Dreaming big for your business is a good exercise to prepare for that moment your startup takes off. What will be the biggest challenges?
Andrew Hardwick founded strategic creative agency Hard Edge in his home 12 years ago. Today the award-winning business works with Mercedes Benz, Telstra and the National Road Safety Partnership. Andrew explains how he overcame the challenges in those early days.
Joe Woodham is the founder of Torii Recruitment, specialising in finding the right team members for the IT sector. Joe describes the benefits of working alongside his competitors and how he consults them for advice.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: Just imagine that your startup went ballistic, what do you think the greatest challenge would be?
Interviewing Public: Keeping up. If we just like putting out fires in every single area of the business, being able to cope with it, probably.
Interviewing Public: Trying to not get ahead of myself. I’ve basically got the next 20 years planned out in my head and the vision that I want to get to. So if it went nuts, it would be still trying to always do the next important step, which I’m still trying to learn and execute today.
Interviewing Public: The greatest challenge I believe, would be having to find the right team, hunting over-responsible interesting actuators, trusting other people to put as much commitment and care into something that is yours essentially.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to be Success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and in this episode of Masters Series our startup is about to take off. We’ve put in the hard work to build our business. The customers are happy, the investors are excited, and we’re scaling up. It’s time to find some employees, fast. Joe Woodham is the founder at Torii’s, specializing in IT recruitment. Joe has helped build the teams of some of Australia’s best-known startup.
Joe Woodham: So when I started out as weird as it sounds, I went straight to one of my competitors. And I got their advice and fell open with him right now more than happy to sort of go this is how we started. This is people you should speak to. And I’ve always gone and spoke with my competitors.
Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Joe shortly but first a founder who’s strapped themselves to the rocket as this startup took off. Andrew Hardwick founded this strategic creative agency Hard Edge in his home. And 12 years later, the award-winning agency counts Mercedes Benz, Telstra, and Mercer among their clients. In this fireside chat with WeTeachMe’s Wayne Lewis, Andrew reveals that even though things went well, in the early days of Hard Edge, he struggled with the isolation of working alone at home. So he got an office and before long, his startup was taking off.
Andrew Hardwick: I’m a trained graphic designer and that’s where I used to follow my passion do my thing. So I used to in high school, I was doing logos for companies and stuff wherever I could and earning $1. So I was always sort of wanting to do my own thing. And looking back now I can say that I guess people change as a you know, move through life, but I also would say it wasn’t that clear and formulators you’d probably like it to be. So I just knew I wanted to try and get out and do my own thing. And the fact that it changed into something different quite quickly probably shows that I was finding my faith. Yeah, about what that will be.
Wayne Lewis: So was there a strategic plan around that in the early stages? Or was it kind of just get up and go out and do it and see what happens?
Andrew Hardwick: I don’t think I knew what strategy was when I started to be honest, well I had a plan as far as I did what I like to think is a smart way so I had a certain amount of money I was earning each year and I went out and that wasn’t affected at all so at least I was earning the same income and I’ll starting something from scratch but as far as a plan goes that you know it’s just get out and then try and grow the business and I, you know, I had some leads and people to talk to all that sort of stuff but it was certainly a risk but I risk from point of view is the worst that can happen is I have to go and find a job again. So…
Wayne Lewis: Yeah, so after launching then was it everything you expected it to be kind of did you have a picture built up in your mind before then and?
Andrew Hardwick: Well, I started working from home in a small one-bedroom apartment. So I had a definite picture on you every wall but it was funny, like two months in. I was sitting there one day at my desk, and doors open. It was a beautiful sunny day outside here I was living my dream. You know, I was seeing it goes very happy about I had a car that always wanted to buy in the garage. And this is a good life and actually felt this sort of wave of depression come over. He was like, What’s wrong with me? And I just realized it was the isolation of doing that, that there was struggle, so I didn’t say that one coming. So it wasn’t initially what I probably imagined. So I then went out and got an office and started to try and make sure I got more contact with people.
Wayne Lewis: So talking about changing behaviors yourself. Did you feel as though that was probably one of the most important things in your entrepreneurial journey? Would you say you’ve been able to evolve and adapt and understand your needs a little bit more?
Andrew Hardwick: Yeah, I think well, you think you know something about business and went out and I didn’t really know anything. You know, I had no experience really and if you’re not exposing yourself to outside influences, and you’re not growing and you’re not learning. And so I think that was my big learning early on that I had to expose myself to be able to, to grow and move the business.
