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Finding meaning in life

I laugh at myself most days, I need to otherwise I take myself too seriously. I find myself looking for meaning in almost everything. I have been on summer break staying in a holiday house on the beach. Each day my husband and I (and the new puppy Jackford) walk the beach, morning and night. Every time the beach is just a bit different.

We ask ourselves regularly “why?” and in fact, according to my mother, my most regular question growing up was “but why”? Often I am searching for meaning when there is none. The shells are on the beach one day and gone the next. Was there a change in ‘current’ or wind I ask? Perhaps their presence just ‘is’ and I really don’t need to know the answer.

I just like to know how things work and sometimes, I get to the bigger questions such as the meaning of life. Or perhaps just the meaning of my own life — this can keep me caught up for hours.

It’s now three years since I wrote Live What You Love — exploring passion, persistence, positivity and purpose. The question people sometimes ask me is “what if I cannot find my purpose?” I have responded saying “stay curious, ask questions, take note of when you are in flow and enjoying how you contribute to others…”.

I wrote a post about pausing in our pursuit of happiness in order to be happy, so when I...

Successful Business Plan

In the blink of an eye, September is here already. Spring has sprung in the Southern Hemisphere and the change of season always leads me reflect on what progress I’ve made in the three months just passed — an example of why planning is business is so important.

Writing down your plans and goals for the upcoming 3 months, and having them accessible and in front of you on a daily basis is essential to ensure you’re sticking to the plan and doing what you said you would. One of our core values at The Big Red Group is #sayitdoit…

Sometimes it is a good idea to reflect on the past – to help you create the future.

Looking back to look forward

Years ago I created marketing plans for organisations. I tended to follow a formula. Looking at what actions, tactics and activities fell under certain headings which were time and budget related. I reckon they were ok marketing plans.

First of all, I listed all the activities we would undertake to achieve awareness (how do we get people to know what it is we do). Then I’d look at what would make a customer consider the service (product). For instance, is there a valid reason for them to need or to consider buying a car. They might be aware of a BMW, but what would make them consider actually purchasing one…(I can’t remember which one but one of the car makers had the...

Shark Tank Season 3 Episode 12

The gloves come off this week in the Tank… no surprises who! First up we have…

Sweet Mickie

Emma has come to the Tank and brought with her personalised gift cookies. Baked using a family cookie recipe with some Gen Y humour on top, Emma is asking for 200k for 20% of her business, valuing it at 1 million dollars. Emma is looking for a hands on investor who can help her scale her business? Will the Sharks put their hand in the cookie jar?

Buckle Me Up

Andrew from Buckle Me Up has brought to the Tank a device that attaches to seat belts, syncs with a smart phone and alerts the driver should a seat buckle be undone. Andrew has invested $2m to date but as we dig a little deeper, things are not as they seem. It’s an exciting pitch and has us on the edge of our seats…

Crooked Compass

After launching her company in May 2014, Lisa has come asking for 70k investment for 15% of her boutique travel business. Lisa tells us that her team at Crooked Compass are committed to sharing travel inspiration and expert knowledge to help add the most intriguing...

Crooked Compass Experiences

So, there is this woman who walks into the Tank and says “I find and organise the most incredible experiences on the planet and I want you to invest in me” or words to that effect. Great pitch, great product —I thought to myself.

Lisa Pagotto founder of Crooked Compass has all the elements I am looking for in my invested companies: passion, persistence, positivity, experience and a deep sense of purpose. She is ideal… but I don’t invest — merely because at this point she appears like a ‘key person risk’. I do, however, offer to mentor her.

As it so happens, since the filming of the Crooked Compass episode Lisa’s business has gone from strength to strength. She is now in ‘flow’ and her business has gained momentum — the planning, systems and processes (and a few people around her) she has put in place are helping her to scale. Lisa has been relentless about finding the right approach to market.

Recently Lisa came to visit the team at The Big Red Group to share her start up journey and what the process of being on Shark Tank was like, including how she has systematically implemented the advice she received.

RedBalloon has curated a selection of the Crooked-Compass ‘out of this world’ experiences, so that our business customers and people...

