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Josh Weeks: Director of Alpha Echo

12th December, 2023 | 45 mins, 44 secs

Join us as we speak with Josh Weeks, founder and Director of Alpha Echo, an Australian cybersecurity company. Josh shares his journey from wanting to be a teacher to becoming an aerospace engineer for the Australian Defence Force.

After leaving the ADF, Josh struggled to find work but eventually launched his own contracting company in Canberra. He later moved his family back to Newcastle and slowly grew his business by expanding into new government contracts. Today Alpha Echo has 35 employees across cybersecurity, training, and classified facilities management. Josh discusses the challenges of starting a company and his focus on hiring good people and giving back to the Newcastle region. He explains how Alpha Echo aims to improve Australia’s cybersecurity posture through education and leading by example. Tune in to hear more about the origins and growth of this homegrown cybersecurity firm.

 

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Transcript

Please note: This transcript was auto-generated and may contain slight errors. 

Welcome to another episode of the NewyTechPeople podcast. On today’s episode, we have Josh Weeks, who is the director at Alpharecho, based here in Newcastle. Welcome, Josh.

Yeah, thank you. It’s good to be here. Good to have you, mate.

For those of our audience that don’t know who you are, mate, can you give people a bit of background to start with on who Josh Weeks is in your career to date? And then we’ll dig into Alfreco as well. My career has gone everywhere, really, and with no specific direction in mind. I like that, though, actually.

Let’s dig into that real let’s just pull that apart real quickly. I think a lot of people in their technology career, hey, you’ve got to know in high school you want to be in technology and then you’ve got to follow you’ve got to do a computer science degree and then you follow this laid out path, which doesn’t tend to happen at all for anyone. Yeah, certainly not the case for me.

So had a bunch of OD jobs, like everyone does through school. I’ve been working since I was about 13. Not sure if that’s legal, but I did, yeah, everything from scrubbing chemical drums to working in fast food outlets and that sort of thing.

So had a few low level manager roles in the fast food industry, managed a couple of pizza shops, but my intent when I was going through school and leaving it was to become a primary teacher. So, born and bred in Dubbo, I was never intending to leave there. Wanted to stay there.

Did first three years of teaching degree at the university out there. Decided that wasn’t for me. So at that point, I was trying to figure out, what do I do? That’s when I went and managed those pizza shops for a while.

I was just trying to find something that was interesting and was going to pay the bills without leaving town. Got married while I was in Dubbo and the breaking point was when my wife had finished her degree and we’re trying to figure out, what are we going to do? I had applied to become a diesel mechanic at a local place there and went and did a couple of weeks free trial for them. Again, not sure if that was legal on their behalf, but the end of it I’d been mucking around with computers most of my teen years and everything, and I was helping them with some computer problems they had.

So they decided at the end of it that they weren’t going to give me that apprenticeship and instead offered me a role as a spare parts salesman, which is kind of like a librarian within a diesel mechanic shop. And I wasn’t really interested in that. So I asked them for 24 hours to think about it, went home and I Googled all the things I love to do and I was like, Well, I like robotics, I like engineering.

I want lots of options in the future. I don’t know where my career is going to go. I don’t really want to be locked into something at the moment and just put a bunch of keywords into Google and mechatronics.

Engineering came up. It said that it offered heaps of different opportunities and seemed to tick all the boxes. So it’s like mechanical and electrical and computer and control systems theory and I love tinkering with robots and Arduinos and things like that.

And I was like, this sounds good. So the applications for that degree closed that night, hurriedly put one in and the next day told that mechanic shop I wasn’t coming back. Yeah, that was it.

Then my wife and I moved up here to Newcastle. It’s 2009. So the degree was with University of Newcastle? Yeah.

So moved up here, didn’t know much about Newcastle. We actually drove up for a weekend and I think within an 18 hours period we looked at like seven different rentals and then got back home again. That was a crazy time.

And on the applications we had to put down that neither of us is employed at that stage. Which was a scary thing to do, I bet. But yeah, moved up, did engineering.

Throughout that period I was still working casually struggling to pay the bills because I was at Uni. And although we thought it would be easier for my wife, who also did primary teaching to get a job, it was like 18 months before she got her first gig. We didn’t realize in a lot of industries it’s who you know as much as what you know.

And because she hadn’t spent any of her time up here doing Prax or anything, that was a challenge. So I saw a poster on the wall at Uni that said hey, come to Air Force, we’ll pay the rest of your degree. We’ll pay you a wage while you’re doing it.

And I thought that looked pretty good. So that was called an undergraduate scholarship. They still do those as far as Moya.

Beautiful. Yeah, it was good. I applied for it.

It was like a twelve month process, which was pretty crazy in itself. Got to the final interview, which was really interesting. I had a psychologist who was almost playing good cop, bad cop by himself, which I found very awkward.

