Sydney Grammar Old Sydneians' Union Luncheon

I just wanted to share some ideas if I can, hopefully, some provocative, and I'm sure to get everyone talking. But, you know, I fell a lot in my life, you know, actually, I fell 39 times in business before I started Finder. And I actually started by going to our next-door neighbor, when I was 19 years old, he asked me to build his website. And back then, you know, I was playing computer games, and I used to build websites for fun, and he was going to pay me $1,500. And I was like, wow, that's incredible. You're gonna pay me to do something that was fun for me. You know, back then, you know, doing things that are fun and getting paid for them, I thought that's a good idea. I'll keep doing that. And so I kept on building websites. And one of the websites for businesses we built was called Freestyle Media. And we sold that actually, we did that with Frank Restuccia is another old Sydney back in 98. Frank actually played the first tennis he played above me, we’re not gonna talk about that today. But he's scraped me into the team. And that's, that's, that's how it rolled. Anyway, Frank's been my business partner for 19 years. So that's a long time, it's longer than I was married, actually.

So, you know, I think I was always very inquisitive about technology. And I love learning and, and figuring out how things worked. And actually backing me for, this is now going back to this entire proprietary, we used to play a little game, and everyone remembers this is a game called racer, and it was on the microbiome was on the color screens, and it is actually to the game apart and rebuild it. And actually, we make four cars and five cars, we all used to play against each other, there was a competitive game. And this game was a game, which actually taught me about how to use computers. And there wasn't a course on computers when I was at Grammar, but it was always an area to go into. But it actually gave me the gateway, the opportunity to go and build. And actually play around with computers, which was a new thing back then. And one of the key things that I actually did in university was, I was actually attending one of the lectures, unfortunately, because I just wasn't that interested. I'd studied computer science and actuarial studies. But actually, partially, I went to the subjects I wanted to go to that, that taught me how to help build websites for other people. And you know what's really instructive and interesting about that is that I took the skills from uni before, and I studied computer science. And then I actually learned how to build websites. And I actually coded personally, the first Finder website. You know, I'm not an engineer. And I'm not like a good computer scientist. But I'm just dangerous and curious enough to have a go. And that's how Finder started.

So my first idea I wanted to share with you is that some ideas aren't meant to fit. So I look back, you know, on my schooling, and I was thinking about it. And it was a good time. There was a part I didn't enjoy, unfortunately. And that was that I thought differently. And I wasn't like ultra academic. There's some incredible academics at Grammar, and I just herald that. I just wasn't, no matter how hard I sat at my desk, I just couldn't get the same performance. I don't know, it wasn't, I couldn't find a place in Grammar where I’d be number one, which is kind of unusual. But it's not a fault of the school at all, I just want to flag that. Nothing to do with the school. I actually think it served me because I was going to seek for a place to be number one. And that's what I think is great about Grammar.

So my actual favorite times during the exams weren't actually getting the results because they were pretty rough. Middle of the road, solidly middle of the road, and I was pleased about that. It was actually after you got your exam paper back. My favorite time was going up to the teacher during class and say, Sir, clearly, this question, you've said this is the answer, and I partially answered that. And let's talk about how you're going to give me partial marks about it. And I would argue aggressively and creatively to get extra marks after the exam. That was the entire game. So, you know, I think what's important here what's instructive is your some sort of signal or some sort of concept or some sort of idea is reached where, you know and I’ve created a lot of things in my time, is when you, it's not a design process. In those moments when I was trying to get that exam extra credit, I was reaching into the darkness and trying to find and something. Trying to give some way that he was going to give me some more marks. He or she whatever it was going to be. And that process is the process I have used to create businesses and create ideas for my entire life. And it was a very competitive environment, right? And I love that, but I needed that extra postural credit badly. So I had motivation.

It's not so much I didn't fit in at school. It's just that I didn't have an area where I could be excellent. Where I could show extreme excellence. Yes, I played GPS chess, and I was very strategic and those kinds of things. But I didn't have a place. That's okay, that's got nothing to do nothing, no fault. No harm in the school at all. And one of the things I think is important is, I've always seen rules as guidelines. So you know, and I'll just quote this is from my book, if I can. I said rules are manufactured imaginary ideas created by someone in a specific moment in time. They don't necessarily define the boundaries of what is possible, and what is not. If you can interpret them and innovate around them, and work out how to get to the goal that normally lies beyond the rules, that's where growth and innovation happens. And for me, I, unfortunately, those passing marks were my best performance. And in some small way, I've always tried to reach past them. And in that place where it is unclear, where there is no clear way forward where there is a blank page or a dark room, that's where I shine.