Shark Tank Season 3 Finale

The time has come and we are already at the finale of this season in the Tank. And as they say, last but not least…

Jimalie Coconut Products

Jaypee is first up into the Tank seeking $85k for 20% equity in his business of high quality coconut products. Inspired by his son’s autism to find a healthier way of eating, he has gone back to his native Philippines to find a natural and divine product. His extensive product range is stocked in 450 chemists and health food stores across Australia. With an extensive product range, Jaypee has given up his job and put his life savings into the venture however he keeps telling us about all the mistakes he has made… Can the Shark look beyond this?

Find My Future

Next up we have Fergus who is pretty keen on convincing us that his app idea is a world first. He comes to the Tank seeking $300k for a 25% stake in his company valuing his business at $1.2 million. The idea connects high school students to careers advice based on answering questions in the app. I know for a fact that there are other players in this space, so I wonder what justifies such a high...

Overcoming Procrastination

We are all about planning this month in our business community and in sticking to the ‘plan’, I have set aside a whole day to plan for a very busy few months ahead. Yet as I sit down to get things done, I’m finding anything and everything put in front of me distracting. I know I need to move things forward but procrastination is sneaking in…

As we know, procrastination is the act of delaying something — it is actually the limitation of growth. As we continually delay our to do list we can easily move into a state of overwhelm.

To combat this, I tried a quick method that I have used in the past to activate my frontal cortex by counting from 5 backwards to 1. It usually works a treat, but today I seem to be distracted more than usual – maybe because it is a sunny day and I wish I was out there…

In order to settle in for a great day of planning and to recalibrate generally, I know I need personal preparation and to bring things back to basics.

Here are the five things I do to get back in flow and to ensure I stay on task:

  1. Drink more water – Nothing new here but dehydration can lead to low energy, fatigue and being more easily distracted. I am definitely guilty of not drinking enough H2O.
  2. Get enough sleep – Early to bed, and early to rise as the saying goes....
Buy an Ecto Handplane

When Chris came into the Tank and said ‘In this case Sharks and Surfers are a perfect match’, or something like that, I think he is probably right.

Chris from Ecto Handplanes is all about design. As he hands each of us our very own sample, whilst we sit on set I cannot help but stroke it and I can imagine it planing effortlessly through the waves. I think ‘what a perfect gift’ and so does Janine (she actually bought four directly on set — one for each of her offspring).

Chris needed help in everything — from contracts, distribution, logistics, to manufacture. I know people who know people… and I’m thinking I know I can introduce him to the right people.

As I have worked with Chris over the time, since Shark Tank filmed, we have set about planning for the future – not limiting the forecast or opportunity based on what he could do personally.

A large part of creating the big vision was to work out what Chris was the world’s best at (design) and finding someone else who was world’s best at the business management side of operations.

Since filming the show, I introduced him to a logistics partner and they have sorted through all the details, manufacture under licences, logistics, promotion, distribution, cash flow. The plan has been set in place — the...

Onboarding Employees

The first days and weeks is a nervous time for both employer and employee. At The Big Red Group, we have a rigorous recruitment process to ensure our newest members are a great cultural fit for us and share our values. However, once the candidate chooses us and we choose them  — that is when the ‘dating’ truly begins.

As an employer, we ask ourselves questions such as:

  • Did we represent ourselves accurately in the recruitment process?
  • How is the new person experiencing the organisation?
  • Will the new employee fit in?

On the new employee’s start day they firstly meet with their manager and then are introduced to their new buddy. This is the person that makes sure that they are included in the lunch routine and shares all the inside details on how the business works as well as the person who introduces them to everyone in the company — and so their induction begins.

First up, I have a meet and greet with the new starters where I give them an overview of our values and cast the vision for The Big Red Group story, and most importantly how their role plays an essential part in assisting the greater purpose of the company. Also, during their first week, the new starter is gifted a RedBalloon experience for them to take in their first few weeks with us. Then within the first month, I take all the new people to lunch together so that they get...

Leadership strategies for women

Who would have thought that Julie Bishop would experience unconscious bias in her workplace — yet she recently described her time in Tony Abbott’s cabinet as “lonely”.

One could imagine that sitting in a cabinet meeting full of A-type personalities means that there is lots of grand standing, posturing and one-upmanship — tiring at the best of times, exhausting when it is just the modus operandi. No emotional intelligence, empathy or humility. Speak or be spoken over.

