"As an entrepreneur, you have to be quite visionary. But not just visionary, you have to be willing to drive it. You have to drive it.” - Dean Cherny, Founder and Director at Marketing Melodies
Throughout Dean Cherny's 28-year entrepreneurial journey as Managing Director and Founder of Marketing Melodies, he has navigated his company solo for the majority of its existence. When Dean attended his first EO event, he was faced with the following questions: If you have a bus and you need to fill it with people, who will be the people you want to take in? How will you arrange them inside the bus? Will you drive it yourself or will you stay in the passenger seat? These were key questions Dean pondered on, and two pertinent takeaways stood out: one, he needed the right people on the right seats in his bus; and two, he must drive his bus and not just be a passenger.
Since his hands took the helm, Dean has happily driven his figurative bus – his company, Marketing Melodies – through an exciting ride, with his eyes set towards a more thrilling journey ahead.
When it comes to steering the wheel, Dean is persistent and unyielding. One particular example: He pursued his biggest client for 27 years until he finally got them to join him on his bus. That is why his proudest moment ever was when he eventually got a resounding “yes” from the Just Group after wooing them for almost three decades. Another feather in his cap was the launch of storePlay, an online app that makes the in-store music experience more convenient and satisfying. Since they say ‘good things come in threes’ Dean’s third conquest came one week prior to this interview, where he signed a reseller deal that would change the whole in-store landscape.
All these feats have gotten Dean to whistle a happy tune. Despite his accomplishments, he never forgets to glance at his metaphorical rear-view mirror every now and then, to look back to where his entrepreneurial bus started. It was in a classroom during his final year in the university back in 1989 when they were discussing points of sale. He raised his hand during the lecture and, being a DJ, asked about music in the retail environment. The lecturer acknowledged his question but also challenged his idea, so Dean decided to do his final year assignment on in-store music.
With two classmates, Dean worked on his idea and, as part of the assignment, presented it to the marketing manager of Portmans. Unexpectedly, the concept caught on with the retailers. As a matter of fact, Portmans wanted Dean to roll out the proposal straight away. High from that positive outcome, Dean went ahead and took the plunge. On the other hand, his colleagues backed out from implementing the concept. “Once we had done the presentation, they actually didn't think there was much opportunity in it that they decided not to be involved. So, I did it by myself. I still see those guys and we do have a bit of a laugh on that fact that this business has gone on to become successful, and that they chose not to get involved,” Dean chuckled.
You might say that Dean had the right tools that gave him a good head start on his entrepreneurial journey: he had training in marketing and he had experience with music as a DJ. Getting into the in-store music line of business was a rational one. Yet, it was his exposure to business through his parents -- his father was in shirt manufacturing while his mother had a travel agency -- that gave him valuable inputs on how to run his own. They also went through ups and downs as entrepreneurs, which opened Dean’s eyes to the realities of running a business.
“My parents, when we were growing up, they were doing it very hard. We were middle-income. There were times when they couldn't afford babysitters,” a thoughtful Dean remarked. For Dean and his two other siblings, school holidays meant going with mom or dad to work. Their playground was their parents' offices. They would help or be present with people working with their parents. Those experiences and their parent’s conversations about their respective businesses over dinner table provided Dean with the exposure he needed that became a foundation for his own business journey.
Dean had seen his father hit some tough times in his business, so he had a good grasp of the challenges that the journey entails. “I think some people do not realize the risk that entrepreneurs take.” Dean was quite pensive when he pointed out, “What people don't think about are the pressures. Generally, I'm the one who's at risk; it's my investment. Because it's essentially funded by me, if things don’t go well, that can very quickly have an adverse effect on my family. I've seen things like that happen with family members who were entrepreneurs and things didn't go well. And I've seen how that can affect them.”
But being a focused and tenacious businessman, failing wasn’t an option for him. “I didn't think failures were even something that I contemplated. Like I said, it was a risk to do it. But I knew I was going to be successful. I had no doubt that I would succeed,” the determined entrepreneur professed.
