Dare Jennings is adept at picking upcoming trends in business, he founded surf brand Mambo in 1984 then sold out of it 16 years later pocketing $20 million in the process and exiting just before things started to get ugly in surfwear.
Now he’s started up customised motorbike brand Deus Ex Machina which is already turning over $10 million a year with stores in Australia, America and Indonesia. He talks to SmartCompany about how he’s a “one trick pony”, how big business turned surfing into a fundamentalist religion and how it’s time to go when things get boring.
Deus Ex Machina
Owner and founder: Deus Ex Machina
You’ve had two major businesses with Mambo and Deus Ex Machina. How did you spot the niche for both of those businesses?
I think I’m what’s called an intuitive entrepreneur, which I suppose means I just do things that I’m interested in. Mambo sort of grew up and flourished in the first bloom that started in the 80s and 90s, and it’s sort of continual, it had a very good run.
I positioned Mambo as an alternative to the big guys – I think we described ourselves as the bastard children of surf culture. We always made sure we were kind of the alternative to the status quo. So somehow that’s in my mind. And I was lucky to be able to sell Mambo in 2000, and I sold it well, so I sold it completely. I was free then to do something else, and I always like to say we’re all one trick ponies because we just trick up the pony a little differently, dress up the pony a little differently.
And for Deus Ex Machina, I think the surf industry was becoming stale and repetitive and, as an alternative to big business, it lost a lot of the interest that I had in the beginning. I figured that if I could cobble together some elements of things that I liked then I could start a brand that could take position in that area but do it on its own terms.
How is Deus Ex Machina different to its competitors?
There’s nothing else like it, I suppose. We seem to be in the new wave of surfing, as it were, if you’ll forgive the pun. But in the face of the histories of the big surf companies, we’re a fresh alternative. We’ve done that by also having motorcycles, by having bicycles, by having a whole lot of different – a sum of parts of ideas, where the cultural input comes from things other than just surfing, but it’s still very much relevant to surf culture.
What’s the biggest contract you’ve got and how did you get that?
The thing about us is that we now have three very definite footholds in different markets. We have our big store here in Sydney, where we build motorbikes, sell clothing and design things. Then we have a particularly big retail factory in Bali where we build surfboards, make motorbikes, have an art gallery and build lots of things. Then we just opened something in Los Angeles, in Venice Beach, which again is quite a big place where we build motorbikes and retail and have a small restaurant. So that’s our main thing – and off the back of the recognition we get from that, we are wholesaling our goods in quite a few different places.
When did you decide to take it international? Or was that from the word go?
Well, from the beginning that was the idea. I figured that the idea – and in the end Deus is an idea – was relevant around the world. We found out straight away, as soon as we started doing it through the internet, we just got responses from every country in the world going “We love what you’re doing, can we be a part of that too?”
So I guess that was the idea, and it’s worked quite well, the structure of the idea has a global relevance. I figured through Bali we get an enormous exposure to the world, as a window to the world it works incredibly well because, tourism through Indonesia is phenomenal and Europeans, Americans, Japanese, Australians, everybody goes there and sees it in a great context. That’s why we’ve moved to Hollywood as well, as that’s a place that the world watches.