Sam Bashiry, founder of Broadband Solutions. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Sam Bashiry fled Iran in 1989 with his mum and his sister when he was only 10 years old and the family arrived in Australia to start a new life.
Bashiry says the experience gave him the courage to take the risk and start up his own business with Broadband Solutions now turning over $15 million a year and employing 25 people.
It is so courageous to make that journey. Timidity cannot be part of that tool kit.
Bashiry’s story is not uncommon among refugees with a report published by the UTS business school last year finding refugees have significant entrepreneurial potential and, with the right support, can contribute to the economy, create income for themselves and employ others.
Sam Bashiry says life was tough when he moved to Australia but he has seized the opportunities he has been given. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Starting with nothing
“We were refugees and were sent to the Maribyrnong detention centre,” Bashiry says. “When we arrived in Australia we didn’t have our passports and we were at the detention centre for over a year.”
From here the family moved to a migrant hostel in Springvale and Bashiry started school.
“I couldn’t speak English so it was a bit of a shock to the system,” he says. “I remember standing up when the teacher came into the classroom and everyone laughed and said, ‘We don’t do that here’.”
The family left a comfortable life to come to Australia and start again with nothing.
“We went through a lot of hard times,” Bashiry says. “It was a massive lifestyle change for us. I remember getting teased at school because I had my shoes from Target. As a person you can go two ways, you can be the victim and think, ‘Why me’, or you can think, ‘It’s part of the journey’. Why not turn it into a positive and do something into your life?”
Bashiry went on to study at Swinburne University “because university is something that is expected in the Persian community”, but even then Bashiry knew he was more interested in creating things.
Bashiry got his first job at a dial-up internet company through Centrelink for $7.50 an hour working in computer support.
“I just learnt on the job,” Bashiry says. “I asked a lot of questions and and I came in early and left late.
From here Bashiry moved to work at KeyPoint and saw that besides Telstra and Optus nobody was focused on providing internet to small businesses.
A gap in the market
“I saw a niche there,” he says. “I just sat down one day and said, ‘I’m going to do it’. One of the biggest things holding people back is fear, but coming from where I did and coming to Australia … I thought, ‘What can go wrong?'”.
To start off Bashiry shared an office with some university friends and the first challenge was to pay the rent.
“We had the smallest office in the whole building,” he says. “We were quite embarrassed so the first thing we did was tint the windows so nobody could see in.”
Bashiry started off selling domain names but realised it was too hard on his own so pitched a half share of the business to former work colleague Brad Hughes.
The pair needed a router so found a second-hand one on eBay in Broadmeadows for $1000. “We used that to set up the company and started selling from there.”
Bashiry says the early days of Broadband Solutions were tough with turnover of about $20,000 a month and “really long hours”.
“It was difficult and there were times you thought, ‘Have I made the right decision?’,” he says. “It wasn’t about the money though, we were passionate about it.”
The turning point
For Bashiry the turning point was a phone call from what was the Carlton Crest hotel inquiring about an internet connection for an upcoming conference.
Bashiry quickly patched together a solution.
“I don’t think you get lucky, you get opportunities and it depends what you do with them,” he says.
That first conference led to more work from other hotels and Broadband Solutions had found its market.
Now Broadband Solutions supplies hotels directly across Australia and has set its sights on the education market.
“We sat down and just talked to schools about how they are dealing with bring your own devices and how they deal with systems upgrades and bandwidth,” Bashiry says. “It just took one school to make the jump and now we have 150 schools using our services and it is going to be a really big market for us. There are over 10,000 schools so it’s a much bigger market for us than hospitality.”
The entrepreneurial spirit
Former small business minister Bruce Billson is a passionate advocate for Bashiry and says there is a “real entrepreneurship” in the journey of the Bashiry family to Australia.
“It’s a terrific story about the entrepreneurial spirit that brings people to this country in the first place and the contribution that can be made once they are here,” Billson says.
“It is so courageous to make that journey. Timidity cannot be part of that tool kit.”
Billson says what Broadband Solutions does is also great for small business.
“Half of Australia’s businesses are invisible online, a lot of small businesses that are extremely gifted and talented at their business find that technology side of things quite confronting,” he says. “What Sam is doing helps you navigate all that stuff and makes it easy.”