One of the best ways to start a business is to create a solution to a common problem. Then, rather than trying to convince people to buy something they may not need, you can offer something of immense value.
Ben Trinh is the founder of Life Ready Physio & Pilates. Fresh out of university, Ben realised there was a fundamental problem in the physiotherapist’s business model. His solution has grown to 30 locations and over 300 employees in less than a decade.
Demi Markogiannaki is one of the founders of WeTeachMe. Demi worked with her co-founders to create a solution to help teachers find their students — but that wasn’t the solution they were looking for. After listening to their customers, WeTeachMe grew to become the go-to marketplace offering hundreds of classes to thousands of students.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words that can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
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. If you’re looking for a niche to build your business into solving one of the world’s problems is a great place to start. If you can help people with their health, their heart or their hip pocket, be sure to find some keen customers.
Demi Markogiannaki: I think the fact that businesses will need to be slightly naive, especially the type of business that we started that marketplace, but you also need to be fast enough like you know, to know maybe 100% there is you’re putting yourself into so maybe identifying a problem and seeing it a bit more romantic way or like kinda Yes, I can do the second for vet the thing. We knew the difficulties and the pain points. I probably wouldn’t have gotten there.
Serpil Senelmis: That is Demi Markogiannaki, one of the founders at WeTeachMe. We’ll hear from Demi shortly. First up, Ben Trinh founder of Life Ready Physio and Pilates. Ben wanted to offer people more than a solution for bad backs and sore necks. He wanted to raise the bar to provide the best health care possible with 30 locations, 300 employees and recognition by BRW fast 100 as one of the fastest-growing health businesses in WA has all that and more senses it’s important to have a tangible vision of what your world looks like when that problem is solved.
Ben Trinh: The kind of inception of this story was effectively in 2011 when I graduated, I remember kind of graduating uni feeling a bit disillusioned. And I wake up one day and our last day we went to the university and there was a talk much like this and the CEO of the then-largest Physio Company stood on this platform and said, Look, these are the rules of our industry. Number one, you kind of been in practice when you’re a new grad, you don’t know anything. That’s a silly thing to do. Number two, you need five years experience. You need x y zed, you need to work for basically pitching this company. You’re going to come work here at our company, we bought this grant program. And I left afterward feeling a bit disillusioned. and a month later, I started work. I started working day after my exams, and I worked three jobs. I worked at a Medical Center, which was a typical kind of physio practice at the time. And I worked at a typical private practice for the state ballet, and then also work for Sporting Club for state soccer. The idea was I really wanted a snapshot of what our industry was like, and I couldn’t help shake this kind of deep is this what I this is what I studied for years for, you know, four or five years for me there’s something not quite right. And I remember one night working light as a lot of physios deals about 8pm and was dark and I walked out of my room and I see my boss in the next room tears streaming down his face. And I walked over to him and I said to him, what’s going on? Are you alright, there’s just two of us admin had gone home. He looked at me and he just said, Ben, you know, admin of fighting again, staff leaving, his IT was crashing, the phone system wasn’t working. And his wife just told him that she had cancer without before and he’s just gone and I’ve had a full day and patients, can you just take care of that stuff in sort of a desperate plea, so I can get home to be with my family. And I just remember going yeah, of course, you know, you get out of here or mockup or take care of that. I knew a bit about IT and I just took care that stuff. And as I stayed back late doing this stuff, something just occurred to me that his guys sort of the snapshot of the problem that I’ve been sensing with our industry. The story that was being told in our industry was that the physio is graduated, had to do it all had to be at all and I realized no one person can actually do all those functions well, you know, he was treating patients all day expected to give time and attention to his staff to manage the culture and expect it to be an accountant and a bookkeeper and a marketing manager and an IT person, whatever, all at the same time, and he was overwhelmed. And our industry, I realized the overarching story of the physio profession back then, was this was a bunch of fragmented businesses with people that had great intentions. But were incapable of actually running their businesses in alignment with their intentions. There was a misalignment between impact and their intentions. And the only solution at the time was maybe a franchise, but that wasn’t quite right for a lot of people, it was too systematic. What about that entrepreneur type? who just wants support? who just wants that help? And so that basically was the moment we came up with this idea. What if someone actually just came