Episode 43: Bootstrapped to $100 Million ARR with Tony Nash

There are only 5 entrepreneurs in Australia who have hit the type of success Tony Nash, founder of Booktopia has. 

I mean he bootstrapped his company to $100 million ARR!

He is one of the most astute business entrepreneurs I have spoken to and I’m proud to share with you his story and his strategy on how he built a 300M ARR business (yes he is up to 300M ARR now) out of nothing. 

Follow Tony on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nashtony

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https://www.linkedin.com/in/mellonie-francis

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Transcript:

Tony:
Tony, thank you, thank you for posting that, because 10 years ago, I lost my company, I lost my job. And I went into a deep depression for three years. And that idea of better versus better, right? I just wish I had that mindset back then that would have made all the difference.


Mel:
Welcome back to innovative minds, I have a guest here with me that I’ve been following for some time. And I’m very honored to have someone that has achieved the level of success that Tony Nash has built a think 100 mil ARR business without even any funding received, and then went on to triple that I believe, last time I checked, he is, you know, an icon for us, in Australia, as young entrepreneurs, we sort of look at him and go, well, we want to be like him. So when I saw him on LinkedIn, and I saw sort of what he was publishing, I was super inspired. And I was like, We need to get Tony Nash on. And I’ve been chasing him for about, I reckon, six, seven months to come on my podcast. So I can get him on here speak about his journey, how he’s gotten to where he’s gotten to, and really find out the nitty gritty as to help all the other entrepreneurs out there to get to that next level. So thank you so much, Tony, for coming on and sharing your journey with us today.


Tony:
It’s my honor and my privilege.


Mel:
Awesome. So booktopia Well, I mean, what, what a success. I mean, we I just kind of was listening to some of your podcasts. And it was so funny. We were I was looking at some of them going books should never have done so well. You know, people would never think that you can take books, always saying you know, books are out and there was so much within bookstores shutting down and here you are accelerating and becoming 100 Mill arr. Business, I want to go back to the sort of start of those earlier days to how you were able to go from even you know that zero to 10. I want to explore each journey by layer by layer and peel it. So anyone listening on different levels can gain knowledge experience from you.


Tony:
Sure, so to go back to the pre call. What happened before booktopia, I think is important, because I think a lot of success stories. It’s interesting, what were they doing before that, to finally get to that point where they they don’t know, they just caught the wave, they things fell into place, and they could smash it. So. So before booktopia we had an internet marketing business. And when I say we I’ve been in business with my brother and my sister, my brother in law since the late 90s. And, and so we we were getting other companies to the top of Google and driving traffic into their websites and been doing that for few years. And we did a job to get Angus and Robertson to the top of Google. They outsource their website and all of the fulfillment to a company in, in, in Sydney that did it all for them. And this company had at bookstores, websites that they were managing and fulfilling the orders. And so we had a meeting with them to say, hey, we’ve got Angus and Robertson to the top of Google. Why? Why don’t you introduce introduce us to your other clients, so we can get them all to the top of Google and you can make more money and that that meeting happened at Christmas of 2003. And the owner of the company said no, not interested. So you want to make more money. You guys, look, it’s not our business. We manage bookstore websites, and we fulfill those orders. That’s what we do. I said, Well, how does it all work? And they said, give us the name of your store. And within 10 minutes, we can have a bookstore website up and running with a million books on there. And if you sell anything, we pay a commission. I said, Well, that sounds interesting. And and so you guys, yeah, yeah, but no internet only businesses made anything out of it. It’s all come off the back of a traditional bookstore. Now to just to roll back a little so we ended up in internet marketing, because before that, we had a chat software business. It was the late 90s. And my original my main career was in recruitment for the IT industry. And in the mid 90s. I set set up my own recruitment agency on the internet. And I would tell people, I’m an internet recruitment agency and back in the mid 90s, people asked, What’s the internet? So the 26 years I’ve been running Internet businesses and and like I in we were the third recruitment agency on seek.com.au. So I started two years before it started. And and so we we, you know, we had come from that background around. And then we created this chat software product in the late 90s. So we could chat to our candidates while they were sitting at their desk, rather than having to run outside on a mobile phone and talk about a job that they were interested in. Right. So we, we developed this software for our business, but it ended up being a product, and other companies wanted to use it now, for those that are old enough, or even if you weren’t the late 90s was a massive.com, boom. And we thought we’re gonna make our fortune in chat software, because the internet is taking off. And so we sold a recruitment company to focus on the chat softly. And pretty well, a month after we did that there was a.com crash, which we got caught up in, and our business was not going to make any money. So so we were sitting around the table going, how are we going to pay, pay ourselves? How are we going to feed our families. And, and we had really very little money coming through. And so I was talking to a web designer saying to them, you know, Google’s been going for a few years, it’s getting more and more popular. And you get to the top of Google told me what to do. So within a month or two, we got to the top of Google for chat software, and live help. And so then, then it was just a conversation that I had with a with a chat with a with a small Australian company about using chat software. And they said, Look, I’d love to chat to people, I just need more people coming to the website. And so I did a proposal for $500 up into the top of Google and, and then I was talking to the largest car rental company in New Zealand about the software, as well as an antenna, we don’t need to chat to people, we just need more people coming to our site. And I said, Well, I can get to the top of Google give me a proposal. And so I did it, instead of putting one in for $500. I put one in for $18,000. So I spoke to the guy for an hour on the phone about all the things we’re going to do to drive traffic and improve his business and, and, and accelerate revenue. Anyway, after an hour, he says, Alright, let’s do it. So we’ve done the final to my family. I said, shoot, we’re in big trouble. Now we have no idea what we’re doing. But from daybreak to midnight, we’ve learned the art of driving traffic into sites. And so we quickly morphed from this failing CAT software business to this surviving and then thriving, internet marketing, consultancy and so so when we got to our so during this is interesting. So during that period of the internet, and we had we already had, we had the recruitment, and we had the chat software, it still was like, how many pillars could we create, to have money coming through so we could expand? We could expand the business and so so when the booktopia, or when the bookstore, conversation Christmas 2003 When that conversation occurred, it could be another pillar, but we didn’t know. And so it was, it really was a side project, you hear of these side hustle. But it wasn’t like when you think about me, and the book industry or the death of books, it was more. It wasn’t like a light bulb moment where I went, bang, here’s an opportunity where some people have had in the past, I call it more of a Hansel and Gretel idea in that one breadcrumb led to another led to another and before you knew it, you had gone down the path and you ended up at this incredible place so and that that Hansel and Gretel, part of the story probably was about two years. So one thing led to another led to another. So we were doing our internet marketing consulting from the booktopia started in February of 2004. So a couple of months after that initial meeting. And it took a couple of years for us to kind of like it took me three days until my first book. I was a Google AdWords expert. So I knew what to do. I knew how to build the ads, and I would work from 9pm to 2am. Every night, basically, October, you were started on Pepsi Max. That’s what kept me going all the way through. And so So I would work on it every night and build up the Google ads and, and, and build that campaign out and and took three days to sell the first book and I’ve done the $2,000 by month one. By the fourth month I was up to 30,000 a month, by the end of the year, 100,000 a month and by the end of two years, 200,000 a month. So we ended up with a couple of million dollars in revenue after


