Tell us a bit about your business?
AndMine (http://www.andmine.com/) is a full service digital agency. Built to balance the need for technical development and creative advertising capabilities in one shop. We service and have produced work for a range of SME to national clients and many household names including: Medibank, Ego, Sunsense, QV, Matchbox Homewares, Sir Richard Branson, Mamma Lucia, Crumpler, AC/DC and Rydges to name a few. We also love helping startups and small businesses make it online and produce work for them as passionately as our big brand clients.
Why did you start up your business?
A few years ago, I owned a handful of businesses, one a software company, one a creative and print agency, another geared towards entertainment. Although they were all doing well in their own right, a clear opportunity was emerging in the online space as technology - including eCommerce, social media, apps and web software from companies like Google - started converging on businesses. "The writing on the wall" was everywhere, if you weren't strong online, your business was in trouble. I was developing a lot of websites and software platforms at the time, so digital marketing wasn't a huge leap for me. I consolidated my efforts, walked away from some sizable and profitable companies to start AndMine and didn't look back.
What are the major hurdles you experienced when starting up your business?
Hmm hurdles, there are many. I think the main ones are building a new client base and growing the team. The client base is difficult as at the start there are a lot of costs and a lot of pressure to land projects. The early team members and I worked a lot for little reward and slowly grew the pipeline using many 'new' digital strategies. One of the greatest challenges are great team members. I stuck with the philosophy that you need to employ amazingly talented people and with our early budgets this was very hard. Finally learning, you are always learning, even now, just as I'm confident on the next 50 things I've learnt for my business there are new hurdles. I still consider the company in startup-phase even though we are now 40+ team members and 3 offices.
What tips can you give other SavvySME members that are thinking or in the process of starting up their business?
Old-World-Service; Maybe you do remember, maybe you are too young! But I always think of the example of the service station, and how someone used to come out and fill your car up with petrol for you. When I was little, there was only a few places left that still did this. I didn't realise till later, but that service was drowning fast. With the new-online, super-fast, get-it-done world we live in, we've lost some of that old-world service. We have meetings here regularly and have built tasks into our CRM (customer relationship software) to ensure our clients 'feel the love'. When you do things differently like this, in today's service landscape, you stand out. You can't buy good word of mouth, not offline, not online, but you can build relationships that guarantee it.
What made you decide to take the jump and focus on your business?
Timing. A combination of wanting more control over my business life and solidifying my efforts under one entity. I thought of it as a Funnel-In and Fan-Out strategy. Where I'd funnel all of my efforts under a single brand, and then fan out services, skills and capabilities to do things better and better under that single umbrella. We started with a few key services and grew from there, now instead of thinking we know a lot about online and business services, we uncover leading edge concepts and are able to consistently deliver them for our business and our clients. Here is one example: eStorefronts (Online Stores) are a big service of ours. Before I started AndMine, I knew how to build a simple online store and connect it for a client. These days we integrate seamlessly with eBay, are an expert Partner on BigCommerce (http://v2.bigcommerce.com/experts/andmine-1/), can develop in all of the top tier e-Storefront platforms (eg. Magento, Shopify), and write and host company critical synchronisation modules for our clients products, fulfilment and business logic.
How did your family and friends react?
Some positive, some negative. I remember my Father (another business owner) and my Lawyer pushing me not to give up stakes in the Design Agency which was doing very well. I was adamant that the risk at staying involved even just as a share-owner would distract me from my future business potential.
How has your life changed?
Wow - It couldn't have changed more. I earn more, I have full control over my business, I met my future wife Tegan and had 2 beautiful kids (twins - a boy Joseph and a girl Eden). Work life balance is good, getting better (you can probably imagine what having twins is like... so that is another massive challenge).
What success have you experienced since starting your business?
Aside from the life changing :) ... We started with 3 people around 3 years ago, we are now 40+ full time team members across 3 offices, in Melbourne, Sydney and Asia. We started with a handful of clients and grew them into a list any agency would be proud of.
What is the vision for your business going forward?
Continue to grow and deliver exceptional work, expand the intelligence and creative strategy of all our services and engrain ourselves in the minds of anyone looking for a great agency as the go-to company. And have fun along the way.
What tips can you give other SavvySME about motivating yourself to push through the challenges that rise up while building your startup?
Be critical (not overly critical) of your work and how you service your clients. Ask clients for feedback and listen carefully. Stay focused and don't get distracted with side projects (except family!). I'd recommend building a foundation around strict positive cash flow and taking risks when appropriate that won't cripple your previous success. When you know something doesn't feel right, steer away. Build an inspirational team around you who share your philosophies and vision. Sell the dream while staying grounded and honest. Grow gracefully and be careful not to burn out - Find time to take breaks and holidays to ensure clarity around your thinking.