THE BIL­LION­AIRE BOYS,

GQ (Australia) - - CHAMPION -

It’s De­cem­ber 10 of last year and Can­non-brookes and Far­quhar are rid­ing on a sack of mixed emo­tion. They’re also rid­ing in the back of a stretch limo, belt­ing to­wards down­town Man­hat­tan af­ter open­ing on the NAS­DAQ. They’re con­tent. If tired. Af­ter ring­ing the bell and watch­ing the stock launch, the day was spent in back-to-back me­dia in­ter­views – in­ter­est com­ing from here and abroad. Lunch meant a 10-minute break and what­ever pizza slice was avail­able from a joint across the road. Still, it was a good day – Can­non-brookes and Far­quhar con­frmed bil­lion­aires and At­las­sian end­ing the day’s trade with a cool $7.87bn eval­u­a­tion, well up on forecast. That said, there re­mains one small, nig­gling is­sue. For all its tacky flu­oro light­ing and var­i­ous TV screens, the ridicu­lous car is lack­ing one key in­gre­di­ent – booze. On sighting a pokey liquor store, Far­quhar, familiar with the grog runs of his uni days, in­structs the driver to pull over. He heads from the car and asks the bloke be­hind the counter for his most ex­pen­sive bot­tle of cham­pagne. On eye­ing it, he de­cides to ask for the most ex­pen­sive bot­tle that’s ac­tu­ally cold – a $30 bot­tle of non-vin­tage muck, it turns out. Con­sumed, it’s on to din­ner with fam­ily and the dozen staff – most in­stant mil­lion­aires – they flew in for the float. “Look, the IPO [Ini­tial Pub­lic Of­fer­ing] hasn’t changed any­thing about the com­pany, though it’s ob­vi­ously big for some em­ploy­ees; those peo­ple who’ve been here 10 years re­alised some of the value they’ve cre­ated,” of­fers Can­non-brookes, adding that he likes read­ing var­i­ous staff letters he’s re­ceived, thank­ing he and Far­quhar for al­low­ing them to pay off the mort­gage or “have my wife stop work and pur­sue her art, that kind of thing”. While the pair’s sloppy at­tire may, in fact, sport in­ter­nal la­bels from Ermenegildo Zegna and Hugo Boss, and Can­non-Brookes last year dropped $12m on a sprawl­ing, in­ner-syd­ney pile, what they’ve been work­ing to­wards has never been about money. And it never will be. Most bil­lion­aires love the sound of their own voice, openly rate their opinion and ea­gerly splash about in the per­sonal praise thrown their way. This is not Can­non-brookes and Far­quhar. In­stead, they en­joy rein­vest­ing in the sec­tor – tens of millions be­tween them – rais­ing their fam­i­lies (three young kids apiece), do­nat­ing money and time to char­i­ta­ble pur­suits and hang­ing with other two-dude start-ups try­ing to get ahead. This is the world in which they’re com­fort­able – it’s why you don’t know their story, and why, today, they re­main cu­ri­ous, cau­tious even, about al­low­ing the ‘out­side’ world in. “They may live in nice houses and have some nice things, but not to the ex­tent of oth­ers,” says Sce­vak. “They’ve al­ways lived non-bil­lion­aire lives – wealth hasn’t af­fected them. And their real am­bi­tion is to build Aus­tralia’s largest com­pany, to build one of the world’s great­est com­pa­nies – some­thing that sur­vives them and which is around for hun­dreds of years. It’s why they’ve turned down lots of ac­qui­si­tion of­fers.” The word ‘in­spi­ra­tion’ is also bandied about quite a bit. “I cer­tainly think that’s the best thing they’ve done – to cre­ate this in­spir­ing story for oth­ers, to raise their am­bi­tion, to try dif­fer­ent things, to forge their own paths, all with the knowl­edge that it’s com­pletely pos­si­ble to be done from Aus­tralia, be­cause these other two blokes have done it. Also, start-up com­mu­ni­ties are a func­tion of how many light­house com­pa­nies there are – be­cause light­houses like At­las­sian pro­vide the in­spi­ra­tion for more peo­ple to start com­pa­nies like it; pro­vide the jour­ney that hun­dreds or thou­sands of