I decided to become an entrepreneur when I was nine.
Mum was working for an entrepreneur, selling timeshare in Taupo, New Zealand. He was, I recall, a round man with a red face, big smile and rugged laugh named Peter O’Brin. I met Mr O’Brin when he threw a party for his staff and their families on the Taupo Catamaran. He told me how he’d started gyms and restaurants and now a timeshare resort. It sounded like such an exciting life. I thought of all the businesses he had learned about, what interesting people he had met. I also thought what a cool word ‘entrepreneur’ is and quickly discovered it received an enthusiastic response from adults in answer to the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. From then on I would become an entrepreneur.
But I already was one; I didn’t realise that. I opened my first business at age seven, selling flowers out the front of our house with my friend Alistair (also age seven). It must have been springtime as our garden was full of flowers. I decided to cut some, and set up a table on the footpath. We made up price cards ranging from 1cent to 20cents, and a sign advertising our enterprise. But we were on a busy road, and by the time people in cars saw us, they’d passed. For a whole day we didn’t have one customer.
I asked Mum if she’d buy me some balloons for us to display around our stall. So, next day, we decorated our stand. It worked! Car drivers saw us, stopped and bought flowers. By day’s end, we’d sold out. I remember marching into the house and telling Mum we’d sold all our flowers – to the reply that I’d need to pay back the money she’d spent on the balloons. After that, we only had a very small profit, but I learnt two important business lessons: marketing and profitability!
The next year I started hunting around for lost golf balls from a golf course that backed onto our holiday house in Kinloch (near Taupo). There were two stores in town; one of them sold golf balls. I asked if they’d be interested in buying my collection of found golf balls and found myself negotiating varying rates based on the quality of the ball. Orange or yellow balls brought in more than white ones, and cracks significantly devalued the ball. Collecting them became a great little summer earner for me and by next year, lots of other kids had caught on, trying to sell golf balls back to the shop.
The store owner was exasperated by a stream of kids traipsing into his shop, and threatened to shut down the whole deal. I suggested to him that he give me the exclusive right to sell to his store, that all the other kids could give me their balls, and I’d negotiate on behalf of everyone. He went for it. I became the ‘agent’ representing a bunch of kids to a shop owner. Now, I no longer had the hard work of searching for the balls – that was for everyone else. I’d just take a small cut on everyone’s sales. I’m sure the discovery of this excellent model influenced me to set up a band management company years later!
At university, discovered that my hometown of Wellington had the highest youth suicide rate in the world. It was something I felt young people should know, and an issue we should discuss and solve as a community. So, I organised an event to expose this hidden epidemic, put it on the political agenda, and draw attention to all the support organisations available to young people in the area.
The event was a turning point in my life. There were key people who helped along the way, without whom the event wouldn’t have happened, but the idea and implementation was my own. I had the vision, raised sponsorship money, secured the artists and worked the media to publicise the event and cause. I started organising in November and the event happened on the evening before Good Friday in April. That summer, I awoke each morning at six and didn’t get to bed until midnight.
For months I felt it wouldn’t come together: artists pulled out, helpers kept not following through, and politicians tried to stop it from going ahead because they thought it was bad to talk about suicide. The costs kept piling up and I couldn’t see how the whole thing would come together. I was terrified. Yet, I was so far in that there was no way out.
Well, the Levi’s Life Festival did take place, drawing 15,000 young people came to watch twelve of New Zealand’s music artists perform across two stages. Comperes included celebrities and high profile politicians who agreed that it was time to start addressing the issue, and the whole event was broadcast live, nationwide, on free-to-air TV. Here’s some press from the time and a review of the show.
The day after the event I was exhausted. I travelled up to Auckland for a quick break and stopped at Piha Beach. I was coming down from months of adrenalin rush and remember lying on the black sand at Piha and gazing out to sea. From this moment on, everything changed. All the plans I thought I had were redundant. If I could pull that off then nothing was impossible. I could make anything I wanted happen.
It’s a powerful lesson at age twenty, and it shaped the way I saw the world. Next year, I decided I was interested in radio. Instead of putting together a CV and applying for a job, I thought I’d create one. I noticed that one of the big companies, ‘The Radio Network’ had a frequency they weren’t using and I developed a proposal to start a station on it. My idea was to launch a station to challenge alternative rock station ‘Channel Z’ run by one of the networks competitors. The station ’9inety6dot1′ (a name later used by TRN’s sister company in Australia) would play alternative music for 16 – 30 year olds with an emphasis on local bands. We’d play no ads and fund the station with sponsors like Pepsi and Vodafone who’d buy day-parts. I didn’t ask for any money to start the station but rather suggested that I and the (non-existent) team I’d build would receive 20% commission an any income the station generated.
Within a couple of months we were an eager team of eight – all of whom signed up to work for free until we made money from sponsors, which we’d split equally. We ranged in age from 18 – 22 and none of us had much idea how to run anything let alone a radio station. But, we all believed that with close to no resources or money we could somehow take on and beat Channel Z. We came up with crazy rouge competitions and promotions – some of which got us into big trouble – but our formula of fighting as an underdog and playing more on the edge music and announcers worked. Within 6 months we actually started to take market share off Channel Z and then started to take some off TRN’s flagship station 91ZM as well!
A year later I moved to Sydney and worked awhile with Grant Thomas Management. I’d met them at the Life Festival as they manage Neil Finn. Within three months, I took on my own band ‘george’, then a little-known band from Brisbane. I released their EPs independently; with sales of around 20,000, these created an expanding street following. Then, after nearly two years, george’s debut album, Polyserena, released through Festival Mushroom, debuted at number 1 on the ARIA Chart reaching Triple Platinum status and became one of the biggest sellers of 2002.
Fortuitously, I met Australian music industry legend John Woodruff at a bar in Cockle Bay when celebrating george’s number 1 album debut. John encouraged me to launch my own management company and offered me support, a loan and a free office to help me get started.
Within a few weeks of establishing Scorpio Music, I discovered and signed my first client – the youthful Evermore brothers from Feilding, New Zealand, aged fourteen to eighteen. In their early days, we toured relentlessly, building the kind of grassroots fan base that helped launch george. In 2004, Evermore’s first album, Dreams, sold over 100,000 copies, and was nominated for five ARIA awards. It established both the band and Scorpio, which moved into its own premises
Two years later their second album, Real Life sold 200,000 plus copies. Scorpio expanded, with an office in London and a co-management partnership in New York. I became an A&R consultant for Warner Music and we signed and developed more artists, notably: Lisa Mitchell, Matt Corby, Alex Lloyd, Operator Please and Amy Meredith.
I’ve also always been passionate about issues of social justice, poverty and development. In 2006 I helped organise the Make Poverty History Concert in Melbourne and became a mentor to The Oaktree Foundation – Australia’s largest youth-run aid and development organisation. In 2008 I travelled to Africa with the Oaktree team to visit several of their projects, and remains an active supporter of the organisation.
In 2008, while promoting a tour for Evermore, I hit a problem when ticket sales to the band’s Perth show flagged. Disillusioned with the impact of traditional advertising channels on sales, and searching for alternative avenues of promotion I decided to ask the band’s Perth fans if they’d become promoters of the Evermore show at school or university, offering to pay commissions for tickets sold.
It worked. Evermore fans started putting up posters in school common rooms and university foyers and selling tickets to their friends. The result? A sold out show and a lot of empowered young fans who now felt they were part of the music business.
And the idea arose – could there be an internet version of this, selling tickets on a secure website?
From this initial thought, Posse.com was born.