Mel:
after what year was what year was that?

Tony:
2004 three to 2006 Okay, and then towards the end of 2006 because we had already sold our recruitment company to that company listed on the ASX. Right we had already gone through the due diligence process of actually selling a business. And it was pretty clear to us that we have an online bookstore turning over to me and I was maybe some might want to buy it but because we were more of a marketing arm it was this other company in Sydney that was doing the managing the site and doing the fulfillment. And because I had a programming background in the mid 80s, I was a programmer, but my brother in law was a IBM software engineer, he had worked at IBM and IBM Business Partner. So we felt that we got to do this ourselves. So we, we, in the background, started working on building our own website and looking at all the back end systems that we needed to support that. So after three years of using the other company, and getting to a couple of million in revenue, we parted ways. So around 2007, we moved from our little 60 square meter office in North Sydney, to 500 square meters in our time, and in a little, just in a little warehouse office place. And we bought some shelves on eBay, we hired a warehouse manager, and we rang the publishers, and we said, it’s asons booktopia, we’re turning over $2 million a year. And, and so they, they said, never heard of you, because all our orders have been going through this other companies that offer the basic terms and basic basic discounts now to to give everyone like an understanding of what was going on, then we still were doing our internet marketing. So on one hand, it was growing. And we were trying things with booktopia. And because we were doing that we could kind of apply them to our clients. But at the same time, we had been doing stuff for our clients, and I was able to use that.

Mel:
That’s really interesting, because I guess sometimes people hear what I’ve heard is you can’t do too many things. Well, you know, you need to stay focused and listening to yours, like similar to you. I also was in I had a business that I did the first software, but I failed in it because Google ads by then was super expensive. By the time I came into to buy a $10 google ads, it got me nowhere, maybe it didn’t have a product market fit potentially as well. But you know, I wanted I was like really passionate about helping beauticians to find direct jobs rather than work for somebody. So they would, because I was thinking all these beauticians that they’re the skill and they’re the person that they’re only getting paid like $15 an hour, they could be getting so much more if they did home service, you know, of nails and so forth. And I thought I’ll build this software. And, you know, people can then find people and they can go direct. And then I started going to Google thinking, you know, everyone’s gonna do this. This is a brilliant idea. And Google was just so expensive. It drained me and I was a young entrepreneur then. And I didn’t know exactly how to go in raise capital, or even have the confidence to back myself because I was like, who’s going to invest in me, really, at the end of the day with zero dot? Like, what, $300 a month or something ridiculous coming in after spending 500. So I think Google’s you know, later on changes as well, right now for us as entrepreneurs that we’re trying to do that. And maybe back then you didn’t need a such a flashy website that you do right now.

Tony:
It’s a good point, but it’s worth understanding. So. So the book industry has 30 million active titles. Yeah. It’s a very, very, it’s the biggest of the skew list. So, so what I did was I write ads for specific books, and authors and titles and sent them deep into the site where those where those books were, so the cost per click, wasn’t that expensive. But if I was just going for books, or bookshop or bookstore, which we were in, that was expensive, but I could average it out the cost by paying for the able to pay for some of those, but because I’ve written all and handwritten 10s of 1000s of ads, specifically, right. And so therefore, the average cost per click was low. But when you when you kind of got a very few search terms, yes, it is literally like trying to get a a spot or a shop on Main Street. And well, there’s only a few spots. And if you’re off Main Street, and you’re on the second page of Google, then you’re gonna get very little. The other thing, though, that’s really worth mentioning to your to your listeners is that I was really vigilant and still am there for every dollar that we spend on marketing, we must get $10 of revenue, right? If we don’t get that we don’t do it.

Mel:
Right. How long would you test that? Capital? How long would you test that? Like, how long would you wait?

Tony:
That was relating that was that was relating to the match? Every industry can be different, correct? Like there’s some industries with much less electronics, much less margins, whereas consulting is 100% margin. So you might find that you can do more with each industry, you’d need to set your own kind of lock and load but there have been times when others have outbid us, right? Yes. And I’ve said knock themselves out. Because I know that when it comes to books, at that price, it’s not sustainable, you are losing money. And therefore, keep doing it. Because eventually you’ll get to a point where you go, Alright, we’ve done that for long enough. And then we’ve just kept hold the line hold the line. So, so having that, and we’ve done it for coming up to 19 years. Yes. So that’s been, and when people during the downturns or like when there was in 2008, nine, the GFC, there was all this inventory of, of average advertising it in cinemas on radio, because people were, you know, we’re not not advertising. Yeah. And they would come to me and they say, we’ve got this unbelievable, you wouldn’t believe it’s 80% off the normal practice. Right? How can I measure it? Oh, well, we don’t know anything about measuring, like, well, I won’t do it, then. So you’ve, you’ve got to be able to measure it to work out whether it’s working for you. And to get we went from zero to 150 million in revenue without raising any capital? Yes. Because we simply focused on having the customer hand over them, they were our investors, I’m gonna hand over my money to you, and then we’re gonna use that your money to buy books and to write software and hire people and increase our facilities and so forth. So that that was you playing the long game? Yeah, that organic growth. But at the end of the day, you know, what I had seen, I’m going to be 60, within less than a year, eight months, and so and so I had seen over all the years, and I started booktopia, just after I was 40. So, so the I the idea of having a capital raise, and then using that money, I’d seen it so many times where, right, we’ve got to get customers, we’re gonna get marketing, but 99 times out of 100, that that money was blown. And there was one recently, it was called fast, I think, this checkout system and 100 and $60 million raise, and they got to $600,000 worth of revenue like, man, you could have put that in a in a bank any more money per year than Yeah, like, yeah, it’s, that’s embarrassing. And that’s really, really important a capital raise, you better make sure that you’re getting to, you know, breakeven Ground Zero. Before before you have to go and get more try to get more money. So we my opinion,


