It’s fair to say that Dorry Kordahi’s path to becoming one of the wealthiest young entrepreneurs in Australia is a little unconventional.
Before he launched marketing and merchandising company DKM in 2002, Kordahi dabbled in an array of different professions, ranging from basketball player to hairdresser.
Even once he started up, the beginnings were humble. Kordahi spent the first two years of the business’ life located in a shed in his backyard.
Those days appear to be a long time ago now, with DKM Blue formed following a merger with his brother Danny’s business DK Blue, commanding a turnover of $10 million and Kordahi making the BRW Young Rich List for the last two years with an estimated wealth of more than $20 million.
He has even found time to emulate his hero, Sir Richard Branson, and write his own book – The Power to Act.
So how did he do it? We spoke to Kordahi to see what secrets he can pass onto the next generation of start-ups.
It’s quite a journey from the garage to the Rich List, isn’t it?
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Yes. If you told me 15 years ago where I’d be today, I’d tell you that you were kidding yourself.
I wasn’t very good at studying. I failed my HSC and didn’t go to uni. I loved basketball and sport, but I also loved making a buck here and there.
I had drive, which was maybe entrepreneurial, but I use the word entrepreneurial quite loosely. Everyone wants to be their own boss, but it comes back to having the belief and the passion to do it.
When we had the previous economic boom, every Tom, Dick and Harry was a broker. They saw the gravy train and when the bubble burst it showed who the true players were. The real entrepreneurs are the ones who grow sustainable businesses that survive when the going gets tough.
How did it all happen for you then?
From school, I become a hairdresser before I went on to work with my cousin and older brother Danny in their t-shirt wholesaling business.
I loved it. I had failed my HSC so I was like a sponge – I treated it like a degree. The best lesson in business is to do it, pay attention and learn from other peoples’ mistakes. That beats any degree.
I spent five years there and realised that the business was over-spending and was under-capitalised. I thought I could run a tighter ship and make more money.
Did you feel you had something to prove?
Well, one driver was to prove that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know much about things like tax, but I had a philosophy and saw how other companies pitched themselves.
I saw there was an opportunity to pitch solutions rather than products. There are 5,000 competitors in a $2 billion merchandising market pushing the same thing. If you present five or six options to a client, you take away 20% of the work.
So, what point of difference did you want to have?
I knew that China was going to play a big part in the industry. I knew I could import directly and increase margins. I set up an office in China nine years ago, which was a bit unusual then as Hong Kong was seen as the safe haven.
If I go to a client, I push a relationship-based transaction. It doesn’t just come down to how cheap you are.
You have to listen to clients and treat them with respect, as they are paying the bills.
I also launched Branded, a magazine, for $30,000 an issue and piggybacked it onto industry titles such as B&T. I did this to educate the market about merchandising, to show that it has as much value as above-the-line advertising.
Brand managers thought that the biggest logo or ad was the winner. I wanted to educate these people that there was another solution.
What did you do next?
I went to Europe. I was going for 10 weeks but I ended up staying for six months. It was when there was 33 cents to the pound, so I spent a lot of time going between different friends’ houses and staying with them.
While I was there, I visualised the business and how it would work, its structure. I wasn’t prepared for growth before, but I came back prepared for success.
Many entrepreneurs aren’t prepared for the growth and they go into a spiral. You have to look beyond what you will do once you’ve just launched the business.