Dom is a young entrepreneur from regional Victoria, who has been running his own businesses from an early age. At 16 Dom was part of a mobile DJ business in regional Victoria where they differentiated themselves from the competition by taking high quality photos of gigs, and charging an additional fee for the photos if the hosts wanted copies. After shutting the mobile DJ business down and securing a few solo DJ gigs in clubs around Melbourne, he went on to start a second business as a freelance photographer in nightclubs. This allowed him to work as a photographer in Australia and around the globe, including clubs and music festivals in Sweden, Norway, Thailand and the USA. After caving to social/family pressure to head to university he tried his hand at a number of university courses before deciding it wasn’t for him. Instead Dom decided to return to the business world by founding Cloakr.
Persistence is really key as it’s easy to give up when people reject your idea or product – which happens a lot when you are trying to change minds and win hearts to your vision for the future.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
While working in various aspects of the the nightlife industry for over 8 years, I saw a growing demand for venues to capture fresh customer data. Originally I began working on a guest-list style app to manage bookings and functions as well as the complex promoter structure that many venues operate. However the idea was already well serviced by other players and never came to fruition, so I started looking for similar avenues.
Most of all I wanted to solve a real problem. During my work I noticed the chaos of nightclub cloakrooms – a system run by raffle tickets and clipboards. Lost items, unreturned items and unorganized systems were common problems that I encountered regularly. I formed the basic idea by speaking with cloakroom staff and venue managers.
I then turned to my father for advice; my father has successfully run his own business since before I was born and imparted the value of being entrepreneurial and starting my own business early on. With his encouragement and advice I used Steve Blank’s ‘Business Model Canvas’ to develop my MVP (minimum viable product). The decision to take the plunge came after almost a year of planning and research. My findings indicated a demand and a market was present, then support from family and friends allowed me to leap.
Please explain your business model.
We sell B2B (Business to Business) and operate on a SAAS (software as a service) model with monthly, yearly and half yearly subscription fees. Currently we target the larger venue sizes of Nightclub with discussions underway with several major players in the music festival scene.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
I have an extensive list of features thought up from early development, many of which were not included in our MVP. Right now we are working towards giving the system some core point of sale (POS) functionality and the ability to integrate with existing POS systems, which will greatly extend our customer base.
I try to attend meet-ups regularly; it’s hard to find ones of quality that aren’t packed out. Anything at Inspire9 is of value, however there’s usually a mad race to secure a spot!
How do you make ideas happen?
I’ve made Cloakr and my past businesses happen through a lot of networking and persistence. Persistence is really key as it’s easy to give up when people reject your idea or product – which happens a lot when you are trying to change minds and win hearts to your vision for the future.
Discussing ideas and problems with other people is also one of the best ways to make your ideas happen, as they offer different perspectives and can make a suggestion which alters your perspective on the problems you face.
What does your typical day look like?
I still work late nights as a nightclub photographer on the weekends, so my Monday morning takes a few coffees to get going! At the moment I’ll spend most of the day in front of my computer editing photos or video, intertwined between this I am on the phone to existing customers or leads for Cloakr and working on various related projects. Often enough I’ll be driving throughout greater Melbourne or flying interstate for product demonstrations, printer paper deliveries or system updates. I try to work a regular schedule of 9-5 for routine purposes, but the business often demands I work a very un-regular schedule.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Getting your idea and name out there; I think a lot of people assume the customers will magically know your product exists. Making leads would be the most challenging aspect of starting a business, however it makes you appreciate the importance of customer service. A referral from a happy user or just a keen supporter is more powerful than any slick looking website or marketing tools. A challenge particular to Australia is the market size. My aim is to take Cloakr to the USA, Canada and Europe – the number of venues and their size is far greater than anything present in Australia, plus the climate demands a well-managed cloakroom!
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Dog Park vending machines. How many times have you taken your dog to the park and forgotten or lost a ball or wished you had a treat for your pet? I know it happens to me all the time.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?
In the highly competitive nightlife industry it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate your product or offering. Venues no longer stand out with great customer service alone; I think the need to innovate is far more present than ever. A great example of a local venue that does this would be Pawn & Co – The venue is themed as a 1950’s style pawnshop where everything is for sale including the glass you drink from or even the bar you are standing in. Their slogan “Buy, Sell, Loan” is true for absolutely everything you see in there and I believe this generates a fantastic talking point and customer interaction.
A popular saying I believe to be true is “when you’re in business, you gotta have a gimmick”. I think of a gimmick as something unique that gives you a leg up over the competition – it could be a feature set or a piece of IP, but you have got to have something to set you apart.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think a lot of people struggle with the idea that you can make money by doing good, but if we had more businesses doing that, rather than making money by f**king things up (big oil, banks etc…), then businesses would be already the biggest driver of social change.
Businesses have a huge role to play in affecting social change; while the not-for-profit and activist models are by no means broken they don’t always work. In planning to effect social change, entrepreneurs and founders of not-for-profits or social enterprises should keep in mind Peter Druckers timeless advice “Profit is not the purpose of a business, but rather the test of its validity”.
I think a lot of people struggle with the idea that you can make money by doing good, but if we had more businesses doing that, rather than making money by f**king things up (big oil, banks etc…), then businesses would be already the biggest driver of social change. Look at the mindshare the mega brands (Virgin, Zara, Nike etc…) occupy compared to those of big or small charities. One of the best examples of a business affecting social change is Ecostore in New Zealand. Ecostore is a $130 million plus company, that does good and makes a boatload of money.
Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?
Oz Harvest – a truly entrepreneurial not for profit organisation.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
www.gizmodo.com.au – perfect for those needing a regular tech/gadget fix.
www.meetup.com – for finding a wide variety of interesting and quality networking opportunities.
www.airtasker.com – a great example of technology guiding social change.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
I am currently on the look out for a kickarse programmer to add to our team.
I’m always seeking help or advice, as that is the best way to develop your thinking and get better perspective on business challenges.
Although I am not actively seeking funding at the moment, I’m certainly open to offers.
Also, in the coming months we may be looking for cloakroom staff to run our system at large festivals and events.
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?
I like to get insights into other peoples businesses, so how are you/have you prepared your business to scale?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Little Big Sugar Salt on Victoria St, Abbotsford. The chef there is THE master of sandwiches.
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?
I’d be pleased to take the winner out for coffee and a sandwich on me at LBSS any day of the week.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Cloakr was recently selected by Anthill Magazine as one of Australia’s top 100 most innovative products and services for 2014. We are very excited to be selected and are looking forward to competing with other really innovative products and services for the number one spot in their Top 100 Awards.