Wayne Lewis: So when you decided to grow the bit or when you were able to grow the business and when you got your head above the water, kind of what were your main focuses, then what was your attention drawn to?
Andrew Hardwick: That’s a hard one to answer. I think I was literally just focused on trying to find the next gig, if that makes sense. So I was trying to make people and trying to find avenues of getting new work and, and probably not focusing on the right things. You know, I was the sole trader at the end of the day, so I didn’t have to sort of put a lot of systems in place and that kind of thing, but I wasn’t strategically thinking about it. If that makes sense?
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. So whereas now you’re probably able to pick and choose some of the people that you work with and be a bit more selective, would you say?
Andrew Hardwick: Doing my best as an agency, and it’s been important for myself, the agency but also the staff with had to sack a few clients along the way. And I make no apologies for that. There’s certain way to treat people or talk to people and as good business and is bad business as well. And so life’s too short to waste your time spending with those that don’t want to move forward or work in a collaborative way.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah, sure. Your business, obviously, it works a lot around telling stories for other brands, what would be your advice to the people out there about telling a story about their brand and getting their message out there?
Andrew Hardwick: It’s a very big question, Wayne. I think at the end of the day, quite simply, there has to be some sort of plan there that’s founded with a truth about the business about yourselves there is actually something that you have proof points against. So, to have a brand value proposition that has meaning and substance behind it is key to move forward and it constantly changes I mean, as a business we are constantly evaluating our brand via proposition as well. So and further to that, you know, having a story you know, like knowing your why and, and all that kind of thing is also very important. Not just from external point of view, but from an internal point of view, if you don’t personally engage and relate to what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, you’re probably not going to do very well. So, yeah.
Wayne Lewis: Sure. So what does the future hold for Hard Edge? What are the kind of things that you work on this moment in time? And yeah, it’s the future.
Andrew Hardwick: We’ve probably tied our proposition in the last three months. So we’re currently moving the type of work that we’ve been doing to something new. And funnily enough, those conversations that we’re having now are so much easier and fluid, because we’re even more sure about who we are, where we’re going and what we want to do. So the current projects we still work with those brands mentioned at the start. And that’s sort of day in and day out kind of work, which we will stay with, but it’s probably more trying to tap into those bigger projects to change behavior and, you know, getting onto those pitch panels and what have you and government scenario that we haven’t had a lot of work in previously and that’s a whole new minefield that I’m probably starting to try and get an understanding of.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. And then just touching a little bit on the future of work then. So within your organization, are you kind of utilizing the gig economy? Do you have people that are working maybe sometimes on shorter contracts and things like that? Or how do you see the future?
Andrew Hardwick: Yeah, well, growth is a bit of a struggle, a juggling act of having enough work for the people that are there. And you know, it’s a service-based industry, so we charge by the hour. So to make sure that we have sustained growth is a challenge. And so you do have to look at those other options. We’ve always used freelancers, and, you know, we’ve got freelancers we work with on a daily basis, but we can’t justify obviously having them there permanently. So it’s, um, as far as the future goes, we do a program with women University around road safety, and it’s now a mandatory program with a design communication students. We’ve been running that for three years now and we’re taking it to Sydney next year. This is something that we’re very passionate about, but it’s actually become quite a proof point around the type of work that we’re capable of doing and wanting to do. So it’s probably moving. You know, just as I said, that type of work that we’re doing in the future.
Wayne Lewis: And touching a little bit on the passion, though, obviously doing quite a lot of work around the road safety elements. What was it that led you to that initially?
Andrew Hardwick: I guess? Well, I’ve always been interested in cars. And so I ended up working on car magazines and so forth when I was younger. And, and I guess, you know, I had a network from there. And I also had an interest there. And I got involved, probably five years ago at the inception of the National Road Safety Partnership Program, of which Hard Edge is now a partner of but I also sit on committees and so forth from time to time. And it’s just, you know, there’s so many dumb little things that we do that you just become passionate about trying to make, make change in that area, so.
Wayne Lewis: And do any of your current staff members share their passions with you and talk about maybe going their own way and do you, are you open to those types of conversations with your staff members?
Andrew Hardwick: Yeah, of course. I mean, everyone is their own individual and whether they want to be in my business or they want to be somewhere else, that’s where they should be. So always try and support people in their own interests. I’m lucky to have a couple of guys that work very closely with me, the strategy director and creative director are both very passionate about the business and the direction we’re going. So there’s no way I’d be able to take the business in that direction without their support. And some staff probably would rather work on sort of different things that are probably more tangible to themselves and so forth. But you can’t sort of do that. But the work is I think the variety of work creates the interest there for those people.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. Can we have a round of applause please, for Andrew?
