2012 young guns of business

Simon Griffiths

As we head towards the end of the year, Dynamic Business looks at the 11 young entrepreneurs and business owners aged 30 or under who are moving Australia’s small business world into the future.

Craig Somerville (23) Reload Media

What is your business?
I’m joint owner of digital marketing agency, Reload Media. We provide search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, social media and all forms of online marketing services to our clients, of which there are around 500 across the world.

When did you start it?
We started the business in May 2008, in the middle of the GFC. It actually turned out to be a great time to launch a digital marketing offering, as Australian businesses in particular were still keen to spend on marketing.

How old were you?
I was 19 when we started the business, and was still completing my undergraduate business degree.

How old are you now?
I’m now 23. Back at uni again, this time to complete my MBA.

How many staff do you employ?
We’re now up to 55 staff globally, with about 40 of those based in head office in Brisbane.

What’s your next goal in the business?
To continue to expand the International offices. The UK in particular has such a great market opportunity.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
A little bit of both. In our industry there’s almost an expectation that Gen Ys will be running the show. Our team, which has an average age of 24, is working on major brands’ campaigns right across the world and there aren’t many industries where that would be the case. Having said that, there are definitely times when age is a barrier but those are few and far between in our game.

What advice would you give other young business owners?
Make sure you have experienced business operators in your network who you can go to for advice and direction.

Ben Lipschitz (28) & Rick Munitz (28), Flipsters

What is your business?
Our business is Flipsters, a footwear company specialising in innovative foldable shoes for women.

How old were you?
We were both 25 when we started, 28 now.

Why did you start this business?
Ben: I had just finished my studies in Law and didn’t feel it was a career my heart was set on. One night when some female friends were complaining about their sore feet there was a light bulb moment.

Rick: Ben came to me with this idea of compact shoes for women who needed relief from their high heels at the end of a night out. I had just finished studying industrial design and this sounded great.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
We’ve had a few of those key moments we are really proud of. One in particular is the documentary Trendspotting which aired in around 15 Asian countries. The documentary followed innovative trends and in each episode they visited an Asian Pacific country to profile three particularly inventive companies. In Australia we were chosen as one of the three companies to profile.

What’s your next goal in the business?
Right now we are very focused on global growth. Focusing on overseas markets wasn’t always our intention but it is the reality of trying to build a niche brand in a country of only around 22 million people.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
This can go both ways we’ve found. As young entrepreneurs we have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we aren’t set in our approaches to the problems we face as a business. This frees us up to be unique and innovative in our approach to design, marketing, and brand creation.

On the other hand, we are young and relatively inexperienced, so we have made more than our fair share of mistakes. But trying new things is often prone to errors and issues even after our best critical thinking and research has been applied – sometimes you just need the experience to know the best way to do it.

What advice would you give other young business owners?
First and most important is that you have to believe in what you do and love it. Second, start young while you have nothing to lose and loads of energy and ideas to contribute to your fledgling business. Finally, trust your gut. At the end of the day it is your business and you are fully accountable for the actions you take.

Robin McGowan (25) & James Wakefield (25), Institchu

What is your business?
InStitchu is a Sydney-based ‘eTailoring’ provider of custom, tailored menswear. Our website allows customers to design their own tailor made suits and shirts online. Once a customer has added measurements to their profile, a suit or shirt can be ordered in a few minutes and delivered within three-to-four weeks.

InStitchu wants to educate men about dressing well, as well as providing a platform to design original custom made garments. Our Style Guide, InSpiration page and Movie Suit blog help customers achieve those timeless looks and be up to date with the all the latest trends.

How old were you?
We were 22 when we began creating our business plan.

Why did you start this business?
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. We had both started working while we were at university and naturally had to purchase some new suits. We were left with the option of purchasing some pretty awful ill fitting off-the-rack garments. As we were students, we couldn’t really afford to go and spend $2,000 on a tailored suit either. We had both travelled to Asia and done the whole tourist thing of bringing home a few tailored suits and shirts so we thought “why not let guys have access to this via a functional website?”

