This is a really interesting interview with Chris Hooper from Cirillo Hooper & Company. We cover a wide range of topics over the 62 minutes starting from Chris’ first foray into business when he was 14 right up until today and covering most things in between. This is a must watch for anyone interested in building a service based / consultancy business in Adelaide.
Big thanks to Chris for being so generous with his time. You can find out more about him at his about page.
Nick: Good day everyone. Welcome back to Adelaide Entrepreneurs. This is the show where we talk to entrepreneurs from Adelaide about what they’ve done, what they’re up to at the moment and how we can learn some stuff from them. This week, we’re lucky to be joined by Chris Hooper. Good day Chris. Welcome to the show.
Chris: Hi Nick how are you?
Nick: Good. Thanks, how are you?
Chris: Very good.
Nick: So, let’s get started by going way back to the beginning to where you started your entrepreneurship. How about you just tell us about what was your first venture and what was your first interest in businesses?
Chris: If you go right back to the start in terms of where it all started and it would probably come from family I suppose. I grew up in a very entrepreneurial household, where my dad sort of was the business side and my mom was the money side and I remember like growing up when dad started I think maybe his second or third business and I’m just watching that as a kid about how it started out from the lounge room – I remember just having to share rooms with my brother because he had all of his stock in one of the spare rooms of the house and then watching that sort of grow up got him going into a bigger shop down the road and then him moving up from that place to an even bigger warehouse on the other side of town. Then I watched him sort of as a teen ager you know grow that business and then ultimately sell it and I suppose, if you talk about me personally, I think my first venture so to speak, was when I was 13, which was actually in the wrestling space.
Believe it or not, professional wrestling. As a kid, I was obsessed with pro wrestling and I met a couple of guys that I actually went to primary school with, this is sort of when we had grown up a bit and went to high school. I think I was in Europe, I was 13 at the time and these guys were like a year ahead, they were like 14/15 respectively. I met these guys, they were both brothers. I played football with them, the Basil brothers and we all loved wrestling and we wanted to just do wrestling, you know. We wanted to sort of put on shows and you know, really get the whole wrestling thing happening in Adelaide. So, yeah, I suppose we started you know just beating the hell out of each other in their backyard but what it turned out is that there were more and more people that we knew that were actually interested in pro wrestling too, so, we all sort of got together and beat the hell out of each other but you know in their backyard.
We found a gym in the city and this is sort of fast forward, 12 months, we found a gym called Janai Kickboxing. It was a kickboxing ring but we just pretended it was a wrestling ring and by that time, we’d actually had maybe 20, 30 people who were all in their teens, who wanted to learn wrestling and wanted to put on shows that sort of stuff, you know, make it as a pro wrestlers and that was sort of more or less, a business or an organization because we were training up wrestlers and we were putting on shows, promotions and that sort of things. I suppose, in that time, I sort of got more preoccupied with the fitness side of things about sort of weight training and health and fitness and that sort of thing and the Basil brothers still stayed obsessed with the wrestling thing. In fact, that very first venture is still going on in Adelaide. It now goes by the name of Bright City Wrestling and the Basil brothers are still running that show and doing an amazing job and it’s just really funny to see some of creators of, these guys that I used to wrestle with you know.
What was it, 12, 13 years ago? People are actually sort of making it in the wrestling circuit, not just in Adelaide, but nationally. Some guys I used to train with are now touring Japan and America and that sort of stuff. It’s really good to see that’s still going. So, I suppose I stepped away from that and I got obsessed with the fitness side of things and that was sort of my next venture, as I entered into the fitness industry. I went off to get my personal training creds at about 15, started my own personal training business and gym at sort of 16, and yeah there are …
Nick: Before we delve into that, let me just ask you a couple questions about your wrestling venture.
Chris: Yeah right.
Nick: When you first got started did you, were you thinking that it would become a business or was it more something that you were doing interesting?
Chris: No, we were just doing stuff. So, this was just doing our thing. I suppose we needed money to put on shows, so we did a bit of fundraising like, car washing and stuff like that. You can imagine a whole bunch of teenagers with no money or we didn’t want it to be a business. We didn’t think even it was a business but sort of looking back you know in time it was like a legitimate organization but yeah, I suppose we just wanted to do our thing and there was some sort of you know, financial transactions involved with that.
Nick: Did you have much push back because you were young, both from trying to hire the gym and also trying to get this money and stuff like that and were the other people that were doing it with you and you were training that were a part of the events, were they a similar age? Were some of them older?
Chris: So in terms of push back, it was hard to actually do business so to speak, you know, as teenagers. The gym was actually extremely supportive of us and I think that’s because we were all paying gym fees and that sort of stuff. So, it worked out for them in the long run, so, that was fine. I think the parents were not particularly supportive. I think one, because of the professional wrestling and we were going to end up killing ourselves and two, just because of this whole, this isn’t a real job type thing and I think yeah, just – we weren’t taken very seriously but I think relative to our age and that sort of stuff and the fact that’s still going, sort of 15 years on, I think it is a real testament, sort of, to some of the motivation of the guys in there.
Nick: Awesome. Let’s move on then to your next area of business, when you moved into fitness. You were telling us a story about that. I’ll let you go on with that.
Chris: Look, there wasn’t much of a story. I went into the fitness industry because I was really interested in that and I must admit, this was before sort of, I think, every man and his dog you know, identify themselves as a personal trainer. The money was good, I really enjoyed the work but I must admit at about 19, I had this sort of realization that you know what, I could see that the business was becoming commoditized. This was around the time the fitness first was moving into , which was a big sort of wow, this is going to change things a lot. So, more and more personal trainers coming into market and I just had this sort of moment where it’s like, I don’t think I can do this for the next sort of 40 years, 50 years of my life.
