The availability of a conducive ecosystem and zeal to do something, helped an international student at the University of Adelaide turns his ideas into a successful business. While Hinney Lo was still completing a Master of Design in digital media degree at the University of Adelaide, he founded PixelForce in the South Australian capital in 2011. The design company grew slowly at first, doing logos, graphic design and basic website construction, but took off in 2015 when it developed the first SWEAT mobile app for South Australian-based fitness superstar Kayla Itsines.
The app has since been downloaded more than 30 million times, has more than a million monthly subscribers and is expected to help generate AU$100 million in revenue this year. The app's success has allowed PixelForce to grow from three staff to almost 30 since 2014. About half of the PixelForce team is dedicated to managing the SWEAT app.
Almost all of the staff joined the company fresh out of university while about 15 of them are international students looking to continue their careers in Adelaide post-university. PixelForce has now developed dozens of apps for companies in Australia and overseas including Beston Global Foods, Wokinabox and Angove Family Winemakers.
Lo, who moved from Hong Kong to Australia to study more than a decade ago, said many of the business leads – including from clients in Canada, China and Hong Kong – had been from companies impressed by the SWEAT app.
“When I started the company we were working with small businesses doing small jobs but once we started in mobile apps it just opened up a whole new part of the business,” the PixelForce managing director said.
“About a third of our clients in the last three years engaged with us because they saw the success of the SWEAT app so I guess SWEAT gave us credibility and recognition in the industry and showed we have the skill set to develop apps that can support millions of users.”
PixelForce is also a host company with global education provider Navitas, which runs a professional year program that gives international graduates the skills to gain employment and migration points towards permanent residency in Australia. The program sends computer science graduates to PixelForce for a three-month internship where about 80 per cent of them have gone on to be offered full-time employment.
Lo said the graduates were from a wide variety of countries including China, India and Korea. He said the graduates were loyal to the company, valued the opportunity given to them and were prepared to work hard to stay in Australia.
“I've been through the path that all the international students are facing – after you graduate it's a big decision whether to stay here or go back to your home country and I know there are not too many opportunities in South Australia,” Lo said.
“We have this three-month window so we can get to know the student, they can learn the requirements and if they do well we offer them a position. “This recruitment method works for us – it's a pretty good investment for us on a business level.”
PixelForce has been investing in R&D to develop computer vision technology so it can launch its own mobile app in 2019. Lo said the company also planned to expand nationally and continue to leverage its ties with the Chinese community in Australia and overseas.
“We have landed a few clients in Melbourne and the Gold Coast so I think this year we are focusing on expanding that to other states as well,” he said.
“There are a lot of businesses here run by people with a Chinese background and they employ us because their clients are locals in Australia but they speak Chinese so we are sort of like a bridge between them and the local market.
“Also, some of our local clients here who want to expand their business into China will also engage us because we know the language and a lot of the rules and regulations in China.”