Entrepreneurial beginnings

When Track'em founder Kashif Saleem came to Perth as an international student from Pakistan, he could never have envisioned where that journey would take him. Now a Western Australian innovator of the year and the owner of a successful tech start-up, Saleem's success was born from humble origins.

A quick study, Saleem took bridging courses and English classes alongside his software development coursework, working jobs as a dishwasher, selling flowers and newspapers, and helping clean the building that would one day house his company. From his early years as a student, Saleem worked with Microsoft products. "I started working with Microsoft products when I was still in school, working with Visual Basic and then SQL as I worked on my background in software platform development" said Saleem.

Learning English, alongside Visual Basic and SQL, provided Saleem with the skill set he would use to build his solutions and his business in Australia. Saleem graduated at the top of his class and parlayed his experience with the Microsoft platform into a job with the Australian Government. Shortly after, he was involved in a project with a major mining company in Australia.

Identifying the customer problem

The project manager at the site had a problem. Costly, custom-made materials were being fabricated and shipped to the site from a supplier, but with no system in place to monitor and track the materials from the supplier to the site, the team had little to no visibility into the status of vital components to the project.

Compounding the issue is the possibility of theft, a real problem for larger construction sites when managers lack insight into what supplies and materials have and haven't been delivered.

"At one point," said Saleem, "there was a situation at the site where five employees and two cranes were waiting for a component in order to begin construction. Each of the cranes cost $6,000 a day, and the guys onsite were getting paid $150 an hour. For 10 days, they went back and forth with the supplier and eventually ordered a new part. At the end of the project, they found they had the missing equipment all along."

Where many would see this as merely an everyday challenge or cost of doing business, Saleem sought to reduce waste and create efficiency by building a solution.

On his own time, Saleem developed a tracking solution, the first iteration of Track'em's flagship software, and brought it to the project manager. Saleem built the application with the project manager's needs in mind, building a single solution that encompassed all of the project's tracking with an intuitive UI.

At first, the project manager was skeptical. Saleem said, "He looked at me like "Who is this guy?" and tasked me with finding a proven ERP solution." Saleem listened and came back with options. The only existing ERP solution that solved their issues was prohibitively expensive, costing upwards of $1,000,000 to purchase and implement. Balking at the price, the project manager implemented a system using spreadsheets that quickly became out of hand before finally coming back to Saleem.

"Eventually, I met with the project manager and said, "Look, you can have my software free of charge for two years, but I retain exclusive rights to the IP," explains Saleem. This gave him a significant customer to test and improve the solution.

Saleem had hands-on experience working alongside project managers in the field. Using that experience, he tailored the solution to meet their needs, building a single solution that could track using barcode, RFID, and GPS from a single platform's putting his product in a different class than his competitors who offered fragments of the solution that paired poorly with one another.

Everyone involved in the project loved the solution - and not a single item was misplaced or reordered for the remainder of the engagement.

Moving to Microsoft Azure

Saleem says, "We are in this journey because of Microsoft; the products and support we receive from Microsoft are unbelievable. We receive great support from the Azure team when we have questions about technology and have had a great experience working with the local Microsoft team in Perth."

After seeing initial success, and with a group of individuals willing to reference and vouch for his product, Saleem was ready to work on his solution, turn it into a product, and turn that product into a successful company.

Saleem moved his initial solution to Microsoft Azure, taking advantage of the flexibility afforded to developers working in the Azure environment.

Saleem says his solution is differentiated because "what the customer wants is something that is easy to use and flexible. Many people provide tracking solutions tailored to a specific vertical, hardware, or segment. What we did was create a flexible Azure platform, where the customer could plug any technology in."

Saleem understood that Track'em's utility was ultimately tied to the efficiencies it provides. By providing an end-to-end solution, Track'em assures the customers of those efficiencies, avoiding a scenario where multiple tracking solutions become as hard to manage as the materials themselves.

Already attractive as a single-vendor option for customers looking for a comprehensive tracking solution, Track'em's quick implementation and dramatically lower price point sets them even further from the pack - offering their solution from $500 per month as opposed to $10,000 for their nearest competitor. When asked how they pull this off, Saleem's answer was simple: "thank God for Azure."

While Saleem's solution was already more cost-effective, moving to Azure allowed exponential growth in functionality while saving costs: "Azure gave us such power and flexibility that we can offer the better solution at a lower cost with a faster implementation - we can spin up VMs now in a matter of minutes, where before it might take days. Also, Azure is so cost-effective, it brings our overhead costs down dramatically, letting us focus on creating the best solution we can for the customers."

Innovator of the Year award

Having developed his solution and retained his IP, Saleem applied to Western Australia's Innovator of the Year award to garner attention and support for his fledgling company.

The Innovator of the Year award is one of the most prestigious awards in Western Australia, where Saleem and Track'em started their journey.

The award is typically given to well established PhDs and researchers from universities, which made Saleem apprehensive about Track'em's chances to bring home the award - even when they were announced as semifinalists and later finalists.

During the awards process, major investors who had been interested in Track'em backed out at the last minute, leaving Track'em with no investors - whose money they had needed to keep their operation in the black as they looked to expand their customer base. After paying insurance for the year, Track'em was significantly in the red. After talking to the office manager, Saleem took the whole staff out for lunch to the award ceremony, thinking that the journey he had started might already be coming to an end.

When the awards were announced, Saleem was notified that they had been bumped up from the growth category to the overall category, which was much more competitive. When they announced Track'em had won the award, Saleem's team was speechless.

"We were so surprised we won the award that our entire table forgot to clap. The award came with a $75,000 grand prize that we were able to use to keep our business going. That morning was the lowest our business had ever been, and by 2 PM it had all turned around. Everything changed from there - we got traction from the award and saw more business than we ever had."

Track'em used that money to keep their business going and leveraged the notoriety provided by the award to get their name out - building brand recognition and expanding their customer base on the strength of the award and prior referrals.

Track' em disrupted the industry, introducing a new paradigm for ERP solutions - providing customers with a new model for tracking their equipment at a fraction of the price of incumbent solutions. Track'em has since gone on to develop a suite of four products, completed over 45 different projects, and tracked over 6 million individual items. Saleem and Track'em disrupted the market with a comprehensive SaaS solution and unified user interface. The solution's form exemplifies the efficiencies derived from its function and has enabled Track'em to secure such industry giants as BHP & Mitsubishi Alliance, BP, and Samsung.

The company recently hired its first salesperson and has been operating with $0 marketing budget: all new sales have been word of mouth as customers share their success with others.

Saleem's story is one characterized by perseverance and commitment. His advice for other entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in the world: "understand your values when you are getting into it. It is so important to understand yourself and understand what you are passionate about. The journey for innovators and entrepreneurs is a roller coaster, and you need to keep in mind why you got onboard in the first place. Try to enjoy the journey and have some fun along the way, but above all things, don't give up."