When things go wrong in business, it can feel like the whole year has taken a turn for the worse. Will things ever get better? These founders say yes! And while it may not appear that way at the time, every challenge in business is an opportunity to learn.
Mia Klitsas & Jeff Gore are co-founders of feminine hygiene brand Moxie. While they have solved the problems of tampons getting lost in handbags, they have created a few challenges for themselves that have been difficult to overcome. Mia and Jeff point out the importance of profit over revenue and focussing on what’s important.
Tom Harley is the co-founder of Harley & Sons Roofing. After rounding up his plumbing brothers to work with his dad, Tom has led the way in developing a business that is doubling in size each year. Tom says if you don’t know something you have to get out there and learn it.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words that can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded. Life has a way of testing a person’s will either by having nothing happened at all, or by having everything happen at once. Some wise words from one of my favorite writers Paulo Coelho. These words hold true in business as well, for an entire year can appear to be filled with disasters.
Tom Harley: There was a lot of hard calls a lot of hard times, as a tradesman, you don’t know anything about online marketing, we don’t know anything about web sites. I did reach out to a company that year, who build us a website and I think we burned 90 grand in that year nearly sent the business bankrupt. Since then, you know, the hard calls I have to make is, if you don’t know much about something, you have to go out and learn it. So I’m a plumber and I know more about digital marketing now than most people do is I actually have an in-house digital marketing team.
Serpil Senelmis: That’s Tom Harley managing director with roofing specialists, Harley & Sons. We’ll hear from Tom shortly. But first, Jeff Gore and Mia Klitsas, their co-founders of Moxie. Together they set out to redefine the feminine hygiene market with quality, attractive products that didn’t make unrealistic promises about running on the beach wearing white pants. Jeff and Mia say revenue sounds great, but being profitable is more important. Cash is king.
Mia Klitsas: So tonight, we’re going to do a bit of myth-busting. So we’re going to talk through some of the pitfalls that we faced over the 13 years and honestly, we could probably talk about the pitfalls for days. There have been so many we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve done some good stuff too. So we’ll share some good things as well.
Jeff Gore: Mia and I used to work in another business to get I was actually her boss and she was a student from RMIT, who came to do her 12-month placement. And we used to go out and have lunch. And one day we had lunch at Nando’s and we just hated our job. And we decided what could we do where we did the same thing that we’re doing now, but we did for ourselves, and Mia had this particular need. And this little thing that we talked about, which is all these tampons falling out in a handbag, and we thought about packaging options that could maybe fix that issue. That was probably in 2003. And we launched the brand Moxie in 2005. It’s been a wild ride 13 years so far, and we’re not finished yet. So we thought we’d let you know about a few of the times where things haven’t actually gone according to plan. We found a few difficulties, as mentioned before, has a feminine hygiene brand. We’ve got all the feminine hygiene products in distribution in Coles and Woolworths, and all the places that you’d expect to find brands like ours. But then we had this brilliant idea that potentially people would like to have a subscription box where they could buy Moxie online and be delivered every month, a little bit of an expansion. But that proved to be a very, very difficult thing to do. It’s actually a lot different from our original business, our businesses, brand development, fmcg, distribution, those sorts of things. Doing something online like the Moxie box club was a lot more of a different business than we expected. And even to this day, we’ve done three different versions of this thing, different websites, and we’ve learned so much about what it takes to get something online and to market something online. But I think the big takeaway from that experience is that we underestimated how different a business it was. It’s not what we were doing before just a little bit different. It’s a lot different and it’s being a retailer which we weren’t before.
Mia Klitsas: People think that with online if you build it they will come and it just so doesn’t work that way I wish it did. Unlike bricks and mortar, which is what our traditional businesses relied on, people are already going into store you know, people expect to find our products on the shelf. Whereas with online where literally having to drive people to that space. And that can be quite challenging. And I think particularly for a product like ours, which is a grudge purchase, it’s not something people buy, because they really want to or because it’s the latest thing, they buy it because they have to. So it’s a bit of a barrier in itself. And then just on the web development front, oh my gosh, seriously, like building websites. And we’re not techies by any means. So like Jeff said, we’re currently in the third iteration of our website. I can’t even I actually just shut a little bit when I think about how much money we’ve spent on it.
