Mike Halligan – founder of Engage Marketing

After toying around with business ideas in high school, Mike founded his first successful business, Engage Marketing, while studying Entrepreneurship at RMIT University. Engage Marketing grew and in time became the launch platform for his latest venture, Plan Lab. Between all that he launched a niche design agency called the Blog Designers.

I HATE seeing a good business idea going to waste!”

Mike is currently residing in Canada where he is starting a business with some friends, but was born and bred in Melbourne, Australia

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

Engage Marketing is my baby. I took the big leap to start it back in 2009 and had days literally eating bread and water, working out of my folks spare bedroom.

My mind buzzed everytime I recognized a business opportunity but as an 18 year old I knew I had much to learn. Starting a marketing agency would give me the opportunity to work hands on with and learn from smart entrepreneurs around Australia. I’d been responsible for marketing my fathers million-dollar business to clients such as NASA and Boeing since my early teens and wanted to branch out and prove myself in other markets.

The entrepreneurship course was great but I wanted to speed up my learning with real world experience and so Engage Marketing was born.

How do you make money? 

My revenue is split between 3 ventures:

  1. Engage Marketing – your classic marketing consultant model. There’s nothing revolutionary here and the brand is entirely dependent on my quality as a marketer, but Engage Marketing was always meant as a stepping-stone to a future venture – Plan Lab.
  2. Plan Lab – It’s online marketing plan software that teaches you world class marketing while you write a marketing plan for your own business or new idea. Backed by the experience of my marketing agency, it was originally planned as boxed software but the world pointed towards a cloud-based SaaS app and I released it in late 2012. It was very much a lean start-up, costing south of $10,000 to develop and launch.
  3. The Blog Designers – one day someone asked me if I knew how to create a blog. I’d learnt how to create a WordPress blog for Engage Marketing, so I said sure, I can do that. It took me about 20x longer than it should, but in time I learnt how to create WordPress blogs from scratch. A quick Google search for blog designers revealed that nothing was out there so 24 hours later I had a website up and started designing custom WordPress blog designs. Today I have designers on deck so that I can spend time across all ventures, but it’s gone from a niche little idea into an incredibly good lifestyle business.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

Business is supposed to be a vehicle to a more enjoyable life, and what better life than 6 months snowboarding!”

After working morning ‘til night for the better part of 5 years, I put Engage Marketing on hold and moved to Whistler, Canada.

As someone who naturally wants to start any business idea that pops into my head, I had to fight to convince myself that it was OK to take a bit of me time and live a little. Business is supposed to be a vehicle to a more enjoyable life, and what better life than 6 months snowboarding!

While I’m here I’m taking the time away from running around between meetings to read, learn and plan my next moves with Plan Lab. I’m really iterating it day by day and exploring the possibilities of more passive forms of income.

How do you make ideas happen?

Out of pure stubbornness. There’s nothing worse to me than a good idea that didn’t see the light of day.

In reality, I try to get the most out of what I have to work with. 99% of the people that have ideas don’t have the resources to carry out the sexy vision of what making ideas happen is supposed to look like.

Whether it’s maxing out a credit card to pay for overseas developers or going out of your way to spitball ideas with people that you respect, I force myself to get outside of what is comfortable and into what is necessary.

What does your typical day look like?

Right now I can’t complain. Most days start with heading up Whistler to snowboard from 9am – 1pm before heading back home, switching on the Macbook and designing blogs. I do a few hours of that most days and on the side I’m learning Spanish and reading anything and everything to do with marketing, innovation and business concepts.


What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

…it takes a toll on you working you’re arse off when you have little income coming in is tough.”

The first few months after starting Engage Marketing were undoubtedly the hardest. I was working 15 hours a day creating content and building relationships so that I had a platform for future success.

I knew that things would work out but it takes a toll on you working you’re arse off when you have little income coming in is tough. I had to swallow my pride and ask my father for a job working nights at his business just to keep myself afloat.

It’s all just part of the journey of starting a business. Nothing ever goes perfectly and that’s why creating something out of nothing is so addictive.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Creating your own little solo project? Mentor someone and show him or her what you’re learning.”

Whatever you’re doing or creating, have fun. Don’t be afraid of putting in all nighter’s to get where you want to go but remember to have a little fun as you go.

It makes the journey far more memorable.

Oh, and give back in everything you do. Creating your own little solo project? Mentor someone and show him or her what you’re learning.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment? 

They’ve been around for a few years now but Florida-based Treehouse are an amazing company on the forefront of modern education.

It’s a mash-up between Australian capital and Romanian genius but the Super Awesome Micro Project is something that myself and 19 other investors know is going to blow people’s minds.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Like it or not, most social change through business needs commercial viability. We’re still in the infancy of learning how to marry the two. ”

I have no doubt that we’re experiencing an era full of good people using business as the vehicle to make the world a better place.

Like it or not, most social change through business needs commercial viability. We’re still in the infancy of learning how to marry the two. When we get there – and I think we’ll get there soon – business will be shaken up forever.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

  • Steve Sammartino’s start-up blog always provokes me to think of projects and innovation differently.
  • Smashing Magazine does a great job of encouraging and teaching designers and programmers to create for themselves.
  • Daily Movement is different than my other links but the photo-based blog keeps my day light hearted and motivates me to keep a happy, fun life.

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)?

Why not! I’m not a looking for funding kind of guy (money creates stress and the challenge of a lean startup is way too much fun) but I’ve got spare seats for anyone that wants to join me on the journey of turning a traditional marketing agency into a Plan Lab-powered global SaaS marketing network.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

What do you use in your hair?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Right now I’m loving the work of Hot Buns in Whistler but back in Melbourne, I can’t look past the fun vibe of the Belgian Beer Café on St Kilda Rd.

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?

I’ve just managed my first nights sleep without Macklemore’s Thrift Shop haunting my dreams but my stand out Australian music of the last few years is anything by Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus.

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?

Haha sure.

Choose between a trip to Mt Buller with yours truly or a notebook filled with my most valuable lessons from working with others and creating my own wealth.

Make sure you sign-up to join our amazing community for Australians making ideas happen.

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