Is this the same in every boardroom in the country that has little to no diversity?

I would like to think that we have evolved and that life in an Australian boardroom is better than it has ever been. However experience does not support this.

That is why Julie Bishop’s insights add a valuable contribution to the conversation, clearly demonstrating why we need more than tokenism in a boardroom.

Leadership diversity is essential to represent the audience, customers, constituents — that is, the stakeholders.

I think one of the great challenges of having a sole “token” female voice is that often people believe that single female’s view represents all women, that women have one homogenous viewpoint. Yet we all know that if you put five women together to debate any topic from immigration to tax reform, we will have five (if not more) different opinions. It is definitely not the case that if you have...

RedBalloon Reviews

Product Reviews are not the only source of insight.

I had a presentation this week for a customer centric software application for Noble Systems. They have all the bells and whistles when it comes to staying in touch with customers — managing all the big contact centres. Yet, we only often hear from people when something is not ‘right’.

I keep a keen eye on our Net Promoter Score and the customer feed that we gather both quantitatively and qualitatively. These numbers give me clear insight as a business leader that we getting it ‘right’ more often than not. It allows me to ask… is our intention, vision and aspiration to be completely customer focused working?

The reality is that we don’t get it right every time — we are in business and as we know, nothing is ever perfect.

What I have found important is to balance my view so I’m looking for the good reviews, as well as the bad. I have coined the phrase ‘catch a compliment’ and we have a shared group at work where we write down people’s compliments for everyone to see. Often people don’t say ‘thank you’, or ‘it was amazing’. Simply put, it is those that had a not-so-perfect customer interaction who will take the time to write the product reviews.

As business leaders it is really important to balance all the feedback — not just those who are likely to have negative things to say. When I look back, I consider how...

High Performance Cultures

It has been a while since I have worked in a big business and I am often asked for career advice on how to get ahead.

I have been a leader of people for a long time — not always getting it right. But luckily… more often than not it works out.

Great culture is about creating an environment where people can do their best work. A great culture ensures that individuals know what they are there to do (have clear objectives) are noticed (recognised for performance) and go home feeling like a winner (success is celebrated).

However, having a great culture is not about running a kindergarten. It is not something that happens ‘to’ people in fact, a sense of accomplishment and achievement often comes from overcoming adversity. The employee/employer relationship is both give and take. I have been writing about this for years — it is not new news.

Let’s consider the contribution of team. Great performing teams are like any important relationship — they are based on trust.

To be truly productive here are four things to look at in your career:

  1. Consider the relationship, rather than the transaction.
    If ‘it’ is all about you then the relationship becomes unproductive. Shared aspiration builds trust and resilience. Focus on getting to know people, throughout the business.
  2. Always saying ‘I want’ can be exhausting for those around you.
    How can you have the answer, find the solution, or offer assistance? People who are productive and problem solvers get promoted.
  3. Be interested, not...
Leadership styles

I travel the country speaking with business owners and the resounding message that I hear time and time again is: “business is not getting any easier”. Finding customers, keeping customers, and creating a thriving workplace in the digital age is becoming more challenging; nothing is set and forget.

With increased accessibility to potential global markets, we equally see an increase in competition to attract attention to a business. To stand out and find customers and your unique place in the world can seem like a relentless task.

To be a business owner is to be a leader. However many don’t really consider the role of business leadership, which differs from the functional tasks of a manager.

Leadership vs. Management

Leaders set the vision, create the strategy, determine the values (and culture) of an enterprise as well as align people to the plan. In other words, a leader unites everyone to the ‘cause’.

Leadership is about personal responsibility, asking powerful questions and bringing people with you on your journey, whether that be customers, suppliers, employees or any other stakeholder.

Management also has a critical role to play, but it is different. Management is about finding, nurturing and evaluating the various pieces of the puzzle to manoeuvre together to create an optimal outcome. That is, a manager ‘nurtures’ the best from each individual for the good of the ‘cause’.

My personal motto has always been...

Shark Tank Products

Yesterday was November 1. I passed through the Qantas terminal to head to my plane for Melbourne — I had an opportunity to attend the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards last night to celebrate those people who backed themselves and did something different.

