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Sydney PhD builds $2m business disrupting the industrial sales process: AZoNetwork

Published 20 December 2013 12:06, Updated 23 December 2013 11:48

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Sydney PhD builds $2m business disrupting the industrial sales process: AZoNetwork

Ian Birkby: his science, tech and healthcare B2B sites get 6.2 million visitors a month

People who can make X-ray diffraction guns are rarely good at explaining them to people who can not - a fact upon which Sydney-based scientist Ian Birkby has built a business with $2 million annual revenues.

The AZoNetwork seeks to disrupt the industrial selling process, with 11 websites which house editorial and content marketing on everything from nanotechnology (AZoNano.com) to quantum physics (AZoQuantum.com) and medical devices (AZ0Medical.com).

The 11 sites received a total 6.2 million unique visitors in November 2013, with traffic doubling since Birkby - a former professional rugby league player for Castleford and Oldham who holds a PhD in materials science - raised $2.2 million from retail investors in January 2012.

Founded by Birkby in 2000, the AZoNetwork’s $1.82 million in 2012/13 revenue came from digital content marketing for “billion dollar companies you’ve probably never heard of” like Bruker Corporation and Thermal Scientific.

His top ten customers have $41 billion in total annual revenues, yet according to Gartner Research are currently spending just $1 billion of that on digital marketing.

“It shows the massive opportunity that’s still there to disrupt the industrial selling process,” Birkby says.

“The days of sending salesmen around the world interrupting people are over. The marketing manager wants to speak directly to the client, and we help facilitate the client actually wanting to pick up the phone to them.”

Scaling up with $5.5 million raising

Birkby now wants to raise a further $5.5 million to expand headcount - currently 19 with offices in Sydney, upstate New York and near Manchester - and also enter the direct sales business for the first time.

The AZoNetwork sites currently pass quote requests along to vendors, but Birkby has a vision for an “industrial Groupon” with targeted flash sales on kit like mass spectrometers or sialon ceramic alloys.

Some of the money would also be used to strengthen the pure editorial aspect of the sites. Birkby has already shown a facility for attracting top-notch contributors - Kostya Novoselov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics in 2010 for investing graphene, wrote for AZoNetwork in 2009.

Birkby hopes some of the investors this time might be corporations with whom he can partner, particularly for using the “smart analytics” function the company has built for use by marketing managers.

AZoNetworks was cashflow positive for the last six months of 2012/13, and Birkby says revenue is up 61 per cent year-on-year so far in 2013/14.

A concept before its time

He recognises now that he started the business too early in 2000.

“The materials and science-grade manufacturing worlds have been slower to embrace the internet than I expected,” Birkby says.

However in retrospect he says he’s glad he “bootstrapped through” the dotcom crash and has survived to see labour-intensive marketing models begin to break down.

“If we’d raised a lot of money from venture capital in 2000, we’d have disappeared by 2003,” he says.

Veritas Securities is running the AZoNetwork fundraising.

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