Why work hard for somebody else, when you can work hard for yourself… and enjoy the rewards that come with that. It’s the motivation that’s launched many businesses, but the first step to leave the 9–5 takes a lot of courage.
Emma Welsh was restructured out of a job when old friend Tom got in touch to suggest they start a business. Emma and Tom’s is one of the most recognised juice brands in Australia, but their first batch almost didn’t make it into the bottle. Emma describes the experience of leaving the 9–5 and how the role of the entrepreneur is basically about problem-solving.
Bill McCorkell experienced life as a builder and an architect before striking out on his own to combine both skills with Archiblox. Less than a decade later the business has been recognised for innovation by Fast Company in the US. Bill admits to making mistakes but says the secret is to learn from them to do better next time.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: What do you think the best thing is about starting your own business?
Interviewing Public: I think it’s about having a bit of control over your life and where you want it to go. I think rather than working for somebody else and putting money in their pocket, yeah,
Interviewing Public: I’m a registered nurse, so it’s my hours are all over the place. But you know why work for somebody else when you can work for yourself and be successful? Yeah.
Interviewing Public: If you’re doing hard work for a company, they’re making a profit, why not work for yourself and do the hard work and make profit for yourself? And the more you can scale, the more you can earn that kind of thing.
Serpil Senelmis: I’m getting a common theme here tonight.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and this is the first episode of the new season of Masters Series. Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear from entrepreneurs on how they built and grow their businesses. But right now, the task at hand is how to leave the nine to five. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have thought about it long and hard before making the leap, it’s a big decision with many unknown. Builder, an architect, Bill McCorkell made the leap back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back.
Bill McCorkell: It was such a chaotic time of architecture that I was experiencing that at one side, I was working on the delivery team. So we’re doing the construction documentation and I processed for the 15 thousands variation on the job, which is extraordinary for any commercial project. But it gave me an insight into the creativity behind architecture, which I really had a passion towards.
Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Bill shortly, but our first brave entrepreneur is Emma Welsh, co founder of Emma and Toms foods, I love her juices, and I’m so glad Emma decided to leave the nine to five back in 2014, if only for my taste buds. In this fireside chat with WeTeachMe’s Wayne Lewis, Emma reveals as the CEO, she now spends most of her time problem solving and working out solutions. And she’s got some sage advice if you’re planning to take the plunge, you can have the right idea but with the wrong capital structure, you won’t succeed.
Emma Welsh: So the first thing everyone wants to know about me and my business is Tom, is Tom, my husband, my partner? And the answer is no, he’s a friend. We met doing swimming lessons when we were 12 years old. And amazingly we’re still friends. Now many, many, many years later, would never have imagined that I would have gone into business with him, but strange things happen. So I guess my story is I really am someone who decided I wanted to have my own business, probably on leaving university. I thought it was clever and I thought I’ll learn on someone else’s time and money. And I think it’s a good idea to get experience in different facets of business in marketing, commerce, sales. And so I started off working for a commodity trading company. And I guess I’d always had a great belief in the value of brands and so I when I was thinking about my CV, and when I was busily developing myself as a person, I was looking for good brands. So I put Cargill which was a big multinational trading company, and then I worked for a Mass Corporation. And then I went to business school in Europe. So it’s all sort of brands brands trying to get into building my own personal CV and my experience, so trying to learn in different areas.
Wayne Lewis: And what age was that?
Emma Welsh: So this was straight after university. So I went to did science at Melbourne Uni which is a very general course. And then I did a little bit of strategy consulting. And then I got to a point where I was working as a strategy consultant in London and a friend of mine who had in business school came and asked me if I wanted to start a business. And this was my first time to go into business. So this thing of leaving the nine to five, I actually was invited out of the nine to five. And I accepted the invitation and I went and worked with this friend of mine. So, you know, I didn’t really take the plunge then. So that business, we built it up, we raised a lot of money. But we ran out of the money very quickly and we had, I think, the right business idea, but the totally wrong capital structure. So we basically, were trying to make it a big business very quickly. And the business which some of you may be familiar with in Australia, called A Connects was basically the same business we were trying to set up in London, that business is now worth a billion dollars, we sold out of our business for I think about 100,000 pounds or something like that. It just shows you can have the right idea but the wrong structure and you don’t succeed. Anyway, after that experience, which was a fine experience, who I’m still friends with the four people that I was in business with in the UK, which I’m very proud of, and the investors, we had we’re still friends with them, I still stay in touch with some of them. And I think that’s all worked out well, because we communicated well all the way through.