Serpil Senelmis: So sometimes you have to sack a few clients along the way to work with people that align with your values. That’s an interesting perspective from Andrew. We’ll hear from team builder and IT recruitment specialist Joe Woodham right after this.
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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks Ad Guy. Joe Woodham is the founder of Torii who specialized in IT recruitment like Andrew, he got started in business at home. Joe’s talking to WeechMe’s Wayne Lewis in this fireside chat. He says initially The fear of other people’s judgment. And the fear of returning to a nine to five job was his most powerful drivers.
Joe Woodham: I come from a sales background, I got offered a job in recruitment. I had absolutely no idea what recruitment was at design, and less about IT, so I’ve sort of jumped in. The next couple of years, I had my journey from sort of a small recruitment company to a global, learn quite a lot along the way. And towards the end, I started to really specialize in what I did. And in doing so I started to build a personal brand, and really started to build some really good relationships with the businesses that I was working with at the time. And in doing so, I started to notice that there was quite a large gap in the market in terms of the way the recruitment company that I was working for at the time was asking me to deliver my services, and then the way that my clients wanted me to deliver what I was doing. So, in 2012, or 2011, I kind of decided well, I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Probably now or never, saved up a bit of money so I could sort of blow myself for a couple of months and go, well, let’s give it a crack and see what we can do. So, in 2012, I started working from home, which back then, I guess it wasn’t as common, but it was quite enjoyable. And after a couple of weeks, I made my first deal with my first client, which was a small tech company in a town called Red Bubble. And I think closing my first deal, it kind of gave me that realization, well, I can actually do this, there’s a future and probably can make this work. So I was quite lucky. My first client being a red bubble, that at the time, they were pretty small, but they grew quite rapidly. So I kind of tacked my business onto the back of their growth, I suppose. And I learned a lot from that journey. I was working pretty closely with the CTO there at the time, and they kind of gave me a lot of guidance in what they wanted me to do. And I was able to shape what I was doing with them and offer that service to other clients and sort of grow around that, in that. I was really focusing on trying to build personal brand and leverage my niche that I’ve found and cut into that. So I was trying to do things differently to what other recruiters were. And I think that’s, that’s where I really sort of made my strides and I’ve had a lot of growth.
Wayne Lewis: And were there any moments a little bit like Andrew, where you’re working from home and you thought to yourself, you know, maybe this is a bit of a depression phase or any hurdles in those early days for you?
Joe Woodham: Not a depression phase. I think the fear of failure was my biggest issue of the star. Like you have a few wins of the star but then you have a few things that don’t go away and I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to try and move forward as quick as possible and having people kind of looking at you going, alright, you’ve given up a good job to go out on your own and sort of judge you I suppose more than anything, so I put my pressure back to make sure that I am doing things right and succeeding and I think that was my biggest issue was I was always worried that I’d have to go back and get another job and that that scared the shit out of me and still it did for a long time.
Wayne Lewis: And going back to relationship building and understanding the needs of your clients, what were some of the key things you were learning early on about the relationship building process?
Joe Woodham: Recruitments pretty standard, what our job is, is to go out and find the best talent and deliver that for your client. But I think trying to forget what other people were telling you to do from a recruitment perspective, and just listening to each client, each client is very, very different. And they want recruitment done in individual style. So really just working with them as a business and trying to deliver what they need, rather than what I think they need. So for me, I guess building the relationship was really just trying to work closely with my clients understand who they were, what they wanted, and just deliver that.
Wayne Lewis: Obviously, you weren’t a lot of hats at this stage. Can you share some insights as kind of all the different roles you were taken on board when starting out?
Joe Woodham: Alright, so shit got real when I closed my first deal. I had no idea what an invoice was. So I’ve closed my first deal. I was like, Okay, how do I get paid? That’s kind of things. Then I sat down to the center, right. There’s a lot more to the back end of this business side of things, I really need to actually get into gear and start learning a few things. So I think the entire journey, every stage, I’ve been learning a ton, and that’s probably where the passion comes in. I absolutely love every time is a challenge during my way to try and work out. Okay, how do I overcome this? What’s next? But every step like hiring a person, oh, crap, I have no contract to be able to offer an employee. What do we do here? Our character needs to see legal to work out what we actually need to make this work. Pretty interesting.
