By Narelle Coulter
Keenly-fought foosball competitions, hug blocking and pirate days are as important to Pakenham company PaSME as KPIs, performance reviews and balance sheets.
Tucked away above a cafe in a Pakenham industrial estate, PaSME was last year named one of Australia’s 100 coolest companies by Anthill magazine.
PaSME CEO Daniel Lewis, 30, is just as likely to instigate an impromptu foosball session as is his staff.
For Daniel and his team, cool goes beyond the physical. Cool is how a company lives and breathes, how it honours its core values and nurtures its internal culture.
“Cool needs to be lived,” said Daniel, who is also known as ’The Honcho’.
“Our core values are to always be innovating, commit to excellence, ensure integrity, enable empowerment and always have fun.“
PaSME – Platform as a Service, Smart Membership Engagement- is an online software development company that helps membership-based organisations manage their databases.
When Grow visited the PaSME office the question ‘How will you show off your fun today’ was scrawled on the front door.
The walls of the open plan office (critical when it comes to being cool) were decorated with other motivational sayings.
“On windows, on doors we make sure we are reminding everyone because it needs to be lived,” Daniel explained.
Staff have the choice of working at a desk or making themselves comfortable in other working spaces dotted around the office, such as the grey corner sofa, a particular favourite of marketing manager Lindsey Leigh Hobson who can often be found curled up there under a red blanket, laptop on her knee.
“I believe an open collaborative environment is critical for a business to survive,” Daniel said.
“You’ve got the modern corporate approach of segregating everyone into cubicles and it just stops that communication and collaboration. It’s distracting for everyone.”
A biochemist by training, Daniel was working for a corporate not-for-profit assisting large corporations systemise and improve their engagement with staff and clients when the idea for PaSME was born in 2010.
He used his scientific training and applied it to system design.
“PaSME came about when we thought what if we built a system and platform for the masses. I could provide consultation and assistance on a large scale rather than one-on-one.
“We could build something more robust to handle the bigger components. We found membership-based organisations thrived on what we were doing.
“A lot of membership organisations and subscription-based organisations struggle to actually know who their members are, let alone get them coming back on a regular basis. I know of a couple of organisations who were providing service for over a third of their membership that hadn’t even paid.”
PaSME helps organisations understand who their members are, giving them a much better chance of ensuring they sign up again once their membership expires.
According to Daniel some organisations are not even aware that they are churning through members and that they will eventually run out of new people to sign up.
“They need to make sure, especially those with a subscription or membership model, they need to make sure their focus is actually on keeping them. Great to get 100 people in door, but if you are losing 110, the game is over.”
Born in Queensland, Daniel went to secondary school in Rye and Rosebud. He still plays The Last Post for the Rye RSL each Anzac Day.
He now lives in Pakenham with wife Holly, who grew up in the area, and their two children.
Holly is the brains behind the PaSME’s theme days and quirky staff challenges.
She organises fortnightly team building activities such as last year’s hug your boss day.
Staff literally embraced the challenge to see who could land the most five-second hugs on The Honcho without getting “hug blocked”.
“Any time I stood up, someone would covertly try and get near me,” Daniel said, laughing.
Holly has also organised dress like a pirate day, tongue-twister day and jellybean day.
Each week the PaSME team expands their vocabulary with word of the week. When Grow visited the word of the week was snollygoster (a shrewd, unprincipled person).
“We also have staff birthdays and other celebrations. It’s about understanding the people behind a business. Staff are the most valuable asset within an organisation and until a business actually recognises that they’re not going to have the success they potentially could,” Daniel said.
“A leader’s focus should be on the people because you are a leader of people, not of an organisation.
“Culture is a people game, about knowing people. A big part of culture is the front door. Staff success is the right recruitment and knowing what your mission, vision and values are.”
Away from the office, Daniel loves to gather family and friends around the table for an old-fashioned board game.
He has a “massive” collection of games. Up to 100 games compete for space with his wife’s book collection.
Among this favourites are Betrayal, House on the Hill and Cards against Humanity. Just don’t mention Monopoly.
“That’s not a game!”
On his social media profile Daniel describes himself as a “gaming evangelist”.
“Everyone knows what present to get me. It’s usually a board game. They’re great for communication, they stretch the brain and just for having fun.”
Back in the office, Daniel’s focus this year is on capital raising to solidify PaSME’s financial foundation and grow the business.
PaSME was one of the first organisations in the Casey Cardinia Region to raise capital, more than $75,000, through angel fund-raising. Angel fund-raising relies on investors backing an idea or an intangible concept.
“That was a good injection into the company to get us started. From there we have grown to seven staff and the size we now are.”
However, it also led to one of Daniel’s most acute business disappointments when an attempt to engage an external organisation to handle a next level seed fund-raising operation failed.
“After seven months they didn’t get us anything. External assistance is vital in a lot of instances but I think from that experience I’ve learnt that some things need to be done internally with consultation rather than taking the reins.
“Now I’m focused on doing it myself and I’ll have those consultants advising me rather than giving the reins to someone else. It’s been a learning curve for me.”
Daniel’s aim is to raise $1 million in new investment to allow PaSME to further develop its product, hire more staff and increase marketing and brand awareness.
“We’ve done a lot of great organic growth and are now actually getting it into the commercial space. We are now here and ready to actually to disrupt the market and make a difference in this world.”
Daniel hopes PaSME’s future is a global one.
From the start Daniel and his team have focused on integrating multi-lingual functionality into the system allowing it to be exported throughout the Asia Pacific region.
“We’ve built it from the ground up with a multi-lingual component. There is still a lot more work we want to do there, but it’s going to be accessible to vast markets.”
On a personal level Daniel doesn’t see his own future as necessarily tied long-term to PaSME.
He is acutely aware that a leader must ensure an organisation can continue soothly if he or she steps aside.
He calls it the “hit by a bus“ scenario.
“I know my strengths lie in the start up and systemisation and that’s what I love doing.
“ I know I will always love PaSME but it’s a matter of looking at what’s best for the organisation and its staff and the people behind it. If that’s not me in the driving seat I’m okay with that.”