I have been self employed for 20 years. In that time I have started 13 different businesses involving 30 outlets (7 as renovations, 23 as start-up ‘gray walls’ – nothing but gray wall cement). Incorporated in these outlets were 2 chains, one in retail (10 outlets) and one in hospitality (9 outlets). Both chains got to but could not exploit the opportunity of national expansion via a franchising system.
I have also worked for 5 years in a venture capitalist advisory service busness. Developing natural resources in Australia, New Zealand and the South-West pacific we successful secured client funding ($1m to $40m) working with Fiji Development Bank, CDC (UK), Government Solomon Islands, NSW FISAP Forestry, Turnbul & Doyle, Macquarie Bank, ABN-Amro.
Retail (Department Stores, Specialty Stors, Trade Shows), Hospitality (Café, Take-away, Restaurant, Hotel, food-court), Manufacturing (Flooring, furniture, sawmilling), Resources (Nickel, gold, timber), Consultancy (education, Business Architect), Construction (Internal Linings), Internet – Social Community Networks – Acedemic Qualifications in Accounting & finance (QUT).
Entrepreneurship because (1) I have started 13 new business ventures involving over 30 outlets (2) I believe that entrepreneurship offeres unique solutions to problems faced by both individuals and society at large (3) and I am passionate about it.
Education because (1) I have been a vocational teacher and faciliator in entrepreneurial studies for the past 3 years (2) I authored and resourced an innovative National qualification in “Vocational Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship (3) because I see it as the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity in the first half of the 21st century (4) and I am passionate about it.
Coffee because (1) I have opened 16 outlets (Take Aways, cafes, restaurants and hotels) selling fine Italian espresso coffee (2) I have unique insights into successful coffee shop establishment and making that nectar of the gods “Espresso” (3) and I am passionate about it.
Plain English Accounting because (1) I spent 10 years studying it, in a 6 year University course (2) I have struggled and argued with it, but used it effectively in my entrepreneurial endeavours (3) and I am passionate about it.
“Live without passion – die without honor” PB
Lord Mayor’s – Multi-cultural program
Southbank Institute of Technology offer the following courses for those wanting to prepare themselves to start their own business.
“Learning a lesson is a much less painful than having to be taught one” PB
My Entrepreneurial Journey
“I’m not sure where I’m going – but I’m still fully committed to the journey” PB
“Dad I am going to be an entrepreneur” – a red faced 16 year old school boy said as he rushed up the stairs at home. He’d heard about entrepreneurs from his economics teacher that day.
The father muttered something about finishing his studies and getting some work experience but from that day on nothing was to dampen the boy’s enthusiasm.
I took my fathers wise counsel and worked at David Jones for a decade, trained in accountancy at QUT, then completed more years in senior management.
I remember my day of entrepreneurial commitment well…I was the sole income earner for a family of four trying to pay off a mortgage…every dollar was fully committed with nothing spare.
One lunchtime I decided it was time for action not talk…I walked to the Business Names office and registered my business name. On the way back to work I looked at the receipt for $32 and thought what an utter waste of money if I don’t now follow through with this dream. I reckon I have since invested over $10 million in the past 20 years of entrepreneurial endeavour on the strength of that first spend.
I sold my family home and put it all on my first entrepreneurial venture – a specialist retail craft/wool store in the Queen Street mall. I had been national buyer for these products at David Jones department store.
With no government assistance, just raw enthusiasm and passion coupled with a couple of hundred thousand dollars spent on TV advertising, I grew that business to 10 stores. I was stretched (literally) from Tweed Heads to Townsville. I look back now and reckon that the corporate world and my qualifications had only given me 10% of what I needed to survive in this SME World.
I was trying to sell franchises while the fundamental assumptions that underpinned the business were wrong. I tried to apply corporate thinking and management style to SME management and it was a bad fit.
The range was vast and seasonal in demand causing summer cash flow problems, the target market was too narrow to support the business and the margins were too low to support the overheads. Management of distant stores was overwhelming and specialised staffing was expensive. David Jones, the established corporate retailer, could accommodate these issues with ease but they were a noose around the neck of my first start-up venture.
I sold and closed what I could and gave the franchisees back their agreements and headed to Sydney to lick my wounds.
After a little while I opened a coffee shop in Sydney’s Chinatown. The community taught me Cantonese and I taught them the love of fine Italian espresso coffee.
It redressed my first business issues with now a manageable inventory, a fifty two week, twenty four hour customer demand, a target market of every person with a mouth, margins of buy for one sell for ten and one store staffed by juniors and backpackers. I had discovered a business model that worked and work I did – seven days a week.