This isn’t a career, it was a fun thing at a time but I supposed I wanted something more substantial to sink my teeth in and then, at the same time, in that business, I was having trouble, sort of with accounting and record keeping and budgeting and all about sort of stuff. So, I just sort of made the decision at 19 that you know what, I need to sort of get this numbers things right because it’s really important in business and I just have no idea what I’m doing and that’s when I ultimately made this sort of decision to actually go to university and study accounting.
Nick: Ok, cool, right. So, you sort of knew that numbers was important from the stuff you’ve done that’s why you went to Uni?
Chris: Yes, it was one of my weakness.
Nick: Right and probably now, you’re biggest strength?
Chris: That’s right.
Nick: So, when you’re at Uni, did you continue with some entrepreneurial stuff or was it mostly studying or partying or but what was Uni life like?
Chris: Look, Uni life was pretty good. I think for the first six months until I get bored of all the partying and I also had a mentor from my gym, who was an accountant, a chartered accountant and she told me, she said Chris, you need to get work experience, sort of immediately in this profession because there’s only so much you’re going to learn from Uni. I took her advice quite seriously and said look, I need to get a job in the accounting profession if I’m going to learn sort of, everything I’m studying at Uni or if I want to apply that. So, I just sort of, when about – sort of set my intentions to actually getting work in the field, so I can learn it better.
I think about half way through first year, I landed a job as a junior accountant at a bank just outside the city and then sort of used that opportunity to learn as much as I could, work around all the different areas like accounting, so I could just sort of just learn everything. And then what happened was, I was taking the stuff I was learning sort of at Uni and applying it at work and then the stuff I was learning at work, applying it to Uni. So, I really did learn a lot in those sort of 3 and 4 years. So, as far as entrepreneurial, I suppose I was in the working world for a few years there but that sort of, that passion never died down sort of, while I was at work and studying. I, so they setup the start up club with Jack Quickcobe and James Gavin. I don’t know if you’ve spoken to them before but that was back in about 2008, because we wanted to sort of mix and mingle with sort of, entrepreneurs and we sort of concluded that there must be more than three of us in Adelaide. So, we set up a Facebook group, sort of 5, 6 years ago and it turned out, there was more than sort of three young entrepreneurs in Adelaide. So, we just held meet ups like once a month and you know, just got to know one another. I think that was the first sort of, starting of an entrepreneurial community so far as this genuine entrepreneurial community is concerned, that’s where it all sort of started from there.
Nick: Let’s stop there and just talk a little bit about what you’ve just said there. You bring up about the work experience and also the having a mentor while you are at Uni, which sounds like, really helped you to learn, how’d in three years you’re learning a lot more probably than your other classmates. And you got that mentor from the gym, which is handy, but if people were in a similar situation and they’re trying to, perhaps looking for someone like him, a mentor, do you have any advice for finding one? Is a mentor a general business person who can help you or is it better from your industry or what are your thoughts on that?
Chris: So, in terms of mentors like, I’d say go multiple mentors for starters. So, it doesn’t necessary well like someone in your industry is a good start but someone you know that you admire in the business community that’s not necessarily in your discipline. I mean, even today, I still have you know a whole bunch of mentors that I actually sort of meet with on a fairly regular basis. Some are in my industry, some are sort of outside my industry, some are entrepreneurs, some are executives etc, etc.
I think everyone needs a whole myriad of mentors and in terms of how you go about getting them, just put yourself out there. You can do it through networking, you can just ask family and friends like, hi I need a mentor you know, does anyone know anyone you know, these specifications? Somebody always knows somebody and then what I’ve seen happening in the universities here in Adelaide is that all four year universities are actually building like really good mentor programs where they’re actually getting their alumni, you know, from university and matching them up with all kinds of students. So, I think those are really good programs. So, you can always just approach the university that you’re in, and go and do you have a mentor program and how can I be involved?
Nick: And the with the working experience, did you just apply for a job that was out there or did you actually go to companies and say I want to do some working experience and get them to create something for you almost?
Chris: So, I hustled in terms of getting work experience. As soon as Cali said, “You need to get a job in this profession,” I’m gonna ok, well that’s what I’m gonna do and I just pretty much blasted every single firm in Adelaide until I got a job. Incidentally, the job I ended up getting was a actually through a family’s friend. It’s an Adelaide thing right? I said that sort of I was studying accounting and she worked in an accounting firm and got me an introduction and later an interview. Yeah, it was just one of those things that happened. I don’t think it was a position advertised. They took a whole bunch of sort of, they take sort of undergraduate students every single year like a whole intake of them, so I just got in on that program and yes, I suppose the rest, as they say, is history.
Nick: Also, and did you stay at that position for the whole time you’re at Uni or for a substantial period or…?
Chris: Yeah, Yeah. I think I can’t quite remember what the time frame was but I was there for the entire duration of my degree and then also about half way through my post graduate diploma as well.
Nick: Cool. Well, let’s move on now perhaps to sort of after Uni or as you were finishing Uni and the period in between and then also how you go into your current business, think that’s the progression but you can correct me if it’s not. How did that work?