alongside these guys 50–50 no funny business. And actually just took care of that stuff, so they can focus on what they do best. Rewind the clock 2011, the IBM again, Boy Meets problem, I’m inspired by the problem. I’m captured by it, I can’t stop thinking about it. I start thinking, What am I gonna do? I’m a new grant that’s breaking the rules of the industry. People said, You can’t do this. You’re a new grad, you can’t start a business from scratch. That’s a stupid thing to do. And when you challenge people’s narratives, they’re gonna challenge you back with questions, but questions are just opportunities and problems to be solved. So I went out, worked out a way to kick it off. We bought a business that was struggling at the time the person wanted 60 grand for my accountant said, just lay it on the table offer 10. Like this is humiliating. I’m gonna go in this meeting and offer this person 10,000 bucks. I was a grad I said to this experience, much was busy. I said, Look, I’ve got 10 grand. She said deal, shook my hand on the spot.
Ben Trinh: I walk out to my car, okay this is a moment where you’re like what did I just do? Like I just bought a business she’s like all work out the legals for me thank God for her seriously she did all the legals. I literally went in there expecting no answer that she was not going to say yes, she accepted it and overnight we had a business settlement was like a couple of months later I caught on my mates’ word got out then I was a grad starting a business and you know I started hiring friends my lecturers are supporting us it really created a lot of momentum on the ground and it was really exciting and by the end of 2011 we had five practices. I have no idea how that happened. The first practice was profitable day one people just heard people were supporting us. I took a huge pay cut, obviously, nothing so when I say profitable, I just mean not negative balance in the bank account, but I lived at home I could afford to do that which is part of the story. My closest friends joined in overtime It started with eventually five of my closest mates at uni they kind of said look, we’ll get behind you Third practices where we really try this idea of actually me taking the back end someone doing the front end, and just started getting momentum from there. I kind of tried to break this up into a few sections. 2012 was a lot of growth scale, we had no idea what was going on. And we really just sat down, we used to meet every week and said, you know, we have to stop defining this, whatever this is, because I have no idea what this is like, why is it working? You know, what’s working about this concept? And so they decided to give me Saturday’s off. The commitment was I had to spend some time defining our values and vision to finding our boundaries defining what it is that my Russ is working so that as we grow, wouldn’t lose this and I spent every Sunday morning for a year. And then on Monday, I presented to the team get their feedback and go back and forth for that time. We held at five clinics for that year. Then in 2013 to 15 we decided that we needed help on formidable great people that I knew and they bought in a small stake of our business. And we kind of started growing from there. They helped me build systems, they helped me learn not to be a physio and learn to kind of build a professional business that wasn’t just friends doing everything that we wanted all day long, but actually stay true to who we are, and the company has got some traction, then in 2016, you’ll reach that point in your business where my rule of thumb used to be, if I can solve the problem by not getting paid, then it’s good enough risk. Because some of my staff get paid, I’m happy. But it reaches a certain point of scale where that’s probably not a good enough solution for the problems that you might face. So because of that, we decided we’re going to raise some money, we decided to bring in some great advisors. We ran that process for young and since then, companies continue to grow. I hate saying these kind of broad stories because there was tons of pain points inserted all the way in between there. But I tried to capture what one moment to capture the story would be. I remember being on a plane coming back from Sydney. And I built in some routine around making sure that I could take some time off to pause, reflect and stay true to that clarity. And on my way home, I was sitting with my wife, and we just had our first son is only two or three months old. I started just getting into spreadsheets, I felt like I needed to do get some spreadsheets and get to know the numbers of my business because my solution early on in the business was just grow the revenue, you know, there’s a problem, we’ll solve it by growing more, you know, there’s an operation so by growing more, and I just felt like this isn’t working for me anymore. I have no visibility. I don’t know anything about my business. And after about two or three days, it became sort of apparent to me that will effectively insolvent that we’d grown too fast. And I remember just looking at my spreadsheet just going this is not right, nearly insolvent, like borderline insolvent, like this business could collapse if I didn’t do anything about it. And it was a sinking gut feeling where I realized how just convinced my wife to leave a job to have a baby. By the way, she wanted a baby. But you know, she’s left a job having a baby. We just bought a house and settled in. What the heck do I do in this moment? And what do I do with my staff and I realized running the numbers, I probably fired three or four people, in order to keep the company alive or not pay myself anything for an indefinite period of time. And I just resolved in myself, I couldn’t fire anyone from my stuff up. And so I went home one evening, I remember so vividly. Linda was just holding our baby. And I just had to get it off my chest. And I just said to look, I have stuffed up. Basically, either going to not pay ourselves or get rid of employees, and I’m not going to do that. So we’re not going to have any income for sort of indefinite period of time until I can save the business. And I just remember leaving the room, come back about five minutes later, looking me in the eye and just saying, I forgive you. Get on with it. If you lose everything, you’ll always have me always have each other inside the business.