Mel:
absolutely. So with you, you get you use Google, you’re really knowledgeable about Google. And you’ve also got the right sort of product, I think, for Google where people got I need this exact book. So you obviously going in and researching deeply on which books have got the most demand. So it’s like you must at some point change more of research is going to hit this book is going to be is being such algorithms.

Tony:
Yeah. Yeah, data mining. But think remember, Amazon had built its business 10 years before on it as well. So there’s a proven model, right?

Mel:
So that’s that what with Google ads and that strategy? How did that take you all the way to the 100 mil arr? Like, at what point did you have to start

Tony:
Google ads, Google ads is about 35 to 40% of our revenue, okay. In the beginning, it was more, but because we were SEO experts, as well. So optimizing the site, we never did any Blackhat or in a dark SEO. So it was always ethical SEO. So when there was all these Google updates, as they’ve had over the years, we never got impacted, I kind of use this very simple philosophy. I don’t can’t say that, it’s, it’s probably fundamentally still true. But it was like, if you don’t have the words on the page, you won’t be indexed using a different word. Like it’s got to use the words on the page on the internet size does matter. So a small 10 Page site versus 1000 Page site, Google will look at 1000 Page site, and that’s got to be more of an authority than this little thing inside that getting the Internet to point to you. So how to start stories. First of all, I actually I’ll tell you how I came up with the name because I’ve been racking my brains I wanted to have a name that people would would make sense, right? And my recruitment company was called best people. And I thought long and hard about you know, what, what am I who am I? You know, I want people to when they hear it, what do you recommend industry I’m in and so I came up with a name best people and and then there was at the same time a best people in the UK, oddly enough, so they flew me over there to see if they wanted to buy me, which they did, but I knocked him back because my family join me. And I said, I told them how I came up with it, you know, just rattled around. And I thought of, you know, what’s there who? I said, How did you guys come up with it? And they said, are we, we engage the German company and pay 20,000 pounds, you know, like 50 grand to come up with a name. And that’s how I did it. And I was it was a great, like, it was within me to come up with a name, and it was a good name. And so when it came to booktopia, or trying to think of a bookstore, I was, I had already had that one experience. And I thought, You know what, let me and I would just couldn’t come up with any name that I was happy with. And what was really important to me was that if you said, this is really, if you if you say it, and they spell, how do they spell it without without it, getting the spelling wrong, which is really important. And when you say the name booktopia, What business do you reckon they’re in. And rather than coming up with some fancy name with a double J and a site, you know, triple silent Q and all these ridiculous, unique names, but nobody can spell that was really, I was really dead against that in terms of coming up with a name. So I was on a camping, I’d had that meeting with the people about their online book business, and that we could start our own online store. So it wasn’t a camping trip up the coast of New South Wales trying to come up with the name of the store, I really wasn’t happy with it. And then I was in the national parks of New South Wales, and our really hot Australian summer’s day, and the cicadas and the insects were unbelievably loud, and I turned to the person I was with, and I said to them, it’s like their kids, movie ants, where the insects talk about this place called insect topia. booktopia that’d be a good name. And of course, back in 2003, we were, we were still on dial up modems, for those that are old enough to remember the sound of a dial up. There was no on the phone and wondering if that’s still available, I had to wait a whole week for the camping trip was run inside turn on the computer. Yes. And I bought the URL. So that having that name was was really, really important. Anyway, so. So getting back to what I did in terms of SEO words on the page. So find out what people search for size of the site, well, making sure that the site is index JPA, you know, had millions of products, so making sure that the bots could make their way through, but we have that to our advantage. The third one was, like, if you’re an island, if you’re if you’re an authority on a certain subject, like let’s say, beauticians or finding a beautician right, but, but no one is pointing to you, like you will not be discovered. And the reason why I knew that is both Sergey Brin and Larry Page were PhD students. And when you’re doing your PhD, one of the most important things that they worked out is that you write a bibliography at the end, or who you’re referencing, to make your work, you know, important, unique and authority on your whatever you have done, right. And so they use that same principle that if if all these PhD papers have been using that one book, that one is always in the bibliographies. That must be there must be an important one, because everyone’s referring to that. So they kind of use that principle, to then algorithmically write that to then build the, the logical importance of the internet, as far as Google is concerned. So, so booktopia, and I’ve been going for a few months, four months, I think it was and was that we were growing, I was up to 30,000 a month. So it was faster than we expected. So I reached out to the Australian Booksellers Association to go, should we become a member was $400 for the year. Right. And, and they said, of course, of course, you should become a member, please. And I said to them, but what is the advantages? And they said, Well, we can give you a discounted rate through Australia Post our contract. I said, but this other company is Do you know, they they get their discount? They said if you’re out there members, yeah, they get that it’s true. What else? Just coming insurance? Well, they handle all year you’re. So there was nothing, nothing for us to become a member. And I said to them, Do you have like a logo that we could put on our website? And we could link so you knew who we were right? And so, so they said, well, we don’t? And I said, Well, could you and they said well, we’ll have to have a committee meeting. A month later, they ring back right? Now, the reason why I did that was because I wanted to create an authority. I wanted to create trust with customers that they came to us and they Oh, they remember now no one had ever asked for it before. Now true in that instance, we were linking to them. So that’s of no benefit to us. But they also had a site where they had members who linked they linked to us. So book industry, so to to have if we had have a link from a beauty website. Yeah. And it was irrelevant in like, Google picked up on that really quickly. And so if there’s no relevance, right, it’s not worth it. Then we started to sponsor, book industry awards. Indigenous literacy programs. So we started to get inbound links got it paid for. Yeah. So the internet and Google would go, Oh, they’re part of books that they seem to be more and more important. And so therefore, that’s real ethical. Linking to then create to turn, it’s kind of like you’re in the ocean, right? And a Google update comes through, and it’s like, Well, does that did that capsize you and sink you? Or were you? Are you an ocean liner that just bounces off in the mountain? And then what how come they because we’ve been doing it for so long that there’s articles on Fairfax websites as articles on Yes, websites as as the ASX snap like that, yes, you’ve got to be busy doing that. It’s a it’s painful. But you have to put so so whereas on the site size of the site, the rest of you can’t be an island. So the internet needs to over time ethically point to you. And then what I believe, although it’s never been proven, the fourth one is that Google analyzes the bounce back. So the the bounce rate, so they do a search, and they delivered like, I don’t know, you search for things to do on the weekend. Whatever it is, right? And they, here’s the top 10 people went there and came straight back. Google was analyzing that going, it’s not relevant. So if you’re sitting there going, geez, I, why don’t we try? And there’s a lot of searches for cryptocurrency, right, which obviously there is. And let’s just write a page of our cryptocurrency or our thoughts around crypto. Yeah. But if it’s not relevant to the person who did the search, they’re bouncing back. So all that effort is wasted, because it’s not relevant to. So that’s really important as well, to make sure to Google VM. And that’s logical. Yeah. So that they’re the fundamentals, in my opinion of SEO, it’s so much more complex, totally, totally had many experts to do that. But but so the getting back to your Google ads is the All roads lead to Rome. approach that means that you’re going to have partners, affiliates, you’re going to have SEO, you’re going to have PPC, you’re going to have pay per click, you’re going to have all sorts of different streams. And each some of them are very incremental. But it all adds up. Right? So you, you need to. Yeah, and the great thing about SEO and all the others and partnerships, is that that becomes not predictable or certain. But but there’s, you’re not paying, you’re not paying necessarily you might be paying on success, rather than paying to get the person to your site.