Jeff Gore: Sooner do you finish one website, then somebody tells you that that’s all wrong. And then you have to do another one. Yeah. Different website. Yes, that’s all out of date.
Mia Klitsas: Yeah, it’s a bit of a minefield and not something that we anticipated at all.
Jeff Gore: Another area where we’ve probably encountered issues is on the financial side of things that’s not naturally where our skills were based at the start, but a lot of people think revenue or turnover is what it’s all about. And you just have to drive for turnover. The rest of it looks after itself, but no, revenue sounds great but being profitable is a lot more difficult. And you’ve really got to understand the detail of it. We could talk about this for hours. But the reality is, it’s just an area where if you were in a business or starting a business, you really need to understand the back end of things. It can’t be just about turning over a lot and thinking that that’s great. I turn over $4 million and that means I’m great. But no, I don’t like that at all.
Mia Klitsas: We see it now with some of the other brands that we’re working with through the brand makers, people will have a fantastic product or a brand idea, but not a lot of commercial thinking has gone into it. And I think that’s why people sort of get caught out because you’re in that fun phase of launching a brand and seeing it come to life. But then very quickly, you have to really think about cash flow and that can get the better of you very quickly, which I put my hands up like we’re the first to admit that we fell into that trap as well. We got so excited by the launching part.
Jeff Gore: The fun stuff, but he wants to do all of that. But within six months, you’ll find that you coming up again The financial issues.
Mia Klitsas: So yeah, you’ve really got to know your dollars and really look at your margins from day one.
Jeff Gore: It wasn’t long into the business about 2007, where we heard the UK calling. And we started getting contacts from people over there people telling us that it was a big opportunity for us, we need to go over there, this brand would do so well over there. If we didn’t go over there, somebody else would do something like our brand over there. So we’re thinking, Oh, well, we better get moving, we better start exporting and getting our act together. But we went from a small business that did only a few different SKU’s to a really big business really fast and all the retailers in the UK wanted a full suite of products, we would have gone from three SKU’s to probably 12 to do this launch and the structure we put together to service the UK because it’s such a long way away was a very difficult structure and something we’d never done before. And we didn’t know about how the retailers would react over there. They’re quite different from the ones over here. We did all of that and we launched over there. Within six months, we encountered the GFC. All of our margins and everything that we planned on, were cut in half. We had a lot of difficulties, and it was all so far away, and it was all in a different time zone. It was very, very difficult time for us and took us years to recover from it. Eventually, we pulled out of the UK, we did it for a couple of years. The point was, we weren’t ready. We sort of listen to other people. We didn’t get the right advice. We didn’t take the time to do that. We just went for it as fast as hard as we could. We took the risk and it didn’t work out for us.
Mia Klitsas: Yeah, I also shut out still about that one. And he is on. I think one of the greatest things about our business, all that we’ve been able to achieve with that business and through our business is using it as a platform to drive change for the things that we’re passionate about, and particularly as a women’s business. Obviously, women’s rights are incredibly important to us. I think a lot of the greatest things that have come out of our business have just been from off the cuff crazy ideas and the idea for our pads for pads initiative actually sparked from an article that I’d read online that talked about the high rates of school absenteeism amongst girls in particularly developing countries that basically missing school up to 20% of the school year and ultimately dropping out simply because they couldn’t manage their periods. That’s kind of the light version. There’s some pretty horrific stories out there. Once I dove deeper into it, we learned a lot more about it, we realized that what was happening was horrific. And it shouldn’t be happening, you know, no woman anywhere in the world should have to suffer that way. So we wanted to do something about it. And I think this is a great lesson of just really showing people that you don’t have to be a massive organization, you don’t have to have enormous budgets to make a change. So basically, what we did with pads for pads was we went over to Uganda on a whim, as we do with a lot of things. And we found an organization over there that was employing local women to make reusable pads. So we were very sympathetic to the local environment and the economy. These women were being employed to make product we weren’t shipping Moxie product over there. And basically what we did is we used profit from the sale of our products in Australia to fund these women making pads in Uganda. And then we gave them away to school girls for free. So we went into schools with our partners, every pads, and we taught the girls about menstrual hygiene management, we did AIDS awareness, planned pregnancy, and we showed the girls how to care for their kids. And each girl got a year supply of product. And we’ve supported about 15,000 girls just off the back of that, which is pretty amazing. And we’re really, really proud of that. Thinking about how you can use your business to drive change. You know, I think if everyone did that a little bit in some way we could actually make massive impact.