Chris: Alright, so I suppose I was working in public practice starting – I always knew I was gonna be a business owner on in life, that was it. So, then the accounting thing for me, I suppose was just like a brief detour to up skill while I was young, but ultimately for me, I knew that my destiny so to speak was always going to be a entrepreneurship and business and that sort of thing. And I think by the time I graduated, I just had this sort of realization going, Look, I’m pretty good at this accounting stuff, why don’t I start a business here, you know and I saw plenty of opportunities for innovations in the accounting space. I was pretty good at it you know. I enjoyed the work and it was like, yeah let’s just do that. So once I sort of got that brain waves, sort of around graduation, it was like ok, I’ve had that idea now, well, how do I actually make that a reality?
Well, the start was actually getting out the firm that I was currently in because I can’t I exactly start up a firm while I’m in another firm. So, I took a brief sort of sabbatical, so to speak in the corporate sector, working as like a finance analyst for a big rail company who down radio. So, I used that time while I was at Downer, to sort of take some time out of public practice and then use the time I did have while working in the corporate sector to start planning going ok, well, how’s this business gonna look? What are we going to do, the entire business planning process and I suppose that took about 12 to 18 months and just sort of at that same time, my best friend from primary school, Marcus Sirelo, who, his father actually owned a bookkeeping and management accounting practice.
He was looking at sort of selling off his business and retiring so it was just sort of over the line where I was helping sort of Marcus’s father Julio, implement the succession arrangement between Julio and his son Marcus, who was my friend. Marcus had worked at the firm for a while then and Julio obviously wanted to look after his family and give the business to Marcus, rather than just sort of selling it to you know, someone random. So, I held that sort of go through and then it was like well, you know, if that’s happening, you know, that’s cool and how about I just bought myself on and suddenly, the firm becomes you know, not just a bookkeeping and management accounting but a full service sort of accounting firm, yes, that does tax, compliance, business advisories, etc. etc. So, I took all of the skill that I sort of I picked up and bolted them up in Marcus business and then, from that, we used this as an opportunity to completely reign in the business. So, we start from scratch with the sort of client based that you know inherited from Julio’s Serilo.
Nick: Awesome and the skills required to write a business plan as you said or thinking about getting into a business and how you would do that, are these skills that you learned at Uni, or are these skills that you picked up elsewhere from before or you just do it and sort of learn as you did it, sort of thing?
Chris: I think it was a myriad, a combination of all of those things, Nick where, it was like a combination of some stuff I learned from university, some stuffs I’d learned from our previous businesses and then there was a lot of stuff that I’d sort of learned you know, just online and that sort of stuff you know, using all the resources you can find on the internet these days and pretty much just took a combination of all of them and used that to sort of develop the process. I’m quite happy to say that sort of the business plan that we did put together was the most comprehensive business plan I’ve ever put together.
Some of these businesses, I’ve been involved with before, we just sort of rushing to it and then working it all out as we go along whereas this actually had one extensive almost exhausted sort of business plan to it but I’d say that you know half of the success of the business today is a attributable to that business plan because we always sort of referred back to it for guidance because there was a lot of stuff in there, like the vision and the values and the purpose. That stuff was really well thought out for us and it sort of just set the scene for the entire business.
Nick: Awesome. That sounds like something maybe we should drill on, drew down a little bit. How long did you spend creating this business plan?
Chris: I’d probably say about 18 months believe it or not and I used a lot of, I suppose, it was, for me, it was procrastination for my graduate diploma, so when I should have been studying for my exams, I was working on the business plan, but I was caught [Inaudible 00:19:04] about it because what I was doing was taking concepts that I was learning from my graduate diploma and then applying them into the business plan.
I’d be writing stuff and textbook and I’ve been thinking how does that relate to, you know to my business? So I was sort of learning interactively, which I think really helped me so it wasn’t kind of current, well let’s say it was procrastination. Yeah, it took about 18 months and I’d say almost yeah a few hundred hours actually went into actually building that plan and the thing is I wasn’t able to, it was an internal business plan as well, so, we didn’t need a banks or investors or anything like that but we’re still very well developed and yeah, well executed thereafter.
Nick: And did the plan involve lots of thought of how you were gonna innovate in a space, how you were going to set yourself apart, and how did you sort of come up with these things that a person’s doing, sort of lots of research and sort of figuring at how you could differentiate yourself and how also did you incorporate all the look, like the new technologies, which I guess it ran that time or perhaps a little earlier and really start to impact on the space with cloud, surfaces and what not?
Chris: So, it all started with a ton of research, a ton of research. I think were my one bit of advice is out of this is ibizworld.com or eu, maybe or just dot com. You can get tons of research on whatever industry you’re starting up in. So, I’ve got my hands on an ibizworld report for the accounting profession. There were also some good [Inaudible 00:20:42] in this space and fortunately, I think, in the accounting profession, it’s easy to get tons of research because accountants love that sort of stuff, so, like there were, we had just heaps and heaps you know market research reports, bench marking reports and all of this sort of stuff. I actually, I’ve read through these, read over and over and over again and that’s where we sort of picked up on some of the opportunities there. I mean, some of the opportunities in the profession is just sort of staring me quietly in the face but there were some more subtle ones, like particular the technology that you touch on. That’s been huge for our business and sort of, when we were in the process of starting up that was just sort of like an emerging trend, this whole cloud, the accounting stuff.
That was like, it could be you know something big but at the moment it’s something pretty small. I can’t even remember how many customers we had back then, when we was starting up but it wasn’t that many and the product itself wasn’t that impressive but I suppose we saw the way that the business was moving, the way the market was heading and we saw the software for what it could be and you know, the implications that it could have on the industry and ultimately we just sort of took a gamble. We sort of went, you know what, we’re going to go to the cloud thing because we can save on server cost, we can save on software cost etc. etc. There were a myriad of reasons why we decided for cloud accounting but it all sort of paid off in the end, you know, today.
