Defying the downturn
Written on the 17 April 2009
When Daniel Tzvetkoff started making a wage from his teenage animation hobby he considered it to be a bonus for something he enjoyed. 10 years later that principle is almost the same — except for the fact his e-billing company Intabill has made him one of the wealthiest men in Queensland.
By Matthew Ogg
AT 17 Daniel Tzvetkoff went to the US with his web design business to find clients and it was there he discovered a lot of start-up internet companies had no efficient way to accept payments, so he came up with the idea to provide an online billing service.
“They all struggled to find banks who would actually accept their business, because the banks didn’t have a real great understanding of the internet or how payments were even accepted – it was slowing the expansion of small internet companies,” says Tzvetkoff.
“So we saw a bit of a hole there and went on a whirlwind trip to find banks who would partner with us. It actually began as an add-on product for us.”
But it was this ‘add-on’ product that was to form Intabill, which Tzvetkoff predicts will bring in ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars in revenue this year, with consistent monthly growth between 10 and 20 per cent since the company started in 2001. Even in these hard times he expects this rate to continue.
While 70 per cent of Intabill’s clients come from the US and the rest are mostly from Europe, Tzvetkoff plans to bring the product to the Australian market this year alongside a debit card service. Intabill has recently started up an acquisition company IB Global to support these expansion plans, which include extended operations abroad.
“Right now we’ve got plans to move around the world and follow the sun – to switch to an eight hour operation here with a higher number of staff for that period, then switch to the US for the next shift, and onto Europe for the next day,” he says.
Time zones differences mean Tzvetkoff, as well the 160 employees in his Milton office can end up working all sorts of hours, and he is often woken up in the late hours of the night.
“You really have to make yourself available at ridiculous times. I might have a call one day a week at 6am in the morning, and another day of the week at 1am in the morning. Some weeks I can’t work out how I get through with so little sleep, but I do,” he says.
But in the absence of any late night phone calls Tzvetkoff can at least feel secure his business is in check with a security department to monitor potentially fraudulent clients, and a call tracking system that uses CIA-technology to record every interaction.
“Fraud levels are probably a third of the industry average so we’re doing exceptionally well. It might be a once in a year occurrence to bring in the FBI but it’s something that happens to everyone in this industry – it’s a matter of trying to be proactive and stop it before it even happens,” says Tzvetkoff.
“We screen and block about 5 per cent of all our customers who try to make a purchase online for the reason we’ve detected a fraudulent attempt. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Tzvetkoff’s advice to entrepreneurs is not to lose focus too quickly and to be able to overcome the setbacks that sometimes come unexpectedly.
“In the early days don’t worry about living off Sao biscuits and water - I think it’s part and parcel with trying to get through with nothing in the early days,” he says.
When he was 16 his animations company had a contract with the New York Times to do flash animation for their website, but the office for their online department was in the Twin Towers, so after the terrorist attacks of September 11 the contract came to an end.
“Sometimes you think you have a long term contract with people, but you get hit with unexpected events you can’t control. I just think that’s part of life,” he says.
Having dropped out of University because he felt he wasn’t getting much out of it, self-taught Tzvetkoff cites his own success as another unexpected event.
“I was already passionate about what I did which was already a hobby so I didn’t care if I earned money out of it or not. I was still working at fast food chains before kicking this off, and looking at it as a fun thing to do in my spare time — making money out of it was a bit of a bonus,” he says.
“What I’ve learned is that you need to recruit people around you who bring something to the table rather than repeating the same skill sets that you’ve got, and that takes a lot of time actually. Realising what you’re no good at is a big part of the business for me.”
In addition to Intabill, Tzvetkoff also owns Zuri nightclub in the Valley which was a pet project he had wanted to get involved in for a number of years.
“I thought that Brisbane was really lacking something in the nightclub scene and there wasn’t somewhere for people, especially in their 40s, to go where they felt safe and relaxed and weren’t piled in like cattle.”
So he may own a nightclub, have a beachside mansion under construction and a Lamborghini he barely finds the time to use, but his favourite way to unwind is to go to the beach with his two-year old son.
After all, Tzvetkoff is a private person.