The sale of this first coffee shop underwrote a build/sell program of a second café, a pub license, a Darling Harbour restaurant and a food-court bar. All located within a few blocks of the same street.
Then came the offer to own freehold property right in the heart of the CBD of Sydney – it was irresistible! Trouble was I needed a big-dollar-partner!
I sold all the businesses I had and punted it all on a fifty percent freehold share of the great Australian dream…a central city pub. Within a year as the working partner, I rejuvenated that run down business and had doubled the turnover. I had it made.
I was about to learn about sharks in business.
Sharks are business people who have little need to create their own entrepreneurial ventures because they just rob creative, enthusiastic and hard-working entrepreneurs of theirs.
Such was the case with my ‘Aussie dream’. These people use the courts to leverage positions for themselves in a way that whilst you may be in the right you can not fund your fight. So cutting my losses, I again walked away.
I was then offered the opportunity to use my accountancy qualifications and business experience to join a recently formed Merchant Bank raising finance for resource businesses in the South-West Pacific. I took up the offer particularly as I would need to spend a lot of time at the branch office in the jewel of the Pacific…Fiji.
That time as senior analyst gave me insight into the other side of start-up business. I saw entrepreneurs that had brilliant ideas and great enthusiasm but lacked the business planning and financial modelling needed to convince key stakeholders to engage. This became my major function in the organisation – packaging their dreams into a form, model and structure that would release resources to underwrite their ventures.
I worked with other merchant and mainstream banks, international financiers and international development agencies and was successful in raising up to forty million dollars in finance for projects including nickel and gold mines, timber milling and other manufacturing in Fiji, Australia and the Solomon Islands.
My years of merchant banking gave me the opportunity to travel and see what other entrepreneurs were doing but after five years I was beginning to miss the cut and thrust of being engaged in my own entrepreneurial ventures.
I then opened my first pre-packaged sandwich store in Sydney CBD after recognising a brilliant concept that I saw in London. Proving its commercial credentials, I approached an international venture capitalist to underwrite a business plan with an eye to a public float.
They ‘kicked the can’ for three million. Nearing the end of the initial rollout of nine stores I was working with franchise consultants to sell the franchises, repay the equity finance and continue the plan of owning the central supply kitchen and the IP rights giving me a franchise fee income stream.
I remember being approached by a corporate manager during this time who asked me for the secret of entrepreneurial success. I could see that he wanted a simple answer. So I told him…‘mate, just be very good at everything’.
I had learnt the lessons of SME modeling and the one about the sharks but I was now about to learn the lessons of commercial corporate collateral damage. I was the victim in a global war of control. The timing was atrocious, coming at the slowest sales time of the year. It caused such financial hardship that the only card I had was capitulation.
Again I had been to the mountain, again I had seen the Promised Land and again I had to start again and never breath a word about my loss – bug$&r!
I still had enough motivation to start two restaurants and one more cafe in Sydney but the legs were getting tired and the call to join our extended families back in Brisbane was strong.
I sent my family to Brisbane and stayed on to wind up the business in Sydney.
Wondering where fate would take me here in Brisbane, I started applying for every job that I thought an ex-entrepreneur could possibly do. It was like a scene from the film ‘The Life of Brian’.
BP were first to offer me a position to manage of one of their stations – so BP it was. A great company but they were incapable of satisfying the entrepreneurial drive that is inherent in many of us.
Later, I responded to an advertisement for an experienced entrepreneur to write a national course in entrepreneurship at a Vocational Graduate Certificate level that was being facilitated by Southbank Institute of Technology.
I got the job and the course. The Vocational Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship, is now a nationally recognised qualification that is currently being delivered at Southbank.
In doing research for this project, I was stunned to find out 40 thousand Queenslanders go into business each year and fifty percent of them admit that they do not have the skills to do so, according to the Global Entrepreneur Monitor.
These are numbers that should never be given to me! Identifying the opportunity and believing that I was uniquely skilled to resource a solution, I set about developing a product to meet this gap…Southbank’s Start Your Own Business program whose main aim is to ‘ help people realise their entrepreneurial dreams’. I continue to explore opportunities in the world of education particularly for those who through geographic or financial constraint cannot access it.
Poem – A qualification by experience
Whilst you studied ……………………… I staggered,
Whilst you sat ………………….………I stumbled,
Whilst you thought … .……..….. I suffered,
Whilst you pondered ……… I blundered.
But whilst you asked ……… I applied,
Whilst you mulled …….… I made,
Whilst you doubted .…… I did,
And whilst you listened, I lived.
“Education from experience holds its value because it is usually acquired at great personal cost.” PB