And there was like 8 hours of interviews and team assessments and things that day and I came out at the end of it and I said to my wife, look, if this is what it is, I’m not interested. So left it, went home, kept studying at uni and about two months later I got a phone call and they said, hey, is that Josh? And I said yep. I said hi.

It’s such and such from Target Recruitment. We’d like to offer you a and I said to my wife, I never applied to Target, I have no idea what this is about and they’re no, no. Target recruitment cell within the ADF Australian Defense Force.

So by that stage, I’d got over my resentment from that interview process and, yeah, we accepted it. So I went into air force engineering as an aerospace engineer. So that was one of the options that Mechatronics gave me, which was cool.

Actually, I didn’t apply for that. I applied for armament. Yeah, armament engineer, which is like the person who’s in charge of putting bombs and stuff on the aircraft.

Wow. But there’s only like three of those positions in Australia and at the time they weren’t recruiting for it. So they said, well, congratulations, you’re going to be a aerospace engineer in electrical category.

And I said, well, that’s not what I applied for. And they said, well, if you want a job, it is. And I said, okay.

Yeah. Which I think is an important lesson. Right.

Because there’s the ideal world, which we all have an idea of what we’d ideally like to do. And especially when you’re a junior or you’re a graduate, sometimes even without a degree, you want that ideal role to start with. But going into something that might not be your first pick, and you do well enough in there, or you get your head space around it sometimes you learn things that you didn’t otherwise know, that you might actually enjoy a different role more than what you originally set out to be.

I think, like, there’s some good lessons in that. Yeah, for sure. I’m a strong believer in your job will be what you make of it, and if you can try and find enjoyment in it, then you will enjoy it.

And I think the reverse is opposite too. If you just focused on that’s, a career I want, then sometimes you’ll end up being horribly mean. As I go through that process, my choices are starting to narrow the scope of what’s going to come, but yeah, I didn’t really have this mapped out plan to get into cyber at the end of the day.

Yeah. So journey obviously quite different and lots of learnings along the way. And then you ended up in the Defense Force and you finished your degree as part of that.

Yeah, that’s right. So by the time the applications all went through and everything, they ended up sponsoring the last two years. And then under that program, you had to serve in the military for the length of sponsorship plus one year to kind of pay it back.

I did that and as I was doing that work, I again had like this long term concept of I’ll do this for 1520 years and I’ll get really good at my trade. And then I knew that there were private contractors who worked in defense and mentality at the time is they got paid a lot more. And I was like, all right, so I’ll get some experience, I’ll leave defense, and I’ll come back in as a contractor.

That was the plan. But as I’m doing those return of service years, I was working alongside a number of contractors and getting frustrated that a lot of the work that I was doing was being rebadged by them. In one instance it was being rebadged by them and handed in as their work and they were getting paid for it and so yeah, through frustration with that process and a number of other factors ended up leaving Air Force.

Once my time was up at that stage I wasn’t trying to create a big company or something, I was just trying to get employed, I just wanted different terms of service and I thought well if I can create a company and then go and get employment through that company as a subcontractor then that would be awesome. So I made a company and left Air Force and it was pretty trying and testing time. Quick one though, right? Just for other people that might be going through university or considering Defense Force or considering these like cadetship programs was it a positive experience overall? Would it be something you’d recommend to other people? It’s obviously sounds like there were some challenges through it but NetNet you gained a lot of experience, you had two years of a degree being paid.

Was it a positive experience overall? Is it something you’d recommend to other people to consider? Yeah, absolutely, I recommend people to go and do it. I think it’s a great way to get some assurance about where you’re going to go but there are some great experiences to have and I’ve got lots of friends who are turning out to be lifetime defence members. They love it and that’s good for them.

I just think as a thing in Newcastle as well, with our proximity to defence as well, not everyone has that. And Newcastle does have some good opportunities up at Williamtown and I think it’s maybe something that gets overlooked. Sometimes is defense as a potential career opportunity or career options.

And I think it’s something that’d be good to put on the radar for people just to understand as opportunities. Yeah, so many opportunities and so many different roles you can have. So the roles that I ended up in were mostly in what they call SPO’s systems programs, officers, which is kind of like the sustainment organization, like the actual engineering side of the house.

And then the other side in my head would be the operational side. So you can end up with a squadron as an engineer and go out and be responsible for that deployment, doing the actual operations side of it. Or most of my experience, like I said, was in sustainment side.

Heaps of opportunities, different jobs. No, I appreciate it, man. It’s good to have insights.

I haven’t spoken to too many people that have gone down that career route so that’s just anytime find that like hearing a different angle. And a lot of people get to a position like yourself. You’re running a successful, growing cyber company now, but the journey to get there isn’t always just a linear one.

And just looking at the different options and ways about going a thing about it and about a career is quite interesting. Yeah, absolutely. I think preparing yourself for the world gives you lots of different options and so actually, my not sure what they call it now, whether it’s UAI or ATAR or whatever the Uni admissions thing is, but my mark was good enough to get into Uni.