Nick: Would you recommend for someone who’s about to start a business, that they spend as much time as you did, doing a business plan? You think that I mean, I guess, 18 months, you could lose some ground, I guess, in that time but maybe it’s worth it in the end?
Chris: I’d say yes and no ok. So, sometimes I see clients and you know startup some business on obsessing about planning phase and they get stuck in the planning phase and they never launch and then conversely, I see people rush into business without a plan and then they end up getting burnt halfway through. So, I think there is a medium a like a happy middle ground and I think if depends on the nature of the business and the nature of the industry you are in. So, because we’re in a very existing slow moving industry, it didn’t matter that we were gonna spend 18 months sort of planning and developing and making sure everything was right before we launched.
Whereas, things like technology start up like, if you spend 18 months planning for, you know an iphone app or something like that, you know, we don’t even know if iphone is gonna be the dominant technology in 18 months time, so you can’t spend that kind of time, you know planning that. Whereas, if you were opening, let’s say, a bakery, yeah you can spend 18 months planning that . In fact, if you do spend 18 months planning the bakery, chances are you’re gonna be more successful than somebody that just rushes into it. So, I think it depends on, sort of the nature of the space you’re actually working in and ultimately it becomes a judgment call.
Nick: Cool, cool. Moving, moving on now. So, when you got into the business, let’s just say you already had some of the existing client base that you could work with, a nice sort of start to get started. How did you go about getting your first new clients? What was, sort of, those methods you used to get them?
Chris: There wasn’t really much of a method you know, in the very early stage because it was one of those things where it was just a word of mouth thing. It was like “Oh, Chris has opened up his own accounting firm. Cool, I want to do business with Chris.” Everyone jumped on, so, sort of as soon as we launched, initially, we just had this huge influx of clients, you know, which were people I had existing relationships with that wanted to work with me and yet then did. So, I suppose yeah, day one was actually sort of, you know, that was a piece of cake but obviously that dies off and I see that happens in businesses all the time, where there’s this initial flurry of activity but then things sort of like taper off like, it’ the same as restaurants and cafés and bars and that sort of thing.
When you have the big launch night and the opening night, the place is packed, for sort of three months straight but then sort of, people, it’s not new anymore, and the people sort of move on etc., etc. So, one day it’s just a matter of you know sort of staying relevant, you know, and meeting new people you know in a professional services business. So, thereafter, while we were sort of capitalizing on the initial flurry of activity, I was still sort of laying ground work in the networking context and in the marketing context, to make sure that sort of all the new business didn’t sort of dry up immediately after that sort of influx of activity.
Nick: Cool, and that brings up an interesting point, which you said before. You’re obviously a very charismatic and networked person. Do you, is your personal branding a big part of the businesses branding or do you try to get those fairly separate? How do you sort of work that?
Chris: That’s a very interesting question that I was just thinking about this morning, that my personal brand is very much mixed up with the firm but at the same time, they’re very much separate because I’ve got some activities that are outside of the practice that I am involved with personally that have nothing to do with the firm but then, and as well, I’m also mindful that I don’t want the firm to be a personality based sort of business, because that means that I’m no longer involved, with it, it sort of loses all of it’s sort of you know inherent value. So, I’ve been very mindful, although I’m sort of making advantage, taking advantage of my own brand in a context of while I’m at the firm. I want to make sure that the firm has its own brand and its own image, so that it can sustain itself indefinitely, even after I’ve got other partners working in the business after me.
Nick: Cool, and do you have many specific recommendations or advice on how people can do that in general? If they, cause a lot of small businesses especially with the sort of charismatic owners, will be wanting to leverage that as you said but if they want to have stay an exit, where they send other business or something, they want to be able to make it carry on without them. So, do you have any specific recommendations on how people can get that separation going or is it just about creating that strong brand within the business as well or is there anything else you can add to that?
Chris: I think it’s about being mindful of all sorts of your exit plan before you’ve even started the business. You don’t necessarily need to define that you will exit this day for this much money but you do need to be mindful of what am I gonna do after this business and then ultimately, you can just think about gearing up the business to continue as a going concern, even after you’re gone. So, if you’re conscious of it from day one, it doesn’t really become that big an issue because I suppose for the business to survive without you, you need other people in the business and then what you can do is you can help those people that are rising up in the ranks in your business to build their own personal brands and grow from there. So, I suppose yeah, the easiest way is to be conscious of it from day one, pretend like you are huge multimillion dollar corporation from the very first day and what would a multimillion dollar corporation do? Well, it would have a Twitter account with a picture of the owner, using the company’s handle.
That’s now what a multimillion dollar company would do, that’s what a consultant would do. So, I think that’s probably been the easiest way to think about it and that’s what we did. We pretended like we were this huge accounting firm, so far as our website and our branding, in our social media, in our marketing and everything was concerned, we wanted to sort of, even though the firm didn’t exist yet, we wanted to just act as if we were a multimillion dollar accounting firm and then by virtue of us pretending we were a multimillion dollar accounting firm, it’s just sort of became natural for us. There was no adjustment, in terms of growing pains or anything like that cause we just grew into the size that we were aspiring to be anymore.
Nick: That’s really interesting. Do you have any specifics stories related to that, how you sort of built up this picture of being a most [Inaudible 00:29:39] accounting firm when you were obviously quite small to begin with? Apart from just the branding, was there anything else in particular that you were dealing with?