Jeff Gore: Yeah, that was a truly life changing experience and nothing we ever expected when we first started, but so grateful that we we actually had that and did that. So just to wrap up just a few sort of points of things that we’ve learned. This is a lot harder than it looks. And I think I’ve had that discussion with just about everybody who runs a business. It’s great, but it’s a real challenge. That’s definitely a common experience. We’ve learned to take risks, and probably a lot more risk than I ever thought that I’d ever take. Because obviously, when I started this business a lot older than Mia, I’d been in corporate jobs for my whole life basically till I was 42. So for me to take this kind of risk at that stage of my life was a big deal. But I’ve learned to take a lot of risks and rely on my gut a lot. But then there’s a line as well, you sort of got to know where that is.
Mia Klitsas: We play the what if game a lot. We’re sort of not what if people like we’d rather try something and make the mistake, even if it fails, and then at least say, well, we gave it a go. And now at least we know, and we know not to make that mistake again, as I said, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but will often look at each other and say, okay, well, if we do X, what’s the worst that can happen? And we’ve gotten to the point where we’re saying, well, we might lose our houses and whatever else which you know, can be pretty dark, but then we still look at each other and go, all right, well, we might lose everything, but we’ll still be alive. All right, all right, let’s do it. Okay.
Jeff Gore: And we stayed alive this long. The next one is that to find the right people, and this one is really important in terms of, it’s pretty obvious that if you’ve got a company, and you’ve got people working in it, that you need the right people in the right jobs. It’s probably more important than I ever thought it was working in a corporate environment, it seems like it’s okay. You can have people that aren’t quite there that are okay at a job. But when you’ve got your own business, they have to be right on it. And if you’ve got the wrong person in a row, it just upsets everything, and nothing works right. But the other aspect to that also is that you need to talk to the right people. You need to understand the things you’re not good at and that you don’t know. And don’t try and do those things. Go and find people who do know that they do that stuff, and talk to them, or even hire them if you can, because it took us a long time to figure out that there’s certain things that we weren’t good at. We were trying to do them because we were the boss and we tried to do everything. But it wasn’t our skills and it’s better to pay someone to do it, if you can. Focus, focus is a big one. This word keeps coming up, for us. It’s like when you decide to do something where you’re trying to go down a track, then you’ve got to really stay on that track and go there and deliver it. You can’t be drawn off into other areas and not doing what you said you were gonna do. But also, it’s with you thinking as well, you need to think about certain things. And it always comes from a focus from focusing on a point, or something that you have to do, or some goal that you’re trying to achieve.
Mia Klitsas: I think even when we started the business, it was all about focus. So if you’re thinking about starting a business, or you’ve got an idea for something, focus. So we focused on a pain point on a category and thought, how can we improve it? How can we make it better? And I think that really helped us and obviously, we got to the idea of the tampons in the little teens, but your focus I think is pretty cool.