What’s been your biggest success to date?
The launch of our current website in October 2011. The site is everything we envisaged and more. The greatest reward is hearing back from a customer about how much they love their new suit.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
James: Age has definitely worked to our advantage. Customers are pleasantly surprised when we turn up to see that we are two young guys and not two old tailors.
Robin: Personally I feel that being the age we were when we started InStitchu allowed us to take bigger risks. We didn’t have to worry about a mortgage or a family when we thought about going out on our own.

Rowan Kunz (25), Art of Smart Education

What is your business?
Art of Smart Education (AOS) is an award-winning provider of academic mentoring and coaching for primary and high school students across NSW and ACT and VIC.

Recognising that academic success it not only about teaching the examinable material for school, we mentor students, working with them to equip them with exam, study and life skills to help them excel at school, navigate post-school options and excel at university.

Why did you start this business?
In 2009, at the age of 22, I was casually tutoring high school students while studying law and had a couple of realisations/discoveries. I found working with young people incredibly rewarding. Secondly, from working with a range of students, I realised that it was not the students’ actual intelligence or ability that was the primary factor in their academic results. Rather, it was how they were studying and managing their time. Finally, the majority of questions I received in tutoring sessions often did not pertain to the school syllabus – but rather dealt with personal issues.

These three factors indicated to me that there was a strong need for resources and services that would deal these problems students were having.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
Publishing Secrets of HSC Success Revealed – a study skills book which outlines our research with Australia’s top students, and builds credibility and markets our service to our target market.

How many staff do you employ?
In three-and-a-half years, we have grown from myself, to a team of 100 coaches and three staff in administration.

Has there been a time when your age surprised people?
When recruiting team members, I would often interview in cafes. Frequently, I would see someone enter who appeared to be the person I was waiting to meet. They would often go up to three other people, generally older looking males, thinking it was me. Eventually, I would reach out to them. They were always so surprised when they realised how young I was!

Simon Griffiths (29), Who gives a Crap

What is your business?
I’ve been working on two businesses since 2009: Shebeen and Who Gives A Crap.

Shebeen is a non-profit bar opening in Melbourne’s CBD later this year. It will sell exotic beer and wine from the developing world, with the profit from each sale being directed to a development project in each drink’s country of origin.

Who Gives A Crap is a toilet paper company that sells environmentally friendly toilet paper in Australia and uses 50 percent of its profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.

Why did you start this business?
Both ventures are motivated by the ability to use business to solve social issues, and both ventures have a particular focus on improving third world poverty.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
We launched pre-sales for Who Gives A Crap on IndieGoGo with the goal of pre-selling $50,000 of product – enough to fund our first bulk production run. As part of the launch I announced that I would sit on a toilet on a live web feed until the first $50,000 was raised. As soon as the campaign went live, it spread virally across the internet and was covered by media worldwide. In 50 hours, we pre-sold $50,000 of product.

The campaign wrapped up four weeks later with a total of $66,548 of pre-sales to 1,333 customers and a social media reach of over 1.5 million people across more than 180 countries.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
In the US, the younger generations are celebrated as society’s innovators and future leaders. Unfortunately the attitude in Australia is quite different. There are certainly exceptions, but it’s something I’ve come across time and time again.

Do you have tips on dealing with people surprised by your age?
When negotiating commercial real estate for Shebeen, I always take an older business partner along with me. I learned this trick from my girlfriend. When she was 27 and negotiating on a new commercial lease for her business, one estate agent asked if he could speak to her father!

Toby Strong (30), Bestespresso

What is your business?
My company imports Èspresso 1882, Nespresso-compatible coffee capsules. They are available from all Officeworks stores, Harvey Norman, Domayne & Joyce Mayne stores and leading independent supermarkets (IGA, Foodworks, Foodland etc).

When did you start it?
The concept was born over a year ago when I was 29 and following many months of research and late night phone calls to the other side of the world. We launched the product earlier this year and have since been thrilled with the response.

Why did you start this business?
My business partner Toby Bensimon and I are huge fans of the Nespresso system, but we noticed a gap in the market. Consumers have been inconvenienced as Nespresso’s capsules are only available either online, by phone or via one of their few boutique stores. We could see that this was a product that consumers would prefer to purchase from their local retailer while out shopping, rather than online.