Yet what struck me markedly, in the terminal, were the Christmas decorations loud and proud… heralding the commencement of ‘The Season’. Christmas catalogues have started to appear and I even heard a Christmas carol as I passed one of the stores at the airport.

Every year we say “but it is so early!”… Yet I know exactly why it is done. Christmas is an essential time for businesses to be successful. Big business has the budgets, planning departments and resources to be ‘all in’ with promotional activity. However, it can be a scary time for small business. Finding and keeping customers can seem expensive, yet it is essential to build momentum now — this includes all small businesses that I have met as part of Shark Tank.

We’ve had close to 250 business owners pitch to us during the last three series of Channel Ten’s Shark Tank. Each Shark is getting older and wiser and so too are those pitching. The pitches and businesses get better each year… and we continue support our invested Shark Tank businesses with mentoring, networks and experience.

The Shark Tank businesses are probably better off than most, due of the national exposure they have received. But what...

Return on Investing in People

It was long ago that I learned in reading Good to Great by Jim Collins that shared values creates team and in my experience, that creates a culture of performance.

I find if I’m not sure on how to act regarding a particular decision I will often refer to our values and our strategic pillars – it is surprising how often we use them.  One of our three values at The Big Red Group is simply ‘push for greatness’.  

We know that education is a cornerstone for evolving as a person and I encourage all of my employees to get out of their comfort zone and #pushforgreatness.

Learning and growing is essential for any member of the team wanting to #pushforgreatness, when it comes to training and development spend in business, I will always remember what a HR Leader said to me over 10 years ago. She had reviewed our training and development spend at the time and remarked ‘per person, it is very generous, upward of what many corporations would spend’. That’s good I thought to myself. She then posed a question to me (one I’d never really thought of before) and I will ask you the same question:

What is the bottom line return you are getting for the investment in your people? 

There are two relevant questions to ask when...

What it takes to become a best place to work

The proof is in the planning

It takes a plan to be the best. Being the best doesn’t just ‘happen’ and Wavelength understands this.

Wavelength, Australia’s largest medical recruitment agency, is in the Top 20 of the Best Places to Work under 100 employees for 2017, and I’m absolutely wrapt. They created a great place to work through intention and commitment, put plans in place and stayed the course and have been subsequently rewarded for their efforts.

It always feels fabulous to find out that a business we’re partnering with is being recognised for the effort and investment they’ve made in their people – I am a big believer in keeping your team engaged and happy while they’re on the journey to success. And just to prove they’re genuinely committed to this, it isn’t even Wavelength’s first time on the Best Places to Work list, but the seventh!

In response to The Great Places to Work nomination, Wavelength’s CEO, Chris Riley shared his thoughts:

“The workplace culture at Wavelength is extremely unique and we’re thrilled to be recognised in this way by such a well-respected independent study,” he said. “We’re proud to be able to maintain the balance between a high performing sales and service culture, while at the same time working collaboratively as a team to make a real difference to the wider community. We continue to thrive both personally and as an organisation by embracing a generous and...

The New Hustle Documentary

Entrepreneurship is a long, tough road — there’s no denying it.

We heard Coldplay loud and clear when they told us ‘nobody said it was easy’.

Being in business also comes with a lot of pressure that perhaps can’t be seen from the outside looking in. That pressure is often felt by those only closest to us; our partners and our families.

In our latest company meeting we watched a fantastic documentary titled The New Hustle. The film depicts the journey of three successful Australian companies: Canva, Vinomofo and SafetyCulture and is definitely worth a watch.

As noted in the documentary it is said that “most people fail” in business and failure can be brutal however to be successful you need to get used to rejection. When you become an entrepreneur you are committing to a long and often trying journey — you become a master of all things. When I first started RedBalloon I was the CEO (Chief Experience Officer), office manager, and the cleaner!

The New Hustle highlights the struggle entrepreneurs face daily. I do believe it is important to surround yourself with supportive people, but moreover, people who will speak the truth. We need more ‘no’ people around us who are strong and will tell us how it really is.

I’m approaching twenty years as a business owner and what I have found imperative in business, especially...