Ben Trinh: And remember that season now six months to six months to the dot, we had $300 left in our bank when the account was like, hey, we can pay you again and yes, you know, it’s just how it is. And two things. That’s the journey. There’ll be moments where you question, Why can I do this? And no one knows those moments. And in my wife, thank god, she’s far too good for me. There’s my wife there by my side, she had every right to walk out and say that I totally stuffed her but she didn’t. She showed me grace and showed me love. And in that moment, she gave me the strength to keep going on. And there’s so many lessons out of that, you know, but I wanted to share that because I didn’t want it to just be all here’s this guy. I had an idea I found a problem, but no the problem and the company’s massive that’s not the story. The story is this is a problem that It’s captured my very soul. I’m passionate about my belief in it. Now I’ll suffer for it. Even if I’m alone, I’ll be resilient. I’ll push through the pain. I’ll push through that stuff. If you’re just catching up solving a problem, you’re just doing charity. How are you going to make a living out of that problem? I want to be clear on this I’m very passionate about B Corp, one of our board members is one of the few B Corp ASX companies and these are my views on economics, but not every problem you can make commodity out of, but that’s alright. If you can great then how do you plug in that social impact into the business? We have a social impact arm could like for the open house, which is something deeply passionate to Jess and I, which is basically complimentary physio care for immigrants for people who can’t afford it. How are you gonna make money on that you can’t charge a poor person for something that they need. But what we can do is tap into the story that our physios tell about themselves. When we did this survey of we would volunteer 84% of our staff so they would volunteer extra hours to help someone. Which told me actually we need this in our story, because it aligns with their personal direction. And that’s a very exciting piece of the puzzle. We use something called the lean canvas to work out how to actually monetize this and who to work with. It’s from Eric Ries, you can just google it online, and how it all kind of fits together. At the end of the day is hope. There’s two personality types of entrepreneurs I found if you’re very bottom up details person, you’re going to run a perfect business, but it will be one business. So the way Jess and I my business partner say it is if she was on our own, she’d run one perfect physio clinic like it would be perfect. If it was just me I’d run 100 poorly run physio practices. Neither of them is what either of us want. But together we can actually build something special. We have 50 clinics that are well run in the middle, but you need that top line which is the vision and the hope so I call it height because every story has to have hope. Hope is what gives suffering meaning. One of my favorite books is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and he talks about surviving in the prison camps. And he says, at the end of the day, it was actually people whose stories were something that the prison camp couldn’t take away from them. For example, you know, one of his friends, he uses a story about a guy that believe the war was ending on a certain day, that day came and went, and he couldn’t make it anymore. He couldn’t keep going. But for Viktor Frankl, he is looked inwardly of himself. And he had this vision of one day him teaching about this experience in Auschwitz. And nothing they did to him there could take away In fact, it actually contributed to that vision because it was more experiences for him to share. You will need this hope and this vision when you stop pursuing your problem, because you’ll need resilience, you’ll need grit. It’ll give meaning to those moments where you feel like giving up and so I’d encourage you how pieces together is you’ve got your vision, your passion, your strengths. Your mission, then comes out with your y which is your watch silence and x y if you haven’t already. And how those will connect with society is the vision. It’s a tangible descriptive picture of what the world looks like when your problem is solved. And it should be measurable. It should be inspiring. And it should be something that gets you out of bed every day that you can actually say, when someone says, what does the world look like when you’ve achieved your goal? What does success look like tangibly? And it doesn’t have to be on mass. It can be XYZ person impacted whatever it might be, but it has to be tangible and measurable. And this hope is what will get you through.