But I actually got in as a not sure what the PC term is. It for old. Yeah.

A mature age student. That’s the one. Yeah.

So I got in as a mature age student, but by that stage I’d had so many different jobs working in different fields. I think the experience really helped. I think that’s one of the things that the ADF is looking for is not just smart people, but people who can function in society as yeah, but having all those different experiences and doing the teaching and all the other different training I’d done along the way enabled me to make decisions that I wouldn’t have else otherwise.

Yeah. It’s just that breadth of experience. Right.

You pick up different things in teaching and I’m sure through the university degree in teaching, like how to communicate and education piece, just understanding how other people learn. I think there’s so much to be learned in different things. And again, it’s just that linear career just doesn’t exist for the vast majority of people.

And sometimes you see a bump in the road or some challenges. We’ve gone through tough economic climate the past couple of years as well. Different people have had different career routes change and you can just always take some learnings from that.

Yeah, absolutely. With the rate of change of the world, I don’t think if you mapped out a linear career that you’d actually achieve it. I think you’d probably really struggle to do that now.

You’d be quite disappointed in it. Yeah. No, I love it.

So you’ve come out of that considered your options, you set up your company. How’s that taken to you, to a team of 35? Ish Alfredo now? Yeah, I think it’s 35 today. We’re still growing.

Yeah. Beautiful. So Matt, tell me about that, Jenny, because Alfredo, because I guess you play in that defense space as well.

I don’t think you’ve been as well. You don’t only play in the defense space. But I’ve only got to know of you and your team over the past couple of months and it’s really exciting to understand what your team working on and some of the really cool projects.

I’d love to share the story of our FRACA. Yeah. So when I left, I made my company and the intent was it was just a vehicle for me to get employment as a subcontractor, that was it.

But in doing that, I had to set up insurances and stuff and company structure and everything. And as I was leaving Defense, I was horrified that I was going to be unemployed. Literally applied for 100 different positions in the space of three months, which was pretty crazy.

That was interesting. So it’s probably a lesson for the viewers at home. Got rejected so many times, I think probably 30% of them came back and said, you’re too, Junior.

No one wants you. Stay where you are. You’re lucky to have your job.

I think probably another 30% came back and said, yeah, we’d love to have you, but this is what you’re worth to us. And it was the same amount I was on, and that was one of my driving factors at the time. And then the other 30% came back and said, oh, you worked in Defense, you’re an engineer.

We’ve got so many opportunities for you. So ended up narrowing it down to a couple of serious offers. Took one that was in Canberra, went and worked down there, actually moved my whole family down there in that stage.

We just had our first kid, so that was adding another layer of complexity to it, and that was one of the reasons that I was getting out of Air Force. So my wife wasn’t working then because we agreed that she would stay home and look after the kids, which is awesome, but it then meant that we didn’t have that second source of income, so that was one of the drivers for it. We all move down to Canberra, it’s going great.

And then I get phone call from our guy back up here in Newcastle saying, hey, one of those jobs you’ve applied for, you’ve been accepted on. I was like, Great, that would have been nice to know before moving my entire family. Yeah, I was like, thank you.

I’ve just moved my entire family. I’ve got a good job. I’m liking it down here, I’m going to stay down here, but thank you very much.

And he said, look, they really want to talk to you, so would you mind just having a call with them or something? I said, sure, but to be clear with you, I’m not coming back. He’s like, yeah, no worries. Just do it.

So had a call with them, ended up they were traveling down to Canberra that week. So I had dinner with them and talked to their engineering manager and it sounded like a pretty good gig. Was working with some platforms that I’d had experience with before.

So I said, all right, well, I have no intents to move back, but I’ll talk it over with my wife and we’ll see what we can do. And that guy who rang me was not with Defense. He was like an intermediate company.

So I went back and talked to my wife and I said to her, look, I get that. We’ve just moved here, and it’s only been eight weeks, but what would make it attractive for you to move back? Like, what do we need to achieve? So we set ourselves some goals and went back to that guy in the middle and negotiated with him. And because I was already in a solid position, I didn’t need to go anywhere.

So we had a fair bit of negotiating power there, and he said, yeah, okay, let’s do it. So I took the job, came back up to Newcastle, and then again, no plans to make a company. It was just a structure to get employment.

But I was freaking out. I was like, what happens if this job gets terminated? Everything we’ve achieved will be for nothing. And that was not a place I wanted to be at.

And I guess that’s the disadvantage of being a contractor for government is at any stage of the game, they can just terminate the contract. And I had seen it done so when I was in the commonwealth, I had seen people, they’d rock up to work one day and there’d just be a box of their belongings at the gate. It’s not very often, but obviously that was weighing heavily on me because I’ve got a family to look after now.