Mel:
Yeah. So I love we’ve just covered backlinking from Tony Nash, which I didn’t think we would get into, but if you are interested with what Tony has just gone into, and I think was really nice high level is he’s talking about backlinking. So if you go search that you will be able to get into that even more deeper. So I want to go with you, Tony. So I think obviously, you’ve got software and marketing background, I mean, you really are in the state to drive a company forward, you know, like their very core skills and in the environment, when it’s just up and coming. I mean, you are carrying the two top skills to really go to the next level. So I do think you’ve, you know, you’ve gone and had some already successful, so in running a business. So you know, it does make sense now that it’s all coming together sort of it’s must be just feeling like, oh, I picked up this from there, or I’ve seen how it went a sec. So there must there must have been that, you know, level of confidence as well as you’re seeing it happen so far. So I can you talk me through so you know who you are in booktopia. It’s all happening. It’s all feeling right? You’re growing at this exponential rate, did it? How did it feel for you, like as an entrepreneur, we sometimes need to really know yes, this is happening for me, I’m in the crux of it, and I need to get ready for hiring, or really good people or the people that have come with me on this journey. Because that’s something I wanted to I feel that that I’ve had three years in advertising. I’ve had two years before that in software. So I connect with everything you’re saying, you know, and you know, I’ve had a failing before that and I’ve had a successful career before that. And I feel like everything all the hard work sometimes is coming together and some things are clicking into place where I can actually hold a conversation with yourself and go okay, I know that talking about backlinking or I know that’s what we’ve got to do once we finish this podcast, I’ve got to make sure that I go back and reach out to you and go, Hey, here’s the podcast is the summary, can you please gonna publish this over on your site? So we can backlink to each other like I have strategically thought that that would give me huge credibility if I can go in and you know, linked to my key people. But he, you are now in this going back and you’re seeing this all happen. Tell me about then what do you do? Like is their team? Like what happens with your team? Are you thinking about hiring, replacing? Like is that the next level once you’ve sort of got your marketing and this in this volumes coming in?

