The moment that changed Antony Ceravolo’s career was one that shook the world.
Living and working in New York, Adelaide-born Ceravolo had just got out of his cab to go to work at 7 World Trade Center when he looked up and saw the first of two hijacked planes slam into the twin towers.
“I basically opened my cab door under the World Trade Center when the first plane smashed into the building above me.
“I was obviously in complete shock, we really thought that there was a major global war starting. We didn’t know what to do, apart from look for our friends and get our bearings.
“When the second plane hit we got the hell out of there. I ran about 10 blocks uptown and then rang my parents and told them I was okay and alive, I gave some deli owner 100 US dollars and borrowed his phone.”
Now back in Adelaide as chief executive of visitor management software company Sine, Ceravolo regards the 9/11 attacks as a turning point for him.
“That kind of really woke me up from being an advisor into really getting started with businesses, for one reason or another, it was really just a wake-up call, so I went back to London and became one of the founders of LOVEFiLM.”
Ceravolo had first moved to London in 1998 after completing a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Commerce at Bond University on the Gold Coast.
Stints with corporate law firm Dechert, and investment bankers Schroder Salomon Smith Barney (now Citigroup) followed, before Ceravolo co-founded advertising agency Redbus Media Group alongside Video Island, which went on to become LOVEFiLM.
The idea to launch LOVEFiLM came about after Ceravolo heard people in New York talking about Netflix, which at that stage had about a million subscribers, just out of California.
“Netflix was just starting to be talked about, so I basically decided to bring Netflix to Europe, and we did that by setting it up ourselves.”
LOVEFiLM enabled users to rent DVDs through the internet, and just like Netflix, set up a personalised wishlist without having to visit a bricks and mortar store.
“Back then, streaming just wasn’t good enough, and the whole experience was based on not going to Blockbuster…my customer experience as a London resident going to Blockbuster was awful.”
The company exploded and quickly gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers, prompting Amazon to take a 30 per cent stake in LOVEFiLM in 2004. In 2008, they bought the company in its entirety.
Ceravolo says he and his colleagues knew they had a limited window before streaming became widespread, rendering DVDs obsolete.
“What we didn’t realise and what Amazon didn’t realise was how organised and how potent Netflix would become. We were working on our own internal streaming technology, and I think what ended up happening was, our R&D and Amazon’s R&D involved in the whole streaming area just couldn’t compete with Netflix.”
But technology also provided the pathway to Ceravolo’s next business venture, the creation of Sine.
“The idea for Sine really came from mobile check-in at the airport, using your British Airways boarding pass, just being able to check-in in advance, and save time and not have to print out your boarding pass. Obviously, I attended lots and lots of meetings, like we all do, and went through lots of laborious processes to get through, particularly in London and New York, the security protocol, and I just thought there was a better way to do it.”
Moving back to Adelaide at the end of 2014, Ceravolo began experimenting with Sine, initially in the education market.
The product’s first iteration involved iPads being set up at an organisation’s front desk or loading bay, allowing visitors to check-in, provide photo identification, explain why they were visiting, and send an alert to the person they were on-site to visit.
“It’s automating and digitising the whole check-in process that might have been a visitor book, a paper book or something like that.”
Sine has now moved to what Ceravolo describes as workplace solutions, where their system allows people such as contractors, cleaners, security guards and others to use their phone to check in and out of a workplace, using a combination of apps and geofencing.
Ceravolo is convinced the business software market has a bright future.
“The enterprise or business software service market globally is exploding. Money, investment, traction, adoption, if you don’t have these solutions, you’re probably operating your business pretty inefficiently or wasting a lot of time.”
Sine has expanded to the point the company now has 48 staff in Adelaide, 15 in Asia and another two in Los Angeles. The client list is gilt-edged and includes Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Rolls-Royce, GE, Qantas and DHL.
Looking to the future, and speaking in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, Ceravolo sees site security as a massive issue.
“Security now is just huge. Security around physical premises, facial recognition, identification compliance, ID scanning, we’re not trying to invent software because we want to make it more difficult for people to come and go from premises and be an overarching watchful presence, but we’re addressing a market where automation and security around physical attendance of people going places is really, really important.”
He says the local funding environment and getting the right type of investors is more challenging in Australia than in other regions.
Another issue is finding people with the right talent, many of who are still working overseas.
“People that have seen the movie before, not just engineers but commercial people, people that have been to London, New York, Singapore, Philippines, worked in banking, law, commerce, entrepreneurial pursuits, and then come home and can help…finding those people is not the easiest and getting them to work for you or be involved in an enterprise is sometimes difficult.”
Despite the challenges, Ceravolo remains committed to the scale-up of Sine.
“My mission, at the moment, is to create a global software business from South Australia.
“Being open-minded and interested in the art of the possible is super-important, and just being tenacious and following solutions, stop looking for roadblocks, look for solutions, don’t be myopic, be open-minded and just be completely committed to what you’re doing has served me pretty well.”