Wayne Lewis: What would be some of the key things that you would probably look to tap into if you’re maybe in the audience this evening.
Joe Woodham: So when I started out, as weird as it sounds, I went straight to one of my competitors, and I got their advice. And so how did you start? What did you do? And strange, as weird as that might seem to people that were open with the information that we’re more than happy to sort of go this is how we started this is people you should speak to. And I’ve always gone and spoken with my competitors because as much as they’re my competitors, they’re my biggest allies as well. Like we still share clients we get paid on the same work, but we’re in the same industry we should get along.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah. And are you willing to share any of your learnings as well with somebody that’s the new kid on the block, for example?
Joe Woodham: Hundred percent. I catch up with a lot of people who come to me for advice. I think it swings and roundabouts. So the more I give, the more people get back to me. And every time I have an issue or need some work, I just ask people, and they usually more than happy to give it to me. So, probably our biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. People always willing to help. Well, most of the time.
Wayne Lewis: And if you could go back to your earlier days, is there anything that you would do differently?
Joe Woodham: Or there’s there’s a ton of things I do differently, but I’m pretty stubborn. So I probably still do it the same way. Make all the dumb mistakes, spend as much money doing stupid shit. But I think it’s all a part of the process. Like you come out the other side there are four but no, I’ve enjoyed my journey.
Wayne Lewis: And you actively setting goals. Can you give us some insights into how you may be set them up if you do?
Joe Woodham: I’m a bit of a dreamer. So everything I’ve always done like all of my clients, six months to a year before I actually start working with them, I’ll realize, okay, why do I want to work with these people? What benefit for them? What’s the benefit for me? I will, okay, in a year’s time, what would it look like if I was actually working with them? And that’s probably one of the biggest success I’ve had is every client that I’ve ever wanted to work with, I’ve worked with.
Wayne Lewis: So given some insights to the sales process. So some people in the audience may not think they’ve got a strong sales background. Is there anything that you feel as though they maybe could focus on to try and get their first sale?
Joe Woodham: Interesting. I feel like people think sales is a dirty word. But I really think what sales is it’s information aggregating, we’re giving people advice or information that they need to make a decision. If I was going to buy a house, it doesn’t matter what you say, if I like the house, I’m gonna buy the house. If you don’t like the house, I’m not going to buy the house. what your job is, is to give me the information and the facts about it. That’s What sales is? So I don’t think you should be afraid of asking people for stuff or I guess selling your services, because people if they’re not buying from you they’re buying from someone else. So just give them the information that they need to make the right decision.
Wayne Lewis: If you’re thinking like where you are now, what does the future hold for you and your company?
Joe Woodham: Well, our business has done a massive pivot in the last six months. So I’ve built Torii Recruitment off the back of working for small to medium-sized businesses. So we’ve been pretty lucky to work with some pretty cool startups. But in the last six months, we’ve made a bit of a transition to doing pure contract work, which startups can’t really afford to do pure contract work. So we’re working mainly with sort of large corporates now. So the pivot for us it’s really focusing on the large end of town and getting contractors out rather than worrying about permanent revenue.
Wayne Lewis: You talked about things when it was things were taken off for you when obviously you launched your business and things are going well were you quite sensible in decision making, or were you getting carried away with the journey?
Joe Woodham: I think I got caught up in the ego side of growing a business. So I actually started to try and grow through growing my staff numbers rather than growing the revenue. And that was more, I thought, at the time, probably a bit more of a building a brand and how I looked at the industry, whereas it probably wasn’t the smartest decision and it was a waste of money and probably didn’t manage my staff as well as I should have. So I think in hindsight, I probably should have done that very differently, grown a lot slower and not hired as many people to try and I guess, boost numbers and…
Wayne Lewis: How long did it take you to realize this?
Joe Woodham: Probably a year, it’s probably been two years of growing and shrinking and then growing and shrinking, and then sort of now have realized that okay, maybe that’s not the best option and the markets reacting very different. And that’s not the model that I think is congruent with what we want to be doing the matter at all.
Wayne Lewis: Can we have another round of applause for Joe Woodham, please? Thank you very much, Joe.
Serpil Senelmis: Wow, I never would have thought to build a relationship with my competitors, let alone ask for their help. But that’s some great advice there from Joe. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. That’s the key takeaway. Next time on Masters Series how I built my business. As every founder knows, there’s more to building a business than a business plan on the back of a napkin and a great idea. We’ll meet two founders with skills and influencing others to join your mission and all the nitty-gritty that goes along with starting a business. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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