The need to stand out from the crowd

The need to stand out from the crowd

Some call it a unique selling proposition. For others, it’s a point of difference. But whatever the words, it’s the thing that makes a business – or an individual – stand out in comparison with the competition.

In Bennett Merriman’s case it became the catalyst for the formation of Event Workforce Group, the business he co-founded with his cousin Shannan Gove, which has recently embarked on its global expansion having signed a contract with the NFL Superbowl, one of the world’s premier sporting events.

Bennett graduated from Deakin University with a degree in commerce and sports management, the first such course in Australia. As part of his degree he undertook an internship with a company involved in online event management and participant registration, while harbouring the desire for a career as a player manager in the burgeoning sports industry in Australia.

Travelling the world after finishing his degree Bennett received a call to attend a job interview in San Diego. At that time he was in Columbia and after three urgent flights on ‘budget’ airlines, an interview in which there were questions he couldn’t answer and no offer of employment he took away one lesson: the need to stand out from a crowd in which a growing number of people all had the same qualifications.

Meanwhile back in Melbourne his cousin Shannan was working for the sports management group IMG and had been involved in the Melbourne Marathon. IMG asked Shannon and Bennett to find people to staff the event. Drawing on a network of fellow students they engaged 30 people and the event went very well.

From this success the cousins concluded there was the opportunity to create a business that would enable students and graduates to get the industry experience and ongoing work that might help set them on a career path.

So was formed Event Workforce Group which today offers the people, experience and technology to support the event management industry. The group provides workforce staff for all types of events, a digital management platform comprising a fully integrated rostering, training and accrediting solution and an academy aimed at giving people a solid foundation for a career in the events industry.

After the Melbourne Marathon, word of mouth resulted in EWG being engaged for musical festivals, The Australian Masters Golf and in 2012, the University Games which were held in Geelong.

Geelong was also the start point of the Group’s global expansion after a pitch two years ago with ICT Geelong (now Technology Geelong) and some assistance from Austrade which would see EWG participate in the San Francisco Landing Pad, a Federal Government initiative to provide a base for market ready start-ups to network with Silicon Valley investors.

With five US events under EWG’s belt but as yet no great brand awareness it may well be Bennett’s “in your face” approach to business relationships, which accelerates the Group’s growth in the huge US market.

Unlike many of the sports entrepreneurs he sees in the US, who rely on the use of social media to spread their messages, Bennett believes in the importance of face-to-face dialogue to build business relationships. Engagement with people at a personal level, in which their own interests and activities are discussed, is a major part of building such relationships.

“We will often talk with our clients and prospects about what they may be doing in their private time, such as their weekend sporting activities.” 

While Bennett says his personal approach helped secure the contract to staff the Tough Mudder event on Philip Island, it was also the catalyst for fast tracking the development of EWG’s software which was scaled up to meet the requirements of the challenging obstacle course event.

“Once we have said yes to something, our approach is to get in the deep end and find a way to make it happen. This has pushed us to keep growing,” Bennett says. “It’s not something you can read from a book,” he says, describing the EWG corporate mindset.

More than 100 graduates have now gained full time work in the sports industry thanks to the EWG pathway. This aligns well with the company’s focus to promote and support the achievements of others.

Execution of the Idea the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Success

Execution of the Idea the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Success

To support his statement that ideas of themselves are worthless Henrik Scheel says there were social media sites before Facebook and search engines before Google.

“So, becoming a successful entrepreneur is all about the execution of the ideas,” the Silicon Valley based Dane told a standing room only audience at Geelong Entrepreneurs fifth breakfast seminar recently.

“To successfully execute ideas, aspiring entrepreneurs should not only share them but do so by opening up their networks of contacts as Silicon Valley demonstrates so readily.”

If this advice for entrepreneurs in the Geelong region is generic, it is underpinned by links between industry and the education sector which explain Mr Scheel’s second visit to the region in less than 12 months.

As a lecturer for SPARK@Deakin, a program run by Deakin University he is involved in an experiential program designed to give students, staff and alumni the opportunity to see, experience and relate to the early stages of the entrepreneurial path from a commercial perspective.

Drawing on his own background as an entrepreneur Mr Scheel articulates his thoughts on entrepreneurialism with a clarity and directness for which Scandinavians are known and which sees him in demand in many countries.

Largest of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs he says is the temptation to fall in love with the product or service they create, rather than the problem they are trying to solve.

Allied to this challenge is the risk assessment in which entrepreneurs should ask two questions.  Market risk poses the question, should we build this to solve a real problem. The product risk asks can we build it.

This can lead says Mr Scheel to the need to overcome conventional wisdom about when to launch a new product.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the initial customer feedback about your new idea then it is arguable that you have launched it too late into the market. In other words, feedback helps refine that idea in line with the problems that the market would like to see solved.”

A second challenge says Mr Scheel is to find people you can trust. Surround yourself with people who share your dreams and have complementary skills.

Moving to Silicon Valley he found himself in a culture that exudes self-confidence and one that is characterised by cooperation, not by a “what’s in it for me mentality”.

“The US encourages people to be top performers, to open up their networks of contacts to those they meet. An inclusive mentality is a pre-requisite to successful entrepreneurialism.”

“Problems, solutions, markets and the business are the four elements of any pitch and of these, problems are by far the most important to get across to an investor. Also bear in mind that big investors invest in teams, not in ideas,” Mr Scheel says.

So to pitch an idea successfully, entrepreneurs need to understand the background of a potential investor. Is that person a large scale venture capitalist or an angel investor or social entrepreneur who might see the benefits to communities of a particular new product or service?

Another entrepreneurial challenge is facing up to failure. Mr Scheel cites Finland’s national day of failure which he says exemplifies “that if we are to move forward we must be encouraged to examine where we have screwed up.”

In 2010, having founded two companies in Denmark before specialising in strategy development and innovation management at a global clean energy provider, Henrik Scheel moved to Silicon Valley where he founded Startup Experience, Inc. – a company that delivers interactive workshops aimed at solving social problems through entrepreneurship.

Explaining the interest of high school students and university undergraduates in the Startup Experience courses, he cites a figure that 90 per cent of jobs today are with companies that are less than five years old further highlighting the importance of an entrepreneurial culture in post-industrial Geelong.

“In a world where the job description for which someone has trained no longer exists, how to learn new skills is critical. Being an entrepreneur is no longer a choice,” he says.