Meet SmartCompany‘s Hot 30 Under 30 class of 2011 – a group of entrepreneurs aged up to 30 years, drawn from 30 of Australia’s fastest-growing SMEs.
While many of the entrepreneurs here have leveraged technology to grow their businesses, this group of business owners prove that IT isn’t the only avenue to quick growth.
The list includes people from shoes to superfoods, from cables to consulting, from Mexican food to digital marketing and printing.
What sets these entrepreneurs apart is their ability to find flaws in established industries and exploit them.
So how have they done it? And what can we learn from the hot 30? Here a few of the big trends we’ve identified.
They’re not necessarily in a new sector – some add a new twist to an established model
While plenty of our hot 30 are utilising new technologies, Nicole Kersh used her frustration with cabling supplier wholesalers to start a business of her own.
4Cabling was born, and as the entrepreneur got her head around the industry, she found the business benefited from not being stuck in a mould like some of her more established competitors.
It’s a similar case for Joshua Kamil of Ready Steady Print, who entered the well-established business of printing, but differentiated his business by making it more affordable for SMEs.
Dean Ramler and Ruslan Kogan of Milan Direct, and Neil Singh of Fidarsi Furniture delved into the established world of furniture, but gave customers the chance to buy replica designer offerings, or the opportunity to design their own.
These entrepreneurs prove you don’t have to come up with something new – you just have to do it better.
Like everyone else, they have problems with hiring
Thirty-year-old entrepreneurs Farhad Meher-Homji & Rishad Sukhia, of Brightlabs, have a thorough hiring system in place, focusing on personality and skills. But the hiring process hasn’t always been easy.
Sukhia says when Brightlabs had just five people, it didn’t need to run “hard and fast” processes. Now it can’t live without them.
“It’s an evolving process. There’s always different and better ways of doing things,” he says.
They know how to tell their story
From JB Hi-Fi to Harvey Norman, online tech entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan knows how to target the big guys in Australian retail. Whether claiming JB is over-reliant on Apple stores, or fighting back against Gerry Harvey’s criticisms of online retail, Kogan is no shrinking violet.
But it’s not all talk: Kogan has launched a new site for the UK, and has unveiled a ‘whistle-blowing’ website that lists product prices according to their manufacturing cycle.
Similarly, James Griffin from SR7 has complemented his social media intelligence and advisory business with a strong media presence, becoming a respected voice on the increasingly important but relatively immature issue of online reputation management.
And since founding Dreamfarm at age 22, Alex Gransbury has not only clocked up inventions – 15 at last count – but the awards too. Recognising awards are a great way to tell the story of his business, Dreamfarm has nabbed three prestigious Red Dot Design Awards, including the Best of the Best award.
They’re open to expanding overseas
With the internet making it easier and cheaper to get your message across to a wide audience, some SMEs are looking at not just interstate expansion, but overseas. Amazonia is one. The company, owned and founded by 26-year-old Dwayne Martens, is the only Fair Trade importer of the Acai berry from the Amazon, and currently sells in more than 1,000 stores, including 400 overseas.
Similarly, telco provider Fonebox Group has moved beyond Brisbane into sales in New Zealand, with group managing director Jordan Grives planning to hit the UK and North America next year.
And it’s hard to go past Shoes of Prey, winner of the Best Online Strategy Award at the 2011 StartUpSmart Awards, as a company which uses online channels like Facebook and YouTube to bring millions from around the world to design their own shoes. The company has employees from Sydney to China, across to Japan, Russia and the Netherlands.
In the world of search engine marketing, Ben Bradshaw is something akin to a Jedi Master – his company SponsoredLinX is one of only 15 Google Authorized resellers worldwide, which means its AdWords management team directly train with Google.
The company, which provides a range of SEO and online marketing services, has won big-named clients including the Australian Government, ANZ and insurance giant NRMA. It recorded revenue of $3.7 million in 2009-10, with average annual growth in the past three years of 88%.
Given the Queensland-based company started just four years ago, it’s impressive growth.
“Our biggest challenge is trying to manage growth, which can be extremely difficult,” Bradshaw admits.
Bradshaw biggest tips for entrepreneurs is to take a cautious approach to growth.
“Don’t spend money you don’t have, and continually re-invest in your business with time and money.”
Andrew and Richard Branson
Company: IF Telecom
Ages: 25 and 27
Richard isn’t the only ambitious Branson in the telco game. In fact, he faces off two Melbourne-based brothers – Andrew and Richard – in the fiercely competitive sector.
While the Branson brothers’ IF Telecom might not have the media clout of the British billionaire, its annual revenue of more than $3.7 million and growth of 50% is nothing to be sneezed at.
IF Telecom was formed to help counteract the poor service many SMEs received at the hands of their telco providers, including giants Telstra and Optus.
“We obviously aimed to enter the market and attract SMEs by offering them cost savings and a greater level of personal service,” Richard says.
While IF has faced some serious cashflow issues along the way, the brothers believe taking charge of their hiring decisions has allowed some word-of-mouth buzz to emerge. The company is aiming for $5 million in revenue for the 2011 fiscal year.