Left despondent by office politics and shoddy business cultures after years in marketing and advertising roles, Sean Ashby walked away from the corporate world in 1995 to re-evaluate his career options.
While bumming around on Sydney’s Bondi Beach, Ashby found a passion for thinking up business ideas others hadn’t yet realised. So he gave in to his entrepreneurial nature in 2001 and launched aussieBum with $20,000 he had earmarked for buying a house, and went online to sell his wholly Australian-owned and manufactured men’s swimmer and underwear line to customers around the world.
As online sales tipped the 200,000 mark, many of the retailers who initially rejected his line came on board and customers around the world are now buying into the little slice of Australia Ashby’s designs offer.
Disregarding the naysayers who told him it wasn’t possible to launch a successful business in Australia, Ashby’s been named Australian Exporter of the Year twice and built a business that survived the global financial crisis with ease – reporting its biggest profit up to that point during the height of the GFC.
Now, this true blue entrepreneur is revealing some valuable business advice he’s picked up along the way and sharing his branding secrets with Dynamic Business.
Q. You’ve turned Aussie Bum into an iconic Australian business, do you have any advice for how other entrepreneurs can build a strong brand?
The key to building a strong brand is to ensure your brand has the same values the person behind it has. In the early days and even today, I still run the company based on my own values and what I’m passionate about.
If your passion is about making millions of dollars and your focus in on the bottom line, then I suggest you stand in a line for a lotto ticket. My business was successful because my expectations were quite low; I just wanted to pay the rent on my flat. It was my passion and absolute enjoyment for what I did every day that allowed me to work 18 hour days without a second thought. I was actually working for less than $50.00 a day in the beginning!
To build a strong brand you need two vital ingredients: Passion and values, values that you can talk fluently and honestly to anyone about.
Q. What aspect of your business are you most proud of?
I’m probably most proud of the fact that my core values are also reflected in my business. For example, I started by business in a lounge room and still today I sit with my team in a lounge/entertainment environment.
Not a day goes by when I’m not laughing with my team or being inspired about where I can take my company. I’m certainly proud and humbled by the fact an Australian product is selling in many of the worlds leading department stores and holding its own against other famous brands.
Winning the Australian Exporter of the Year Award in Manufacturing was also a proud moment. Not just for myself, but also for the people in my company who also believed an Australian company can compete and win in a global market.
But seeing my company logo in one of the biggest movies of all time – Marvel’s The Avengers – had to be the cherry on the cake!
Q. What do you most enjoy about running your own business?
The thing I enjoy the most is the fact I’m still involved with the things I love doing – from the creative design of my products, the photography for all our marketing campaigns and travelling the world to meet with key buyers from retailers like Selfridges, House of Fraser, KaDeWe and so on.
I still love flying back into Sydney airport in the early hours of the morning, as I’m always blown away by the sunrise as well as how small and incredibly beautiful the city is. I get really excited about showing my country off to the rest of the world.
Running my own business means I can also invest in a mega powerful sound system, so the whole team can look forward to Fridays when we pump up the volume in the office and sing out loud.
Q. What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve ever been given came from working for other small businesses. I found working for Tony Romano in the early days of my career incredibly inspiring. He absolutely loved what he did and this empowered me to have that same value. I also learned it’s important to never forget where you come from and to be proud of what you’ve achieved, as this makes the person you are today.
I also like to remember that it’s OK not to be perfect, and I think this might be why I consistently do things others dream of. Another great piece of advice is that dreams come true when you believe in yourself, and we have a large sign in our foyer to remind people of this. It says: “Dreams Happen Here” and I can assure you they come true if your believe!
Q. You’ve built a very strong eCommerce business – any tips for how other local businesses can get their digital offering right?
eCommerce is a credible sales channel and should be given the same respect given to other sales channels, like retail and so on. You should never stop learning about technology. Instead of fearing change, to learn to embrace what you don’t understand and have faith in how technology can help you achieve the business objectives and goals you set. You also shouldn’t be afraid to read and investigate what’s going on in the rest of the world.
It’s also very important is to listen to what customers are saying on social media. Listen, act and learn – the voice of just one customer is much stronger now when it comes to influence in the online world.