“How do you find the time to manage all of this social media stuff?” That’s one of the most common questions I’m asked whenever I present. And sometimes, I get the sense that people are hoping that it’s so complicated and time-consuming that they’ll have a great excuse NOT to do it. Not to learn [...]
Interview With an Entrepreneur - Naomi Simson, RedBalloon Days
Naomi Simson is the founder of RedBalloon Days - a gifting service offering over 1,500 unique experiences across Australia. The company has experienced a phenomenal rate of growth since its inception in 2001 and is the recipient of numerous business awards and accolades. In her book "I want what she's having" Naomi shares her journey from being a one-woman start-up to becoming the CEO of Australia's leading online gift service.
Briefly tell us about your business and how you got started.
Simply we give people a good time. Amazing gifts for amazing people. But not any sort of gifts - they have to be an experience and that could be anything from a chocolate tasting to speeding around a track in a V8 super car.
I started the business from home - wanting to spend more time with my family. I knew nothing about the Internet or even the experiences market - but what I did have was a commitment to ongoing marketing, based on listening to customers.
That is why I call myself the chief experience officer - because I am accountable for how people experience the business.
Oh what fun to create a truly pleasurable business!
What have been your major achievements?
There is a shared purpose and vision with the team and that is so rewarding. Being named a Marketing Employer of the Year by B&T Magazine was a real highlight. The development of people, I personally have grown so much & learned so much, but the sheer delight of watching people progress and develop has been a true privilege.
One of my personal achievements was the sheer excitement of the day that I made the first sale over the Internet. It was 4 Dec 2001 and I had survived two months and four days - with no sales. When Damien Chown bought a gift for Scott Hedge I was on the phone to get feedback on how they experienced RedBalloon.
What have been your major challenges?
The next five years were more daunting than the first. The first were all about "one for all and all for one". Fast growth is an adrenalin rush. Anything less than three digit growth is not really playing full out.
In the past few weeks, since returning from the Advanced Entrepreneurial program at MIT in Boston, I have come to the realisation that I might be getting in the way of continued sustainable growth of the business.
To have dramatic growth you need dramatic stability - and am I the one truly to deliver that?
I have always had comments such as 'we get so much done when you're not here' or 'one more idea and I think we'll explode'. My team are amazingly resilient, patient and calm. But at what point is it time to get out of their way and let them get on with it.
The business is thriving, the growth rates and what we deliver every day for our suppliers and customers is nothing short of amazing.
Different skills are required at different stages. Running a $12 million business is vastly different to running a business of five people and $1 million. And next year it is likely to be $20 million - as long as the right structures and people are in place to support it.
I know that I will continue to provide innovation, ideas and inspiration. My role remains vision, values and alignment and being the public face of our brand with lots of stakeholders. However, I cannot think any more that I can do it all; just popping in to any area to sort a few things out then off I go to the next, no longer works.
I have appointed a senior leadership team and I am excited by the next phase of business growth.
Who has been your greatest mentor?
I have been so fortunate to have many different mentors throughout my professional career. Verne Harnish - author of Rockafeller Habits, Diana Ryall, David Cunningham, Dominique Lyone have all been great mentors at different times.
I suppose my greatest mentor is my husband Peter. We make a great pair.
I have been supported by many and it is my time to share what I have learned - hence I write my blog naomisimson.com and I have recently published I want what she is having available in all good book stores or online.
How do you stand out from your competitors?
I sometimes sit here and think that I am in the most competitive market on the planet. You try launching a new gifting concept when many people resort to retail gift vouchers when they are selecting 'that special something' for someone. "No" I silently scream - we have got enough stuff, give them something that they want to do rather than something that they will have.
But we are managing to get by. We have found our place in the world where our competitors Myer and David Jones don't play. So how to differentiate a business in a highly competitive market, it got me thinking about the essence of a business.
I know we keep a healthy eye on trends in gifting, but it in no way consumes us. Others might try to emulate what we are doing - but it is the intangible things that cannot be copied. We have found that it is who we are that makes the difference. It is the team members who every day live our values that gets people talking about us.... quite frankly it is priceless and no amount of advertising can do the same.
".....I think that the experience of having a complete stranger go out of her way to assist me in the way that your organisation did was probably even more of a reward than getting the voucher back. In this day and age, customers are rarely given the support and assistance that Erin provided to me - it was truly appreciated and will be long remembered. You are an extremely lucky company to have an employee as diligent and helpful as Erin working for you. I would like to extend my very deep appreciation and thanks for the assistance that Erin provided. John Massey"
Competitive advantage comes back to people, their ingenuity, commitment and passion - this is what differentiates an organisation.
Where would you like to see your business in five years from now?
We have a big hairy audacious goal that 10% of the Australian population will have had a RedBalloon Day by 2015. I am committed to changing gifting in Australia forever. We all have plenty of stuff. But life is short - of the 27,615 days in the average life - how many are truly memorable.
What are your Top Five Strategies for Success?
It is hard to limit to just five. I am regularly asked "What is the 'answer', or 'secret' to your success?"
Now having 'really hard work' as the first of ten is probably not going to sell magazines. But here are my top ten 'rules' on growth. And by the way you cannot 'fake it until you make it'. You cannot pretend any of these and think that people won't notice...they do.
This list is in no particular order:
- A platform and systems that are scalable - especially in the area of being customer centric.
- Passion for what you do.
- Persistence - never giving up - it is more than commitment it is being a believer.
- People - you have got to have a team of A-graders.
- Process - Rhythm sets you free.
- Planning - know what to say 'no' to and live within the plan.
- Critical Numbers - what is the one thing that you must get right every day - is it cash in the bank, conversion rates or profit per employee?
- Values - people can copy what you do but they cannot copy who you are.
- Purpose - knowing the difference you make every day - why you are in business.
- A sense of fun - we can get all too serious - this does not mean silly or unprofessional - but if we are having fun our customers are having fun and that is the business that we are in.