We have since had the product ranged into hundreds of retail outlets nationally where consumers can pick up one or two boxes as they please. We have received overwhelming feedback confirming our belief that many consumers prefer to buy their coffee this way.

What’s your next goal in the business?
To continue to grow the brand and make it available in as many retail outlets as possible. We see huge potential in this product and will focus solely on expanding distribution in the short term.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
I find a good balance very important. I like to surround myself with both young and old. You can never take for granted the sort of experience that only comes with age. Where possible I prefer to learn from somebody else’s mistakes, rather than make my own.

Marianne Sea (25) & Andrew Yang (29), Young Republic

When did you start it?
Young Republic was initially launched in May 2011 as an online marketplace targeted at showcasing local Australian designers. In 2012 we relaunched our new international website. We realised that there was so much talent all over the world that we couldn’t continue excluding designers from other countries.

How old were you?
Marianne: I was 24 when we first launched Young Republic.

Why did you start this business?
I was previously working in a digital agency (with my now co-founder Andrew), building websites for many SMEs. We had quite a number of emerging and independent designers coming to us knowing how crucial it was for them to be in the online space, but with very little budgets to afford a website. Andrew and I quickly realised that if we created a central online marketplace where they could set up a store and list their products for free, then these designers could be selling 24/7 to customers all over the world, without any upfront costs to put them out of pocket.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
Being accepted into the Startmate business accelerator program earlier this year where we had the privilege of working closely with 25 mentors, and then flown to the US for a capital raising tour lasting three-and-a-half weeks. The wealth of knowledge gained from the experience was not only invaluable, but also tremendously helped to refine our business.

How many staff do you employ?
Currently it is just Andrew and myself juggling every role imaginable in a small business!

What advice would you give other young business owners?
It’s a cliché, but you need to follow your dreams and there’s no better time than now. It doesn’t matter if you give it everything you’ve got and things don’t work out because you’re young and you can pick yourself back up again.

Lorraine Murphy (29), The Remarkables Group

What is your business?
The Remarkables Group is the first dedicated talent agency for bloggers in Australia. We manage brand partnerships for the Remarkables (bloggers) we represent, from on blog-content right through to a Remarkable being annual ambassador for a brand, so appearing in its TVCs, hosting its events and creating content for it.

When did you start it?
Remarkables HQ opened its doors for the first time in May 2012.

How old were you?
29

Why did you start this business?
I worked in PR and comms strategy for eight years, and in my most recent role at Naked Communications, did a lot of work with bloggers on behalf of my clients. It became clear to me that there was an aching need for an agency who could speak the brand’s language and also understand what was important to bloggers.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
Ooh there’s been a few! Winning a B&T 30 under 30 Award just two months after launching, being interviewed with Beth, one of the Remarkables, on The Project, and having the business in profit after three months.

How many staff do you employ?
It’s just me and an intern on the full-time staff at the moment, with the support of an outsourced team across finance, sales and admin. The first full-time employee of the business will be starting this month (October).

What’s your next goal in the business?
To systemise the business so that it can grow effortlessly. It’s quite refreshing starting a business and having no processes at all, but with so much work on, it’s time to get some in place now!

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
A help, absolutely. The digital space is developing at warp speed, so as digital natives, anyone under 30 has a huge advantage, regardless of the industry they’re in.

What advice would you give other young business owners?
Connect with likeminded people and see them often. I started a mastermind group with five other young business owners. We meet for two hours once a month and it’s an incredible source of new ideas, fresh perspectives and support.

Sam Prince (28), Zambrero

What is your business?
Zambrero, a Mexican cuisine quick service restaurant chain. I started Zambrero when I was 21 and studying medicine. The success of Zambrero led to it being recognised as the fastest growing franchise in Australia in 2011 by BRW magazine. With the proceeds of my entrepreneurial success, I started the Emagine Foundation in 2007, which has built and equipped 15 IT learning centres in rural Australian, Sri Lankan, and Cambodian schools, and counting.