Serpil Senelmis: So, so many lessons learned for Ben pushing through his pain points and learning to be resilient. He brought the company back from the brink of insolvency. Thanks, Ben. We’ll meet Demi Markogiannaki one of the founders at WeTeachMe right after these messages.
Ed Guy: Masters Series is presented by WeTeachMe whether you want to improve your photography, taste whiskey or painted teapot. WeTeachMe as a class to build your soft skills and have fun. Learn what makes your heartbeat at we teach me.com This podcast is produced by Written and Recorded. A podcast is an intimate medium where you can share your business story without anyone knowing that you’re blushing. Listen to more details at writtenandrecorded.com. And now back to the podcast.
Serpil Senelmis: Thanks that Ed Guy. Demi Markogiannaki is one of the founders at WeTeachMe. Demi is a self-taught self person and has twice been recognized in shoestring media groups top 50 Australian female entrepreneurs under 40. In this fireside chat with a colleague Wayne Lewis. Demi says the gut feeling of questioning your own business is not a good thing.
Demi Markogiannaki: So I’m originally from Greece so you can hear a strong accent. So I came here to do a master’s degree in Melbourne University. And after I finished the master’s degree, I started working as a freelance writer or worked as a journalist for a newspaper. And I found it quite boring. So not as challenging as I wanted it to be. And then I decided that maybe to start this business. At that time, it sounded like a great idea. I think to start the business you need to be slightly naive, especially the type of business that we started that can marketplace, but you also need to be passionate like not to know maybe 100% that you’re putting yourself into so maybe identifying a problem and seeing it a bit more romantic way of like kinda yes, I can do this, I can solve it. I’m getting there is the best way to go. I would say I don’t know if this is some kind of good advice, but it’s definitely how you usually start a business. I think if we knew the difficulties and the pain points, I probably wouldn’t have gotten there. So I would say that the first thing that we did was we started looking for ideas that would feel passionate for. I met Kym. So Kym is my business partner. I knew him like three years before that. So he was one of my friends from uni. And he was working in a law firm and he was like, slightly, not as passionate, I guess, about law. So we both were like, let’s do something to be having fun together like we did at uni and we started a business. So part of it was obviously identifying a problem and trying to find a solution to it. So because we had the idea, but we didn’t exactly pinpoint the problem we felt straightaway. So one of the first things that we did was, we went there, and we tried to connect people that are passionate for teaching with people who are passionate for learning. The vision is still there, it’s the same thing. But this time, we’re actually solving a heap load of problems that they’re hiding behind the space. So one of the things that we did wrong starting was, we thought we knew what people wanted. So we built the platform. We said, Everyone, just list your classes here. And then we try to find people to attend the classes. And we couldn’t. So we called a lot of friends and we’re like, do you want to do a class? Everyone come into a class so eventually, we tried to like make money out of it, and it didn’t work. That was a good lesson for us. We didn’t get to achieve anything. And that was like maybe the first like five, six months and we said, let’s go back into the drawing board and try and find a solution for how to make this work. So we interviewed about 100 people who were running classes, and we just listened. So one of the main things that I would suggest for someone that wants to start a business to do is to listen. So listen, identify what are the actual problems that people are having, whether they are the people that you’re trying to service or your customers, the people you’re trying to target and understand what are the pain points for them, and draw on their feedback and create a solution that will make sure that we solve all these issues that they’re having. And that’s what we did. And then that was the first time I actually felt that I was actually solving a problem because people were willing to give me money for the solution that I had, up until then every time I was trying to sell something or invite people to participate in the class or like least on WeTeachMe, there was this feeling that I was like, why would they want to do this? And the thing, just that gut feeling of questioning your own business isn’t not a good thing, the moment that you feel that you’re proud of what you have in front of you, the moment that you feel that here are these I have built something and someone is willing to say, oh my God, this is actually really helpful to what I’m trying to achieve, and I’m willing to pay for it. Then you just have the beginning of a business.
