Passionate about filmmaking, Steven Jackson’s entrepreneurial journey started with just a simple storyline. Then the plot thickens, encountering challenges that add excitement and twists to the story. In the process, he edits out the unfavourable and retains the important lessons to keep his two film businesses going: PurpleMonky, which focuses on videos for corporate brands; and Moon & Back, which provides wedding film services.
His love for film started since he was a child, as he was always behind the camera while he was young. Although he never had any formal education in filmmaking, Steven felt that the passion was always inside him. Thus, he fitted right into this space. “I grew up doing it all my life. It was something that I was able to do naturally. I would win short films all the time and create videos for anything that comes to mind. Falling into this industry was very easy for me. It was an effortless business for me to create because it was something that I always did,” he explained.
True enough, that passion turned into a business, even when the word “entrepreneur” was not something he constantly heard while growing up. But he had a knack for creating things, and establishing an enterprise seemed a natural progression for him, especially that he studied business as a degree. It also helped that the interest in business was prevalent in his environment during that time. “I never really thought about the money side of entrepreneurship until late teens when I helped create a business and started folding into it. When I started doing it, teenagers were also doing business. Everyone wanted to be a part of it,” he commented.
Throughout his career, he was into the business world. The only work experience he had outside of what he currently does was when he worked for a company for a year as part of his university course. “I never made that jump, going from a 9 to 5 job to jumping into the business. I was always doing business,” Steven pondered. He would do videos for weddings of family members and friends and then charge for it, which was how he began his venture.
The early days of the business started in the family garage, with family and friends coming over and getting involved in the enterprise. “It was probably ten of us working from this little garage in the suburbs. And that's how it was. It was a lot of fun games. We would work 23 hours a day and not make any money back then,” Steven recalled. Eventually, they moved out of the garage to a little office.
As he realised the need to take into consideration the commercial side of the business, the team shifted from having mostly family members and friends to getting people who are into the brand. While the early team members were loyal to Steven, he found that loyalty alone was not enough to allow the business to thrive. He had to take in people who are passionate about what they do and where the business is heading.
Getting the right people on board was one thing Steven believed he should have done earlier on. They were growing rapidly, and their team was getting bigger. One of his heartbreaks was that he had to make tough decisions of letting some of his people go after forming tight relationships with them. “Having to make the right decision for the business, it's always tough. The biggest learning is not to take too long to make those decisions. I think you tend to procrastinate and not want to make the tough decisions. Then, you spend months on it, but it makes things worse. From that sort of heartache, I think it taught us that business is separate from personal matters,” the filmmaker-entrepreneur said.
When it came to branding, he also had to make changes like separating the corporate side from the wedding side. They created a new business called Purple Ribbon Weddings because it sounded more appropriate to the theme. But they had to re-brand it later into Moon & Back to connect with the market they wanted to target. Changing directions very quickly and overcommitting to clients caused a few hiccups at the early stage of the business. The biggest difficulty for Steven, however, was cash and taxes as he had to keep the money flowing to sustain their operations.
Having a few mentors was quite helpful at first as he learned a bit from them. But as they wanted too much from the business, they became detrimental to the team. “As we grew and realised what their intentions were, we weren't necessarily aligned. So, we moved away from that. That's why when I joined EO Melbourne, I quite enjoyed that because no one has a hidden agenda. For me now, that's becoming my mentor, being part of EO,” he disclosed.
Upon joining EO Melbourne, Steven experienced shifts in his business, which are for the better. Out of every event and experience-sharing session, he was able to pick two or three things that he was able to apply to his ventures. He found value from the experiences he heard from other EO Melbourne members, which he couldn’t get from a textbook. It has changed his perspectives on things and helped him approach business from a different angle. “These are things you can only get from someone who's done it before. And that's why it's priceless,” stated Steven.
Those are learnings that have kept him steady amidst the unpredictable landscape of the industry where he belongs. “Essentially, it has to involve not only the best team but also the best client because the client is the product. With what we create, the film we create is only as good as the people we are working with, the team of the day, and the aesthetic of where it is,” he explained.
He loves that he has the freedom to be creative and not being bound by standards. His industry and the entrepreneurial journey provide him with legroom that he needs in doing what he loves to do without having to think of guidelines or bosses. However, along with that freedom is the need to have the discipline to abide by the timeline and ensure that the work they produce represents their brand. “I think there are rules to stick to do the best practices that should be applied. But, at the same time, you can break those rules and create your own, which could be good or bad. It's a matter of testing it out the hard way,” Steven opined.
With all the plot twists and bloopers in his entrepreneurial storyline, Steven also had some climaxes that he considers as his victories. Setting up in London is one of his biggest wins. Also, having big clients that he used to admire from afar is a success in itself. “When we were starting off, we would admire some work coming from the US by Square, which is a payments company owned by Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter. Now, they are our major client. We met Jack Dorsey, and it's fun. I think it’s a big achievement – the clients we work with in PurpleMonky. On the wedding side, working with some nice celebrities and some well-known people have been awesome as well,” he excitedly shared.
Steven is keen towards growing his businesses even more. He has his game plan in place on how he will trudge the rest of his entrepreneurial journey towards a brighter future. “Our goal is not to grow any more brands. We want to focus on the brands we have but grow internationally, grow into more locations. We've gone from doing too many things, dipping our fingers through a lot of different products and technologies we were creating, investing heavily and then spreading it too thin. They are the biggest lessons, which is to focus on what's in front of us and what we love and try not to get too excited about the next shiny thing. We realise that when we do venture off to new ideas, we should not pool funds or reinvest company funds in a different company. The analogy we use is this: the business is like a plant, and the cash is the soil. We take out cash from one business and put it into another one, and one's going to fail. If I have learned that very early on, it would have been nice. But learning the hard way is fine as well.”
Finding that focus is paramount to success. “It's creating the best possible products and niche for a select customer. So, I'm not trying to be all things to everyone. There's nothing wrong with saying 'no', and not getting worried when the wrong customers are not accepting what you're offering. It’s sticking to that trajectory,” he added.
Looking forward to the future, he plans to devote more time to the Moon & Back and drive it by expanding it to different locations. Steven sees a lot of opportunities for wedding films to grow since it is a product that transcends language and culture. “I think that's where I see it in five years. It will be everywhere around the world,” he projected. Similarly, he wants to expand the brand into different areas in the wedding space, whether it’s venues or products or film, which is what they do best.
If his business journey is a movie, Steven believes that the theme is the underdog story. “We didn't grow up in a community of successful entrepreneurs. We didn't know anyone in the area. We just did it our way. We cut through and succeeded without the need of anybody else to support us,” he articulated. His script is to share his vision, inspire the right people to join, and lead a team towards it.
Reviewing the reel of his journey, Steven has a lot to put in his credit spin. That’s because he is good with people, which is one of his strengths. He knows how to attract people to come along his journey. As he continues doing what he loves to do, he tries to edit out the noise, focus on what he does best, and enjoying it. That’s Steven Jackson being real to his calling.