Dream & Do

What went down at the latest Cereal Entrepreneurs!

Tara SheltonComment

TARA:
Cereal Entrepreneurs is an event put on by Dream & Do, all about the intersection of creativity and business, talking to real entrepreneurs about real insights and letting them be vulnerable about what’s going on in their business so we can all learn and make a difference.

We want to get the real insights. We don’t want people to get up here and talk about what’s on their press release. These days, we can find out anything about a business or person online and it’s usually just self-promotion. We want to talk to people who can be a bit vulnerable, who can talk about how it really feels because, for those of you who haven’t started (a business) yet, it’s really scary. That doesn't mean it’s not exciting, but it is really scary. For those who are in it, it’s really scary and you need something real to keep you going.

Cereal Entrepreneurs is run by Dream & Do, a creative agency for start-ups, business visionaries and dreamers everywhere and it’s our purpose as a company to help people create their own destiny by giving them the courage to do what they’ve always dreamed of. We’re a branding agency; we do videos, websites and identity, not just logos.

Often people, start-ups in particular, think branding is just a logo, but it’s an experience. It’s how you communicate with your customer at every single touch point and it’s essentially the heart and soul of your business. People don’t like you because of what you do, people like you because of who you are and that’s what a brand is.

Why Cereal Entrepreneurs? We wanted it to be a fun part of our own strategy, to have an event to convert the wanderers into courageous creatives who are willing to dream and put their ideas into action. Dreaming doesn’t stop once you’ve started doing - you might have an idea and you take the plunge to do, but you’ve gotta keep dreaming. You’ve gotta keep coming up with ideas, keep imagining a future for the business, for the staff and the people you serve.

We’re interviewing an entrepreneur over cereal and in today’s case, it’ll be not so much about what Leezair is, but more about what it feels like to run a start-up. We’ll also be discussing Minimal Viable Product or MVP, a common methodology taken from The Lean Start-up by Eric Reiss. It talks about the minimum possible thing you can do to get your idea into the market. It encourages using your idea as an experiment with a hypothesis.

When you go into business you have a lot of assumptions. The quicker you can get it out into the market and build your business with real feedback, you’ll build a lot of confidence and also save yourself money because the other option is building it, making sure it’s perfect, releasing it into the market after a year, only for it to be no longer valid.

Minimal Viable Brand (MVB) on the other hand, is a concept we thought we had made up but after we did a search, we found it in some Business Insider article... it’s a similar concept though - you build your brand before you start your business, you put it out there into the market and gauge the reaction. You don’t need a lot of money to test your brand and that’s what we’ll be talking about today.

Introducing the founder of Leezair Angus Vidor - sorry I’m not very good at French! Angus is French Australian and has had a pretty incredible career. He’s quite young, started his career in finance and was then employed by Rocket Internet as ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ - pretty cool job title, right?

Rocket Internet came to Australia to launch the fashion behemoth The Iconic and as we know, The Iconic has been pretty damn successful - it’s pretty much the market player in fast turnaround online shopping in Australia. He oversaw that from day dot until about two years ago when he started his own business, travel start-up, Leezair.

It’s an app that connects people to experiences and their purpose is to make everyday extraordinary. Stage one of the app is connecting people with experiences in real time and within three clicks, but he has some really exciting plans to integrate the internet of things. For example, you might be driving in your car and you’ll say ‘I feel like skydiving!’ and it’ll say ‘Take the next left.’ He’s a clever cookie, is working on artificial intelligence in their business, so come on up Angus!

ANGUS:
Thank you Tara, for having us this morning!

TARA:
Ok, so first question on everyone’s lips... what is your favourite cereal?

ANGUS:
I don't really like it to be honest... I prefer bacon and eggs with milk.

TARA:
Well, we don’t believe you so we got you a croissant!

ANGUS:
Thank you very much!

TARA:
It’s a little bit stale, sorry...

ANGUS:
This is very French.

TARA:
But seriously Angus, what moved you to start Leezair?

