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Tapping into the rural digital economy

Friday, 15 July 2011 | By Michelle Hammond
Milking cows isn’t an obvious path to website design but entrepreneur Tim Gentle says moving to a rural area proved to be the perfect way to tap into a niche online market.

 

Gentle is co-founder of Design Experts which delivers website design and development to regional businesses.

 

Many tech entrepreneurs would downplay the fact that they used to milk cows for a living but Gentle openly attributes his success to his farming experience.

 

Relocating from London to his family farm in Victoria is what propelled Gentle and his wife Kylie to start their business although the opportunity wasn’t obvious at the time.

 

“Kylie and I were in London, working some jobs over there, when we had a call from my dad asking us whether we would consider coming home and taking over the family farm,” Gentle says.

 

“We were very much immersed in IT and marketing but we’d been travelling around for six years so we decided to move home.

 

“At that moment in time moving to the country was never on the radar and moving to the farm initially felt like a bit of a mistake – I couldn’t do what I wanted to do so it was a bit stifling.”

 

Despite his initial reservations about life on the land Gentle quickly realised that his new environment held plenty of promise.

 

“Having moved from the city to the country I soon recognised a clear gap in the e-marketing skill and knowledge of businesses in regional areas,” he says.

 

“As e-marketing was my former skillset I did a couple of websites on the side for extra money while continuing to work on the farm.

 

“I was then asked to do a few presentations on e-marketing and soon after that side of my day took over the farming life.”

 

Design Experts was founded in 2008 and now employs 10 staff. It raked in revenue of $587,440 last financial year although Gentle says that figure has increased by around 25%.

 

In addition to managing some 490 website solutions since its inception the company has delivered more than 350 workshops to small businesses and has offices in Victorian towns Bendigo and Echuca.

 

Gentle says people often comment on the fact that he continued to milk cows after starting the business but he explains that he had no choice.

 

“I did milk cows in the morning and afternoon for the first 12 months of the business until the business could afford me to come on full-time,” he says.

 

“The family farm had 200 head but the farm I was working at had 800 cows – I used to walk into the dairy at ten past four in the morning, Monday to Friday, and put through about 800 cows.

 

“I was washed up and finished by 8.30am and would open the doors of the studio by 9.30am.”

 

That firsthand experience enlabled Gentle to better understand the needs of his clients, many of whom were heavily immersed in the agricultural industry and spoke a particular language.

 

“When I was meeting with the clients they didn’t need to explain all the various farming terms to me so I could meet them on a level they weren’t expecting,” he says.

 

Gentle says moving to the country was the best business move he ever made.

 

“Had we been in the city we would’ve been another fish in the sea but in the country there wasn’t the competition we would normally have,” he says.

 

“In the country there was no one else with our skillset … we were able to capitalise on that and offer a city-based service in a country environment.

 

“The best thing we’ve learned is that sometimes a sea change or a tree change is one of the best things you can do because it takes you out of your comfort zone.”