When did you start it?
I started Zambrero in 2005, Emagine in 2007.

Why did you start this business?
I started Zambrero because I saw a gap in the Australian market for fresh, quality Mexican food and I had fallen in love with the food after working in a Mexican restaurant while at university.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
The growth of the Zambrero brand as quickly as it has, completely debt free, without having to dilute any equity to outside investors to grow.

How many staff do you employ?
Around 400.

What’s your next goal in the business?
We will reach close to 30 stores by Christmas and will be doubling again in size next calendar year. I can’t wait to be there for the 100th store opening.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
Being young was sometimes a hindrance but only occasionally as many people are happy to help young passionate business people follow their dreams and through this I have been able to learn from the very best and not make the mistakes that I may have made if I hadn’t asked them for advice.

What advice would you give other young business owners?
Tell everyone around you about what you are trying to achieve as you never know who may be sitting next to you who can help your dreams come true.

Priyanka Rao (26), Evolvex

What is your business?
I have an online flat packed furniture store at www.evolvex.com.au. Evolvex is custom furniture designed by you. Using an online patent pending application you drag and drop modular parts to customise our furniture to fit your home. Our furniture is made from eco-sustainable materials and 100 percent Australian made.

When did you start it?
We launched www.evolvex.com.au on November 2011 when I was 25.

Why did you start this business?
My sister and I were shopping for furniture and discovered when we brought her goods home that pieces were missing and parts had broken. Rather than cart it back to the store we got my Dad to get it fixed in his furniture factory. As it was being fixed my sister customised the furniture to fit her home and from this we asked ourselves wouldn’t it be cool if we could design furniture that fit our home at the comfort of our desktops?

What’s been your biggest success to date?
Winning the NSW Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Unconvention in a very competitive round of pitches. We’ve won awards prior to this too: The Australian Business Awards for Best New Product and Product Innovation, but the validation of winning a live pitch was inspiring.

How many staff do you employ?
2 part-timers

What’s your next goal in the business?
We are launching new product lines and colours in the next few months. Over the next three years our big goal will be to expand internationally.

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
I think age gives you the energy and ability to take risks that an older person wouldn’t. Plus people are always impressed when you state your age. Having said that I’m getting old now so I think I’m going to start hiding my age!

What advice would you give other young business owners?
Experience is overrated. All you need is a great network of people around you doing the same thing that can support and advise you when you are reaching a roadblock, and cheer you on when you hit your home runs.

Jack Hanna (26) & Ramzey Choker (30), The Grounds of Alexandria

What is your business?

Our business is a specialty coffee roastery with an expansive garden/kitchen/bakery. We serve locally sourced produce and the best available seasonal coffee from all over the world. We roast our own coffee and definitely want to be up there as one of the better coffee roasters and suppliers in the world, just putting it out there! We source coffee from all over the world. Generally we source by taste so it’s never really about where and how we get it, it’s about what tastes good and if it tastes good, we’ll get it.

When did you start it?
We started the cafe in 2011. However it took almost one-and-a-half-years of planning/construction.

Why did you start this business?
To create something that Sydney/Australia has never seen before and create an amazing space where we offer a completely new concept. I think a lot of people have done amazing things with restaurants but in terms of cafes there’s quite a bit of a hole.

What’s been your biggest success to date?
Jack: I guess the biggest success was when we saw an hour-and-a-half wait on the weekends outside the café. That’s telling me that’s our success, that there’s a demand for what we’re trying to do.

How many staff do you employ?
40-60

Do you see age as a help or hindrance in the business world?
Jack: A lot of suppliers come in and ask to speak to the manager or the owner. I’m trying to sort out their problems and they automatically dismiss me because of my age. It’s quite funny sometimes. It’s good also for me to see what they’re like before they know who the owner is. I feel like it tells me a bit more about their company or the philosophy if they’re like that and they’re willing to do that, so it just tells me straight away is this the type of company that I want to deal with.

What advice would you give other young business owners?
Age is just an excuse, dedication and persistence is really the key.

Tell us your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>