Wayne Lewis: So obviously moving on from there and talking a little bit more about Emma and Tom then. You’ve left the nine to five, you’ve experienced a lot of things to do within the business world, how is that equipped you then and kind of what were the first hurdles going into permanent that you had to overcome and making that a success?
Emma Welsh: So, I mean, the first one is actually starting, and that’s, in my view that the most difficult thing to do is to start, and the second break time I left my job I was actually booted out of my job. So I was working at the NAB and my whole team was restructured out so I was sort of out on the street. And actually, again, the second time Tom actually appeared from where he’d been in Europe and he actually again, he asked me if I wanted to start this business and he had the idea of a juice business. So again, it wasn’t really me starting and leaving the nine to five. So I think I’ve never had probably the courage to do it, but I at the time, sort of fell into it. But I mean, starting from scratch I think it’s really hard but it’s, you know, we went to the market, we bought our fruit juices, we made up our different blends and tested things out. And then we, it was a matter of working out, well, what do we need next? We need bottles, and we need caps, and we need labels, and we need a design of our labels. And each time we’d think about it, and we’d think, well, we need to what do we do? Who do we speak to? And we’d, we’d work it out. And I think that’s in business some a lot about problem solving. And as we go along now, I mean, still I feel my most of my time is problem solving and working solutions to things and always things are changing. I mean, I think, for someone thinking about going into their own business, some, to me, it’s good to be very comfortable with change, because change is always going to happen. And things are never going to go according to plan and, and I think this thing of I’ve got to have the right idea but to have the perfect idea. You know, I mean, our idea was to have a juice business. we’ve now moved into a healthy drinks and snacks business. My idea was to never be in distribution, we’ve now got 40 vans on the road, so…
Wayne Lewis: Talking about that skill set and obviously adapting, you guys have ventured overseas as well. And is that exploring those foreign markets? Is that something that you work on today?
Emma Welsh: Yeah. So I mean, we have a business model, which is very much based on relationships. I mean, maybe it’s just the people we are, but we want to do business with people we like. And we really choose people that we like. And so we’ve sort of fallen into our export markets really, just because we’ve happened to meet people we like. And so we’ve got a guy in the Middle East. And we’ve got a whole team in China, is it’s turned out those businesses are all people who are wanting to set up their own new distribution business, which I think works really well because a new distribution business they need to have product to sell, and they need to go and get customers. Most distributors, in my experience really don’t do anything. But the other thing is, is that they need to be very well funded. And actually a guy in the Middle East is just giving me some grief because I think he’s not well funded enough.
Wayne Lewis: When you are choosing those people, how much time do you spend on that? Those relationships that you’re forming so behind the scenes?
Emma Welsh: You know, we get approached by a lot of different people and I think the thing is to, for us to be very clear on what we’re trying to do and what’s important to us at the moment. For example, the other day, we’ve had this Charity Water, which we’ve done as a collaboration with Cotton On and we sell it to cafes, and we donate basically the profit from that so it’s about 25 cents a bottle, anyway Cotton On decided that we were all too small for them, and they didn’t want to do it anymore. So we thought, well, we actually like this, we’ve got customers that want to buy this product. So we’ll do our own and we then needed to find someone who is a charity to support. So I came across Street, which is I think, is a fantastic organization. I went and had a chat to Bec, who’s the co-founder of that, and she said, I have a great idea, you know, very good. Just one problem. We really don’t want to have any plastic, you know, in our shop, so we looked at cartons and other ways of doing it. Anyway, we eventually realized we could do 100% recycled PT bottle and she was happy with that because it’s saving 82% of the resources that would have been used in a virgin bottle. It’s an example of someone we liked, it’s a good relationship and it’s helping us do what we wanted to do but it’s also helping her and what she wants to do and her beliefs.
Wayne Lewis: And it comes back to the problem solving as well. So your husband actually works for the company as well. So everybody asks whether Tom is your husband, but you, your husband worked there. How do you manage those relationships internally? Does that have an effect?