Jeff Gore: Yeah, makes it easy to think things have their time and they should have in a certain time. The GFC was a good example of something that was wrong timing. Something like the Moxie Box Club is an example of something that is in its time that’s when it needs to happen. It’s probably taken us too long to do, but these sorts of things have their time that comes and goes and it’s not always it’s time. So that’s something to really think about. And the last one, open and honest communication. We heard horror stories of partnerships. And we didn’t want to fall into that trap. We didn’t want to be the people that had massive issues with one another and never told one another. So we always communicate, sometimes it’s hard. But you’ve got to make sure that you tell the other person what the issues are. We have a rule that you either have to say it straight away, or you can’t say it at all. So it can’t last more than 24 hours. So if we’ve got an issue, you’ve got to be out with it. If you bring it up in a week and say, well, I’ve had this issue for a week and I haven’t told you then it’s not right. It’s not valid. You shouldn’t have done that.
Mia Klitsas: Sometimes issues that are perhaps nonissues become issues because you’ve sat on it and it’s stood in your head, and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s bigger than it is. And it affects the culture, it affects your productivity. We’ve definitely you know, had those times but I think we’ve actually gotten quite good at just being upfront and…
Jeff Gore: We’ve never had a time where we’re brought something up and it can be quite a confronting, it hasn’t ended up with us coming out the other side thinking I’m glad we spoke about that because now it’s fine. So, yeah, thanks.
Serpil Senelmis: Key takeaways from Jeff and Mia you have to look at your margins from day one. And communication is the key to running a successful business. Thanks, Team Moxie. In just a moment we’ll meet Tom Harley managing director with roofing specialists Harley and Sons.
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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks Ad Guy. Tom Harley is managing director with roofing specialists Harley and Sons. Tom is one of five sons to join their dad Bruce in a family business that is over 40 years in the making. In this fireside chat with WeTeachMe’s Wayne Lewis. He says business is about delivering on a promise above and beyond.
Tom Harley: My dad’s been a plumber for 48 years and I kind of grew up it’s kind of in my blood. Being a roof plumber might sound a little bit funny, but when we left high school, my dad always said don’t become a plumber, go to university and we all became plumbers. Yeah. So there’s five of us were a year apart, we all become plumbers. We all kind of split off and did our own thing. And you know, I was working for somebody else. You work for somebody else, and you’re always wanting more. My old boss would say, I’ll just go and hide up there for the next two weeks. We don’t have much work on or be sitting under a platform, just thinking to myself, what else is out there? So I quit that job. Dad was working on his own then it was just a sole trader, and then my other little brother came across and I said to dad like, I want to start my own business. He said, well come across with me and we’ll go from there. So I was working with them for probably two years. It was just my dad and another brother and one of my other brothers. He had a company on the other side of town. And again, I got into that mindset of this is crazy. 12 hour days, you know, I was working for myself. But that had to be something else that was out there for us. It wasn’t till I started to reach out to other people I knew I didn’t even have their own businesses, accountants, you know, friends I went to school with and that’s kind of when the doors started to open. That’s kind of where we are.
Wayne Lewis: You asked your dad a lot of questions. Was it a case of right? He’s giving you the skills from the technical perspective, but you’re learning business-wise off him as well.
Tom Harley: Yeah. So 100% No, I definitely learned the skills off him, he is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable men in the industry. But when I went across to him, I didn’t know what business was. I thought business was working as hard as you can to invoice as much as you can to put the money in the bank. It’s actually when I started to reach out to people is when the doors just opened and at the time, there was three of us my dad, my brother, myself, you know, after my first business coaching class, I went home and I sat in front of the computer for three hours and typed all this stuff up, and I thought, Oh, my God, what’s all this information? 12 months down the track, we’d gone from three to 15 staff, and then we’re doubling year on year. So yeah, it’s pretty good.
Wayne Lewis: Obviously, you’re the one that’s taking the reigns business-wise, but was it a case of anybody else wanting to kind of take those reigns as well at the same time.
Tom Harley: So I’m very lucky that I did have trustworthy people in the business like my brothers, but all the ideas and the thirst for knowledge was for me. But having them people you can trust in the business allowed me to kind of step back and say, hold on, I will take the hit financially. Because if I’m not on the tools, obviously the business starts to slow down. So I stepped back. I started to work on the business and that’s when it started to open up but when I started to kind of really hone in, they looked at me like you are the boss. And then you know, later down the track, it became the CEO.