Wayne Lewis: In terms of the skill sets and the partners with Kym, how did you guys then realize that you know, okay, we need to work on the next phase. How did you divide up your skill sets with the other founders?
Demi Markogiannaki: The resources were very limited. It was just four of us at that point. And we did everything we did. Talking to clients, onboarding them. I remember it like nights that we would spend onboarding over 60 classes with images with descriptions with everything sitting late at night and saying, how many have you done, have done five, we’ll never gonna finish this. And then like, wake up the next morning and talking to more people and doing customer support. And Kym like saying to me, I’m not really good at customer support. I was like, do you know anyone else that could do customer support? And he was like, I can’t deal with people that have issues. I’m like, well, I’m sorry.
Wayne Lewis: He’s got it in his own, right?
Demi Markogiannaki: Life is hard. I know now it sounds funny. But at that point, we’re really tired. So, so tired, and then I was thinking, you know, one day we won’t be this tired anymore. This is not gonna happen, you’re always gonna be tired. So we’re just with different issues. So I think at that point, we’re really tired with doing everything. And we’re looking for a way out, we felt that we’re constantly underwater trying to like, get up the top and like draw a breath. And it was really, really tough. But we kept going, and I think we kept going, because first, we saw that it was working. So that kept us quite passionate to just keep going, keep going and pushing through it. Second, we did this, which was quite risky, but we said we’re all gonna leave our side jobs because we kept doing something because we weren’t getting paid for the year. So we all said, that’s it. We’re gonna go full time on to this. And if it doesn’t work, we’re out. So we had to give it all otherwise, all this time, all this effort that we’ll have to spend will be for nothing, or that’s what we were thinking about that time.
Wayne Lewis: How did you then justify that to you know, with the people in your life at the time? I think we listened to Kym before and he’s obviously got family members that are thinking, are you doing the right thing? Were you faced with any of these dilemmas like, Okay, my family’s thinking this is way too risky.
Demi Markogiannaki: Yeah. So my parents didn’t know what I was doing for the first maybe three years after, like I finished university. My parents are quite traditional, the Greek people, they are both professionals. They have nothing to do with business. So I would go back and be like, well, we have a platform that is online. And we’re trying to connect people that would like to teach with people that would like to learn, they would be like, were you working from a black hole? We work from a library in the city. And they’ll be like, Okay, so how much money you make, we’re not making any money. So they kind of like thought I had gone crazy actually was the first time they visited after, like four years of me being in Australia, they came to see from actually okay or if I’m, I’ve gone completely mental. And Linda decided, you know, it’s her life, we let her make her own mistakes like the first time they realized what I was doing was when I won one of these awards of like being an entrepreneur amongst like, top female entrepreneurs, and then the creek media picked it up and I ended up being in a local newspaper, and then my parents were like, oh,this is what this is doing. Up until then he was really hard for me to explain because technologically, they’re not extremely advanced. But also, it was just really hard at that point, to put them to understand, so really hard for that. And then I think amongst us we were just saying whoever gets to the bottom first in terms of money in their bank account will have to support the other people. It was just like, okay, let’s keep going, let’s keep going a little bit of money more like, let’s make sure that everyone stays, you know, at the point where they are okay. And obviously, we want you to prioritize the people that when you or they had a family, they were like a little bit more vulnerable.
