Steve Baxter is a name synonymous with the world of business. His journey is an inspiring example of how sheer determination and hard work can lead to success as both an entrepreneur and an investor. Leaving school at just 15, Steve made the bold decision to join the army, spending his time working as a technician in electronics and telecommunications. In 1994 Steve ventured down the path of start-ups, investing his life savings of $11,000 to launch internet service provider SE Net. It seems it was just the beginning….
It was a decision in 2001 that would eventually cement Steve’s position as a high-profile entrepreneur in Australia. Steve co-founded PIPE Networks, which grew into one of Australia’s largest broadband networks. The company was listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2005 and in 2010 was acquired for a large sum ($373 million to be precise), marking a significant milestone in Steve's career. Some of you may also recognise Steve for his role as a judge on the Australian version of Shark Tank. His ability to identify promising business ideas and provide support and investment has helped many entrepreneurs achieve success. Despite his achievements, Steve remains extremely humble about what he’s done.
“I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest,” he says of his achievements. “It’s just what I’ve done over the years and you have to do something with your time.”
Looking back to the very beginning of his working life, Steve recalls the decision to join the army at the age of 15 as not exactly a rational one, but a choice he made which helped shape him into the person he is now.
"Start-ups are people who have an idea how to do something and they typically look at a market (clever ones anyway) and understand that there's an opportunity to disrupt what's in place."
“I was in the army from 1987 through to 1995 and it was a very interesting time to be in the military,” Steve says. “I was 15 and 15-year-old boys definitely don’t make rational decisions. It was just the thing to do, it was a career and at that time Australia was a different place, back then trades weren’t exactly like they are now and there were different career expectations.
“It was somewhat boring at the time but it gave me a technical skill, which I probably haven't used since, to be truthful. But it also gave me a whole bunch of friends. I suppose it probably gave me some work ethics, that I think assist when you're in business, that's for sure.”
Steve and an old school friend founded PIPE Networks in 2001, a company that has grown into one of the biggest broadband networks in Australia. PIPE, which means Public IP (Interchange Peering) Exchange, was all about a way to get internet service providers and telcos to interconnect more rationally than they were at the time.
“It was a decision that came with a lot of hard work, but would pay out in the long run,” Steve says of starting PIPE. “It was an amazing ride to be on and the first time I was involved in the listing of a business and everything that goes along with that. Obviously, I sold my previous business, but this was a vastly different proposal and on a much bigger scale.”
After many years of learning what you should and shouldn’t do in the world of business, these days Steve is very much about supporting those looking to get a start.
“Start-ups are people who have an idea how to do something and they typically look at a market (clever ones anyway) and understand that there's an opportunity to disrupt what's in place,” Steve says. “Usually what's in place is a larger provider who basically has grown arrogant with respect to their customers and no longer providing innovative solutions. So I think I enjoy seeing things get better. The way things get better is when people actually have freedom to go out and do something different. And that’s what start-ups are about. Also, if you get it right, it’s a very profitable thing.”
Now down to the nitty gritty of his time on television show Shark Tank. What was the big appeal behind it for this businessman? He admits he enjoyed the idea of being a celebrity for a short period and that it definitely does change your life.
“So I had built myself a little bit of a profile here locally, doing things such as River City Labs, Accelerator and I was very vocal in trying to support entrepreneurship,” Steve says. “So Channel 10 approached me to go on the show. People often ask me, ‘What was it like being on the show?’ and for me, it was a great experience. It raises your profile and you have the opportunity to help others along the way.”
Steve is also now part of The ASE Group as an investor, advisor and ambassador. Driven by a dynamic team of young visionaries, The ASE Group is revolutionising the education and employment landscape in Australia. Founded by then 19-year-old Taj Pabari alongside co-founders Tionne Young and Gabrielle Parker along with CEO, Jahin Tanvir, all currently under the age of 25, this trailblazing social enterprise specialises in delivering cutting-edge education, entrepreneurship and employment programs that inspire and empower the next generation of leaders. The organisation has recently secured a $5.6 million contract with the Australian government.
Taj speaks very highly of Steve and shares the inspiring story that led to their partnership.
"I've known Steve since I was 14 years old,” he says. “When we first met, he wasn't a big fan of my first business and in fact, I left his office crying. However, we kept in touch and nearly a decade later, we're joining forces to help Australians develop life skills, start a business, or enter the workforce. And the best part? Steve's not just cutting a cheque - he's genuinely walking alongside us and our participants throughout their journey too."
"I'm excited to join The ASE Group and support their mission to equip every Australian with the skills, resources and mindset to start a business or enter the workforce,” Steve adds. “Their innovative approach and dedication to empowering the next generation of leaders are truly inspiring. Some people are easy to follow and this team is a prime example – it's an honour to be part of their journey."
Businessman aside, Steve is also a loving husband and proud dad to three girls. When he has some free time, he likes to do a spot of fishing or spend time flying (he even has a pilot’s licence). So, what does a typical day look like for a busy man like Steve?
“At this time of year in Queensland, the sun’s up early and so am I, so that’s usually around 4.30/5am,” Steve says. “So I’ll start the day with a walk or a bike ride, usually on the bike in summer and walk in winter. Then I’ll come back to my veggie garden and potter there for about 10 minutes or so and then the kids are usually up by then so it’s time for breakfast and getting ready for the day.
“After that, I’ve got to work and I’m not home until about 5.30/6pm, so by the time we do dinner, showers and reading books with the kids, I’m pretty much done for the day myself.”
If starting your own business is something you plan on doing now or sometime in the future, Steve has some parting words of wisdom.
“Just do it,” Steve says without even pausing. “I get asked that a lot. People will start pitching to me about a business idea and I’ll just tell them they should do it. You’re not going to find out if it’s viable unless you do it. You have to start and you won’t know whether it’ll work unless you give it a go.”
Want to know more about the man that is Steve Baxter? You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit stevebaxter.com.au.