ANGUS:
Well it’s a long story actually. It started in 2014 when I went away with some friends for my birthday. We were looking for a foreign activity and couldn’t find anything to be honest. It was a real pain trying to discover the things around me and then trying to book, so we ended up horse riding on a beach. I had to call maybe six or seven suppliers, all were fully booked or not available and one said ‘Maybe come back in three weeks, we may have a spot for you then.’

So I discovered the first pain point during that weekend and kind of went crazy about the idea. I went back to Europe, travelled around France, met a lot of providers and it was the same story everywhere. We always ended up in tourism centres facing walls of flyers, opening 20-30 tabs on Google. On the way back I went to the Philippines and I wanted to go scuba diving but once again, had the same issue. It was impossible to find a supplier and impossible to book, so when I came back to Australia I thought, ‘I have to find a solution.’ I knew there was a problem but before I built the first MVP and the first solution, I did pretty extensive market research.

TARA:
What did that involve?

ANGUS:
The market research took almost five to six months. I was working at Rocket Internet and still with The Iconic at this time, always finishing around seven or eight pm and then working every night till one or two am, plus weekends. I discovered a lot of crazy opportunities then jumped straight away on the solution once I saw numbers and potential.

TARA:
Do you think that amount of research was to build confidence in yourself and the idea? As opposed to going headfirst, you decided to go slow and do some digging around...

ANGUS:
I’ve read The Lean Start-up and a couple of other books.

TARA:
He recommended it to me by the way!

ANGUS:
It’s like a bible, if you haven’t read it and you’re an entrepreneur or a founder, it’ll help you get from the idea stage to the execution and you have to know all about execution. One day you must jump from the cliff and for me, the big jump came after I read The Lean Start-up. I decided to follow the principles and form the idea, form the problem and see if the project was viable. You first need to see the market, find an audience and build a solution on your own. You have to go for the market and understand its opportunities, its size and the potential. Here in Australia, in Sydney, you can dream big but you have to start small. Start here, then one day Asia Pacific, then one day, the world. You have to start somewhere so when I saw the facts and numbers I knew it was possible to go that way.

TARA:
You on-boarded your cofounder and got investors from day dot, that was your strategy...

ANGUS:
I was working part time for maybe a year and it was pretty tough to be honest - working at The Iconic and Rocket Internet during the day and had a second job at night and on weekends AND was getting married at the same time, so I can tell you it wasn’t that easy. Then I invested all my savings - absolutely all - and sold a couple of things too.

TARA:
Minus the ring, right?

ANGUS:
Yeah minus the ring! I met investors, had connections and only took a few days to raise the million dollars but it took months to negotiate the terms.

TARA:
Angus is now married, which is awesome, and we all know start-ups and running a business involves a huge amount of work. It’s sometimes all you think about. How do you negotiate your life outside the business, with your wife and your friends?

ANGUS:
It’s not an easy journey and it’s quite long. In the beginning you go crazy. I used to wake up during the night, I was drawing on walls and for my wife it was pretty complicated. I couldn’t sleep and was designing models, drawing financial plans and payments, customer flow, all the opportunities. I drew the first API myself, so every day I had new ideas. I found a couple of tricks and tweaks. When you have someone to support you, that definitely helps but you can also find other ways, like meditation. For me, it’s surfing. I used to go surfing after work and on the weekends and for me it helped a lot. You take some distance and you can release the pressure and think about something else and that’s usually when you have the ideas.

TARA:
Why do you think branding and design is important for early age start-ups?

ANGUS:
That’s a good question for Juan - Juan is my cofounder and Head of Product Design - but I believe that a brand is your identity. It’s not, as you say, the logo. When you think about Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, they connected their brand with what they do, with their purpose, with the ‘why’. If you think about accommodation, you’ll think of Airbnb, when you think of getting a driver, you think Uber and when I think about wanting to do something fun or looking for something to do, I think of Leezair. The brand identity is your voice, your face, how people will see you and it has to reflect your purpose and the ‘why you do it’. The ‘why’ is the key.