Wayne Lewis: So becoming the boss and taking that responsibility. What was some of the hard calls that you want to make in those early days?
Tom Harley: There was a lot of hard calls a lot of hard times in year two, you know, as a tradesman, you don’t know anything about online marketing. You don’t know anything about websites. I did reach out to a company that year, who build us a website and I think we burned 90 grand in that year nearly sent the business bankrupt. Since then, you know, the hard calls I have to make is and I always stick by this is that if you don’t know much about something, you have to go out and learn it. So I’m a plumber. And I know more about digital marketing now than most people do. So I actually have an inhouse digital marketing team and some staff in the Philippines to help us out with it. Next year, we’re looking at saving to the last financial year like 250 grand on marketing, because we do it ourselves now.
Wayne Lewis: What are the calls coming back from your brothers and your dad? What’s their reaction at this stage?
Tom Harley: Well, they just come along for the ride. I kind of come to the table at ladyship meeting or directors alignment sessions with new ideas, and I decide, wow, that’s awesome, let’s do it. It’s really making the goals but having the family in the business. My mum works in the office too. Good family, friends work in the office, everybody believes in the values of the business and that’s kind of what’s driving us forward.
Wayne Lewis: Does that make communication easier then would you say is the relationship still there on a family level or is it all professional?
Tom Harley: Yeah, the relationship is still there. People always say don’t work with family, don’t work with friends. It is very very hard. We do have our moments and it does put strain on the personal level you know you have a big argument in the office and then that night you’ve got family dinner on and that does cause some strain but we don’t hold grudges we move on we talk through talk about the issues and you move forward you know, you can’t hold grudges,
Wayne Lewis: You’re quite innovative in the space as well and you have a lot of competitors that want a slice of that pie. How do you find those offers started in your marketing agency as well what are the some of the steps you try and stay ahead of the curve?
Tom Harley: Well, it was pretty easy being a tradee. I mean, I guess that most of you have had a tradesman anti house, you know they brought up light or don’t rock up at all. They leave shit everywhere. That might sound like small things, but in a trade based business, it means everything. So what we deliver is an amazing customer journey from start to finish. So from the sales, we educate the customer, and we’ve got an awesome sales process to follow them up and keep them updated about when their jobs coming in. You know, all the technology that goes with that and then right down to automatic systems collecting Google reviews and stuff like that, and customers, you know, they turned on site, it was like, this is amazing, we’ve never had anything like this. And then they refer us to a friend. And, you know the amount of referrals we get each week just proves that.
Wayne Lewis: Just going back to that, burning that 90 grand, I want to kind of feel like a little bit about what you were feeling at that time. What were your emotions when you’re feeling that responsible? And you’ve got all these staff members?
Tom Harley: Yeah, well, you feel very responsible. Back then we didn’t have as many staff members. And back then I was pretty naive, you get into business and somebody kind of gives you their sales pitch and you kind of believe it, and you go with it. You don’t find out till a few months later that they don’t deliver on the promise like business is about. If you promise a customer something, you deliver it and you go over and above their expectations and that’s not what happened and caused a huge strain was nearly a lawsuit but might end up getting a little bit of the money back. But that’s in the past now so, thank God. Yeah.
Wayne Lewis: And how do you mitigate against any of those decisions now? So do you have a sounding board where you can bounce these ideas?
Tom Harley: Yeah definitely, kind of the staff and the group we’ve built around. This is just amazing. So we’ve got 10 in the leadership team in the office. And we weekly made up for our weekly leadership meetings, we got our directors alignment. That’s purely because me and my brothers argue a lot and we need that weekly session to kind of yell and scream at each other, get it all out on the table, then move forward.
Wayne Lewis: So open communication, what kind of some of the other values that you guys hold true to the business?
