Guy Cooper

Do what is right, even if it holds up your business growth – it will be better in the long term.


Guy Cooper, Managing Director of Wave Digital, is a business owner and tech entrepreneur who works with founders, executives and fellow business owners to bring their app idea to life. After spending a decade in business and a decade in technology, Guy knows how to use apps to drive business growth – and it’s not all about the numbers or latest tech. For this former accountant, building a successful app is first and foremost about people – understanding their dreams, needs and desires, and then creating a flawless app that becomes part of their daily life.

Guy was the former CFO of 99designs (and the broader Sitepoint Group) where he teamed up with some of Australia’s brightest technology minds and facilitated a $35m 99designs series A capital raising from Accel Partners. Since 2013, he has successfully owned and managed Wave Digital, a Melbourne-based app development company. Wave specialises in building custom iPhone, Android and web apps for corporate, government and innovative local and international start ups. Under his leadership, Wave rebranded to focus on building mobile and web apps that make lives better. Wave Digital has recently been ranked as the Top App Developer in Melbourne by Clutch.

Where did the idea for Wave Digital come from?

I was CFO of 99designs and the broader Sitepoint Group, of which Wave Digital was a part. As a consulting business, Wave didn’t fit neatly within the Group’s business strategy. When I bought Wave Digital, I saw an opportunity to bring more commerciality along with a human-centred design approach to what was a great team of developers building fantastic software. I also wanted to give it more purpose. To use it to create technology that would make lives better.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day begins with a wake-up visit from my daughters. My wife and I then share the jobs required to get them and us out the door. As the MD of a small business, I wear a multitude of hats. Generally my day includes talking with prospective clients about their app ideas, preparing pitches, brainstorming technical and design solutions with my team, buying the office coffee, reviewing the accounts and reading up on the latest technology news and trends. I make it productive by carving out uninterrupted time for specific areas eg. existing clients, business development, finance or administration.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team of talented people that work with me to bring my ideas to life. From rebranding our business, changing processes, to building our own apps – I can raise an idea at our morning stand up or over lunch and get great input and support to make it happen.

What’s one trend that excites you?

AI’s application in the health industry. I am particularly passionate about improving people’s lives through the innovative application of technology and have always felt our health system is largely reactive eg. you go to the doctor when you are sick and are prescribed something to make you better. We have the opportunity to change this via the use of AI, data analytics (and precision medicine). Wouldn’t it be great if the data collected from our smart watches and smart phones could be used to predict declines in our health before it became too serious?

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I have an appetite for learning and need to understand things for myself. I ask a lot of questions. When I bought Wave Digital I had no knowledge of what my team did. I read programming books, books on design and innovation, and always asked my designers and developers how and why. I now consider myself a tech entrepreneur and can speak with confidence about innovation, design and technology.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Slow down. Trying to do it all nearly cost me my health and, in turn, my career. I am a strong advocate of work/life balance, particularly now that I have a family. Understanding what is important to you, realising that you don’t need everything all at once, and accepting that life circumstances can impact your short-term goals, but if you stay the course, you will get there in the long run.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I believe that large businesses and government can and should innovate. I believe that they could use iterative development models that are people-led, not technology-led, such as creating prototypes that are tested with users. This is instead of spending millions of dollars over many years documenting projects that are driven by technology constraints rather than user behaviour and needs, that then don’t ever get off the ground.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always try and do the right thing. This means that I make decisions that I believe are right for my team and my clients, and that preserve the integrity of myself and my business. These decisions are not always the best commercially in the short-term. But I believe that providing honest advice (even when it is not what a client wants to hear) and looking after people always pays off in the long term.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Focus. Focusing our service offering, focusing on the specific business development activities that made sense for the business, focusing on the style of advice that best suited our capability. Not deviating from that focus along the way and saying no to projects and clients that were the wrong fit.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A mistake I made (which I overcame) was that I tried to step away from the detailed day to day too quickly before I had properly established a repeatable and scalable service offering that other team members could adopt. When I realised this had happened, I stepped back into the detail until I could fully understand our clients needs and where there were opportunities to improve our service. I then slowly handed over that responsibility to team members, at the same time clarifying roles and responsibilities.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I wish I had one at the moment to pass on. What I can pass on is the knowledge that even if you have the best idea in the world, it will always take hard work, focussed effort and dedication to make it happen.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

$100 towards babysitting, to allow me to have dinner out with my wife. Keeping up our connection with quality one-on-one time is critical not just for us but for our whole family.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

My team and I use Slack which we use to be more efficient and to have less interruptions.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market by Scott D Anthony. The book has great practical examples of how to innovate within larger businesses.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers” Seth Godin.

Key Learnings:

• Focus – your business offering and your time
• Always ask lots of questions
• Do what is right, even if it holds up your business growth – it will be better in the long term
• Understand what’s important to you and don’t try to do everything at once