Chris: There was a set of things that we actually did. So, the first thing we, I suppose the most notable thing that we did was actually moved into the building that we’re at now before the business even existed. So, there’s a service office facility that we use in this building cause I always knew I was gonna end up in the Aurora Building. I just love this place but there’s actually a service office company in the building, so we got up landline numbers and mailboxes, set up within the building before we’d even moved into the building. So, we automatically had this CBD presence before the business had even started, which means we can have, we had something to put on the business card and something to put on the website and that sort of stuff. I suppose what that did is, let me spin it around this way.
Whenever I get sort of a business card with just a mobile number, a mobile phone number and an email address, I get a bit anxious because I’m like is it just one person? What happens if that one person gets sick, how are they going to look after my business etc., etc. and I’m not the only one who thinks like that, particularly if you’re doing business with a bigger sort of company that’s employing a hundred people. Those nerves sort of start to set in as soon as you see that in a business card or on a website or something like. We wanted to, I suppose put our prospective clients at ease, going look, even though we weren’t there yet, we were going to be there so we just set up a presence from the start and then sort of soon after we actually did physically move into the building although we’re very light in terms of office infrastructure and that sort of stuff, we’ve still got that physical presence in the building and that’s mainly because I hate working from home and I need sort of a big space where I can spread out and have fast internet and that sort of thing. Yeah, I think that CBD presence was really important for us.
Nick: Cool, Cool. Let’s talk a little bit about growth. How long was it before you hired someone else apart from the two partners at that stage?
Chris: Yeah, that’s right. I think it wasn’t particularly long after we hired somebody else, Kimberly, who was just sort of a friend to both Marcus and I. She started off like, I just needed help, in terms of like, I had too much work. It started off very informal and it’s typically just to [Inaudible 00:32:21] something like that and it started just helping out and then I think by virtue of that, Kimberly really like bought into the business and what we were doing and got really passionate about what she’s done. She’s grown like as the firm’s grown, so Kimberly, she used to be my personal assistant and she sort of just became the general you know, practice administrator and now she’s actually becoming an accountant herself.
I’m going, she’s been here from day one. She’s always supported us, she’s gone with us and she’s the perfect partnership candidate for us now. So, yeah that’s how it all sort of came together and then just more and more people sort of came on and going then people come and people go and yeah its sort of a fact of life now that we are employing people and we are, I suppose on leverage with other people’s talents and skills within the business to create this multiplier effect in terms of growth. It’s because we got lots of different people, with lots of different skills and it has a profound effect on the business.
Nick: Do you have any tips or how did you learn how to hire people or was that not your job or I guess, when you’re the business owner, you usually wear many hats, so I assume you had some role in that?
Chris: Pretty much all the hiring decisions have come through me. This is probably terrible advice but I actually hire on gut, like intuition more than anything. I remember Gemma Chellin. I actually hired in about half a second in an elevator like that’s a bit a funny story in that, I’ve known Gemma for months when she worked at IC and then as soon as I found out she was looking for work, it was you want to work here and it was done. I suppose, so yes, I do hire, actually do that. I see a lot of startup sort of small businesses operating and I must admit I’m guilty of it myself as well but we do have sort of [Audio break 00:34:26] and stuff.
People do want to work here, so we have no trouble so far as recruitment is concerned. This huge network of people, most of which I could sort of pick up the phone and go hi, do you want to [Audio break 00:34:40] that? I suppose, we’re never going to have to advertise vacant positions. We just build this network and we screen the people before you know we advertise a vacancy, so we know exactly what job we need to fill both within our networks, who we can get to actually fill them.
Nick: That’s pretty cool. I guess part of that being able to do that would be having a business that people want to work for. Have you done anything beyond business which is going places? Have you done anything to make it a fun, interesting place to work?
Chris: Yeah, that was a big focus when we started up. I suppose we wanted to make this a firm where people wanted to work and just by simply doing that, where people wanted to come to work, we got really good pay like on board and we got lots of innovation in the business. I was told just yesterday about time we’d spent sort of mocking around in the office is actually super sort of innovative, creative, productive time for us because time we spend mocking around is actually very creative process for us. What we do in that time is was we discover technology and new innovations that you know, we may spend a couple hours playing Xbox, a few hours having beers down the road but in that time, we sort of have this idea on an aha moment between the team and it’s like those kinds of ideas have actually had a very profitable effect in terms of the technology that we’re actually implementing in the business. So, the time we sort of spend having fun is actually paying off, from our technology perspective.
Nick: On that point how, do you encourage that kind of creativity but not working all the time. How do you sort of balance that with actually needing to get things done sometimes, like do you set a you know like a 20% time, where people can work on their own things. Is it like a set thing or do you just do it on gut like hiring? How do you sort of balance that?
Chris: It’s yeah I think – to balance and I think ultimately, it’s about sort of just deadlines, yeah. I found that most people are grown up and they understand the concept of sort of deadlines and to get stuff done within a set sort of time frame with a set amount of resources. So, we just set deadlines when stuff has to get done by and then stuff gets done by that and if you finish your job early sort of under budget and you sort of submitted that before the deadline and you’ve got some downtime, use that downtime. So, it’s not something that’s very structured. In fact, it’s quite unstructured in the way it works, the structure comes just by having sort of, definite of deadlines and what kind of system’s in place.
Nick: I mean, I’m not sure how it actually is but from my perspective, it seems that the accounting industry has a reputation of being sort of boring and almost not like that at all, so what other company’s working on this technique of really making a good place to work or is this a point of difference which you lead?
