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The swear jar driving an SME to Asian success

Blonde Robot is a small business with big ambitions. What will stay small however, according to founder and CEO Chris Horsley-Wyatt, are the words spoken within the company's walls. And all Blonde Robots are putting their money where their mouths are.

“It's not for four letter words," Horsley-Wyatt says of Blonde Robot's prominent “swear jar".

"If anyone says anything that can’t be directly translated into conversation they have to put a dollar in there."
Chris Horsley-Wyatt, Founder & CEO, Blonde Robot

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“It's for the use of over-the-top corporate jibber-jabber. And if anyone says anything that can't be directly translated into conversation, like using a metaphor to describe a situation, they have to put a dollar in there."

This refreshing philosophy translates well into Blonde Robot's professional relationships. “It applies to anyone who does business with us, anyone who steps foot in the door," Horsley-Wyatt says.

Blonde Robot imports and distributes products for content creation professionals that are not only of premium quality but are also“just cool," Horsley-Wyatt says.

BEERS AND A HANDSHAKE

The company began in a living room over a few beers and a handshake. It has since expanded to markets in several countries, including Asia, with products from the world's most innovative manufacturers.

“We started with a single product and no resellers," Horsley-Wyatt says. “We now have over 20 different brands that we distribute, across three channels – professional video, photographic and consumer electronics."

“We were lucky enough to start distributing GoPro (high-definition cameras) when they were a small company, and since then we have always looked for products that we would love to play with ourselves."

Success stories like Blonde Robots' are one way of motivating small businesses to consider the opportunities abroad, according an ANZ's Opportunity Asia survey of over a thousand businesses.

To be launched later in October, the survey found while 83 per cent of small businesses interviewed acknowledged Asian expansion would make sustainable growth more achievable, only 20 per cent were active.

Business accelerator or market familiarisation programs are increasingly popular ways SMEs approach new frontiers and Blonde Robot was one of 10 businesses who participated in ANZ's Business Growth program, focussing on staffing and cultural changes.

“We had a pretty good idea of who we wanted to be," Horsley-Wyatt says. “But we didn't have determined values or a mission statement. So the program helped us to work through that. And as a result we've made staffing changes over the past six months that have really helped the business grow."

Blonde Robot also developed a defined growth strategy and a focus on other opportunities in Asia.

“Since then we've really grown our Hong Kong business and now we are looking at driving 300 per cent growth throughout Asia next financial year"

ALWAYS CHANGING

While the technology business is fun and innovative, Horsley-Wyatt says it can also be a challenge.

“Technology is always changing," he says. “We're constantly reviewing our product line-up and thinking about the emerging technology trends that will take place over the next ten years.

While there can be complexities and speed bumps associated with importing and distributing, some issues are tougher to tackle than others.

“For Blonde Robot the early years were all about managing cash flow," Horsley-Wyatt says. "As a high growth importer/distributor, a lot of the brands that we deal with request payment upfront and our customers often have payment terms".

Four tips from Horsely-Wyatt for success in import and distribution

• Make sure you have a good product – you need to find a product that has a reason for distribution. If you're looking at low-value products, people are just going to buy those online.

• Clearly defined structure – it's important to make sure your business has a structure in place and that you have a defined purpose. And keep looking forward, make sure you have a plan for the future.

• Make sure your team's working well – If your team isn't working, your business can become fractured. We've worked really hard to get a very high-performing team in our business. We're seeing the benefits immediately.

And finally...

• Wait till July 1, 2017 – then you can take advantage of the lowering of the tax-free threshold and GST.

Staffing has also proved to be a challenge. When contemplating what he might do differently at the start-up phase, Horsley-Wyatt thinks back to his recruiting process.

“I would definitely take a more formal and strategic approach," he says. “We would have had a more clearly defined structure for most elements of the business."

Creating a company with a culture based around the human element was what Horsley-Wyatt had in mind from the beginning.

“We didn't want to become a stale corporate company," he explains. “We provide lunch every day and we've got a nice relaxing downstairs bar area, with beer on tap. We want people to feel relaxed when they're at the office, our customers and vendors included."

Just don't spout corporate jargon.

Kirsty Quested is editor at The Small Business Company

This story originally appeared on ANZ's Small Business Hub.

PS: It's worth noting that a little of what Chris would term “corporate jibber-jabber" snuck into this interview. He was promptly called on it and he owed the swear jar a dollar. The photo is proof he paid up. (pic attached)

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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