em­ploy­ees go on.” It’s sen­ti­ment backed by the Prime Min­is­ter, Mal­colm Turn­bull telling GQ: “Mike and Scott should also be ap­plauded for the ac­tive lead­er­ship role they play in the lo­cal tech sec­tor. Their suc­cess, com­bined with their pas­sion and ad­vo­cacy for Aus­tralian start-ups, is help­ing to in­spire young en­trepreneurs across the coun­try.” Be­yond in­flu­ence and in­spi­ra­tion sits in­vest­ment – cen­tral to the PM’S de­sire to drive a new techno-train that reroutes cur­rent eco­nomic maps, pulling away from ‘tra­di­tional’ sec­tors in favour of a vi­able fu­ture mar­ket that’s only go­ing to con­tinue to grow. “I think peo­ple still think of tech­nol­ogy as this lit­tle cor­ner of the world of nerds in a back­room tap­ping away,” of­fers Sce­vak. “Whereas Ap­ple’s now the world’s largest com­pany.” In fact, by mar­ket share, three of the top fve and four of the top 10 global com­pa­nies are in tech­nol­ogy. “As a na­tion we have to be in­volved in that,” states Can­non-Brookes. “Think about it – the ma­jor­ity of jobs are go­ing to be in­volved in some form of tech­nol­ogy in 20-25 years time, and if we’re not creat­ing that tech­nol­ogy in Aus­tralia, or creat­ing some por­tion of it, we’re go­ing to be buy­ing it from overseas and it’ll have a bad flowon ef­fects for our econ­omy. We have to in­no­vate and be cre­ative.” So Aus­tralia as a recog­nised, fu­ture tech hub is fea­si­ble? “There are huge op­por­tu­ni­ties for tech, biotech, in­fotech – though I’m not sure which one will work out,” says Far­quhar. “But one of the big­gest prob­lems we have at the mo­ment is that we gen­er­ate a lot of com­pa­nies but then they grav­i­tate overseas for a va­ri­ety of fac­tors – some we can fx eas­ily, some will take time.” Both Turn­bull and Can­non-Brookes be­lieve Aus­tralia has the re­sources, the lat­ter adding that they now need to be given greater op­por­tu­nity. “Ta­lent-wise we have great uni­ver­si­ties, we’re just not quite ori­ent­ing them – en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple and show­ing where they can make busi­ness in this space. If those two start com­ing to­gether, there’s no rea­son we shouldn’t be able to have a vi­brant tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try – and I sup­pose that’s what the goal is.” Con­ver­sa­tion me­an­ders into whether the pair ever steps back, to look upon what they’ve been able to achieve. “Some­times we don’t re­alise just how far we’ve come, be­cause your jour­ney is dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one’s per­cep­tion of that jour­ney,” says Can­non-brookes. He de­tails a “com­pany pic­nic” for fam­ily and friends – that is, a 3000-strong gath­er­ing flling a festival site in Syd­ney’s Cen­ten­nial Park, stacked with rides and amuse­ments that showed up Luna Park for its age. “You look around and are like, ‘Fuck, there’s a lot of peo­ple here.’ I mean, day-to-day it doesn’t feel like there’s a thou­sand peo­ple in this build­ing; day-to-day you just do what you do and we get big­ger and bet­ter and are try­ing to con­stantly im­prove. But there are mo­ments where it strikes you a lit­tle bit more.” To look down on what they’ve done also pushes to­wards an­other word reg­u­larly of­fered in re­la­tion to the pair – Gods. That these unas­sum­ing men were able to turn $10,000 into $8bn, in lit­tle over a decade, is in­deed a para­ble of ar­guably ce­les­tial pro­por­tions (dare we sug­gest close to a man who can turn wa­ter to wine), though how does such sit with them? “If you be­lieve that stuff, it gets in the way of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence,” says Far­quhar. “If you think you’ve al­ready made a dif­fer­ence then you may as well pack up and go home. Per­son­ally, I think we’re just get­ting started.” n

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