How to Create Corporate Culture

It is said that culture is critical to business success, and that culture is created by how every member of the team ‘lives’ the values. Jim Collins told us years ago in his book Good to Great – “great businesses have values, and truly live by them”.

I like our values at RedBalloon – they are easy to remember: #SayitDoit, #PushforGreatness and #OneforallAllforone. They mean something to my business partner and I but importantly, everyone in our business has a story about why the values resonate with them. Mine story is quite simple — I cannot do this alone, and I don’t want to.

The Christmas season is upon us and being in retail means that at this time of year it is all hands on deck. Too much to do, too little time. The finish line is fast approaching… and whilst 16 years ago I thought I could run my business, and serve customers all by myself, there is no way that I will be able to serve the 250,000 customers I intend to serve between now and 25 December, without everyone pitching in and doing his or her bit.

I started my business because I was a young mum who wanted flexibility in the workplace and whilst that is not ‘why’ we are in business it is definitely ‘how’ we do business.

Even as a founder and entrepreneur, completely focused on growing and scaling my business, I have other priorities, including family. Pretending that I don’t have other priorities...

Small Business Challenges

Being consistent about size does matter.

Running a business is hard. Running a small business is harder.

I have blogged before about the challenges many businesses face in simply getting paid. Small Business is often hand-to-mouth. 

SmartCompany stated, “Fairfax reports Turnbull will commit to bills being paid before the 20-day mark, months after the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) released a report from an inquiry into payment times revealing delayed payments to SMEs from both the public and private sectors were having a significant impact on cash flow.”

This will have a massive flow on effect on to small businesses. But as I discovered this week, there is no consistent definition of small business.

So whilst I might jest that “I still consider us a startup”… at the heart of the issue is the simple question of “what makes a small business small?”.  Different regulators in this country define ‘small business’ in different ways, based on the laws they administer.

Here are just three examples from the gamut of regulators in Australia:

  • ASIC classifies a small business as having two out of these three characteristics:
    1. an annual revenue of less than $25 million;
    2. fewer than 50 employees at the end of the financial...
NSW 3 year expiry gift cards legislation

In 2001, when I thought it was a good idea to start a business from home, no one had ever heard of experience gifting in Australia. There were very few gift cards in the market and most gift certificates were handwritten by the business owner or retailer — untraceable and easily copied.

Gift cards have now become big business, and the sophistication and systems have changed materially in the last 16 years. They have become part of the gift giving landscape.

There was a time, however, when they were not so pervasive. Initially, when we approached experience suppliers they were very circumspect about the concept of an ‘experience voucher’. Many said “no” to joining us at RedBalloon. The same issue kept coming up: “If I sell an experience voucher for a price today, what if the cost to deliver the experience goes up? I’ll be out of pocket”. The only way we could get to represent them was by offering a six-month expiry date, which our suppliers agreed to honour for that period.

This, however, was not an ideal customer experience. With volume and reputation behind us, RedBalloon was then able to negotiate with the now thousands of experience providers we represent, to hold the price for 12 months. At the same time, we launched gift certificates and later gift cards in retail — all of which are consistently valid for 12 months.

What most...

ACCC fine to RedBalloon

I’m busy finding customers and being relentless. My poor family and friends wonder when I will stop asking for leads, opportunities and ideas on how I can grow my businesses. This relentless approach has worked for me, and whilst it might be exhausting for those around me — my single-minded pursuit to fulfill on my vision drives me every day.

Entrepreneurs are salespeople. As business owners we always push, push, push… looking for the next thing. By nature, we see the north star and work tirelessly to get there. As we do this we begin to get some success, this keeps us going.

I was asked recently why I keep working so fervently… as hard as I ever have. Simply put, I am not finished yet. There are more customers to serve.

Our BHAG at RedBalloon was always about ‘changing gifting in Australia forever’. What I meant by this is that when someone is choosing a gift – they would consider buying an experience (that, in turn, supports small business owners) rather than buying ‘stuff’.

RedBalloon has two customer groups; we must serve them both. The gift giving purchaser and the experience business partner who delivers the activity. It is a balancing act to acquire and provide exemplary service to both. Both are equally important to our future success.

My intention has always been to provide the best customer experience to both parties. We continually review...