So I think what's important the other thing that Grammar taught me was, is to create environments, to nurture spaces where it's okay to make mistakes. I obviously made a lot of mistakes. And I did participate in quite a few detentions as well because I was always trying to, I saw the rules as gray. I'm not saying I was like the worst human. In fact, I performed relatively okay, but I always was trying to push the limit. And that was because, and I'll tell another story about where that comes from.

When I walked into New York City, and we started finder in the US, 2015 in August, the first thing I did, we sat around an Airbnb table, we actually had a box, that was all we had, we sat around a table with some chairs. I said the first thing we're going to do here, everyone, what I want you to do before we begin this business in America is it’s okay, I want you to know, I want you to make mistakes. I want you to try things. Don't bunt, swing. Go for the fence, because we're gonna have one chance here we better make it a win. And all always in that business in the US, they always take chances. And that's why Finder from Australia, going through America, we had a chance and we've scraped our way up from the bottom of the barrel and got up. Because we take chances and we make mistakes and we learn from them. We create environments where it's okay for that to happen. So some things just aren't meant to fit.

The second point I want to talk about is what's called a Chaos Monkey. So there's a company called Netflix. Now inside Netflix, they have an important, there was a student, an actual, a person who joined a young coder who wrote this program. And he wrote actually a program unfortunately, that took down the whole Netflix. Everyone was pretty annoyed but then actually they realized this is a vulnerability to the system. This is actually a weakness that he's identified. And what they did from that is they actually wrote a program called the Chaos Monkey that would literally go around the code of Netflix and pull cables out of the wall and shut things down. And to see if Netflix would keep operating.

So my mom was a leading ophthalmologist. She did 35,000 cataracts, about 25,000 laser eye surgeries. She was the first female ophthalmologist in laser eye surgery in Australia and she had a big battle in her industry to get to the place that she wanted to go. And you know, from my mom, I learned not necessarily about what sort of problems do you experience, but actually how you deal with them. I didn't always come to my mom in fact, I had quite a different view to my mom, you know, she was a very, extremely ultra-intelligent parents. You know when you’re a kid and you’re trying to argue with your parents and they’re ultra-intelligent, it’s just you keep losing. So annoying. So, as a kid, I thought ahead, what am I going to do? Well, what I would do is I thought, well, where are they weak? Where am I going to win? So what I would do is I would move the argument to a new ground, a different place, an alternative solution, a place of creativity, a place where logic and rationale doesn't necessarily always win. Neither of us had any advantage. Instead, we're arguing about some foreign topic or some particular way. And in that space, I had a fair fight. I didn't always win, they’re still very creative people as well. But I needed to lose the battle it to a territory where I could win.

In business, what I have noticed, or what I have found, and this is just for me to share my personal story, is that it is just so lucky, that by chance, doing things a different way, as opposed to the guaranteed path provides, actually, when you succeed, great reward. It is just so lucky that we live, that I live in this version of the multiverse and metaverse that we all exist in. In this 3D environment that we think we are existing in that it is chance and attempts are different thinking that wins. And it’s, if I do win, that's great. Just flagging, I've had a lot of losses as well. So from my parents, I'm very grateful that they were ultra-intelligent. And obviously, in my schooling now, you know, everyone here is ultra-intelligent and ultra-competitive, I had to move the game to a different space to win.

And just to give you the level of, you know, I guess that rebelliousness or that Chaos Monkey that I potentially am. If I had a company, and let’s say I was not the owner. Or I just moved into a company and I saw myself working in the company, I would probably be the first person I would go and fire. Because you don't want, you know when Phil Jackson was asked of the Chicago Bulls, you know, how do you deal with you know, Dennis Rodman on the team, right. Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, incredible players like one huge team. Then you have Dennis Rodman. What's this guy doing on the team? Great defensive player, incredible when he just snapped onto the field. And Phil Jackson replied, you can only have one Dennis Rodman on the team. And so I'm that, I'm Dennis Rodman, you can only have one.

I just want to quote, so my point here, if I was to share the legislative act of 1854, which set up the Sydney Grammar School. And I'll just quote, “Whereas it is deemed expedient for the better advancement of religion and morality, and the promotion of useful knowledge to establish in Sydney, a public school for conferring on all classes of Her Majesty’s subjects resident in the colony of New South Wales without any distinction whatsoever, the advantages of a regular and liberal cost of education”. That’s a great line. I wish I had wrote that. And we should celebrate that because that was a forward thinking thing. And it also brought us all here today. That things was great. And I just want to call out if I can, in one line of that phrase, “promotion of useful knowledge”. In the future, I just want to comment if I can, what might be useful knowledge. I think that, with the advent of AI, and robots taking over many processes and ideas, and even thinking to some extent, I think creativity will be one of the last things that humans will have an advantage. And so I think skills around that might be something and I don't know how, well I propose an idea here. One is maybe inside Grammar, there is a Chaos Monkey award. And it is the prize for the creative rule breaker. That's my proposal. I take the submissions and obviously debates on that as well. But I'm sure there is a Chaos Monkey among us here. That isn't just me. I'm gonna move on to point 3.

