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Software Developer Plots His Course


Martin Hill falls back on his passion of yacht racing when it comes to divining a philosophy for commercial success. "You can learn more from the races you lose than the ones you win," says Mr Hill, principal of property consultancy firm Hill PDA, where he designed and developed the property feasibility software package Estate Master.

But even though you learn more from mistakes than successes, the biggest mistake is not trying at all, he says. Whether you want to race a yacht across an ocean or expand a business overseas, "you will never know if you don't have a go. The lack of action is the biggest killer".

Mr Hill races his 38-foot ocean yacht Estate Master whenever he can. In developing a championship team for competitive yacht racing, he says compatibility is as important a consideration as competency.

"But if you do pick compatibility over competence, you have to support the crew when things aren't going so right. The big challenge is in finding and building any team. It takes a long time to get the right people for our business. They need to appreciate the complexities of our product and be capable of building rapport with our clients."

Mr Hill developed the Estate Master software package in 1990 as a property development feasibility tool for his consultancy business. The software now targets the entire property industry, providing detailed cash flow reports and risk assessment tools for all types of property development projects.

The software arm of Hill PDA grew to the extent that it now operates as a separate company named after the package itself. Not realising the growth potential of Estate Master earlier is a mistake Mr Hill still regrets. He says: "The global potential of the software meant Hill PDA should have separated out the software section earlier so we could better focus on its growth. Running a software company requires a different skill set to that of a property consultancy firm."

Developing customised software packages in the '90s taught Mr Hill that creating a one-off generic package is a better way to go than customising similar solutions multiple times. Building a totally customised package can be "problematic because clients aren't always sure what they want until the product is nearly completed, and modifications can be costly and time-consuming".

Mr Hill says generic packages cover 90 per cent of most client requirements and need very little customisation. "This saves development time and is more cost-effective for both the client and us.

"An industry generic package brings standardisation to an organisation and, most importantly, within an industry. It also provides a cost-effective base to incorporate customisations if needed.

"Estate Master has also responded to the increasing complexities of financial analysis in the development and investment industry by taking into account multiple-staged joint ventures, profit-splitting and variable financing sources."

But no matter how much you concentrate on developing great software, Mr Hill says, businesses need to remember to nurture contact with their clients.

"It is very easy for us to be so busy with the next new software release that we forget to listen to clients' feedback. We do have a help desk but we also seek their feedback with informal phone chats. We also organise social events like golf, sailing days, and support industry conferences. Happy clients are our best referral."

Applying his skippering skills to business, he advises aspiring business leaders to "have a plan, build a team, assess your opposition's strengths and weaknesses, analyse your wins and losses, and share the spoils with your team".

Date Published: 06 Feb 2005
Category: General News

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