So we thought, well, what if we could win a couple of other contracts and have people working for us and be getting some money through their employment as well? Then that would kind of be a good risk. Mitigator so that’s when I started trying to actually win work through the company. And it took 18 months of trying that, like, pretty much every day.

I couldn’t count how many days I’ve worked through past midnight to 04:00 a.m. Or the whole night and just got up and gone to work the next day without sleep or something. Trying to figure out how do you win these contracts with people, because it’s not as easy as just an art form to it, right? Once you know how to do it, it’s a repeatable process, I think, trying to win a tender and this might not only be defense, but I’ve been involved with tenders before.

You can try your best. If you don’t know the ways to do it, you’ll never win one of them tenders. Like, you need to know the art form or how to answer the questions and what they’re looking for and play the game, I guess.

Exactly. And no one’s going to tell you a lot of that information because the people you’re competing against are the ones who know it. It’s their proprietary information.

Like, how do you form a tender? How do you make those responses? What prices do you put in? What do you write as a bid strategy, as a delivery methodology? It’s rough trying to figure it out, but after about 18 months, I kind of doubled down on my efforts, and I thought, well, to that point. For the most part. I’d just been trying to get subcontractors in.

So I’d try and find someone who was looking for work and I’d put up ads on Seek to do that, and then I’d try and match a CV with a Role. And then I’d just put in a CV and a rate and say, this is what it is. And about that 18 months point, I started doubling down on effort and my responses went from five to eight pages up to about 30.

Here’s the information that I think marks off all the criteria and doing a solid job on it. And it was a hard grind, but yeah, that’s when we won our first one. So that would have been end of 2019.

It would have been end of 2019 when we got our first person on board. And then it’s kind of a mix between our reputation started to get known, so people knew the product that I was making and this other guy that we’d brought on. And so reputation became a thing as well as attender submissions and I think by the end of, probably by mid 2020, we probably had five people on the books.

Yeah, it’s been what work were they predominantly doing? A range of services. So I was doing systems engineering, so I don’t call myself Cyber. I have a cyber company, but it’s not because I’m cyber trained.

But we had one who’s quite specific on cybersecurity. We’ve got some trainers and intel at that stage, I think, so intelligence officers. Nice.

Yeah, a mix of things and that’s when we started to develop an identity as a company. So I was just trying to win work for the sake of trying to risk mitigate my own life. But what we started to do different is the collaboration in our roles that we don’t see a lot of from our competitors at the moment.

If you think about cybersecurity, it’s good that you got cybersecurity in our own system, but Cybersecurity is not just the technical and doesn’t functionalize your system. If you haven’t trained your people in how to use it correctly, then you’re not going to achieve the outcome. And if you’re not looking at current threats and contextualizing for your capability, whether that’s aircraft or a tank or a computer system at the local office or something, it’s a combined effort.

And unfortunately in Australia it requires culture uplift as well. The baseline of Australia’s cybersecurity culture is just so low that it’s very easy to see dramatic improvements, I guess. Yeah, I think that the contracting space is not only defense, but contracting across the board can have a negative reputation with contractors just coming in, getting a piece of work done and then getting out.

Right, yeah, for sure. And that collaboration piece, if you can actually match that or marry that out, where the gaps are for other contractors coming in, doing a piece of work out, they don’t have the vested interest in the long term success of it. They don’t have the vested interest in changing a culture or uplifting across the board because they’ll be out of there and their job’s done and they’ll be onto the next job before anything’s changing down the track.

So I think the way that you’ve approached it seems to be like a real competitive advantage. Yeah, I think especially in defense or government space, I think when you leave those full time positions like I was in the ADF and I had some experiences where the very next day I changed the color of my shirt because I’m now in civilian clothes and not in uniform. And you get treated so differently because I think there’s a mentality that you must be a sellout and you must not care about the country anymore.

And it couldn’t be further from the truth. A lot of our people are our ex government or defense and the desire to see Australia succeed is paramount. Yeah, well, your story was not the lack of care but actually just for looking after your family.

Right. There’s a bunch of contributing factors, but yeah, we get a lot of that. I mean, in defense, it could just be you’ve been posted to somewhere but you can’t go because you’ve got sick family that you need to take care of in a location or something and like defense will try and look after you.

But in some cases it gets to a point where the decision is it’s not an option to stay in uniform anymore. So you’re looking for other alternatives where you can still contribute to capability or whatever it is. Love to dig in the Afraka side in SEC, but here’s two points you made mention of before you went out on your own and you’ve had a young family at that same time.

Yeah, for people that have and then you grew your company through that period. Work life balance. For somebody who wants to grow a career or grow a business, is it a thing? Can it be a thing? Can you have traditional work life balance and have success? I don’t know if you can.

I don’t feel like I did a very good job of it. A lot of the reason that we’ve been able to get to this point is because of sacrifices my wife has had to make. So it’s been joint decisions, but it’s impacted her.

