This week Kate and Community Ambassador David Iwanow, chat to Australia’s richest person under the age of 30, Ruslan Kogan, about entrepreneurship, education, retail, Melbourne, Tall Poppy Syndrome and what’s next…
What was your first job?
I’ve run about 20 businesses since the age of 10. My very first one was collecting stray golf balls from Elsternwick Golf Course, taking them home, cleaning and polishing them, putting them in egg cartons and selling them back to golfers at 50 cents a pop.
What happened to some of the businesses you started before Kogan took off, did you just let them lapse or will you get back to them one day?
A lot of the businesses were ventures that interested me at the time, but they weren’t long term passions like Kogan is. These ventures go all the way back, including the golf balls, a car wash business I ran where I ended up hiring my first ever employees, and a web design business in high school.
I found a sweet spot with Kogan and I absolutely love what I’m doing. I can’t picture myself doing anything else.
How did studying at Monash shape your career path?
I’m not a fan of formal education. Although I completed my degree whilst being on a scholarship and receiving a high distinction average, I still maintain that you don’t actually learn anything at uni.
At uni, you learn how to learn.
At Kogan, when we hire people that have a uni degree, all it tells us is that they know how to learn, read and write in English, and they’re capable of meeting deadlines.
At Kogan, we have a strong philosophy that we never send our staff to formal training. Formal training is for people who want to look like they’re learning. Google is for people who want to learn.
What is the favourite retail battle you have had to date?
Kogan is changing the face of Australian retail. I don’t think we’ve had any battles, because the benefits of shopping at Kogan speak for themselves.
We are also a company that says it how it is and we don’t hold back. I think this is why people must think we’re in some sort of battle. It’s very clear that online shopping will continue to get bigger and bigger and existing players in the marketplace need to adapt to this.
The competitive advantage for the existing players used to be that they were the only shops located near their customers. This is no longer the case, as anyone can order from anywhere in the world now.
I think Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution also applies to the changes we’re seeing in the retail world: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
You’re a master of self-promotion – how important is putting yourself out there for entrepreneurs?
We never consciously try to promote ourselves. One thing we do, is we speak the truth.
There is so little truth in the media these days that the moment you say things how they actually are, every journalist wants to listen and publish it.
For instance, the way you proactively contacted me asking for this interview was a primary example of this.
Also, over 90% of businesses fail within their first year of operation. This means that any business that is currently in business, is having an influence in the world. They should not be shy in telling their story.
What do you think of Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Tall Poppy Syndrome is alive and well in Australia. It’s unfortunate, but something we have to live with. I’ve learned to take it as a compliment. Nobody hates someone they’ve never heard of, so I’d rather be hated than ignored.
If you look at our media, the businessman is always portrayed as the evil guy, sitting in his penthouse smoking a cigar, running the pharmaceutical company, etc. We sometimes forget to acknowledge that behind every product/service that enhances our lives is an entrepreneur losing sleep, thinking about how to make the product/service better for the consumer. This applies to everything we use – the computer you’re using to write this article, the coffee you just drank and the car you drive. Behind each of those is an entrepreneur working 24 hour days to figure out how to make it better.
It’s thanks to Henry Ford’s pursuit of profit that cars are cheaper, to Richard Branson’s pursuit of profit that flights are cheaper for everyone, and it’s thanks to Kerry Packer’s pursuit of profit that we have one day cricket. Finally, it’s thanks to Steve Job’s pursuit of profit that my mum has been able to send a text message from her phone for the first time ever.
You are fairly active in the tech blog space, why do you think other retail heads appear scared to offer an public opinion on blogs?
It’s simple, ‘we’re nobody’s bitch’.
We are a direct to consumer manufacturer. The only people we are trying to please is our customers. We can say things exactly how they are. We don’t need to keep our channel partners and distributors happy and run everything we say past them. We are our own sustained end-to-end business. This puts us in a unique position and allows us to preach exactly what we stand for.
You are located in Melbourne – what do you think being based here offers over other cities like Sydney?
I’ve travelled around the world many times over, but no matter how far I travel, I still think Melbourne is the best city in the world. I couldn’t think of being located anywhere else. The great thing about running a company that is internet based and takes advantage of cloud technologies, is that you can run it from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. The internet means that an email takes the same amount of time from South Melbourne to Albert Park as it does from South Melbourne to Palo Alto.
You’re almost 30, what is some open advice you give to those under 30?
I have a lot of young entrepreneurs contact me all the time asking for my opinion on their business ideas.
I run every idea past two tests, which I think determine if a business will be successful: What is your competitive advantage? And what is your value add to the consumer?
Any business that can clearly articulate these two will be a successful business. Some young entrepreneurs have ideas that meet this criteria and I tell them they’re onto a winner.
Often when I see this person six months later, I ask them how their business is going, and the most common answer is ‘which business?’ I find that a lot are good at discussing their business plan but only a handful actually make it happen. The best business advice is printed on Nike t-shirts: ‘Just Do It!’.
What’s next for Kogan and Ruslan Kogan?
For me, the goal always remains the same. The most important thing for me is personal happiness. I’ll always be doing what makes me happy. I can’t think of anything that would make me happier than running Kogan and seeing the company grow from strength to strength.
On the Kogan front, the goal is very clear, we want to make kogan a worldwide household brand within the next 5 years. We think technology can make the world a better place, and the way we’re going to achieve this is by making the latest technology more affordable for everyone. We’re constantly expanding our product range and the geographies in which we operate.
About our Ambassador David Iwanow: David can be found working as a SEO Manager for Amnesia Razorfish and is also the force behind the monthly SEO Meetups, which have almost 800 members across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.