Ben Rennie is the CEO and co-founder of 6.2 and comes from Sydney. He resides on the NSW South Coast.
Widely regarded as a leader in innovation & creativity, Ben works daily to transform organisational thinking to future proof some of Australia’s most iconic organisations & trusted brands. Ben has worked in four countries with some of the worlds largest and most recognised brands creating new offerings, collaboration, innovation and digital models. He focusses on solutions to solve 21st century problems. A writer and speaker, Ben has written for design, business and technology magazines in Australia, is editor for White Spaces (unclutteredwhitespaces.com) and a TEDx talker. He has been invited to speak at Parliament House in Canberra on rethinking our futures, Customs House on rethinking government, The MCA on the importance of failure, and corporate conferences in Fiji, Melbourne, Hamilton Island, Perth and Indonesia. His views on innovation & creativity have been quoted in the media including Fast Company, PSFK, GOOD, The Australian Newspaper, various local and international newspapers and the ABC World News.
unclutteredwhitespaces.com @benrennie facebook
The value is not in the idea… it is in the ability to make it happen
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Hmmm my idea. My idea was based on a personal need to be creative. Not a market problem. That’s a hard position to start a company. I wanted to make things and push myself way beyond my comfort zone. I have loads of ideas but the reason I took the plunge was to create and make something important. After a short stint in corporate Australia, I felt claustrophobic, I needed to breathe a little. Stop using big words and start taking big action. So in 2009 I created 6.2 with Paul Breen. 6.2 is a Product Strategy and Design Firm. We essentially solve complex business problems, create solutions and develop strategies for organisations. Predominately around digital futures for organisations such as Canon, Australia Post, The Government, banks, brands etc. It’s a lot of fun, we get to re-imagine the organisations that most of us engage with everyday. Make recommendations about the future. It is important work as 50% of our projects lead into a creative output where we build things: products, apps, solutions, services. That’s where the fun begins.
I also sit on the board for a film company, a beer company and a wine company.
Please explain your business model.
We sell thinking. Basically people invest in our ability to generate ideas that solve real market problems and then more importantly, make them happen. We provide consulting, front end design, creative and digital solutions. We do it in 3 phases:
- Listen: The answers are out there, not in here. this is a rich and critical phase that works to understand the market, human or consumer problem we are working to solve.
- Create: This is the design phase. This can be designing solutions, a service, UX, brand or product. It is about turning the insights into solutions.
- Deploy: Getting the solution market ready, be it an app, a strategy or a website, it needs to solve a market problem and this stage is about connecting the dots. From where we started, to where we need to play and how to win.
Ultimately, in its simplest form; we aim to solve client problems, for the least possible cost, in the quickest possible time, with the smallest possible disruption, with the most relevant innovation.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
We are working on two really important projects right now. With Australia Post on the future of mail which is grabbing a lot of attention at the moment. We are also working with one of the Big 4 banks on re-imagining how the bank communicates internally and building a platform to support the future of banking embracing digitisation and the cloud. This has been an exciting process.
My wife Nicola recently launched a Craft Beer company called Hops & Craft. This has kept me busy in my spare time as the business has not shown any early stage signs most traditional startups face; it is moving at a rate of knots in all the right directions.
The most exciting is a business we own through the 6.2 Incubation Lab called SnapCatch. This is an iOS and Android app for fishermen. It incorporates facial recognition and is being built in conjunction with global fisheries & government bodies. This is a huge scale project for such a small thing (fits in your pocket) that changes the game for sustainable fishing. We are excited about Snapcatch.
How do you make ideas happen?
Firstly by loving the idea. You have to be in love with the idea. It can not just be about the opportunity, it has to be something you love to do. We engaged in a project this year for a law firm because the opportunity was amazing, as a result, we didn’t do great work. So we don’t do that anymore. Before we start anything, we ask ourselves 3 questions:
- Is it a problem worth solving?
- Do we want to solve it (are we aligned and are we excited)?
- Can we solve it?
We need a resounding yes to all 3.
Then all you need to do is start. Dont wait, just start. Nothing is more important that those 2 factors, being in love and getting cracking.
What does your typical day look like?
My day is superbly disciplined. I break my week up in to 3 days in Sydney and 2 days down south. It rarely starts before 7am and I am always ready to work by 9am. I like to be home later in the week so I wind my week down. Monday I do 9am – 9pm, then try to do 2 hours less each day. By Friday, I am finished at 3pm to pick the kids up for a surf.