Tom Harley: There are two values I will talk about is one of them is we’re different. We’re different to all other trade based businesses, we do rock up on time we do the perfect job, our customers, absolutely our number one priority at all times. And then number two is you know, don’t be dickhead. So it is what it says it just don’t be dickhead. When you’re bringing values into the business, your staff has to relate to them. You know, we come up with these ourselves. So don’t be a dickhead just means that, don’t do something that you wouldn’t do it your own house. You know, so it’s pretty self explanatory. Yeah.
Wayne Lewis: I like that one. You threw me off a little bit.
Tom Harley: Yeah. Hahaha
Wayne Lewis: So in terms of the future and what that holds for you guys, where do you see the business going? Can you talk a little bit about the marketing and bringing that in house. What else do you have on the horizon?
Tom Harley: So we’ve got currently about 40 staff. We’re thinking this time next year, we’ll have about 70. So we’re growing at about 40% rate, but that’s in Melbourne, and in Victoria, that’s before we break into other states. We are gonna to break into all the other states over the next probably three years, once we get the model that we’re running at the moment, correct. We’re just tweaking it and tweaking it now, whether that’s a franchise model, or we do it ourselves, but we will be nationwide. You know, starting out when my business coaches say you might get to a $5 million turnover is the thing. That’s not possible. You know, we’re turning over 400,000 you know, two and a half, three years later, we’re well over the $5 million mark. Trending towards $10 million, you know, hopefully, there’s a couple of million left in it for me.
Wayne Lewis: If you’re going back to your earlier days, and when you’re first starting out, what are these key bits of advice you would give yourself now?
Tom Harley: Networking and meeting people is what will progress you in your journey. Another thing, which is very, very important, and it’s only really come to me probably 6, 12 months ago is I had my values wrong or my values were out of whack. I would work 12 hours a day not say my family and friends, and I’ll burn myself out. So I’ve switched all that around now. So at the top, it’s got to be personal health. You have to eat right, you have to exercise whatever that is for you. It has to be number one, because if it’s not, you can’t give the best you have to your business and your family. So for me, in order is its personal health, family and friends and then business and if it’s not in that order, it throws everything out of whack. And that’s been a huge turning point for me to concentrate on myself and get in here right.
Wayne Lewis: When your feelings are going out of sync. What do you do to realign yourself?
Tom Harley: Look what I used to do was when I wasn’t working I’d go out drinking and doing all that stuff for stressful life but now I exercise you know eat right, you hang out with friends you know friends and family that’s going to lifts the spirits it means so much for your mental state. Your mental state is probably the most important thing when you’re trying to grow a business because if it’s not you just can’t get to where you’re going to go to.
Wayne Lewis: Do you ever take some time as well to maybe fully step back but use that as a reflection time to think about where you can take the business?
Tom Harley: Yeah, now definitely. So I call it the hour of power. So once a week I’ll spend one hour and I’ll think big. I’ll sit back and say what is an idea I can bring to the table to triple the size of the business in the next 12 months. You know, my directors and my partners, my brothers, Rob and Annie to do the same. So you sit back and you say what can we do that’s just going to absolutely blow this out of the water. You know, most of it we don’t actually bring to the table because it’s crazy, but you know the hour of power. It works for us, so.
Wayne Lewis: Do the hour power together or separately, and then bring it to the table if it’s worth looking at?
Tom Harley: Yeah, we definitely do it separately. Yeah.
Wayne Lewis: Awesome. Cool. Can we have a round of applause for Tom Harley of Harley and Sons.
Serpil Senelmis: So can you to business consider yourself warned, recognize a sales page, and don’t get taken in for a ride. Thanks, Tom. And thanks Jeff and Mia as well. Next time on Masters Series, if you’re a first-time founder here’s what you need to know. Well, that will be a short episode. All you need is a misspelled name and an Instagram account. Right? No, really, we’ll have a couple of founders here to share their story and isolate the key ducks that you’ll need to have in a row before your launch party gets underway. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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