Chris: I think the HR things specifically, is very unique to our firm. That said like I know plenty of cool partners from other firms like both locally and interstate that kind of, they get the importance of having a good cultural fit and looking after you know their people and sort of stuff. So, I wouldn’t say it apply to all firms but there are certainly some mostly, which I have like personal relationships with partners who are doing an amazing job in terms of like motivating and engaging, that they are doing an amazing job.
Nick: And is the culture, is that something that you sort of set down on your original business plan or is that something that sort of changed overtime in to what you are now or something?
Chris: I think the foundation for the culture was set in the business plan but it didn’t really come to life until – I suppose I had this brain wave on a plane on the way to the business when I was – [Audio break 00:39:10] just going that just doesn’t feel good, yeah and if I can’t buy into the vision of the firm, then somebody else going to buy into the vision? So, I had this brain wave on the plane and I pitch this idea to Marcus who was on the plane with me and he’s like yeah, that’s cool, I like that. And then sort of immediately I’m going to clear with our office manager and said directionally, this is where we’re heading. I made you to do this up and sort of do some research and pitch your ideas to me about how we can make this better and I think it was a collaborative process where people in the company and people still coming into the company, helped build the culture of the firm there.
Nick: Great I think it’s something that a lot of sort of technology businesses and sort of more startups and tech based businesses are doing from the example of Google, I get before and Facebook and, instead of calling a new tech company, perhaps it’s not as prevalent in sort of financial services industry.
Chris: It feels more like a tech company, like a start up that does an accounting firm, like that’s what is lacking here so, I kind of introduce the businesses like if an accounting firm and a software company made a baby that’s what like our company would be.
Nick: Yeah, I did get the feeling, that that feeling myself when I came to your office one time for meetings so I can attest to that. We talk a bit a little bit about how the business has changed over the period. How long has it been running for?
Chris: Two years now.
Nick: Two years. How has it changed? I don’t have any specific questions on which parts but in general?
Chris: To be honest, not much has changed. All there is more technology. We just keep piling more and more tech to constantly streamline and improve efficiency, improve speed of our [Audio break 00:41:20], that sort of stuff. I suppose because everything was kind of set in the business plan we sort of we hit the ground running and we just keep running ever since and I want to focus on this sort of continuous improvement and innovation to continue to grow the business and improve the business and stream line it and that sort of thing. Fundamentally, nothing has actually changed like in terms of you know what we stand for and the vision and the values and all.
That’s technology innovation that we actually had was operations and training like — sort of an online application. We do about sort of in-house solution because I knew that if the business continued to grow at this sort of pace, that we were gonna have a lot of trouble in terms of HR and training and just getting our staff trained up really quickly so that they can be sort of proficient from day one. So, we spend a lot of time and money in the space sort over the last months so that’s probably been the biggest project that we’ve actually embarked on, technology and people concern.
Nick: Were there any curve balls or sort of the industry general? Maybe it was a new competitors or new technology out that you didn’t expect or did you have a pretty good idea when you think sort of coming out, you could sort of plan for them and the work around them?
Chris: I think my staff hates me because we are constantly changing systems because what happens is new technology is out. We’ve been around for 3 years and we’ve already gone through so many system overhaul. So, new technology comes out and it’s better than the technology that we’re on, so let’s get that and use the new system. So, we’ve got to sort of undo and re-do and re-implement, to retrain everyone etc., etc. but sort of that become embedded into the culture of firm like, “Oh, yeah Chris is changing the software again,” so we don’t get that sort of push back and change management. Everyone here expects things to change constantly, so, this streamline that sort of change management and implementation process, so that when new technology does happen, we can adopt and integrate it very rapidly into the business.
Nick: Is your role, do you still have a major role within, I guess the strategy of the accounting or the accounting work or – his your role more about HR and business processes and things like that?
Chris: Sort of, 10% of my job is about accounting to put it into context, like in terms of sitting in front of the computer and actually smashing numbers out, that sort of stuff and then outside, probably the remaining sort of 90%, 45% is sort of on quite relationships and communication and the other 45% is sort of internally based. So, not just people but strategy and all of that sort of stuff, very much sort of, your typical CEO type role that I’m actually in. So, in terms of my accounting work, it’s very much on signing off on sort of others people’s work and making sure it’s consistent with our systems and procedures and that sort of stuff, because ultimately, the buck stops with me.
I’ve got to sort of approve everything before it goes out and yeah, I suppose then doing really high end of technical modeling and that sort of stuff and that’s the kind of accounting work that I enjoy, I suppose. I’ve been, enjoy seeing, just watching accounting firms and just businesses in general where good accountant and accounting practices, they often struggle, whereas, I’ve never really identified as an Accountant but was identified as an entrepreneur and I just so happened to be in the accounting business. [Inaudible 00:45:23] I’m not even that good an accountant but I know how to hire really good ones and I think that helps us sort of scale on leverage because I’m not bogged down in tax or in accounting work. I’m actually sort of working in a, a more sort of leadership type function than sort of doing the technical work.
Nick: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting point and something that’ probably important for people to think about. They want to scale a business beyond themselves, cause you only have so many hours in the day but on that point of scaling, would you always have to maintain the role where you’re the point man for interfacing with clients? Is that something that could passed off or is it important that it has to be you, as the person in the business?