Point 3 is called the opportunity inside change. What has changed me? Change is guaranteed. For me if the Internet didn't come along, Finder wouldn't exist today. What actually happened? So, I've always seen change as two things. One, you have this problem that happens, you got to deal with the impact. You know, it's good, it's bad, whatever happenes, right. And the second thing that normally happens, which is my favorite part is, you capture the opportunity that now comes from the change. That is key. That is the moment to move forward for. Many companies don't deal with that. Many companies decided not to deal with the Internet. When I used to drive around Sydney, in the early 2000s. Selling websites, people used to say “Thank you very much, Mr. Schebesta but I’d rather my yellow pages ad.”. So that's fine, it's fine, I'll try the next door. The opportunity in the change of the internet was to provide a better service. Opportunities come in many forms, and most of them are packaged with a key element. timing. Timing is what makes a great business. Many ideas have been thought of, it didn't quite work out. Many internet ideas came and went. But now those ideas are relaunching, and they're working. Timing I think is what makes a great entrepreneur, a great investor, probably a great sportsman as well.

When COVID first started, Finder saw a massive drop in credit card business, right. Huge drop, credit went down. Less people, everyone was at home no one needed to travel, no one needed credit. During that time, what's really strange and someone comment to me on this the other day, is they were very confused as to why I was so calm. Why I felt confident why I was almost happy. And in that moment, what I reflected on is that I saw a moment of change, and therefore a moment of opportunity. A wormhole of opportunity that opened up. And I know I'm really good at jumping through wormholes, and doing strange things and finding that opportunity. And during that time, we adapted and we launched the facemask business. The number one page on Finder was how to buy toilet paper. We helped people who are new armchair investors, the new Warren Buffett's, come in and purchase their shares and their cryptocurrencies. All ideas that for us were thought about before, but we've now had to make a change and make that a priority. We had to adapt. And that allowed us to continue on providing a better service for our customers.

And I was thinking, Sydney Grammar has a great legacy. And I thought again, what is legacy? I think legacy is when old, old men or old women plant trees for shade they will never experience. And I was reading the Grammar strategic plan. I think that was some good work. And I want to quote this, “Our constant aim is to help boys to have a true sense of self-worth and to celebrate their own individuality, whilst respecting the differences of others.”. And I respect that about Grammar, I think it's a great tolerant place. Grammar is the school which not only respects but enthusiastically embraces diversity amongst our community. Again, a statement which I agree with. The promotion of useful knowledge is built on the widest range of ideas, I believe. And from my experience, where gender doesn't seem to be a determinant for the best ideas coming forward. Instead, I discovered that camaraderie comes in all forms in our community, and the makeup of my teams in Finder and all the business I built have enabled the best ideas to come forward. The very nature of the competitive landscape requires the leveraging of the best ideas to stretch oneself to the highest order of excellence.

Excellence is another value I think that Grammar has. Without the diversity of ideas and thoughts, it can lead to a narrow set of thoughts and a weakness is that team doesn't consider a wide enough set of perspectives, a shortcoming normally seen only in the long term. And it's hard to do just short-term thinking. And it can stifle long-term excellence, but it usually lives in the choices of best ideas and changing those choices when there is a greater opportunity for the long term.

Someone once asked me when I was in the New York office and was starting out and had 12 people in the office and someone came to me and Americans are very forward, right. Found that out the hard way. And someone came to me and said, “Fred, what are we going to start hiring some guys around here? There’s only girls.”. And I stopped and I went, “You’re right, I’ve never even considered that.”. I've never, ever hired someone on the basis of their gender or race or anything like that. It doesn't, I didn’t even see it, didn't seem to notice it. Instead, I hire the best person for the job. I believe in a meritocracy. The best brain surgeon should be paid more than the worst. That's how I preferred my brain surgeon to be.I don’t know for everyone else’s. I'm in the business of meritocracy.

There's no evidence to suggest that boys-only school will ever have a greater impact on a boy's education than a co-educational environment. The evidence is inconclusive. But what I do know is that better quality ideas come from a more diverse group of people. The world is changing. And Sydney Grammar has opportunity to adapt and grow by being proactive and taking an opportunity. I'm urging for a great change to co-education at Grammar. To make way for a better set of ideas and an even broader set of skills for each child at Grammar. Maybe my girls might not grow up with the same, same opportunities that were given to me by the school, but maybe there will be girls that attend the school that do. That made me emotional. In the Sydney Grammar 2021 annual report, it states that the school takes great pride in the culture and social diversity of its pupils. Let's create a wider diversity of thought with co-education and see the change-makers of tomorrow come from Sydney Grammar School.