She’s the one who’s chosen to stay at home, look after our kids, which I don’t know how we would have done it if we were both working full time and trying to care for the kids. I don’t think it would have been a thing. I completely agree.

I’ve spoken to quite a few either startup founders as well or other people that have had career success. And I think the idea of work life balance where you have this all in balance and perfect harmony, I haven’t seen it work. I haven’t seen it work where people have really I think sacrifices are needed.

And those sacrifices, sometimes they’re short term, but they’re for a long term benefit and sometimes it’s sustained. But there needs to be that innate drive or something that you’re willing to do to get from a paycheck, which most people get into the success that you’ve had today. Yeah, absolutely.

I think I’ve definitely not had work life balance. I’m getting to the point now with the company where I can start to get some of that back and trying to actively pursue that. But like I said, so many nights where I’m just working through past 04:00 A.m.

That takes a toll on everyone. How correct. I’ve done the same before.

I think my best working hours were my kids were young was I’d get home from work, it’d be dinner with the family, maybe watch one half hour shit TV with my wife, and then from 09:00 P.m. Till 01:00 A.m. Was like my jam.

You get no distractions. It’s like this flow state where the time would just fly. But what was needed was the early days out of my own, I was just like, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves.

And you put yourself in that position. It’s an interesting position to be because you wear that load and that responsibility. But I feel like that does drive.

For me, it was definitely a driver and you found a way to make it through those hours and then the next day at work. Yeah, no mistake. As you know, it’s a grind, especially in the early years when you’re trying your best and you just don’t know why people aren’t picking up what you’re putting down.

And yeah, my best hours of work were usually between two and 04:00 A.m.. You’re just surviving off adrenaline and caffeine by that stage. But yeah, it’s had a big toll on my physical health, mental health balance at home with family and stuff.

No, I completely agree. I completely agree. I always look at it, the three buckets, like a family, a health and a work bucket.

And I only ever do two of three. Well, I feel like trying to spend time with the family and work health’s gone by the wayside. All three.

Is this tough juggle. Yeah, obviously that’s a topic of conversation that I had with my wife a few times, but the goal that kept pushing me is if we can get this to work, there’s an end date where it becomes worth it and we can start to get normality back. And hopefully financial security enables us to have more quality time as a family.

So we had to set some goals on what does that look like, when is enough to walk away? So we’re just getting to the point now where balance has become a thing. Yeah. Nice.

So it’s a big focus for me at the moment. Beautiful. And how are.

You trying to make that balance work? Are you doing anything specifically when it comes to time management or hey, work time’s here or is it I get home and put my phone away or is it how are you trying to get improvements from that balance perspective? I’ve started looking at things like time boxing, but also don’t find that that’s worked so far. I’m pretty strict about like I try to knock off and make sure I’m home for dinner and put the kids down at least. So between the hours of 06:00 p.m.

And 09:00 p.m., that’s definitely family time. And I’m trying to make the weekends only family time and there’s been exceptions where we’ve had a big tender submission or something and I still have to work late.

But for the most part that’s starting to work. I’m in the stage now where I’m moving from doing actually being an actual consultant to just managing the business. And what that’s given me is a lot more flexibility in terms of hours worked.

So now when I’ve got time during the day, I’m trying to spend some of that with family as well as just get work done. I like it. Yeah, it’s a move in the right direction.

Still got a long way to go. I think that’s a similar story that I’ve heard and a similar story I’ve experienced myself, I think, perfect, unachievable baby. It’s just like steps in the right direction.

And that communication, as you said with your partner, it’s again pretty difficult to achieve without a lot of support from that. Oh, absolutely, I wouldn’t have achieved it without a support. The other side you mentioned before, you mentioned it on two different sides you mentioned it, you applied for 100 jobs.

It was 30% of it or 6% or 66% of them were negative results and it was about 30% you could play with. And then you mentioned tender writing and you gave it 18 months of having a crack without getting success. I think this resilience piece is the part I’d like to dig into a little bit there.

I think in this day and age, the idea of playing for 100 jobs is outlandish for a lot of people without a job or they’re in a job that they don’t like. They applied for three other jobs with a half ass CV. They just sort of put together and expect a change and those changes just they can happen.

You can luck into it. But I think the idea of applying for 100 jobs worked out more fruitful for you. And then from a tender perspective, a lot of people have an idea from a startup perspective or I want to change something or do something in their career and I’ve put in extra effort for three months.

I want my pay raise or I want my title change or I put in. I’ve had a crack at my business for a couple of weeks and I didn’t get my sale. So ideas crap.

The idea of 18 months, both the idea of 100 applicants applications and then 18 months of having a crack, I think shows more resilience than another example I can recently remember. Like, that’s a phenomenal effort. Do you have anything you put that down to? Was it just having this end goal in mind on it’ll become easier? It’s for the right reason for both sides.

I think that resilience is super impressive. Well, thank you. But fear is a great motivator.

