Spotting a gap in the market, Michael Lawrence gave up a successful career in management to set up a new media streaming service in the world of action sports.
Garage Entertainment is Australia’s first streaming platform to work hand-in-hand with brands and producers including Red Bull and Ripcurl, bringing together content to be viewed anywhere and anytime on a range of devices in Australia.
Now in their fourth year of a five-year business plan, the company has spent the last four years aggregating and collecting rights to over a thousand films in the Asia-Pacific region, and Michael Lawrence and business partner Nicholas Cook officially launched the service in March this year.
Coming from a background of filmmaking as well as managing two large Australian fashion retailers, Lawrence is no stranger to successful business. He gave up his job as General Manager of eyewear company Sunshades to create a brand and company in a sphere that he has loved and been a part of since he was a child.
“It was the dream fashion accessories job, and having been there to build the business for almost 10 years it would’ve been quite easy to stay there. But it was one of those things where my wife said ‘If you’re going to do it, do it now and go for it.’ And so we did,” he says.
As the head of Garage Entertainment, Lawrence was Producer and Executive Producer of Australia’s most successful documentary film “The Bra Boys”. But coming from a business background, Lawrence learnt that the money isn’t necessarily in production – it’s also in distribution.
Garage already distributes packaged action sports media to independent surf shops and retailers including JB Hi-Fi. Instead of relying on these distribution points, they wanted to control their own, and Lawrence realised early on that online distribution was the key to future success.
“There was a real gap in the market…there was so much good product but there was no aggregated point for it,” he says.
When Garage initiated its five-year plan, online streaming services were by no means as popular as they are these days. Particularly in Australia, services such as Netflix and Spotify had not yet become the juggernauts they are now in 2013. Lawrence and Cook took an entrepreneurial gamble.
“We’ve been waiting four years for the technology, and for everyone’s habits to perform in a way that we could launch a service at a price that made sense to people. That was always the business plan – we never said ‘Hey, let’s set up a DVD business’ – my wife would’ve killed me if I had tried to sell that to her,” says Lawrence.
Risk management has been a big part of the journey for Lawrence and Cook. The pair privately funded the business; Cook sold his house while Lawrence mortgaged his. However Lawrence was prepared for that risk, attributing his success to years of mentoring while working for two family businesses.
“It’s an ongoing challenge in small to wanting-to-be medium business,” he says.
“But having worked for two entrepreneurial families at Designer Accessories and Sunshades, they have truly been mentors for my wife and me for over a decade and a half, being so involved with their businesses and growing their businesses. We kind of knew what we were in for, and both families encouraged us to do it.”
Having only launched in March this year, Garage Entertainment has received very positive feedback. The site has had over 20,000 views and over 600 sign-ups, and the company is still yet to begin marketing. From here, Lawrence hopes that Garage will continue to challenge distribution norms and to help the film industry grow in Australia.
For Lawrence, the joy is in creating a business in a field that he has grown up in, and making a living by doing what he loves.
“I had always wanted to one day have my passion project turn into my day job,” he says.
“We thought if we could sew all the rights together across all the genres that we loved, it was a niche that we could package and manage ourselves and have some fun around the sports that we grew up loving and participating in.”