Hi Liam, please tell us about the creator behind Wowzr.
I grew up on a travelling carnival in Australia moving from town to town each week and was instilled with an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. My dad got me started in my first little business when I was 7; he ordered me some “slap bands” and set me up a stall in sideshow alley to sell them. At the end of each show I had to come back with my books done and give dad the money for the stock and the rent. I also worked for my parent’s show business spruiking on the sideshow games; getting people excited and entertaining them.
Once I was approaching high-school age, being home schooled by correspondence became increasingly difficult. My parents were adamant that I would have the best education they could possibly provide and so I was sent to boarding school, and would fly back out to meet the show on the school holidays. I was bullied quite severely in school, so this period of my life equipped me with a lot of strength and resilience.
Whilst at University I received a Co-Op scholarship which is sponsored by large companies and involves doing several 6-month work placements at different sponsor companies. After doing a few of these placements I didn’t feel that climbing the corporate ladder was for me. Shortly after University finished I went travelling and lived in Argentina and then London, where I worked in marketing for a start-up that published ski resort guidebooks. This was fantastic as it combined two of my greatest passions.
When my working holiday visa ran out I returned to Australia and went into partnership with my mum, launching several new products through live demonstrations at shows. One of these was the BoomBox vibration speaker, which is still one of our best-selling products today.
It was when I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time that I decided to make some changes in my life, and move away from the trade show industry and lifestyle. I could see the rise of online business and ecommerce and had a real interest in learning about it. My usual way to do that is just to dive in, give it a go and learn from experience. That lead to setting up our first ecommerce website with just the Boombox and that was the birth of what is now Wowzr!
The entire concept is very now and creates a strong community feeling too. What was the inspiration behind it?
I took all the inspiration from my carnival and trade show experience. I looked at ecommerce and the rise of social media, and I wanted to try and replicate the experience someone has when they go to a show and see a live demonstration in an online environment.
The idea was to film short demonstration videos that were entertaining, engaging and informative and then distribute them via Facebook. The social nature of Facebook then allows us to directly engage and have a conversation with our customers through the comments and messaging. A live chat on our own website also allows us to have a very personal approach and build a community.
How the business go from concept to launch?
Actually, it all happened pretty quickly. After I got through the first round of cancer in August 2013, I decided I wanted to get away from the trade show industry and lifestyle. I wanted to set up the online business and teach myself about ecommerce and digital marketing.
I was planning to run it as a part-time side project at first while I took some time out to be a ski instructor. I began building the first version of the website and we filmed the first video on-site at one of our trade shows with me doing the demonstration. The plan was to have the website live by the start of November to capitalise on Christmas trading. However, like many website builds it ran behind and we didn’t end up launching until January. I started experimenting with Facebook video ads and by March I had the website doing more in monthly sales than the existing trade-show business.
What was the response like from your target audience?
We had a great response right from the outset but I think we timed it perfectly. Facebook ads were only just in their infancy and, as there weren’t many businesses using them yet, it was relatively inexpensive to advertise back then. Also, it was mostly just image ads – we were among the first to use video and this made our ads stand out.
The other thing we did which I think contributed to our early success was how we defined our target audience. This came from my experience selling the product at shows. With Boombox we knew that the core target audience was teenagers but ultimately it was the parents, particularly the mothers, who would buy it for them. So, we focussed our ads on both audiences with different messaging. With the teenagers, we drove a lot of awareness and buzz and conversation around the product by focussing on how fun and different it was and encouraged them to tag their friends and parents. We then targeted the parents directly with messaging around Boombox being the perfect gift for kids, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and that combination of targeting worked well for us. The product flew out the door for the first eighteen months and gave us a good kickstart.
What is your favourite thing to do when you’re not running Wowzr?
My absolute favourite thing is skiing but I don’t get to do a lot of it anymore – too busy building Wowzr. So, I make do with lots of other outdoor activities and sports.
How did you fund it all in the beginning?
So far it has been all self-funded from a combination of savings and retained earnings – we have been cash flow positive from the start which helps. We are considering raising investment in the next 6-12 months to allow us to scale and take us through the next level of growth.
You have such an incredible story and one many can learn from. What advice would you give to those procrastinating about following their dreams?
I think the main thing that ultimately holds people back is fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of loss and so on. And this isn’t just when you’re first starting out, this fear can creep up on you at any stage of your business and does frequently (even daily) in the early years. I still get it all the time and then it can manifest in anxiety, which isn’t healthy and can lead to poor decision-making.
So, I would say the biggest thing is learning to face down and manage your fears so they don’t hold you back or cause paralysing anxiety. One thing I do is imagine the worst-case scenario and I picture what that would be like and feel like and what I would do. I also look for joy in that scenario. Invariably the worst that could happen is never as bad as your fears would have you believe and it’s unlikely that the worst-case scenario would ever come to pass anyway. You can usually change course or mitigate negative outcomes to reduce the severity and you learn from them.
My other piece of advice would be to get started in a small way and test things inexpensively before taking a big risk like leaving your job or investing all your savings on an unproven idea. This will help manage your fears if you have some proof points that what you’re planning is likely to work.
How do you measure success?
For the business, we have all the usual measures of financial and sales performance and how well we’re performing in accordance with our mission, vision, values and goals.
For me personally though, success is measured by growth. I don’t mean financial growth – but rather am I learning, developing and growing as a person, entrepreneur and leader. I think if you focus just on successes you forget that a lot of your growth comes from failures and taking risks and trying new things.
What has been the most exciting and the most challenging experience so far?
The most exciting thing was the initial launch of the first website and testing out the concept and seeing the response and validation of the idea.
The most challenging experience for me was bringing the company back from the edge of closure after returning from chemotherapy when I had cancer the second time in 2015. We had only just launched the UK business a few months earlier and put all our chips on the table, and then I was forced to take six months off to go through treatment. With minimal revenue coming in while I was away, when I returned we were on a knife-edge and it looked like we might not make it. I kept a positive attitude and persevered taking one day at a time. We got through it and are thriving again now but that was tough both mentally and physically as I was still quite unwell and recovering from treatment. It did teach me a lot about myself though and how to manage stress and stay positive under pretty nasty circumstances.
What are your top tips on staying motivated against all odds?
Get enough sleep – without enough rest you won’t be able to keep the positive mind-set that you need to stay motivated and be successful, and you’ll make unnecessary mistakes.
Make time for fun and play – make sure you’re having fun, seeing your friends and have balance in your life. If you’re all work and it gets tough it can be hard to push through it or remember why you’re doing it.
Exercise and eat well – exercise releases endorphins keeping you feeling positive and helps to clear the mind and eating well gives your body the fuel you need and keeps you feeling good.
Keep a journal – writing things down helps to clear your mind and keep you conscious, mindful and focussed.
How would you define being an entrepreneur?
Someone who sees an opportunity and finds a way to make it happen. They don’t always know what or how they’re going to do it but they’re daring enough to give it a try, resourceful enough to figure it out as they go along and determined enough to persevere through difficult circumstances.
What plans do you have for Wowzr over the next 12 months?
For the next 12 months, we’ll be focussed on scaling the business and increasing our product range. We want to get to a point where we are launching at least one new product each week. To enable this, we are probably going to need to raise external funding which will be an exciting and interesting journey.