Tony:
Geez, man only I think. I mean, you’ve only got me for an hour. But just that all those questions, I think this is going to be a trilogy, we I think we need three hours. To get through everything. There’s a there’s a few things in there that I need to cover. So first of all, the entrepreneurial mindset is, is unbelievably precious. So you talked about the failure that you had before, right? So I have a, I have a, I like to break up words. So I take the word, intuition, you know, your gut feel, I don’t know, you meet someone and you, you like them, or going on a trip or you’re traveling and you just feel like you need to go into that museum or church or restaurant, right? Intuition. But if you break it up in tuition, tuition, you know, that’s the fee that you pay to do a course or it’s like, you’re like what you’re learning. And, and so I haven’t had any failures ever. So I don’t use that word. Yeah, that’s my mindset, because I’ve been in training. So when we in 2016, we tried to list on the ASX. And we spent $2 million with lawyers and accountants. And were a few weeks away from from listing. And then Amazon announced they were coming to Australia. So the fund managers all said, Well, they’re going to annihilate you. So we’re not investing. And so we had spent all this money to get to there. And when it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to list I went, I went into a grieving process for three hours. And at the end of three hours, it felt like one door closed and another 10 opened. Now, when we tried to list in 2024 years later, we would never have been able to do they had we not been in training to have the intuition. So so we had I know we’re jumping a little ahead, but the pandemic had hit, we had done our first capital raise in January $8 million, with a $12 million debt facility. And then five weeks later, the pandemic hit Little did we know everyone had gone into lockdown, we had the money to scale the business, our market valuation at the time went from 120 million to 320 million within 10 months. Now, we didn’t 11 week IPO, which is the probably very few that could have done it as fast or have ever done. And it’s fast. But we did it so fast. Because we’ve done one, we tried one four years before, there was a lot of stuff that had already been in process. And we knew what we had. But everything was happening right there. So we’ve had something happened with the a triple C, I got fired from the company that that I founded in in July of this year. So when these things happen, it’s like my, my mindset has to go. Well, that came out of left field, I wasn’t expecting that. But what I didn’t do is get angry and pissed off and want revenge. And you know, I’m sure I can add a swear word in there. But you know, it’s kind of like, I didn’t do that. It’s like, hold on a second. You know, well, what are my options? What, what can I do and when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re running your own business, like you’ve got to have be emotionally and mentally available to deal with those things. Because stuff comes out of the field I’ll never ever forget moving from being an employee as a recruitment consultant to running my own company and going, Oh my God, I’ve got rent, I’ve got advertising bills, I’ve got employees, it was just like, it was so stressful. It was really was stressful. Because I didn’t ever think about that. It just kind of got handled right. So then all of a sudden, you’re paying for everything so so and then stuff will come when you least expect it and and you’ve got to go bring it on. Because you’re just trying to work out whether I can go the distance or not. Yeah, now there’ll be some Some things where you go, well, actually, I’m going to exit from that. My intuition says they didn’t talk about people. So I’ll give you an example was that 2010. And we had been using for more than six years. Kind of outsourced, bookkeeper, accountant as we were growing. And and it got to a point where I said to the guy that had been managing us over those years, I said, you know, it really feels like we should have a CFO, kind of someone in house has really taken care of us. Financially, we’re bigger now. We would have been 10 $10 million in revenue. And he goes, you know, what, I’ve been thinking the same thing. So, building the team, quite often has been, okay. Who, who do we need? Yeah, but because I’m a salesman, it’s like, the first question I asked is like, Hmm, so what revenue do we need to be at to afford that? Yeah. So what I don’t do is I don’t go alright, I definitely need a CFO, I definitely need a designer or this or that. It’s like, Well, where do we need to be to be able to make sure we can fund them? It’s like, Ah, I need another 300 orders a day or 300 orders a week or something? And it’s like, right, what can I do to create that to afford that, that’s, that’s very much about the way that I built booktopia. To have, I think we had 25%, year on year growth for 17 years, something like that. And, and, you know, organically so, so that and, and sometimes that was less than what we could have got, there was actually that’s a really important point is that there’s also this aspect of growth, that you don’t want to get too many orders that all of a sudden, your customers are overwhelmingly getting pissed off. So I was always comfortable with three to 5% of customers getting pissed off, because you can’t make everyone happy and things that Australia, you’re relying on other three opposed and publishers and suppliers and whatever that you can’t, you can’t there’s not enough margin in it to be be perfect. Yeah. But but to make sure that that is as small as possible, and not feel crucified or feel like you’ve completely stuffed up because you’ve got people complaining.

Mel:
I’ve got a question for you in that. So if you’re growing at this really fast rate, say, would you say for my company, okay, I’ve got more people coming in now and taking our service, then maybe I can actually add on the team? Would you recommend that you add a wait list instead? If you’re concerned that, you know, you can’t handle the pistol softness, potentially, or the quality? But or would you have a tolerance of like 10%? Or, you know, like, yes, like I can have? Well, at what tolerance? You know, would you be like, I think I can still you know, get through it


Tony:

depends what the appetite is to increase your aid. So consulting work is different to, to what we’re doing, which is physical product that needs to be picked, packed and shipped. If it’s a SaaS platform, then, you know, bring it on, because basically, it should be self service. Maybe it’s knife, it’s more complicated. And you need to have a tech team in the background to help with all the issues to get people on boarded. But everyone, everyone’s different, but you don’t want to if, if you’re offering quality consulting service, and you’re already at capacity, then you’ve got to be able to learn to say no, yeah, I

Mel:
think it’s when it’s got SAS, but it’s still got a consulting piece while you’re still developing further the process of that, you know, piece, I think it’s, it’s difficult to know, Okay, should I take a tolerance level to tick off the price? Yeah, okay, cool.

Tony:
Okay, that’s like that. Sci Fi the $500 versus the 18,000? Like, is there any means that the universe is telling you that you bring a lot of value to what you do? Now, you might have your old clients still on the original, original fee, but new ones coming on? This is my new fee. I do keynote speaking, right? Yeah. I don’t mind saying in my 45 minute session, I’m not charging eumelanin. But yeah, 4045 minute session. It’s $8,000. But I heard someone in conversation recently and they’re on 35,000. Right, and others are on 2000. Right. So the more popular you are, and the more maybe the more famous or more mainstream there’s a politician ex politicians or Olympic champions, they all can get unbelievable. speaking fees, but

Mel:
total Um, that’s about your personal brand,

Tony:
you know, at a granular Yeah, but at a grounded, you know, I might only get four for a year. So that might be, that might be enough for me with everything else that I do. You know, I mean, like, you might, I can say my fees $100,000. But what, how many gigs have you done? And well, I’ve done in the last five. Call it, you know, like, yeah, there’s a there’s a fine line between supply and demand. And you’re done. So,

Mel:
no, that’s, that’s tell me about this recent in training that you experience, which was, you’re getting fired from your own company. I mean, you’ve had this brilliant journey. And then, well, you know, and I think that’s when we weren’t meant to catch up from first podcast. And that’s when I found out and then I saw your LinkedIn post. And it went viral, and it was your most viral LinkedIn post where you shared so authentically, it was, you know, I really loved how open you are. And you just opened up and it got everyone so attached to you and your personal brand there, as well. So what has what happened? And you know, what, how did you you know, stay resilient in your mind? Because that’s, you know, that’s something that you’ve been talking about that that’s what you’ve got to do?

