Economy

Real estate entrepreneur

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Anthony McDonald, 45, helped build one successful business that made the owners a fortune. Second time around he was determined to make a fortune for himself.

Anthony McDonald, 45, helped build one successful business that made the owners a fortune. Second time around he was determined to make a fortune for himself. And he is on the way. He says his five year old company Real Estate Media has revenue of $25 million, 30 staff, is profitable and at the “sweet stage”.

Amanda Gome: Anthony, in the 1990s, you were publisher at a fast growing start-up called Melbourne Weekly that later expanded into Sydney. It was eventually very successful and floated before being sold.

Yes. I trained in sales and marketing and in my thirties ended up as publisher of the Melbourne Weekly and Sydney Weekly. I was going to resign when they decided to float the company and I thought that would be interesting to watch a private company go public. But then I had to watch the share price tank before recovering. We listed at $1.75, it fell back to 65c before going back to $2.35 and it (Text Media) was sold to Fairfax.

Then you have a new idea for a business.

Yes. We started Real Estate Media in 2002. We wanted to provide products and services to residential real estate agents to help them to market vendor properties. I saw a technology that would change the industry and went into the business 50/50 with the developer. The technology platform basically enables the real estate agents to manage the entire campaign process. The platform is fully integrated with the real estate agents CRM systems with our computers talking to the agent’s computers and it makes the process far more efficient and fast.

How did you market the business in the early days?

Hit the streets and knocked on doors. It is all about understanding the customer’s business. We understood the agent’s psyche, how they wanted their brands presented and their selling cycles. And we knew how to build very strong relationships with agents.

You are strong in Melbourne and expanding into Sydney. Where is your next geographic target?

We don’t talk geography. We talk next demographic target. We will chase

niche real estate agents who are in the middle to top level and who currently are strong vendor marketers. We want to grab people who have the biggest profile or who want the biggest profile. Before you used to wait for proof from an external advertising agency and floor plans from someone else. But we have created a one stop shop. Major clients are all the main residential players in Melbourne including Biggin & Scott, Noel Jones, Barry Plant, Buxton and we have McGraw in Sydney.

Your worst mistakes?

We were in a difficult niche. Five years ago people had not embraced the technology and that was grueling. It got so bad I used to question the business model. But we were just ahead of our time.

We also expanded into New Zealand, trying to get too big too quickly. You have got to understand the territory on the other side of the hill before you expand or you leave yourself exposed. The business model in New Zealand is very different with very little vendor paid advertising. People don’t take full page ads. Someone will just go out and shoot a house with a $400 camera.

Your worst moment?

When my young son fell over and put his tooth though his lip and his mum was away…. Commercially, it was when we had to close down a magazine we started called Unique Homes and retrench people. It was a coffee table book of expensive homes for sale but it didn’t fit the auction cycle which is every four weeks. So it was flawed from the start. But the model does have the potential online and we’re looking at that at the moment.

Gerry Harvey says you don’t realise what business is until you have faced bankruptcy. And in an entrepreneur environment, you have to take risks which do become more calculated as you get older.

You are obviously a good salesperson. What made you think you had the potential to be an entrepreneur?

I am very innovative and can come up with ideas and strategise them with others and then facilitate them.

What was the best educational course you did?

I had done an MBA at Mt Eliza which was fantastic and I applied that at Melbourne Weekly. The course took a year and was broken into studying and working so I would do weeks and then come back.

A lot of what I learnt was based on dealing with employees.

For example when I was at Text, we set up a salary structure and employee reward scheme. If employees didn’t take sick leave they could get a benefit at the end of the year. We created a buddy system so if people made budget, they could take an additional holiday and their buddy would support their role.

We created an environment where if people were successful they benefited and if they weren’t, we asked why are you struggling? What can we do?

What’s it like having a Gen Y as a business partner?

My business partner, Seth Watts who developed the technology, was 24 when we started but I see age as a level of enthusiasm. The best stuff we do is take time out and sit and brain storm.

What’s next?

We have people sniffing around to buy us but this is the sweet spot. We have done all the hard work and I am enjoying it.

You have a really bad website…

Yes. There is a perception that websites are a powerful tool in business but we are in the business of relationships. I would hate anyone to go on the website and think it is not savvy enough and therefore not do business with us because that’s not the business we are in.

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