Yeah, I think that’s a great answer, because I think it is. I think you can be driven by the end goal being super positive, or fear. And I think fear can be a really good motivator.

It probably does want to be the motivator. You want to drive your whole life by forever, but I think it can get results. Failure wasn’t an option in those scenarios.

You’ve still got to have income to provide for yourself, your family, when there’s people depending on you, and when you’re depending on yourself for success, you can’t just do the one application. If you’re reasonably happy in your job and you feel like a change and want to throw a CV out somewhere else just to see what it’s like, sure. But if you’re desperate to see that change, you got to drive for it.

And I think applying for jobs in itself is a skill. So I probably did probably 40 interviews throughout that period, and the way you approach it and the things you say in interview number one versus interview number 40 are very, very different. It’s a skill.

If you don’t use it, you will lose it. I got a friend who tells me he applies for jobs, not because he’s planning to move, but just so he maintains that skill in case he ever needs it, which is an interesting way to look at it, but, yeah, it just wasn’t an option for it not to succeed, we had to make it succeed. And it wasn’t some crazy idea.

I certainly tried crazy ideas. What I really love is building robots, and that, for me, is how I was going to make my billion dollar idea. I was going to come up with some awesome robotic design or something and then sell that for millions.

And what I ended up with was just a lot of debt. What I had to change there is well, obviously this isn’t working, so I need a strategy to make money and then one day when I retire, hopefully early, then I can build my robots and I’ll do it for fun and there won’t be this pressure on me to try and make it succeed. So it was a bit of change in strategy and those were crazy ideas, because I didn’t have a business plan, there was no thought into how was I going to make a commercial success or even market research.

It was just me doing something I wanted to do as a hobby and hoping that turned into some million, billion dollar idea. And that’s just not reality. So I think there were certainly tweaks I had to do, and every time I got rejection from something, I’d try and learn from it and then adapt the next time.

And I think as long as you got that mindset, you’re fine. If you did 100 interviews saying the same thing, you’d probably be in trouble. No, I like it.

I think that resilience piece is a big piece and I think a lot of people could learn from that. And I think it’s interesting that fear motivated because I think you can be motivated by different things and I think fear is a very relevant one for some people as well. Yeah, aver fear is the wrong word.

Maybe I’ll get in trouble for that later. But, yeah, it’s the thing, it’s that being pushed in the corner. It’s like, I’m going to find a way to make this work.

I think you’ve provided good context around it, whether fear is the right or wrong word, I think the context around it in, hey, I’m going to find a way to make this work and I’m going to learn from each of the opportunities. And I think that in itself is a good learning for a lot of people. It’s like there’s something that’s just reps in the bank.

The more of those you do, the more tenders you write, the more learnings you get from that. You get better and better at the process and by the end, you’ve won your first and then your second one rolled in quicker than that. 18 months again and then you’ve built from there.

Yeah. I think some people probably think it’s a numbers game, others probably think it’s a quality game. And I would say that it’s both.

You’ve got to get better at what you do and you’ve got to do lots of it. I’ve got some unemployed friends who I’ve talked to and they said they’re trying to find work. And I’ll be like, great, tell me about what you’ve applied for this week.

And they’re like, oh, I applied last week, and I’m just waiting to hear back before I bother putting effort into something else. And that was the biggest thing for me in both those interviews and the tender submissions. And everything is investment is not always dollars.

Sometimes investment is just your effort, knowing full well that you might spend 40, 50 hours writing that tender submission, and the numbers will say that it’s 90% likely to fail, but you have to push through with that so you can get the wins. You’ve got to be prepared to put in that effort, and if you’re not, then don’t go down that game. I like it.

Which brings us to today, or brings us to Alfraco. And you mentioned just before you’re working with companies, cybersecurity as a whole is still quite immature across a lot of organizations. There’s a big learning part there for Australian businesses.

Where’s Alpha Echo at now? What’s the Alpha Echo journey from the early days of winning a few tenders to a team that’s 35 and growing right now, still based here in Newcastle? Where’s Alpha Echo at? What’s your point of difference? What’s your focus area? What’s the future look like? I’d love to sort of get current state to start with and then look into the future. Okay, all good questions. Let’s start with, to make it easier for you, Alfredo.

Who is Alfredo at the moment? You’re a team of 35 based in Newcastle, yeah, that’s right. So. Primarily based in Newcastle.

We’ve got four down in Canberra, I think one in Adelaide. What we’ve seen as successful for us is that Newcastle is almost underlooked from most of the bigger companies, as far as I can see anyway. There’s a lot of effort put into the capital cities, but Newcastle is seen as regional, which to me is just crazy.

I come from a town of 40,000 people, so there’s 400,000 here. It’s not a small center, and there is so much industry. And there’s defense.

Just at Williamtown, there’s a bunch of stuff going on, but there hasn’t been like, a local presence that we’ve seen that’s really focused on meeting the needs of the customers. So a lot of our work has been defense because that’s where we started, but we’re now moving more into the commercial sector as well. So we started doing work with local schools and churches, and part of that is to work in defense space.

