Thankyou Group has become a household name in Australia.
In addition to a massive online following of nearly 300,000 across social media, Thankyou has raised more than $4 million for people is disadvantaged communities, it’s products are stocked by national retailers like Coles and 7/11, it has launched into New Zealand and the brand is now taking on the baby care market with a brand new product range.
The social enterprise has also released its own book Chapter One, which raised more than $1 million in the matter of months.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Speaking at the recent eftpos Australian Retail Awards, co-founder Daniel Flynn said in the early days, he along with partner Justine Flynn and best friend Jarryd Burns were just three young people with a big idea.
The market they were entering with Thankyou’s first product, bottled water, had global competitors, big retailers and giant manufacturers. It was no playground for three fresh-faced kids, said Flynn.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” he said.
But to turn their idea into reality, the trio had to take on an age-old philosophy and just fake it ’til they made it.
“Literally, we were just having a crack at it,” he said.
And it worked.
Here are five ways, tried and tested by Flynn and his co-founders, for young entrepreneurs to get a start.
Tip 1: Ask Google
When Flynn told his co-founders about the idea to start a bottled water company, the question on all their minds was how do you actually start one?
With no background or experience in retail, entrepreneurship or the beverage industry, the trio hit Google for some answers.
“Google tells us you need a bottle and a factory and pretty simple stuff,” Flynn said.
After a bit more research, the trio made a list of factories and started setting up their first meetings.
Tip 2: Look and act the part
When Flynn and his team walked into those meetings, they did everything they could to appear as mature and professional as possible.
“We would walk in wearing our parents’ suits so we didn’t look too young,” he said.
“As we drove in the car park of these big offices, we would always take the P-plates down.”
The founders told the factory owners they have a game-changing idea and were looking for a big enough facility to meet their needs.
Everything else, Flynn and his team would say is “confidential”.
“The reason we said it was confidential was at this point in our journey, we didn’t know what we were talking about so we thought maybe if we say ‘confidential’ it will stop people asking questions, and it worked,” he said.
Tip 3: Never be discouraged
During these first meetings the trio would listen attentively, smiling, nodding, and aggressively taking notes as the factory owners discussed production costs.
“People were talking in literally hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Flynn.
“After about four meetings, we sat back and were like ‘we’re stuffed’.
“We had a combined net worth, which is a term rich people use, of about a grand.”
But the three founders walked in to their fifth meeting, with a little more confidence, and this time they shared their vision: to change the world one bottle at a time.
The factory owner loved the idea and offered to produce the bottles on a deferred payment with no upfront costs.
“We learned later about credit terms and other stuff,” said Flynn.
To get the ball rolling, they walked into the offices of the largest private distributor of beverages despite a warning from others that this company only takes on multinational brands like Lipton and Red Bull.
Ignoring the naysayers, Flynn and his team went ahead.
“We thought imagine if they were even slightly interested, what if there was this 1% chance that the pitch worked?” said Flynn.
At the end of the meeting, an order was made for 50,000 units.
Tip 4: Accept failure
Being new to the game, Flynn promised to deliver the bottles to the distributor in just three weeks.
The factory owner was pleasantly surprised when Flynn called to tell him about the order but the mood changed at mention of the deadline.
“He’s like ‘they said that?!’ I said, ‘no, we did’ … he said a lot of words in that phone call.”
The Thankyou founders soon grew their customer base but when it came time to deliver, things took a turn: the bottles arrived crushed with damaged labels.
“We lost 300 of our 350 customers over a five-week period,” said Flynn.
“One of the Queensland distributors said, ‘we’re not working with you, you’re just kids, you don’t know what you’re doing’.”
When two new retailers showed them interest, things looked up again.
“But they both came back saying no,” he said
“It was probably a bit more discouraging when they both came out with their own bottle of water, funding water projects.”
At one year in, the Thankyou business came crashing down.
Tip 5: Get back up and keep playing
The team recouped and continued to focus on why they started the business and slowly over time, getting up, again and again, they grew Thankyou Group.
They picked up critical lessons along the way and have slowly built the foundation and infrastructure to set up the venture for ongoing success, despite strong skepticism.
“We got questions like, ‘can you even call a product or a brand Thankyou?’” said Flynn.
“We weren’t too sure but we were like someone called their product Apple and it sort of worked.”
The business wasn’t even properly registered for years after Flynn took on misguided advice on trademarks from a friend.
“He tells me, ‘if no one’s ever put a TM next to the word before, you can just put a TM there so we just put a TM there and stuck it on the bottom,” said Flynn.
“It would be six years before the good people at the trademarks office said we aren’t registered, so we’re in [now].”
Their tenacious attitude and willingness to just give things a crack is what has brought the business to where it is today.
“We were often referred to as quite naïve, which we were really ashamed of at the start,” he said.
Now, Flynn says they fight to keep the naivety.
“Here we are wanting to change the world but at the same time there’s huge commercial realities,” he said.
“We have no idea but we run full steam ahead, chasing a passion and a dream.
“What started as a string of disappointments has led to an idea that really changed the game not just for us but for others.”
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.