Emma Welsh: For me, working with a partner is pretty difficult. It’s hard to leave business at home. The biggest thing that I’ve learned in terms of trying to make our relationship at work happy, because here’s the sales guy, and I’m the CEO, and typically that is quite a stressful fraught relationship. So the biggest thing I’ve learned to do is to moderate my tone of voice, so to be really careful what tone of voice I use when I’m speaking to him. And that certainly is help but it’s definitely not easy. And I find you know, one of us might want to talk about work and the other one doesn’t and just leaving it at work is for me important. And business is stressful. So there’s always ups and downs. And I mean, his skills are really valuable to our business so we really need to have him in the business. Yeah, he’s been a key driver in the business. So the good thing is we managed to stay together as well.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. Do you have people that have left the nine to five wants some flexible working? Or do you have conversations with maybe current staff members about leaving that working environment, if they come to you and ask for advice?
Emma Welsh: Yeah, more we recruit people that want part-time jobs, and I found it quite an effective way to bring in really better levels of skill experience than I could otherwise afford. And there’s actually quite a lot of people, often women looking for part-time work that’s actually meaningful and enjoyable. So I basically breaking roles into smaller roles. And then as the business grows, usually they are quite happy to take on more work. So you know, maybe the child’s got a bit older or whatever their circumstances often change.
Wayne Lewis: And going back to the moment of realizing that Emma and Tom’s was obviously doing well, and it was getting some traction. Did you still have that style of mindset where you’re quite frugal with the things that you’re maybe investing in, the stuff that you’re taking on and things like that? Or were there any moments where you thought, you know, this is great, we’re getting carried away? Or did you maybe keep a rein on things when things were going well?
Emma Welsh: I mean, I think that’s one of the many mistakes that we’ve made is, and I do think it’s a bit of coming out of big corporate. So Tom and I both had worked for large companies, we’re both used to having colleagues, we were both used to having plenty of money to spend. And I think we weren’t nearly thrifty enough. I mean, we thought we were being thrifty, but we hired people too quickly. You hear so often you should be working on your business, not in the business. I believe at the start it’s so hard to get money coming in the door. It’s so hard to be profitable, that we would have been a lot better off if we hadn’t had some of those people. If we’ve done more ourselves. We’re still getting better at it but it’s hard to make that final profit that ends up in your pocket.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. And what some of the things you do on a daily basis to maybe develop yourself and to keep on learning?
Emma Welsh: I mean I think reading a lot has been really valuable. The other thing, probably just talking to people, I mean, every person I speak to will give me a little bit of information that helps me make better decisions. So it’s very easy to sit at my desk and be busy. But actually making the effort to get out and talk to people is much more important, I think.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah, definitely. Can we have a round of applause for Emma, please?
Serpil Senelmis: Doing business with people you like sounds like one of the great advantages of leaving the nine to five to start your own business. Thanks for that advice, Emma. We’ll hear from builder architect and entrepreneur Bill McCorkell right after this.
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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Ad Guy, don’t give up your nine to five. Well, at least not until you’ve heard from Bill McCorkell. As a fourth-generation builder and second-generation architect, Bill didn’t think twice about leaving the nine to five and hanging out his shingle. Since jumping into the world of business, he’s designed a carbon positive home and he says it was his brother’s encouragement to go into partnership and the challenges that followed that led to the building blocks of his own business, Archiblox.
Bill McCorkell: So I studied architecture at Melbourne University. My old man was an architect. I’ve always wanted to be an architect. I had heaps of passion towards architecture design and just finding better ways for good details. Finishing up University of Melbourne, I was lucky enough to be employed by a firm in Kuala Lumpur. Coming into this firm, I always had this perception that architects all we did was design amazing buildings. Unfortunately, this firm I worked with, they were extraordinarily efficient in the way that I ran a Business of Architecture. I was lucky, I designed 10/20, 30/50 storey towers that were never built. I designed a variety of different sort of houses that would never build. I designed as exhibition buildings that were never built. I left at the result of the economic crisis, that here in the late 1990s and came back to Melbourne working on federal squared. So I’ve gone from a amazingly efficiently run architectural business into a chaotic, creative studio that was designing Federation Square part of the lab architectural studios. It was such a chaotic time of architecture that I was experiencing that at one side, I was working on the delivery team. So we’re doing the construction documentation. And I processed the 15,000 variation on the job, which is extraordinary for any commercial project. But it gave me an insight into the creativity behind architecture, which I really had a passion towards. A couple of years later, I jumped forward and I was playing cricket in India with my brother, another massive passion of mine, India and cricket. And over there, my brother had joined the family building company called McCorkell Constructions. In a night out over there, we decided that the brothers should join together after a successful day on the middle of the pitch where we probably hit 5 or 10 runs together. We then decided that I should join the McCorkell constructions on my return back to Australia, which I did left Federation Square, jumped into a commercial building company, which had been established for 70 years at the time, an architect and a builder working with an older brothers business that had been