Most of the time, you need security clearances. We can’t always find people with security clearances, so we can find awesome people and as soon as they get that tick in the box, then we can use them for that work. But we need, like, a holding ground for them.

So that was kind of the birth of starting a commercial element and also a desire for us to be it’s almost outreach into the community. Like our tagline is securing Australia. We want to see the security posture of Australia lifted.

And I think the general populace just gets so overwhelmed with what do they need to do in terms of cybersecurity and all the breaches coming out and all things they need to stay on top of that, other than knowing they need to change their passwords every now and then. I think the education is just so low. We’ve got four streams within the company.

We’ve got a Red, which is like our technical people, I guess, for a better word, looking at the actual cybersecurity itself. We’ve got Elite, which is our education and training arm. So we’re in the process of becoming an RTO at the moment for some training packages that we want to offer.

We’ve got a Vault, which is for classified facilities management. And we’ve got what haven’t I said? Saber. Ae saber.

So that’s multi domain penetration testing. So if you think your organization has good security posture and the physical security to back it up, let us test it for you. So that could be everything from open source intelligence gathering through to an actual physical penetration test on a building and whatever the customer let us do, I guess.

Sounds quite exciting. Sounds like most of that wouldn’t get out into the public domain. It’d be very much done under wrapped.

Yeah, the tagline for that one on the website is just only for the Brave. Partly because that’s a tailored solution also. Right.

So you need to talk to the customer and see what are your needs before you engage with them. But those are our four mainstreams and hopefully in the next few months, we’re opening up a shop front as well, which will be able to support our commercial side of business as well. We’d love to have like a drop in center where if a parent’s struggling with what I need to do for my BYOD device, for my six year old at school, bring it in and we’ll talk you through what do you need to do to secure yourself.

And at the same time, how do we elevate within the community that baseline knowledge of what is cyber and how do you do it? Yeah, I think the education piece is massive because you talked about children, then you think about the elderly as well. It’s very overwhelming as well, the whole cyberspace. Right.

You don’t understand how good the attacks are becoming these days and how easily people are falling for them. I think that education piece is the answer. Right.

Like, devices are getting better and there is better products out there, but overall education is the answer to uplifters as a whole. Absolutely. I think cyber fundamentals are as important in our society today as reading and writing.

You have to engage with the cyber domain to be successful in our society at the moment, but the training that’s provided throughout the formative years is very, very low in the same way that financial management is. I think there are lots of things that now I wish I had been taught in school about investing and that sort of thing that just weren’t there. And so it’s kind of that continual education piece that you have to do afterwards.

Do you think there’ll be a day where cyber or cyber fundamentals become part of an education system? I think they’re doing it now. There’s a lot of programs trying to do that, but the people teaching them were never taught those. So I think it’s a cultural shift that’s coming through the schools.

We see a lot of engagement from Stem and other initiatives that schools are putting into place. I just don’t think it’s embedded yet. So we want to be part of embedding that if we can.

Yeah, nice. So you’ve envisaged. It sounds like you’ve got some growth outside of Newcastle as well.

But Newcastle is going to be the home. Yeah, Newcastle is the home for now. We think it’s important that well, I think there’s two ways you can make money in business.

I think you can make a really good product that everyone wants and will pay you for, or you can rip people off. And I feel like if we grew outside of Newcastle at the moment, before we’ve finished developing the stuff we want to, then we wouldn’t have that quality control that we want now. So it’ll be once we’ve got Newcastle where we want it to be, then we’ll probably look at doing something more in other centres.

That sounds great. Like just doubling down on who you are and what you do. Doing a really good job of that before growing.

I like it. Culture has turned out to be pretty fundamental to what we do and one of our successes, and we’ve only achieved that because we’ve got a pretty awesome team. Yeah.

That doesn’t happen by chance, though. No. It’s not something that comes naturally to me either.

My next question is going to be exactly that. I think our technology space is really interesting. Right.

For career development, I think you can the beauty at the moment is you can now grow a career, technically, stay technical and earn some really good money. That wasn’t there back in the days. You had to become a people manager and had to go down the leadership route to earn the proper dollars.

Now that’s changed. You can earn really good money still staying technical, but you’ve obviously made that transition out of that more technical consultant role into now a leadership role. Was that always on the cards for you? Let’s start with that.

And then secondly, what’s your biggest learning? No, that was accidental. I’m borderline autistic and engineer by trade, so those things work well together. People doesn’t come naturally to me.

What’s been your biggest learning in making that transition? Hire good people. Yeah. So a lot of the growth that we’ve experienced is not due to me.

It’s not because I’m awesome at business, it’s not because I was particularly great at what I did. I think I was reasonably competent. Yeah.

How do you hire good people? Good question. I don’t know. I outsource that now.

