the results too. Because once we implemented the first release of this product into his school, after one term, after 10 weeks, the number of kids misbehaving drops 66%, or two-thirds of the kids stopped misbehaving. And it stayed like down at that level. And it made such a big difference for them. The amount of time the teachers were spending or the deputy principals were spending trying to figure out you know, where things were at with the kids. It just saved them so much time just the time has cut down from over an hour after lunchtime just dealing with lunchtime incidents down to like five minutes and number of kids but you know the kids improve their behavior. 


Yoni Mazor  24:34  

That’s great. So so that’s the element So the ability to create structure through technology, basically eliminated, practically eliminated all the time that it was consuming beforehand. And it brought tremendous efficiency.


Phil Haswell 24:48  

Yeah, the difference that made for that for the kids and the teachers in that school was was was very noticeable. So I got even more excited about it and decided to commercialize it. And Jeez, that was a learning exp

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