Beyond the comfort zone
Karl Redenbach summoned the courage years ago to abandon his law career and follow his entrepreneurial spirit. He’s now the co-founder of two highly successful global technology companies. By Andrew Murfett.
Karl Redenbach sees life differently to most people. “A lot of people are happy to stay in one place and work at one job and be there from 8am to 6pm during the week,” the 39-year-old Melbourne-born entrepreneur explains of an existence that has been utterly extraneous to his entire working life. “They’re satisfied and comfortable. But I like to sit slightly outside my comfort zone. That’s where I perform best.”
Sitting outside his comfort zone has proven prosperous for this Monash law graduate. It led him down a path of co-founding two highly successful technology companies, the latest of which, LiveTiles, has grown steadily and is based at a hip, cavernous space on New York’s Madison Avenue. It gave him the temerity to move his young family of four children from Melbourne to Manhattan. It is also what initially provided him with the courage to abandon a career in law and follow his innate entrepreneurial spirit. “They say you can be either comfortable or courageous,” he says. “But you can’t be both. If you want to do something different, you have to push yourself.”
Redenbach grew up in Melbourne’s west, in Keilor Downs, attending local state schools. Both his parents were high school principals. It was a challenging place to come of age. “Most people from my school didn’t go to uni, let alone law school,” he says. Arriving at Monash, he swiftly embedded himself into extracurricular campus life. At 18 he met his now-wife, Stephanie; they recently celebrated 20 years as a couple.
His passion for music was also ignited through his years at Monash. As well as forming a band with his law classmates, he eventually became manager of Australia’s pre-eminent Spice Girls covers band, Sugar And Spice, who arose from a law school skit. “I did the books for them and we toured Asia,” he says. Returning home, he joined Melbourne law firm MinterEllison and rapidly grew restless. “I don’t think I made a very good lawyer,” he says. “I was more interested in the commercial aspects.”
At just 23 he pitched the concept of a guide to Melbourne’s bar scene to Fairfax Media, and Redenbach served as editor and publisher for three editions. At 25, he and business partner Peter Nguyen-Brown set up nSynergy, a SharePoint consulting company focusing on cloud-based services. “I’ve known Peter since we were 19,” Redenbach explains. “He was a developer, working with BHP and Telstra. We’ve now been partners for almost 15 years. It sounds weird, but in that time we have never had so much as a heated conversation.” Karl and Stephanie relocated to London with the aim of growing nSynergy overseas. The couple returned home to Melbourne after three productive years; nSynergy was a success (it was eventually sold in 2014 for $25.35 million), and Stephanie was eight months pregnant.
By the time they relocated to New York three years later for Redenbach and Nguyen-Brown to embark on a new tech venture, LiveTiles, Karl and Stephanie already had three children. “If I could replay it, I’d have gone to New York first,” Redenbach says. “But it’s easier said than done, especially when you don’t have the support network. It wasn’t easy. Before my eldest turned two, she had four trips to London under her belt.”
Today, the Redenbachs have spent five years as New Yorkers and LiveTiles has grown significantly, employing about 200 people, including 50 in Manhattan. The audacious aspiration for LiveTiles is nothing less than changing the way the world works – by ensuring Microsoft technology is easier to use. “We do it by bringing in beautiful design elements and allowing a no-code solution to integrate everything,” he says. “For instance, at Nike we integrated their marketing department interface. We aggregate social media and sales and marketing tools into one interface. What we’re doing is changing rapidly.”
The company’s New York office seeks to retain what Redenbach proudly describes as Australian culture and values. And he’s not just referring to the three beer kegs that sit unassumingly in the front reception. “Our general attitude is to have fun,” he says. “We are young and innovative, and that rubs off on our product when you see it being delivered to customers.” Redenbach has also played a key role in funding and hosting Monash’s Global Discovery Program in New York. “It’s been an unbelievable experience for me,” he says. “We want our alumni to be engaged, connected and have affinity with the University. We can expose students to real-life business scenarios in the workforce via people actually living it.” As for family life, Manhattan has seemingly won over the Redenbachs. “We worried it would be hard to fit in,” he says. “But there’s a village-type atmosphere because you don’t drive. We typically walk most places. That was a shock for me. You create a network of friends – amazing people doing amazing things. We’re never bored.”
To see more on the Monash Global Discovery Program in New York, go to monash.edu/students/notices/global-discovery