By: Andrew Snell of Coaster Group
Having a job never really made sense to me. The idea of working just to fill in weekdays and get money didn’t fit. I’ve always liked being challenged, standing in front of something I’ve never done before and not knowing how I’m going to get through to the other side.
Whether it’s a benefit, or to my detriment, I don’t like to let anything pass me by, so will often say “sure”, rather than “not now”. Along the way, this has brought some conflicts to balance, with people and time, but it has seen opportunities come with it as well.
My first job, while I was at school, was as a theatre technician. I started it because I thought I understood it (I didn’t), and the opportunities seemed too good to be true. It was here, at 16, that I first had to learn how to manage competing requirements – each with little regard for the other’s demands.
I started to learn, not so much to manage my time, but to make it work for me. Managing time you already have is easy enough, making it so situations let you work on more than one thing at a time is hard – and invaluable.
I was being offered work on great shows, with big-name artists, festivals, and doing things most people would never get to experience. As I finished school and took my “gap year”, I started working as a designer, managing clients and projects. 80-hour weeks were common, but I was enjoying it and didn’t want it to change.
I went to uni after that year, doing a Bachelor of Communication in Public Relations. I’d applied for it because I didn’t understand it. My family worked in traditional professions, I knew nothing of business, marketing and media, but thought I’d be pretty good at it if I understood it.
I kept working through uni. In fact, I started working more towards the end, managing production for venues and doing anything I could to never say no to a job. I think every one of my assignments was finished around 2 hours before it was due (at the earliest) and exams were studied for the day before. If at all.
I passed, and I found myself more interested in the sociology units I was taking, which is something I’d come back to almost three years later.
Having finished my degree I proceeded to do nothing with it. I was doing more and more client and production management where I had been working for around four years at that point, and had goals and unfinished business there.
After about 15 months, I started to get frustrated, and my tendency to grow restless started to come through. I was getting bogged down in the day to day, and I wasn’t able to make the changes I thought needed to be made. I became frustrated, I knew I needed a change, but didn’t know where to look.
At that point, an opportunity landed in my lap. I was offered a place, as a trial at first, to tour with a production across Australia. I’ve kept working with the people I met through that show, and five years later we’re talking about what is coming next year.
The touring was great, but part time – leaving me the chance to do something else. I took the opportunity for an internship with the Communications and Events Unit in the ACT Chief Minister’s Department. It was a new side of an environment I knew quite well, and I learned a lot – including that I didn’t want to work in government.
I was saying “sure, why not” to a lot of things around this time. I was enjoying the new perspectives, and being completely out of my depth with no one to get me out of it. That’s why when the opportunity to work for Australia’s largest full-service communication agency.
Again, I was managing two parts of my life that didn’t really care about the other. Learning to keep things balanced and my time working for me – and failing miserably on multiple occasions.
My three-week contract turned into a full-time position around 10 days in. I was part of a team being rebuilt; we were a small team led by two hugely accomplished managers, with national support. For 18 months, I was learning, pushing myself, and bluffing my way through some amazing opportunities.
I was working on national level campaigns, private, not-for-profit and government work, as well as with local start-ups. It was working with them that was most interesting to me. I’d always looked for opportunities, and this was the first time I’d been in an environment where the risk was seen as worth it. It was working there I was taught to focus on the person, not the facts. What the person doesn’t tell you can be far more informative. I learned to love that. I learned to love looking for something no one else had (or would) think of. And I learned to analyse and put together a response as a pitch on the fly.
It was this time that my interest in sociology popped up again. I started thinking about the way a “thing” would fit in with what people, the customer, would expect, want and need. My approach became less about the rules and predictable results, and more about the possibilities something presented. This didn’t necessarily fit in with a large organisation and it’s structure…
After around 18 months I was getting itchy feet again, more accurately I was getting more and more frustrated at not being able to do what I knew would work best for a client. I was about to set off back on tour for eight months, and I wanted to try making something for myself.
I had two ideas based on my experience I thought I could pull off – a concept development consulting business, rather than straight communications and marketing; and a production design business. I decided it was going to grow, and I should put it together to make that happen quickly, so Coaster Group was born. Pretty quickly, I decided this was the perfect chance to start working on my own ideas. There was a list that had been growing for a long time – I started working on ways to do things differently, not because I thought the existing ways were wrong, but that they could be done better.
In September 2012 my long time friend and colleague, Chris Shackleton, who had given me my first job and just returned from the USA where he was working on a real estate venture. We were sitting around, talking about ideas we had to keep us from ever having to work for someone else again. There was one we worked up to the point where after a few days we had registered Rollercoaster Digital and were taking it from a simple idea, to a fully-fledged product.
We were both new to this side of business. Our approach was to go headlong into it, knowing we’d make mistakes along the way. We started to put together a team and develop our idea. We began the patent process, created a brand and started telling people what we were doing, and seeking mentors.
We both had our other ventures going throughout this time. I was still on tour and Chris headed back to the USA. We started pushing wherever we were. We broke down borders, started pitching to people no matter where we were and six months after starting, we were both in Silicon Valley learning more about how everything worked.
Since then we have taken that approach to the UK, back to the USA, and to New Zealand (by invitation). We have four products, which have launched, been pulled back to R&D, relaunched and changed.
I’m constantly learning about what I’m doing, and the mistakes I’m making. I’m of the mindset that constantly learning and adapting is the only way to build my business. I’ve just restructured Coaster Group to reflect where it is headed, and have four ventures within it just waiting for the right time to launch.
It seems much easier, writing it out, than it actually has been. None of the ventures I (we) have started have taken funding. We struggle to make monthly bills, let alone find the cash to keep developing. For everything I do though, that has taught me to be more creative. From branding, to personal promotion, to entering design competitions to gain free media exposure.
I’ve learned to have an opinion. Doing things differently without a reason or sharing your belief in why doesn’t work. The opportunities that appear when you put yourself out there are much more fun than they are scary! I say “sure” now more than I ever have. “Sure” might not sound convincing – but that’s part of it, I’ll take a gamble and see what can be made of something. If I didn’t Coaster and Rollercoaster wouldn’t exist!
I see this as chapter one – there’s much more to come.