TARA:
Obviously you have a very technical background so for something as esoteric as a brand, how do you tackle that when you’re starting a business?

ANGUS:
I not only have a tech background, I used to work in finance and marketing and used to develop websites when I was a teenager and student…

TARA:
So you’re a genius?

ANGUS:
No, no! (laughing) I’m not a tech person, I’m more business, but I think from day one you have to focus on it, because if you miss the window, it might be too late. It’s something I saw at Rocket Internet when we were starting new ventures. If you only focus on discounts, on something specific, when you start to grow and scale it will be way too late or cost a fortune to change the perception people have about your brand. That’s why I think it’s very important to focus on brand from day one.

It’s needed to give a voice and a face. Design is directly connected to brand but it has become very important. 10-15 years ago it wasn’t that important to have a beautiful website, we saw it with Reddit, but if you did the same thing today it might not work because people have expectations and that is, to have something beautiful. Everyone is doing beautiful websites in the market, so you must follow the standard to make it today and to transfer the brand you’re building through the design.

TARA:
That’s an interesting point about a brand. Discounting and with the pressure of money, you’re constantly having to balance finding money with looking after your brand and the long-term vision for your company. Do you experience that pain in your business right now, making decisions for quick money to appease investors versus making decisions for the long-term vision of the brand?

ANGUS:
You always have to balance what you do today and what you’re planning to do in the future and it’s all about compromise. A business is a business and you must make money, especially when you get investors as they will ask for return and they will ask for traction. In the US it’s all about monthly active users and in Australia, it doesn’t exist, instead it’s all about revenue and traction and transactions. If you get investors, even strategic investors - friends, people you know very well - they will be asking for money, and you need to make it.

But I believe there is a compromise between your traction and your brand. If you have a good opportunity to make a lot of money but it’ll impact your brand on the other side, should you do it? I don’t have the answer but there’s a balance - you have to respect the brand and believe in what you do because it will support you in the long-term, but on the other side, if you see an opportunity to make money, usually you should take it. As a start-up you take it and investigate that path.

TARA:
When you built your team obviously you recruited Juan as a cofounder and UX designer - a very exotic team, this Leezair…

ANGUS:
He’s actually Australian!

TARA:
I know, but it sounds exotic - and one of your first hires was a brand-marketing manager, Rosa, so obviously you respected brand and design from day dot. Why did you want to hire a brand marketing manager, why was that important?

ANGUS:
We had engineers previously but on the design/marketing side we first had a UX designer. Before you build a brand you need wireframes, a concept, a design, and then you can give that design to an engineer and say ‘Ok, this is what we are going to build.’ There were a few reasons we hired our UX designer. We had worked together previously at Rocket/The Iconic and I trusted him. That’s very important and when I pitched him the project for the first time he believed straightaway and saw the opportunity. That was the most important thing. No matter what, trust is the key - when you pitch to investors, when you get your team on board, when you deal with advisors, when you deal with partners.

TARA:
Is that a gut feeling for you?

ANGUS:
It’s something you can feel, yeah. So I got him on board to build our first wireframes and first product and it worked perfectly straightaway and now I’m very happy to have him as cofounder.

In marketing, we first hired a brand manager because I wanted to give a face and voice to the business. To me it was very important - she was not a safety net but a brand keeper and she made sure, since day one, that we weren’t going into a trap, that we weren’t concealing stuff on the brand side. I saw a lot of companies fail because of this, it’s fine to make a lot of money but if you have no brand on the other side, you could have a competitor enter the market and then you’re gone. Your users won’t stick to the brand when competitors come along if you haven’t created a relationship with them.

TARA:
I’m gonna ask Juan, the cofounder and designer, and also brand marketing manager Rosa, a few questions now…
So Rosa, obviously Angus put you as brand keeper, how big is the team now?

ROSA:
It’s about 11 people all together, with about nine working the office. We are one of the biggest teams at Fishburners.

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TARA:
What tools do you use to gate keep the brand and keep every one on track internally and externally?

