By Melissa Keogh
It’s a classic success story: the university assignment that turns into a start-up business run from a garage.
That’s how it went for web developer Hinney Lo, whose classroom venture became one of South Australia’s fastest growing businesses, PixelForce.
The Adelaide-based studio is now one of the city’s most trusted web designer and app developers, with a client list that includes South Australian fitness guru Kayla Itsines.
PixelForce’s rapid climb to success in a relatively short space of time – seven years – has now seen the business become a finalist in BDO and Brand South Australia’s Fast Movers South Australia 2018 program.
The program recognises the fastest growing and most innovative small to medium enterprises in the state, and winners will be announced this Friday.
To qualify, businesses must have a registered head office in SA and achieve a minimum turnover of $200,000 a year for the past three years, among other criteria.
“We are genuine and just try to be ourselves,” Hinney says.
“When we first meet our clients, we don’t promise them anything we’re not confident we can deliver, and we give genuine, honest feedback on the idea and concept.”
PixelForce’s 26 employees, ranging from high level designers to software engineers and project managers, work out of a Glen Osmond Road studio, designing and developing websites and mobile phone apps.
The business sprouted from humble beginnings when Hinney and a university classmate created a mock business as part of a final year project.
As a result, PixelForce Digital was born in 2011, with the uni pair offering web design services to the public.
Client demand soon grew and the business moved from the garage to an office along the popular nightspot Hindley Street.
“It was chaos to be honest,” Hinney laughs.
“But we landed a great client – Wokinabox – which had an office on West Terrace.
“Their marketing manager was walking along Hindley Street and saw us, walked in and we had a chat.”
Undertaking website and app development for the fast food eatery, PixelForce continued to build relationships with various SA businesses.
Hinney’s friend and now technical director Ben Zhang came on board and PixelForce Digital amended its name to PixelForce Systems.
By 2015 the business, now known simply as PixelForce, had build a core team of senior app developers.
The team secured a high profile client – Instagram fitness guru Kayla Itsines and delivered the workout and meal planning app, Sweat with Kayla.
The fitness star and her fiancé Tobi Pearce, who have built a global health empire worth $63m, placed at number 40 on the 2017 Young Rich List.
In 2016 PixelForce launched Kayla’s newest app, SWEAT.
“When we first met Kayla and Tobi, they were already really successful,” says Hinney.
“But they came to us because they wanted to build their app.
“We were chosen as a supplier and we’ve been a part of their success, so we’re really proud of that.”
Most of PixelForce’s clients are start-ups and entrepreneurs but it has also worked with larger entities such as Angove Family Winemakers, the South Australian Liberal Party and Adelaide City Council.
Hinney says 90% of PixelForce’s employees are recruited through an internship program.
“A lot of graduates come to us to work as interns and that’s a great way to pick our employees,” Hinney says.
“We train them from the beginning.”
Hinney is originally from Hong Kong and came to Australia at the age of 15.
He studied at the University of Adelaide initially achieving a bachelor’s degree in design studies before taking on a Master of Design in digital media.
Hinney says he chose Adelaide to be the home of PixelForce because of the city’s relaxed lifestyle and its support of emerging businesses.
“We really like the environment and vibe here,” he says.
“Melbourne and Sydney are too big, and Hong Kong is like that as well.
“That was one reason why I came to SA, it’s a bit more relaxed and there are a lot more opportunities here for start-up businesses.
“South Australia gives start-ups a try.”
PixelForce is among the 25 nominees for the Fast Movers SA 2018 awards, announced on Friday, May 25 at a gourmet breakfast at Adelaide Oval.
Tickets are available now, click here to purchase.
Header photo is Hinney Lo, left, and PixelForce technical director Ben Zhang.