Tony:
Yeah. So, first of all, let’s step back to a year ago, so you’re talking towards the end of 2022. I had a meeting with the CEO, or the chairman and one of the board members to say, look, I really make this my intuition. My intuition says that, it’s time for me to step out of the CEO role, I need someone we need someone in there who can really run an ASX listed business in the way that it needs to be around. My expression was, it’s been quoted in the media as that, guys, I’m, I’m Christopher Columbus, I’m not the king of Spain, don’t ask me to run the country. I want to expand the empire. But that’s my talent, you know, I can, I can smell cash. So when people want to hand over money for a service or something, that’s, that’s really what I am good. That’s why the growth of the company, but I’d already gone to them about this. And then No, no, no, this is the chairman. There. You need to be the CEO. That’s what people believe in and you’re the guy. All right, well, you know, best. You’ve been the chairman of many other companies before, so I trust your assessment. So if we go anyway, within four or five months, it was like, Okay, no, I think you’re right, we need to get a CEO and you’ll move into a chief growth Officer role, which is basically a director of revenue or director of sales call away. You will. And and so that was announced. And then within two months, they decided to fire me, but they they did, they did it without any consultation. So I literally was blindsided walked into a room and said, We’re terminating you. And And my reaction was, so Well, you know, I wasn’t expecting it. So what, you know, how do you see that playing out? Right? Don’t forget, I’m a major shareholder of booktopia. still around 15%. So, so it was like, you know, my reaction wasn’t, wasn’t anger, it was like, Okay. What, you know, that was, that’s not what I expected. So there was, and to create some context that I think everyone is that we had worked for 20 plus years and never took any money off the table. So before the IPO and at the IPO, and yet, in fact, even after the IPO, we were able to sell some shares. So I was already in a financial position that if I chose to, I wouldn’t have to work. How I planned it, like I do want to work actually, and I’m, I’m excited about what I’m doing now. But the but the the reality of the situation was not dire to the point of your boss, as you, you know, like you’re screwed me and my family as I was already, kind of, like your bet, when you say, I’m going to bank that, you know, when one of those shows where they where they go around and questioning, they bank it, might you it’s a bit like we had banked certain amount of money that when this happened, it wasn’t, you know, wasn’t the world exploding or imploding? So that’s create some context there, which is an important thing for all entrepreneurs to make sure that you do get money off the table, and that you do bank that on the way well, however, that may be through dividends or a, say on an equity event or some description. So So then, when that when that was finally announced, two weeks later, you talk about that LinkedIn message. So what happened to hit the media and my phone, SMS calls, emails, socials, in LinkedIn, everything was going off the charts. I couldn’t it couldn’t believe like because people were worried they knew it’s your baby. except all those things anyway, I just had to put up their post. Are you okay? In capitals? Question mark. And I said, this is my IUI. Kobe, guys. I am absolutely okay. Like, yeah, sure, this is not what I expected. But it’s, I’m in really good shape it. I’m lucky enough that my wife and I bought a farm down in southern highlands. And it’s not big. It’s just a small hobby farm. But I love my ride on mower. So I said, you know, I’m on gardening leave. And the idea of me getting to mow the lawn was very, very appealing. It’s one of the things that I do enjoy. And, and so. But the main thing about that post was that, and it was pretty clear to me, when it first happened, I said, it’s my choice to be better from this than be better from it. And as an entrepreneur, you’ve worn life, quite frankly, anyone doesn’t matter whether you’re working for someone else. It’s really your choice. And so what to be better from it means what am I going to learn from this. And so I put that post up now, to give some context, when I do a podcast interview an author, I might get 2000 views on on the LinkedIn profile, the LinkedIn post, if I when we when we released the robots, I got 20,000 views. When we listed on the ASX, I got 45,000 views, and this one pose 370,000 views, right. And it was like the comments and the feet was just nuts. And it was all about mental health. Now I was getting private messages as well. So to give you guys an idea, someone that I’d actually known didn’t I knew of I know them for two years, they sent me a message to go that Tony that that mess, that post is really self deprecating. I’ve been in the same situation. And in my opinion, I think you should remove it, right? Because they’ve gone through it before. And it was in an hour later, I got one, oddly enough from someone else that I also knew for 40 years. who posted it, send me a private message. You go, Tony, thank you, thank you for posting that. Because 10 years ago, I lost my company, I lost my job. And I went into a deep depression for three years. And that idea of better versus better. Right? I just wish I had that mindset back then that would have made all the difference. And, and so that that was really, it was really monumental to be fair about what happened at that time. Now, all of that aside, we came out of that. And we met with a few people I’m talking my wife and I met with a few people to go, Look, we’re major shareholders, we’re not happy with the way that this business that we have still quite a stake in is an important asset of ours being run this way. So what are our options and spill the board? It didn’t feel right, it sounds really revengeful you know, get spilled up. That didn’t feel right. So talking to a few people, it was an extraordinary general meeting and AGM to remove the chair remove one of the Ned’s, who was quite an activist to have me removed, and then keep the other two and appointing this person that I know. In fact, the keep the two and the the other person they were all women, right? And that’s why I put that to the board. And the board said no, we’re gonna we believe that you won’t get the votes or they didn’t. They didn’t entertain that as an option. So we went towards an AGM in the meantime, they, on one particular day, or I don’t know, six weeks in two investors, rang the chairman and said, what the hell you’re doing, we’re not voting for you. You don’t have the numbers. And then within a week, everyone had resigned. And that was announced. And I then went about recruiting a new chair who was appointed last week. And we’re just appointing the other directors at the moment. So we’re now talking December 2022, for those that are listening, in the future. And in so I said to my brother in law, who’s also major shareholder, we both had 15%, or our wives, our families and 15% each, I said, You know what, we really needed to turn over the board the board was not right for a small micro cap, you know, our market cap has gone from 350 million to 30 million, right? Yes. And we’re writing the the Tech Tech rec way, but I’ve seen it before temple and Webster, they were 15 cents in in 2017. And then they got to $14. So we’re all on it together. Things that we’re in the we’re in the winter, it’ll get to spring. And for those that are in a good spot, they will take advantage of spring and summer and you will be blooming again and our job is really to make sure we’re we’re at that point to take advantage of that. So so it was quite it’s been when you see when you talk about failures, this is important. It’s like I would have never expect To that I was going to be given those lessons, the most. The one that I’d like everyone to reflect on, is that Kate Morris from adore beauty stepped away from the CEO role before the IPO. And appointed to kneel, though, in retrospect, that was clever, even though a lot of people did invest in me, I think the idea of having somebody in there not so they can take the fall for you. But it’s more about that you’re there as a backup, that that would have been probably a better way. Because as an entrepreneur, right, I don’t have all the skills to be the CEO of a listed company. It’s not, it’s a very different set of skills and, and talent.