entrenched within for 10 years, worked really well for quite a while, as an architect, I had a turbocharged learning experience on how to actually build, how to manage building how to estimate how to procure basically the ins and outs of the building trade. So from an architectural perspective, I was extraordinarily lucky to actually get those learnings and also work in a very well established business as a director, and having lots of learnings along the way of how to actually run and manage a business from a director’s point of view. That five years on an architect and the builder a younger brother and an older brother, decided there’s only so many arguments that could have been potentially lose. So having a chat to a friend who was leaving his business quarter, a tech guy to head overseas, I joined up with his business partner. And then for the next four years, I ran a business core tech IArchitects absolutely loved architecture. So for me, this is one of my biggest passions was getting back into architecture and running what became and has become a very successful architectural business. In the first two years, we took the business from one and a half staff members to over 20. We had a diversification of products ranging from single residences through to multi-res and a lot of commercial and a lot of hospitality. But it was something I really loved doing the architecture, but I really disliked being on the other side of the fence from the builder. And the amount of times I’ll sit down with builders knowing exactly what process I’d gone through to get to a price, knowing exactly what the price should be, and then having the arguments over how did you arrive at this type of figure really, really annoyed me. So after two or three years working with technae I started up a second business whilst technae called Archiblox. Because this is where my passion really has been and was, you know, I had the opportunity of not only being an architect, but also being a builder at the same time. I really enjoyed the opportunity of taking ownership of a project from the initial contact with client through the handing over the keys and completion. So that’s a really good way from an architectural experience of looking into a business and finding a way that we could manage and be part of the whole client journey. We looked at prefabrication as being a methodology that would work really well for us, being an architect have been exposed to the volume housing and the vanilla nature of the housing market. We really believe that we could make a difference in creating a product that we could take to market and sell to clients. And in a way that we could do that was through prefabrication. Really early on in Australia prefabrication became quite a staple back in the gold rush to areas of the 1850s. But right through to modern days prefabrication has been used in Australia, but in a really small percentage. And so when you wake up overseas and other countries and the take up of prefabrication, Australia had a really, really low percentage to take.
Bill McCorkell: One of our biggest barriers as prefabrication was the perception of the prefabricated buildings than the general public. A lot of the clients had to take a lot of convincing as to why they should buy an architecturally designed prefabricated house when the general market population looked at the donner type of scenario that was prevalent throughout the mining industry. So we thought what was a really good way of then creating a good product that people would take some traction to, and then create really good stories? I think the society with done really well. Archiblox is create stories around our products delivered, they stories and building up with a way of then building our brand. And so what we’ve looked at as the business, what other stories we can use in our business, to help build our brand. Being a kid growing up in Melbourne, we used to do lots of camping, and one of the things as a kid growing up in Melbourne, I’ve really loved the bush and one thing I’ve always loved about the bush is the first nation people’s relationship with that bush. So random things we’ve done recently setting up our Reconciliation Action Plan, which to me is a no brainer for any Australian business that you can really then start giving back to the first nation people. From our key boxes perspective, it starts giving us really good insights into the different nations around Victoria, New South Wales, so that when we give stories to our clients, we can pass on the stories from the first nation people and start really layering up information for clients and their knowledge and their appreciation of the land that they then become caretakers on as an architect of sustainability. Looking at different schemes, like carbon-neutral schemes that we can then start putting back into the environment of gains and really good story that we have in the business. And then also different associations that you become members on. For example, I currently sit on the prefab balls, board directors as the national organization, also sort of how the Father Bob Foundation, and so again, those are just really good avenues that we use as a business to start promoting the different ideologies we have in the beliefs we have. So what these things give us is good PR and what these PR gives us is good access to clients. As a business, we’ve really thought about the stories that we do, we’ve really thought about the products that we’ve developed, we’ve really thought about the organizations that were associated with. And what that leads to is lots of opportunities to then promote and cross-promote, and really use our key blocks of social media platform to then build our client base. So as a business, who sells houses and sells commercial buildings, we would generate 80% of our leads come through some sites that I’m really proud of at the moment. We’re the most followed architectural business in Australia on Instagram, and social media pages, and a site that we do really push heavily. And that gets me to my wife who works with me and runs all of our social media. And so collaboratively, we do really run our key blocks. The other thing we use as part of building our brand is the testimonial page with clients. We’ve made lots of mistakes as a business along our journey. And if it’s something that we don’t learn about every time, then it’s something we can’t grow as a business. But one thing that we really appreciate and we really gain a lot of traction, who for future classes for our testimonials, and the way that we can then promote and cross-promote through our brands?