For instance, when he was starting out and was making inroads, his competitor underestimated him. “What they used to say was ‘ Dean’s just a fly by night. He is just a little kiddie. He's not going to be around in a couple of years.’ But I’m still here, and I don’t think there is anyone else in my industry who has operated longer than I have.”
Dean was out to prove the naysayers wrong. When he decided to turn his assignment into a business, he went ahead and secured the licensing of music so that the service he would offer would be legal, even when he had to toil hard just to get this done. He did the mixing of the records – from cassettes to burning it on CDs to creating it on hard drives – within the confines of his bedroom. He looked for suppliers and dealt with them when he needed to outsource some of the production. He made presentations, closed deals and looked after his client’s needs. He did all these on his own as he ran the business by himself until his first employee mid-2014.
These were bumps he endured, but because he loved what he was doing, the ride on his entrepreneurial shuttle was an unbelievably exciting one. The flipside of the risks and the intensive labours was the excitement and the adrenaline of achieving the goals. “If you put together the right plan to achieve the goals, and when you finally achieve your goals, the reward is second to none,” said Dean.
Being an entrepreneur, the success is magnified. Dean believes that when you’re working for someone and you win a deal, “it doesn’t compare to the excitement and the thrill as when you’re the owner.”
Unwavering in his fortitude to take his business even further, Dean went ahead with his other passion: learning. He gorged on workshops and talks when he joined EO Melbourne three years ago. And in that length of time, he's only missed five events. “I’ve gone to everything. I think I can truly say that I've got something out of every one of them. In that regard, I just love hearing people's experiences and the sharing of going down the path of leadership. I've exposed myself to EO members on the global level through GLC and through Ignite. I'm just like this kid in the candy shop, and I just want more and more and more because I'm loving the opportunity to learn.” Those learnings also boosted his confidence, especially on how to deal with clients and prospects.
These days, Dean furiously devours business books, inspired by speakers he heard from the talks. He is a tech geek, so he is learning more about how he can use technology to expand Marketing Melodies, not just geographically, but to other territories. His EO journey has strengthened his resolve of developing himself as a holistic entrepreneur – a businessman, a father and a husband – while he continually improves his skills, his mindset and capabilities.
Dean is content that he has good life balance. “I work from home. So, that's great as I get to see the kids when they come home from school, and I can go have dinner with them at 5:00, and bath them, and put them to bed or help my wife with domestic duties. And then if I need to do a little bit more work, I can do that,” the young father revealed.
For Dean, the best thing about his business is that he gets to have the personality that he wants to be. “I am also a commercial creative. I think commercial creatives are quite rare. Generally, people are either commercial and not creative or creative and not necessarily commercial. And I think that held me in good stead so I've been able to flirt and move between the two.”
Part of that commercial creative personality is constantly having a good relationship with his clients. “Call it crazy,” Dean quipped, “but all my clients have my mobile phone number. I am unbelievably responsive to clients’ needs.”
That’s a good driver who knows how to take care of his passengers. Nevertheless, despite his business acumen, there are incessant twists and turns throughout his entrepreneurial voyage. One, he has to navigate through the retail industry, which is undergoing turbulent times. Many brands are price conscious even though Marketing Melodies price their products and services very reasonably, and second, there’s the need for continuing education of businesses. “We supply in-store music and we're essentially like a version of Spotify for business. But people don't understand that Spotify isn't legal for in-store music or to use in their business. And so, they are probably our biggest competitor even though they shouldn't be competing with us. So, there's a big education piece.”
With his “never give up” attitude, Dean is keen on working his way through it. Looking back to that moment in university, Dean didn’t get a good mark from his assignment, but that didn't stop him from working on his idea.
“As an entrepreneur, you have to be quite visionary. But not just visionary, you have to be willing to drive it. You have to drive it.” These are sound words from a sound guy.