I think that’s obviously the game I play in. Right. And I think you’re exactly right.

I think good people and good companies can grow to a certain size. But for them to continue to grow or continue to have their level of success, you need to continue to hire good people, because some people move on or other people move up the ranks, and having that talent funnel or building a really strong team is the key to success. But I’m really interested, for somebody like yourself, growing a company from very small number to 35, which is a really solid number.

Now, is there any key things that you’ve looked for in the people that you’ve hired? Well, again, culture was the key. And what does culture mean? Well, I think anyone can be competent from a skills perspective. Yeah, so we used to have three C’s, I can’t actually remember what the third one is anymore, but competent and care or capability was the third one.

So you need technical mastery, that’s something that defense talks about as well. And the other one it talks about is professional mastery and I think social mastery is probably a third one. So you can be good at your tradecraft, but if you can’t talk to people, if you know what good cybersecurity is but you can’t communicate that to people, then you’re kind of hamstrung from the start.

So we look for people who have the same attitude as us in terms of wanting to secure Australia and we’re not a charity, we’re here to make money as well. But capability and profit, for me, it’s not a dichotomy, it’s not one or the other, they go hand in hand, we get paid well for doing a good job. So we’re looking for people who are professionally competent but also have that ability to engage with other people but also care about what they’re doing.

I like it. And if you had any one learning from going from that technical into a leadership role, is there something you think that has led to your success? And you’ve been successful because you’ve got a team of 35, so I think that the proof is in the pudding there. But is there one learning that you’ve learned along the way you’re like, oh, finally, I knew this earlier because I’m not a master in the business realm yet a lot of it’s been relying on other people.

So talking to your accountant, talking to your lawyer, hiring good people and so I guess the key there is putting trust in other people who have those skills and abilities that you haven’t yet got. So if I was going to go back in time and try and prepare myself better for this role that I’ve got now, I’d probably go into a Master’s in business or some sort of business degree to help me and that’s something maybe I’ll do in the future. For now, it’s just been I’ve had to go through a big journey of trying to trust other people with my business, but knowing that they’re focused on the same goal as me, then that’s made it a bit easier.

Beautiful. Now I think that goal part, you mentioned it, you also mentioned it when the people that you like to hire in securing Australia, right? I think the fact that you’ve got that overarching, it’s in your tagline, it’s in your culture and some better because you’re looking for people that actually have that same goal in mind. I think that piece has definitely been a part of your success and you’re having people all really clear about what we’re working towards, and we’re all pointing that same direction.

I think you’ve done a great job with that. And again, I won’t take credit for that. A lot of that has come from our employees coming to me and saying, hey, got this business great, but where are we headed? And asking some tough questions.

And haven’t I always had the answer? So I’ve had to go away and think about that or spitball it with them. It’s like, what? I guess being so small for the past couple of years, we’ve had that opportunity to change and adapt to what we want to be and define our value set and where do we want to go. So, yeah, it’s important, but I’m also not taking credit for it.

No, I like it. We’ve talked for a bit now. We’ll wrap up in a SEC.

But just for anyone that looks at you and looks at quite an interesting career path, is there any either book, podcast, any piece of education that you’d highly recommend to other people that might be in those technical roles, junior in their career and looking at, I want to continue to grow my career. I like the sound of what Josh has done. Any pieces of education that you’d like to share with others? Yeah, good question.

I don’t read many books. I spend a lot of my time reading governmental and department policies and that sort of thing. So the two that I am working through at the moment are Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and I think it’s Jordan B.

Peterson’s twelve Rules, I think is the other one. That’s a heavy read. Yeah.

Don’t agree with everything in there, but I think there’s some good nuggets of gold in there. Yeah, I got on Mark Ceruleus through the Obstacles Away by Ryan Holiday, which is a really good book. He talks a lot about stoicism, so I really like that as well.

Yeah, I guess that would be my parting piece of advice for people, is if you’re planning to go into business, there are some awesome highs. There really, really are, but there’s also some incredible lows. And that’s why I’m interested in those two books at the moment is I have to do a lot to kind of modulate my highs and lows.

And understand, today might feel great, but that’s okay, that’s part of the business. And tomorrow might feel really low and that’s okay, that’s part of the business. And just try and even out my keel a bit, I guess.

Is there any one thing you’ve done in particular to do that? Is it meditation practice or is there something in particular? Is it just focusing on that because it’s super important? I don’t think it affects only managers or people in business. I think it affects everyone in their career. Yeah, probably not a popular answer, but faith and family are the things that have helped me.

Yeah, I think it’s a great answer. I think everyone finds their individual parts on how they get through it, and it’s just always good to get different people’s opinions on it, so it sounds fantastic. I love that advice.

I think that’s a good way to finish up our podcast today. So I appreciate you coming in and sharing the story of not only your career, but our ferreko. Sure.

My pleasure. Thanks. Thank you.

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