ROSA:
It’s a hard task and we’re always going between multiple tools to see what works for us. Usually you’d build the brand first and use it as brand keeper but we built this really innovative technology which meant we connected with all these experiences straightaway (which was awesome and no-one had ever done that before) but it also meant that we lost control of our brand because we didn’t actually know what we had in our catalogue.

All of a sudden, people were looking at our site and app and were getting all these things that represented us that we didn’t intend to represent us. It’s a constant challenge for us to look at what we’re doing and saying and make sure it is what we intend, so to do that - and we’re still learning - we firstly internally make sure we only hire people who would be users of our product. This ensures that everything we do, from engineering to design, is on brand. Would you click on that product? Would you book that way? So if we’re hiring, we are asking these sorts of questions. Secondly, we have a brand bible thanks to Dream & Do, that helped us empathy map and understand our customer. From that point we made other guides from it and built a lifestyle guide ourselves. Now that we know what our brand is and who our customer is we can make sure the business development reflects the brand.

The brand bible is the bones of the brand and it goes through the tone of voice, the market, the opportunity, our points of difference and the type of brand we are. I think Dream & Do discovered we are a challenger brand, which meant we are trying to challenge the status quo with what we do. We refer to it for everything; from writing a blog to writing a press release to make sure everything we’re saying is consistent. It’s also used for on-boarding and we get people to read it before they join and when they join, to make sure we’re on the same page. If they don’t agree with what’s on the brand bible they probably aren’t going to market us right.

TARA:
Thanks Rosa. Juan, you recently told us you suddenly called a ‘stop and reflect’ meeting with the team and this has since resulted in a pivot in your product. You believe that what you were doing didn’t reflect the brand and vision 100% - can you explain this story to the audience and help us understand how a brand can influence business decisions, and potentially cause a pivot in the product and the way it is marketed.

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JUAN:
I guess the first thing is to give a clear overview of the distinct product phases we had since beginning. There were varying priorities over those phases and in the very beginning we were very focused on what was going to get us investment, as well as something that’s gonna solve something for customers. It did, to some degree, mould how we worked, what we did and how we did it. Once we got investors, we focused on bringing those things to life, going from a prototyping phase whilst still trying to improve things and now we have a few digital products and I was able to reflect on how far we’d come and all the things we’d built as a team.

The clarity Dream & Do brought to the brand vision and us with the brand bible made it lot easier for me to reflect and compare the two. Even before the brand bible, we had a rough idea, especially Angus, who had envisioned what he was aiming for and the problems we wanted to solve. Also, a vision surrounding how we wanted to be perceived, which is obviously the meaning of the word ‘brand’ - how your audience perceives you. A lot of the stuff we do directly is our attempt to indirectly affect brand perception.

Over months and years we, to some degree, distilled the brand we were aiming for and the product evolved over time with the kind of distillation and clarity of the brand that Dream & Do documented for us. It made it much easier for me to reflect on the products we had created and to see a bit of dissonance. It was easy to see the gap between where we had been going from a product strategy point of view, and where we were. There are so many little decisions that contribute to where we end up in a product sense and there are so many technical limitations.

Perhaps we had certain ideas at particular stages but we went a different way because of the technical limitations, the time limitations or the resource limitations. Having reflected, I think - and I think everyone was thinking in the same direction - as product designers, as marketers, as business people, when we are providing something for a customer, especially in a marketplace scenario, we always have the ideal in mind, a kind of magical future situation. It’s kind of like in the movie ‘Her’, where the tech has evolved to the point it can learn about you, knows you and know the complexities of your personality and background. It knows you in terms of a product situation, and is able to recommend stuff you’ll love and cut out stuff you don’t.

I guess a lot of industries that provide products and services are learning how to use tech to pull that off. The brand bible kind of made it clear that we weren’t where we wanted to be. You know, we got to where we were, we learnt things from it and did the best we could along the way but it made it a lost easier to see, from a tech and design point of view that, ok, yeah we’re not exactly where want to be, but now it’s clearer, the steps to get there.