Chris: Look, it’s in the name that it’s not just me, yeah, because the company is not called Chris Hooper Incorporated and it shouldn’t be or else I’ll be working until the day I die. So, I suppose, step 1 for us was sort of leverage [Audio break 00:46:31] about that leadership function, in terms of getting someone to actually run the business, in terms of strategically and then also getting someone who’s good with clients and sort of communicate tax concepts to clients and that sort of thing, even for the business in fact, typically the accountants who were actually good at communicating ideas to clients, they are the ones that go off and set up their own practices. So, it’s up to me to actually identify them and then sort of, head hunt them before they put up their own firms, so, yeah. I mean, that’s going to be a challenge for us in the future. I mean, I’m still young and I actually love this business, so I’ll be around for a very long time so that’s just something that’s in the back of my head that I need to think about and start action on sort of aggressively?
Nick: Are there any thoughts on generally scaling service base businesses or consulting businesses?
Chris: It doesn’t happen. We are very fast growing firm, faster than all of the other accounting firms, sort of out there but then at the same time relative like our industry is actually growing exceptionally slower than some of the other industries out there. Because I work a lot in the technology sector, I see clients going from sort of zero to a 500% year on year in a very short period of time. So, I’m sort of here sitting, chugging along and it feels like I’m getting like behind by some of this technology companies. I find that the professional services companies doesn’t scale very quickly to all industries because it’s so it’s not just labor intensive, it’s also personality intensive. So, I think those are some of the issues we’ve touched on previously, where, if I’m going to be doing accounting work, I would not have time to go out and find new customers etc., etc.
We solved that issue pretty quickly but even still, I’m still the one sort of bringing in new clients and that sort of stuff, so it’s still very much contingent on more buckle up the essence of whatever I’m doing, to bring clients into the business and sort of spread that across a hundred people, whilst maintaining the actual service [Audio break 00:48:52] behind the scenes, so, it’s quite a challenge. They say in the accounting business, and I think [Audio break 00:48:58] as well but it takes 10 years to build a million dollar firm. Now, we are on track to actually achieve that much, about even then like a million dollars over ten years in a technology company, that’s not even worth our effort. I see technology companies going from zero to up, common crumb.
Nick: Cool, and in general for owning a consulting service business, should people be thinking of different models perhaps like controlling the number of people you have on board and I guess you’ve done a lot with the technology as well, to sort of streamline the processes, but there’s also, I guess not growing necessarily but growing the amount that you charge. Is that, is there a [Audio break 00:49:52], is there a consistent for figuring how you should grow this way?
Chris: It’s ultimately up to the actual proprietor of the business owner in terms of what they want to do but they need to have a really good grip, like reason for growth, like as an example we’ve actually set the growth of the business, we’ve actually put a sort of a ceiling on the size of our firm to two million dollars and the reason is because that, in the accounting business, you actually get a diminishing marginal return sort of on process after a certain point of revenue. To grow the firm beyond two million dollars, I need to start taking one of particular partners, and to take on additional partners in addition to myself, dilutes the sort of equity in the profit pull by virtue of that.
The firm gets sort of an incremental profit increase relative to the sort of ex-financial revenue increase. In the service business, sometimes it’s not actually worth it, so you can focus on efficiency or accountability, without necessarily growing revenue but it will be very much industries specific. In terms of the actual service business, I’ve seen a lot of successful start ups in the technology space, they’ve actually come from software or web development sort of consultancies, where it’s been one or two people maybe a couple of star but in this very sort of slow growth type environment but what they are using is this consultancy business to actually grow positive, you can make money pretty much immediately, as soon as you set up shop and the cash flow was very good, wherein sort of text start up where it’s like software or apps or something like that, from 12 months to 24 months. What you can use is that consultancy to actually that sort of time period and what ultimately happens is you got this sort of consultancy growing like this but then the text style actually takes over that and then that sort of switch gears, which [Audio breaks 00:51:51] high growth prospect.
Nick: That’s pretty interesting. I had another question which just escaped my head for the moment, so let’s move on. Could you identify perhaps, some of your biggest challenges, the processes of building your business and how [Audio breaks 00:52:14] them?
Chris: I think my biggest challenge in this business is staying focused and concentrating. I have a classic case of entrepreneurial idea a day, where I get all these awesome opportunities. I had great ideas and I thought ohh, you know and I want to go focus on that sort of stuff. I’m quite fortunate to have, the sort of people in my business and you know and sort of stuff, “Chris, just focus on this one for a while, okay.” Build it up and then you can go out and sort of start whatever else , whatever project you want to go on to. So I think that personally, actually just focusing and concentrating on one thing as opposed to 100 [Audio breaks 00:52:59]. So, I think that’s been my number one challenge, concentrate. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have that same challenge.
Nick: Yeah, I was kind of mention that something that I also struggled with. I mean, even when you try to fix one thing, you find ways of branching out with ideas of business so you’ve got to try and maintain that focus. I did remember the question I was gonna ask, which was about the analysis you mentioned about your growth strategies. I that something you can or should do and how do you go about doing that?
Chris: That’s definitely something that you actually need to talk to your accountant about. The first things first, you need to access find the data, okay. It’s typically called bench marking data and it almost seem to be exactly the same but in terms of traditional businesses, let’s say, let’s go back to the bakery. If you run a bakery, you can benchmark yourself against every other bakery in the entire country and what you can do is analyze those benchmarks those and well, your accountant again, this is the high ends sort of number crunching here. You can analyze these numbers and you can find these sort of sweet spots in terms of growth and profitability and that sort of stuff and you can sort of set your budget and your targets to the sweet spot and that sort of call it a day there, so to speak.