Mel:
Exactly. I mean, I’ve got some serial entrepreneurs, that we manage their personal brands, and they step as founders, they will appoint the CEO, as soon as it gets to an X amount of capital raise, they want to separate because they don’t want to be in the nitty gritty of it, they want to be the vision, they and the smart ones really understand that and they are pushing the board thing, and I need to see you’re like, I don’t want to be a CEO and founder. And maybe that’s the separation that is very much needed. So what are you up to this,

Tony:
I mean, I should have been talking to you a few years, probably you probably would have listened. But some some founders go on from strength to strength. I just because of because I have ADHD and have lived with it all my life. Not that I knew that until I think it’s about seven years ago, when my son got diagnosed. It’s by ADHD as a superpower. And that whole thing about building the company and getting like you, if you find something that you love doing, you’re just you’re, you’re relentless pursuit of, of, of winning, the stamina that you have for something that you love doing is, is, is unbreakable. I can only imagine that Shakespeare or the VINCI or Michelangelo, people like that, who who were so exceptional, because they they just immersed themselves in whatever it was, would have had to have had, not to say that they did, I’ve got no idea. Experts probably can do do the research, there’ll be plenty who have been successful, but to then know when to step away, because it’s going to a level that you go into overwhelm or you you’re you’re this you become dysfunctional, I guess, to a degree is is really important. Now, the fact I never really even knew that I had that meant that once once I found out, the penny dropped on a lot of things, and then I became better at managing what I can focus on and what what I need to make sure I’ve got an EA or partner to keep me on track.

Mel:
Yeah, I’m really glad you meant to mention that ADHD, because a lot of people are, you know, have got that, especially entrepreneurs, it’s a very, it’s something that a lot of us have to a spectrum, you know, to a degree and, and a lot of my employees, you know, have really discovered recently, much more later in their life that you know, that they’re really strong operators, but they’ve discovered that they do have ADHD because of their children. And so you know, hearing you say that, because first they were like, there’s something wrong with me, like, you know, I’m not like straightaway, that’s what you start thinking I’ve been diagnosed with this thing, and now I can’t operate. So just hearing you share that. It’s really empowering for people to go no, I’m not. It there’s people that have been hugely successful with this. And I really want to pass that message on that it’s it’s actually a very common thing in entrepreneurs are really, really, really successful people. And it can be can be used as a power tool.

Tony:
Yeah, I know. We’re running out of time and really go on for another couple of hours, I reckon. But you may want to do could be a part one, part two, I’m very happy to do that. The thing that too, when, when I was in my mid 20s, I was traveling around the world. I traveled around the world for a few years. And I was in London working in London as a recruiter. And I got selected to go on an expedition to South America in the UK, it’s called Operation rally. And so I got on this expedition, and there was a young Scottish guy in my group those 150 people on the expedition 15 In our group, and he this guy was 18 and what I remember of him and I would have been like 2526 at the time. He he was completely accept accepting of all of his foibles, all of the things Is that he was hopeless at? Like, it was quiet. I remember reflecting on it at the time going, how can you be? How can you be that? Not forgetful or ineffective or something, but certain things were not working for him, but he was just, just, that’s the way I am. And it was, it meant that he was he hits certain freedoms to be who he was without, to being so judgmental on himself and so tough on himself and, and, like, you know, assessing himself and going, you idiot, you know, how can you stuff up? So, when I observed that I had a template, I had a learned model, I had a model that I could start to get a little freedom around. And as an entrepreneur, quite frankly, any in life, but especially when you’re running your own company, and you’ve got people around you to to be the kindest critic that you can be of yourself to learn and go, yeah, that didn’t work. Or you do a speech, I remember doing a speech at the Telstra Business Awards. And it was a just, it came out wrong. And I remember being embarrassed about it. I remember but, but it’s like, but I let it go within a day. But I can imagine when I was much younger, I probably would have had so much shame around how humiliating how. But now, I’ll learn from that I’m not going to have that same mindset. I’m not going to say those silly things next time. It was stupid, right? So other people would have forgotten about it. I was the only one that was ever going to remember it. And that that being kind on yourself when those things are happening is such an important part of running your company. Yeah. Yeah, I do encourage everyone to, it’s a learned skill. If you can ask,

Mel:
did you have any mindset coach?

Tony:
No, I’ve done it all myself. Cool. But keep in mind, though, I’ve probably put myself through about 500 days of personal development workshops over the years, okay. So when I went in there, I wasn’t a wallflower sitting on the wall, watching the show, in probably the first one or two, I did, or at least the first one, I was really in judgment, you know, this is a not that it’s a cult. But this is, you know, this is not that it’s a religion, but it would just be on. But once I got over the fact that, that it was a process, I then immersed myself in what I was very clear on this, I wanted to learn as much as I could, in those rooms, rather than try to stuff it out in the real world. So I really did give it 100% I’ve kind of done the same at work. But so but I, when I was younger, I read a lot of jerk personal journals just to try and process what happened or what how I can be a bit more effective. You did it very early on, you talked about something which we didn’t touch on, and we’re coming to the end, there was something about the intuition or knowing whether you’re on track or off track. And, and personally, what I like the way that I describe that is like in a pitch black room where you cannot even see the hand in front of your face. When you take a step forward, you know, whether you’re on track or off track. So that step it goes, doesn’t feel right, I just need to be a little bit. Yeah, that feels right. So that idea of, of knowing whether you’re on track or off track, is a very internal process. So how proud you are the pride that you have in what you’re doing is not referenced by other people. So when you talk about me in the beginning, which is if you take me back 2030 years ago, would have been really awkward or uncomfortable, but because you know, it’s quite something when someone says that about yourself, but if, if not to say that I I deflect what you said again, oh, no, no, that’s just Melanie being nice, and it’s really not me if she really knew me, and how useless I am at these other things, you’d never would have said that. Right? But it’s like, but to to know that it’s coming from within you. Rather than trying to be kind of acknowledged or justified, verified by the external world By what people say to you. Like that is that is going to really limit your success. So now, it’s not an egotistical thing. It’s like, or some sort of, you know, like, I’m, I’m a, you know, I’m gonna get what you think about me. It’s my way or the highway is not there. at all, it’s actually it’s a very soft, meditative, and I don’t meditate, a lot of people think that they do, but it’s more of a it’s a softer journey, if I can describe it in that way.

