From high achieving media executive to Brauz Founder and CEO, Lee’s journey has always been hallmarked by vision, drive, leadership and innovation.
In his position at News Corp Australia, Lee worked closely with some of Australia’s leading retailers, giving him insights into the challenges they faced in an increasingly digital world. Lee realised the global retail market was a long way behind where it could be in the digital space. The divide between physical and digital retail was growing fast, and this drove him to leave his high-paying position and create Brauz.
Lee’s vision for Brauz was to utilise technology as a human resource, not a method of human redundancy. Believing in data with purpose, Lee aimed to inspire creativity, and innovate without boundary.
For the past 4 years, he dedicated his life to turning vision into reality: bringing the physical and digital together, creating innovation to benefit the global shopping industry. As Brauz’ founder, Lee has ensured the company’s products and services all match his vision.
To achieve this, Lee instilled core values within the business that led to difficult decisions, including turning down over $9M investment from investors who didn’t fit the business’ values. This values-based approach has since secured over $1.25M in Angel Investment with investors who not only share the Brauz values but understand Lee’s vision.
This approach has seen Brauz triple in company size since August 2016, with a solid team of 20.
Can you share with us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
In my previous career as an advertising executive, I used to consult retailers and talk to them about how to advertise in local newspapers with the aim to bring more customers in stores.
As my goal was to give proper and good advice to retailers, looking back 7 years, one of the first questions I would ask was if they had a website and if not, I would tell them to first make one and then advertise.
As time goes by and technology develops, we see that online search has disrupted our physical retail industry. Today people find retailers online far easier than retailers can influence people with any form of advertising.
The proof of this is in the slow death of traditional media and mass closure of physical retail stores.
Brauz was created out of an understanding that customers want the convenience of shopping online while still having the experience of shopping in stores. Even with today’s technology, there’s a need for them to touch and feel the items they’re interested in.
Can you explain your business model to us?
The Brauz business model is based on attracting people into their favourite local stores through personalised searches and messages in the app. By connecting brands, stores and customers, Brauz creates a personalised shopping experience and helps people discover items they like in their immediate surroundings.
Our model ensures Brauz is always free for consumers to use. Brands can also join Brauz for free, with stores paying a $49 monthly subscription for Brauz’ in-store technology.
What are you working on right now and what are you excited about in the next year?
We launched the Brauz app on the App Store in March 2017 during the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. At this moment, we have 23 brands on the app and more brands are joining us on a weekly basis. We’ve generated interest with some of Australia’s bigger, established brands and are excited for when this releases. The excitement of launching and seeing our app live has been a dream come true for all of us at Brauz. The number of downloads is constantly increasing.
Personally, what’s most exciting right now is what we’re doing in the virtual space: turning 360 store images into interactive virtual store profiles on the Brauz marketplace. We’re advancing fast and it’s exciting to share the experience with our team.
How do you make your ideas happen?
Brauz has a strong culture built on core values of collaboration, sharing and openness. We inspire innovation throughout our team and see our biggest strength is in understanding our weaknesses. Most of all, we are united in our vision and determined to succeed.
I have a saying which I commonly share with the team:
“Great people are expected to do great things all the time, but when your average person does something great, that is truly amazing.”
Not saying our team members are average people. On the contrary, we have an incredible team with outstanding abilities, but it’s our coming together that makes us great and what we are building is truly amazing.
Have mentors played a role in your business life?
When I left my previous career and started Brauz full time, life was very lonely and most people (family and friends) thought I’d gone crazy.
It’s hard to find mentors who can guide you in the start-up field. I needed people who could give me proper advice on the steps forward.
One mentor that played a massive role was Pastor Steven Holt. He guided me professionally as well as spiritually, keeping me grounded and focused. He still plays a massive part today.
Having people like Simeon Hristovski is an amazing benefit as he has huge business knowledge.
The key attribute of any mentor is that they have to believe in me and in the company vision. It is important to have mentors to guide you and have your best interest at heart.
What does your typical day look like?
I don’t really have a typical day. It’s been a grind for the last four years but it’s getting easier. I’ve got great people around me who I believe in and I trust to deliver in certain aspects of the business. If I went back six months ago I couldn’t let my guard down because I thought I would be missing an area that needs work done: from financial, strategy, development, innovation.
The reality is, when you don’t have people working in those fields, and if you’re not taking steps every hour, then you’re not going forward fast enough.
Now, I try to get up and go for a swim in the morning, then meet with leaders in my team during the day. My priority is to empower everyone before I start looking at other pieces that I need to put together.
Have you faced any challenges when starting a business in Australia?
There are plenty of challenges that come up all the time. When you’re trying to create something truly innovative like we are, and when there is nothing like it in the market, the first challenge is the battle in your own mind. Your own mind puts limitations around everything you do, says why that shouldn’t exist and why you shouldn’t be the one to make it happen. That’s the mental boundary you have to overcome first to get it done.
Other challenges keep coming along the way. What defines a successful start-up and the one that fails, is the ability to overcome those challenges and keep going. We hear that 90% of start-ups fail and the reason is because there are so many challenges to face, they just break.
If you want to succeed, you need to be unbreakable and to keep moving forward. We are unbreakable and we will succeed.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Well, I guess we give Brauz away for free to customers. Does that count?
What companies do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
One company we have huge respect for that we see doing great stuff in our industry is the Brand Collective. They’ve embraced our technology and since then, we’ve worked closely with them. It’s great to see what Nikos Psaltopoulos does outside of the Brand Collective. He’s not only the head of sales and innovation but also helps run the Startup Grind events and is involved with a number of different start-ups. In our industry in Australia, he really impresses me.
What about internationally?
There are a lot of companies which are doing great stuff and you just have to take your hat off to some of the things Amazon is doing in terms of their technology. I think it’s innovative, but can also be destructive.
Elon Musk is extremely impressive, providing free energy, and you can’t get much cooler than flying to Mars.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Brauz was developed to help local brick and mortar stores and local designers. Through this, we encourage people to shop local. We would love to see more people connect with their favourite local brands, get to know the stories behind the things they buy and together contribute to supporting the growth of the Australian economy.
Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?
We are currently not in a position to support a charity, but in the future, it would be great to do so.
What we try to do at the moment is to support the community through universities. One of our core values is to provide opportunity and we do that our internship program.
We’re still a growing company and looking for ways to provide mentorships. We will bring in some high school students soon, so they can get a bit of mentorship in different fields.
Are there 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
Do you have any opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
Yes, we’re currently raising $3M.
We also welcome interns all year long and encourage applications.
And of course, retailers are always welcome to come on board!
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about start-ups, what would it be?
When we were a junior start-up, there were so many questions that needed to be answered and now, as we get older, the questions we would need to ask would be so direct in certain areas.
It would be hard for me to say now that there’s any one question that I’d need to have answered.
What’s your favourite bar or cafe?