In terms of a typical day. It is up at 7, or if it is a surfing morning, I’m up at 6. On the train at 7.50, into the office after a coffee for 9. I meet with our Chief Design Director, Glenn Chandler, every morning for a catch up. I speak to our Director in Melbourne, Paul Breen, and then liaise with our team and clients. I always head out for lunch and I always walk a different street to the office. I never meet clients on a Monday or a Friday.
In meetings, I try my hardest to never write anything down. I find my memory remembers the critical parts better than my pad. People find that odd. I’m ok with that.
I hate email (looking for an alternative as we speak) and despise voicemail. Apart from those 2 things I love my working day. I work with talented people who inspire me. That helps.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
I’m not sure Australia is relevant to this answer as I think business is hard, no matter where you are. For me it is cash, always has been. We started 6.2 with zero capital investment and no debt. Today, 5 years later, we still have no debt and have not borrowed funds to support growth. We have an experienced Chairman and partner who has done this a thousand times before. That helps us a lot in terms of dealing with challenges sensibly, thoroughly and professionally. The challenge for me in starting 6.2 is answering these 3 questions:
1. What is the catalyst for doing business with us (or you)?
2. Why would someone put their hand in their pocket and give you their money?
3. Why would they do it again?
Simple questions, all hard to answer.
Our strategy at 6.2 is “easy in, impossible out”. Easy in means, how do we get the relationship to the point of just starting. It should be easy to do business with us. The impossible out is in relation to the work; it has to be the best experience with a better outcome than they were expecting. Then they stay.
The number one best piece of advice I can give is to never go it alone. You need talent. Find talent that can share and challenge your vision. From a coach, adviser to an assistant. They need to be talented, brave and honest. I have all 3 in my partners and staff. It makes our challenges easier to manage.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
I am willing to give them all away for free. The value is not in the idea… it is in the ability to make it happen. We have all thought of facebook, its a relatively simple idea. We just didn’t do anything about it. Someone else did. The part people should be asking for isn’t the ideas… we all have those. They should be asking for bravery.
The best way to be creative is to give up your job. Then watch the ideas flow. Humans are resilient and we have a track record of doing amazing things in trying times. Fear shouldn’t hold you back. My free idea is if you don’t love what you are doing today, then stop. Take your idea, share it, collaborate and start on it tomorrow. As Warren Miller would say: “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.”
At home, my wife and kids have a simple rule. Choose adventure first. It gets us in some sticky situations, but it makes life exactly that, an adventure.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Ryan from General Assembly is a guy to watch. The business is about educating Australians on important skills for the future. He does a brilliant job of leading the company.
Layne Beachley continues to inspire generations of women to be brave. Her business, the Aim For The Stars Foundation, is as amazing as her career.
Andrew Fallshaw has his hands in many companies, none better than Bellroy. This is the ultimate brand driven by 3 key elements; impeccable service, simplicity & quality and a product that is better than its competitors. Bellroy is having global success. The brand was created by the talented Jimmy Gleeson, the best creative in Australia.
Katarina Matt at 6.2 is changing the game when it comes to creativity and design. Her work on Snapcatch is as good as anything we have done before.
Finally Jamie Driver from Powershop in Melbourne. Jamie has a history of building disruptive businesses that shake the foundations of latent markets. He is now driving the marketing behind the Powershop brand and the comms and direction is shaking up the energy sector.
What about internationally?
Ryan Jacoby left IDEO last year and is doing great things in New York. Australian David Gillespie is hanging in all the right circles and continues to build brands and companies that are exciting and clever. In terms of companies, Fahrenheit 212 based in NYC is one to follow, and Rapha in London inspires me. Scott Belsky’s Behance is also remarkable.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
One thing that is clear to me is that social change requires a recognition of what is broken. Companies and community groups need to get curious about fixing what is broken. Piecing things back together but most importantly, making better decisions now. Social change is linked to cultural practice. To change a culture, it takes more than a conversation. Powerful organisations and great brands get there by accelerating large scale cultural shifts, not by tweaking one conversation at a time.
Social change is cultural change, and you must go about it with the intent to change the culture, not to merely change what’s easy or popular.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
STREAT in Melbourne.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Yes always. We are always open to collaboration and we run an internship program which has seen some amazing designers & developers create some amazing work. Louise Vieusseux & Dan White are our most recent interns who continue to do great work for us. We are always interested in talking with talented people, regardless of experience.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
What does the The Future of Work look like?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Bar = The Royal Albert in Surry Hills.
Cafe = 16 Feet Cafe in Stanwell Park, hands down
Restaurant = Terminus in Melbourne. Never fails. Mr Wong is a close second.
We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?
Sure, I am happy to kick in a 3 month subscription to Hops & Craft. 12 beers a month for 3 months & a month of advertising on Uncluttered White Spaces.