Mel:
No, it makes sense. I think Tony with, with you, I think I’m getting some back, can hear myself, but um, I think we will need a part two because there’s just so much wisdom in you. But I want to ask you one question and finish because I promise Chris Jade, who has been an author, and he’s been writing about his story on LinkedIn, and he’s been going viral every time. So he’s been getting the 300,000, we’ve been helping him right and put out his view, every time he posts about his story and his life, you know, he’s going viral. And we’ve been doing that for the last 18 months. But right now, where he said, he told me to right, bring this up with you is, I’d love to get my story out across Australia, about you know, how I’ve just kept going, even though it was meant to be dead at 30 and built, you know, eight 10 million ARR business, and I’m now pushing that into us. And I’m also wanting to launch my booking us in the next week or two, but I’d really love to know Tony’s help or recommendation on her to work with to get my story out to as many Australians and entrepreneurs as possible.

Tony:
In the old days, it was like, Yeah, put yourself in a dark room or light room or a keyboard, or a typewriter or computer and you just bang away and, and you you privately come up with a manuscript, which then you give, if you’re lucky to a literary agent who may endorse it, who then takes it to a bunch of publishers, and then like it in its raw form, and then maybe you get a publishing contract, it’s changed. So there are many paths now to market, there’s, there’s you don’t have to rely on publishers anymore for it to for you to have a huge success. There are the we have a pub. So booktopia now has a distribution business. So we represent publishers, Amazon buys from our distribution business, we buy it from IT shops buy from it if we have the books that they want. And we also have a publishing business. So through that, I’ve been able to learn a little bit more about what we do, we don’t, it’s not a big part of our business, I kind of did it to keep the Tigers honest. The publishers, but at the end of the day, if you have a big if you have a big following, like so if, if, in this instance, he has a big following. You don’t really need to have the old model anymore, you’ve got your followers, you keep building on that. And when they come out, when an author comes out with a book, your social influence over your devotees, your, your fans, whoever, like they will buy it. And there are some books that have been published at the moment where it’s not even hitting the book shops or the show ons, because the author has a million and a half followers and they just send it out to them and they get shipped doesn’t even hit like the the book, the book, scan numbers, right. So that’s, that’s one way. However, there are a lot of authors who do like to have their books on shelf and they want to know that it’s there, we don’t really have access to that you really do need to get into the traditional models to make sure that you’re in an airport, make sure that you’re in a you know, Demyx or QBD, or your local independent bookstore right there. They’re really the traditional publishers. The end of the day, though. Good Book is a good book right so it the cream will rise to the top. Do not underestimate if you’re if you’re a budding author, like Do not underestimate the amount of money that needs to be spent on editing and RE and RE edit re edits and maybe some structural edits to knock into shape. Because even the best of the best the JK Rowling is the James Patterson’s and in Australia, our very best authors will have a team of people who are working with the author to knock that into shape.

Mel:
He’s been doing that for two years now and being charged arm and a leg to get this ready and editing back and forth. So he’s just like now finally, so many edits.

Tony:
That’s a good point. So that that’s the difference between you buying an apartment off the plan and going. I really love that like That sounds amazing. It’ll be finished in two years versus here’s the finished product of which he has taken on. He has created more certainty around that book Getting to be able to scale, whereas the publisher has to make decisions on whether they’re going to invest the same money that he’s done. Now, sometimes you don’t have to do that sometimes the the idea is that good or the timing is perfect, because post pandemic pre pandemic recession, with travel, no travel, like all those things make a difference on the success of the book, like, who’s to say that Harry Potter today would have been as big as it was deadly? You don’t know. Right? context? That’s right. So so yeah, he, he or whoever’s the thing if you’ve got an idea, but the idea of creating it and sitting at your computer and then giving it to someone, and it will, it will magically take off. That’s like winning, Powerball winning the lottery like is that is so uncommon, is mostly in the hands of the author to really get out there and do like I did in the beginning is write those Google ads and you, you get to a tipping point, if it’s your third or fourth book, then you got critical mass, people will buy it. So I don’t know how helpful that is, other than there are many ways to

Mel:
go super helpful, super helpful. And the fact you know, the power of social influence is what we’ve been doing together with him is incredible today, and what it was like to be able to go and post something and get that kind of 300,000 reach every time you post about the story. It’s got product market fit. So we’ve got, you know, a real it’s great to hear you also say, you know, this is another way it’s not doesn’t have to be traditional, but

Tony:
they’re out there are publishers, there are publishers that that would now look at that of all that work that’s been done. The problem is, is that they take quite a large share of it. So you got to look at the, you know, the financial return, you get, you really get back roll. And you go through a publisher. And so you need to look at that as well. Just because they big publisher is going to publish you doesn’t mean that you finally made it. It’s absolutely takes a long time.

Mel:
Well, thank you so much for your generous time and sharing. I think there’s so much more to unpack, unlock, because you’ve just got so much depth there that to share. So every time we go into something, it’s like, wow, this is incredible. This is so powerful. I mean, if I was to do part two with you again, I think I’d almost need to go to the community and just go what do you want to ask and just go and ask you one after the other. But um, you’re incredible. I love how you think how your journey has been, you know, the focus on mindset that you have talked about today, again, really lets me know that that’s the right way to move as an entrepreneur. So I’ve been doing a lot of that but to hear it from you is incredible and really pleasing to know that’s the right way to move. So thank you so much Tony. You’re listening to innovative minds.

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