Wayne Lewis: In WeTeachMe we’re quite a diverse company, I’d like to say that we are we can celebrate that. And obviously, we’re almost 50–50 I think, male to female employees in a tech company. So can you talk about the early stages, obviously, you were the only female employee and what your experiences were as a female entrepreneur.
Demi Markogiannaki: Yeah, so this is an interesting thing. And I don’t have any horror stories on my side of being respected by the people that I’ve been dealing with. And I think that happens maybe, because I’m quite assertive, maybe that’s the Greek background or something like that. Like I tend to be I know about what I’m talking about. If I don’t know what I’m talking about, then I try to be quiet and listen or lead. I guess like I’ve been approached quite a lot by girls that they’re not sure about what they’re doing or they feel that they won’t be taken seriously. And I tend to say to them that you just need to push through. We tend to be emotional, but we also tend to be having other qualities. For example, in my company, it’s like Kym, Cheng, and myself are currently the founders and sometimes I just go around say, hey, guys, like, I think you should change their perspective and see it from a different point of view and I think it doesn’t really matter who you are the country you’re coming from. If you’re a girl or a guy or anything like this, I think what matters is what you bring into the company, your perspective and everything is valuable. Every opinion is valuable. And I think a lesson that I’ve learned is it doesn’t matter who you are running your business will toughen you up. Sometimes I’ll get really upset. Kym would be able to tell you on the first like these phone calls trying to sell people, I cried a lot, like cuz people would reject me, they would be like, oh, who are you like you have an accent, I don’t know, whatever. And I would cry a lot, and I’ll be very upset. But eventually, I would say, what do I have to lose? Like, at the end of the day, I’m here, I’m trying to do something good. There is nothing to lose or push through it all toughen up. And the more tough you become, the harder it is for things like that to get through to you. You have bigger expectations of yourself. You’re willing to help more people like you have been helped before, I guess, and I think it’s a great lesson for everyone to embrace who they are, whether that is gender or nationality or whatever because that’s what makes them special. And it’s a very, very unique perspective to bring into a business.
Wayne Lewis: Would you say? Obviously, you staff members are their proudest moment of your entrepreneurial background or career so far, what would you say is that proudest moment of yours?
Demi Markogiannaki: That’s a hard question. I don’t really know I get a lot of fulfillment by meeting the people that we service. I get extremely excited if I go somewhere and people would seem to know what I’m doing. So like, I’ll go to a party and someone will be what are you doing for a living and then I’ll try to explain and I’ll be like, oh, we’re doing to be like, oh, this sounds like WeTeachMe and I’ll be like, we are. I am WeTeachMe. You know, it’s just like that heartbeat that you get like people know what I’m doing. People know who we are. But again, I think like everything that I do, I see it from a humble point of view, if you can say I don’t feel important enough, I feel that I can help people talking from experience. But at the same time, I always see that there is another, something else to conquer someone else to help another issue to solve. So I’m really proud of the teams that have around me. I’m really proud of my business partners. I’m really proud from what we’ve built today and from the knowledge that I’ve acquired, but I feel like we’re still early on this journey, and there’s so much more to conquer.
Wayne Lewis: Excellent. So, guys, thank you very much, Demi Markogiannaki of WeTeachMe. Can we have a round of applause?
Serpil Senelmis: And the key takeaway there from Demi, it’s important to remember that different perspectives matter whether you’re female, male, have an accent or not. Everyone has something of value to bring to business. Thanks, Demi, and thanks, Ben, as well. Next time on Masters Series, The Art of copywriting, and the power of words, we’ll get some text tips to help your business and brand to express themselves and connect with your customers. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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