Bill McCorkell: Diversification is like we massive fans of Rocky blocks as well. I really like diversification, what we do not in product offerings, but also in innovation because it keeps a lot of interesting staff and fellow colleagues within the business. And it’s also making us always think about better ways of doing it. But we’ve had calamities along the way I think, as every business has had. And again, looking at the calamities and looking at the opportunities to get better is one of those big things. We had a manufacturing plant down in one fagin Gippsland up until 2016. As the complexity of the projects increased, also the skill level within the business increased. In 2016 I had an opportunity of taking over some land, a facility down at Laverton and I looked at that as an opportunity being a Melbourne-based business head office in Melbourne that I could take my manufacturing facility from one baggie and bring it down to Melbourne. It was proved to be an extraordinarily difficult time in the business because all of my manufacturing side of the business out of 60 people, I had one person follow the business. And so we had to retool throughout the whole business. And at the same time, our project became more complex, the geography of the landing of these projects became more complex. So it became it was an extraordinary difficult 18 months 16 months. And to add to those calamities, we also then entered into a commercial market. So this is our first large commercial project we did was part of the level crossing removal. So this is the signal control center that we did for LendLease and CPD so to tier one contractors, we went into a little bit naively onto this project. We did in such a way that we didn’t realize we’d signed up to a project that if it wasn’t delivered on the day of final completion that were exposed to $6 million a day in third-party damages. So business like ours or any business, that’s just an extraordinary process to go through. During the process of manufacturing, one of our contractors turned to us and said, the concrete floor that we had built for these 25-tonne buildings that were six, five and a half meters high, but five and a half meters wide by eighteen meters long, the deflection through the building would be more than the 25 mils allowed through the manufacturer’s warranties on the concrete flooring. In fact, the spaghetti-like structure that would be putting these buildings onto had no structural integrity at all. So we had to go through this mad rush of trying to redesign through transport-specific engineers. This whole steel cage that we had to then find the fabricators during specific timeframe who ended up being is marked down in Launceston and the rigmarole about bringing this thing back up on ferries back into Melbourne, then to complete the project in the facility yet at Laverton to take out the dating on to then install on time and complete with all of these things that lined up was one of the most stressful times I’ve ever had as a business owner but also is one of the most rewarding. So in about two months into this process, I realized we need a hand. And so I basically spoke to one of the commercial manager directors LendLease basically went in hand in hand and gave them four demands that I needed and if I didn’t breach these four things, they wouldn’t have a railway infrastructure project that was worth $1.7 billion. That would not come online because we’re a $4 million part of that process. And so really, thankfully, they saw the dilemma that we were in, they took our payment terms from 45 days into the month, down to 15 days. Like I was all this assistance that we needed, and we basically left the project completed on time. We didn’t lose any money, and it was such an amazing effort from a business like Archiblox are basically worked in domestic prefabrication to deliver a basic 600 square meters. computer. So my lesson there is be really well aware of what you’re trying to do, and don’t chase dollars. But we can’t achieve all these things without the right structure and the right team behind us. I’m a massive fan of learning and I think any business owner, you have to be aware of learning. And we’re only as good as the staff that we have on the ground and part of our colleagues and part of what we work with and the community that we create is all about who we’re the type of person we work with. And part of that is the creation of the values that we all work towards. Part of the colleagues we have, the clients we work through, and the suppliers that we work alongside Archiblox has had some amazing stories as an architect, I’m probably really proud of one of the awards we got given in 2016 was voted the third most innovative architectural firm by Fast Company over in the States. As a builder, I’m most proud of the construction award that we won early this year for the senior control center that we built for the city cofferdam online and I like to think just those two awards there alone have really signified at our key blocks that we really managed to find relevance in both the architectural field and the construction field.
Serpil Senelmis: So despite Bill’s phenomenal success, he’s had calamities along the way and opportunities to get better as well. That’s comforting to know. Thanks, Bill. And thank you to you, Emma well, next time on Masters Series, that moment my startup took off. After leaving the nine to five, the dream for our startup is for the website to be inundated the phone to ring off the hook, and our business to hum like a well-oiled machine. How to make that happen is the challenge. We’ll have two entrepreneurs to put that into context for us next time. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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