Nick: Great. That’s probably all the questions I’ve got for sort of, the business side of things. We’ve touch on a few times, networking and your networks and then you’re [Inaudible 00:54:35] running and that relates to that. I’m really interested in networking and connecting with people and I’d like to hear some of your thoughts and perhaps your advice on ways to go about networking, good ways to identify who’s been networking with, how to get these relationships going? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Chris: One, just meet as many people as you possibly can. You’re not necessarily going to do business with them all but they may know people who know people and that sort of thing and in terms of like networking about some sort of thing, don’t walk after these things with the intention of actually doing business with everyone there, just – I go there with the intention of just meeting as many people’s as I can and making as many new friends as I possibly can and if business relationships happens to sort of come out of that by virtue of the relationship that we sort of build anyway, then so be it. I don’t go there with the sort of intention of I must get five new clients from this networking event. I just go out there and meet people and relationships form from that.
Nick: And also sort of going, I guess nurturing the relationships after the initial meeting. Do have any kind of system for doing that or is it just when you come across with them again and when you see them on social media, you make it a point of connecting or reconnecting?
Chris: It’s not really that I have a system or anything like that or software for it, although sometimes I wish I do but it’s like, it’s about friendships and relationships and that sort of thing. So, the rules have sort of human interaction of life so people that I see quite frequently, I have really good relationships with and that sort of stuff. So, I’m quite active on some social media and sort of interact with the people that I meet through that and then I suppose if in Adelaide, we sort of cross paths constantly and may constantly sort of checking in, crossing paths at different events and that sort of thing and then sort of make a conscious effort to have coffee and lunch and dinner and breakfast with as many people as we possibly can but there’s no definitive system to it.
Nick: Alright. Let’s switch now to our last topic here. Just talk about the Adelaide stuff. You mentioned the start up club which is [Inaudible 00:56:49]. How long, 2008, I think you mentioned. I remember when that got started, I had it on my sort of to do a list to go along to an event and I never sort of got along there and then it kind of petered out by the time I’d come back but how have you sort of – let’s give us perhaps a brief rundown of how you think this, this scene or the start scene in Adelaide and the entrepreneurial scene has changed perhaps, since you first started the start up club up until now?
Chris: I think the scene of the community eco system or whatever word you want to use has actually evolved with the technology, yeah. So, back in 2008 all of this sort of were two very emerging technology, like it was still there obviously but it sort of it wasn’t sort of a critical mass yet but it was there and we identified that it was there and that people were starting up sort of websites and making money and that was sort of cool and new and exciting and that sort of thing. I think things had been sort of, growing in terms of activity and ex-financial way and you would have noticed this as well, sort of even just out of the last six months the things has just been really sort of getting to this vertical here.
I think Adelaide specifically is sort of at a state of flux now, where everyone I meet or everyone I come across, says there’s stuff happening, it feels like something huge is about to happen and unlike them, with them, we are so lucky right now in Adelaide because just as we speak, right, we’ve got things like the entrepreneurs challenge, mega, innovize, start up weekend, the South Australian young entrepreneurs scheme. All of these awesome, different programs all firing up simultaneously and I think now more than ever, sort of entrepreneurs have the opportunity to really get involved in terms of these programs cause half of these didn’t even exist back in 2008 so I watched more and more stuff actually come in and it’s just amazing to watch.
Nick: Cool and what do you think of some of the stuff I’ve been hearing recently about Adelaide could be the next Silicon Valley or the next text center, I guess or the next, the place to have a startup? Do you think it’s a possibility or where do you think Adelaide could fit in there? Do we have things that could – obviously, we’ve got some stuff here being cheaper than some of the cities on the East of Adelaide, smaller, easier to get around. What are your thoughts on that?
Chris: So, I suppose first things first like Adelaide can’t be Silicon Valley you know. No other city can be Silicon Valley, yeah. That’s like me saying that I’m gonna be the next you, you know. No matter how much like I try to be like you, I could never be you and by virtue of that Adelaide can’t be Silicon valley, yeah. So, what Adelaide needs to be is Adelaide, yeah. So, let’s just be better at being Adelaide and so far as technology’s concerned, yes we can role model and emulate all of the other sort of the biggest cities in terms of what are they doing?
What can we be doing here to be better but whenever – we shouldn’t act as a City or as a community trying to be, aspire to be something that we are not. We should just take what we’ve got, in terms of what we’ve got uniquely and focus on that and just continue to focus internally but network externally, yeah. So, working without counterparts in Australia, in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Brisbane and even New Castle and other start up hubs across Australia and then also branching out overseas, in terms of working with start up hubs in America and Europe and that sort of thing and South East Asia as well.
Nick: Great. I think that’s a nice sort of note to end the interview on. Before we finish up, is there any questions that you think maybe I should have asked you but I haven’t?
Chris: Not necessarily questions you could have asked me but sort of my open question which is being sort of an ongoing thing to several months is, what can we in Adelaide sort of do better and continue to do better, to continue to grow and compound the entrepreneurial sort of eco system? So, I might just end it on sort of an open question, just to get people thinking about what we can do to continue to stimulate the eco system, from an entrepreneurial perspective.
Nick: Awesome. Anyone have any thoughts on that, they can put them in the comments on the blog below this video the post this video is on Adelaideentrepreneurs.com.au and maybe we could get a little discussion going there. Thanks very much Chris for coming on the show today. It’s been really good having you and very generous of your time and good day for now. So, it’s been a very fantastic conversation and good to delve into someone who’s at ease through a business and also so well networked into the Adelaide entrepreneurial scene. So, thanks very much for coming out.
Chris: My pleasure, thanks Nick. See you.