“Verve means full of life,” Verve Owner and CEO Kane McErvale declared. “When we were looking for a name for the company, we wanted it to be about energy because what we do is so full of life. We bring people together. We get them to be themselves in a space where they can connect and engage with each other. That's where the magic is.”
More of an art person than a businessman, Kane studied music in his early teens. He moved to New York to study acting, eventually becoming an actor and a singer. “I only ever performed in the arts. I was not involved with any other business. I guess I was my own business. I came into the business in 2006. I was recording with Sony Music, and I was doing a lot of touring and travelling. My sister, Holly, had come back from Europe, and she had an idea to set up a photography business in Australia,” Kane began.
While he didn’t begin his entrepreneurial endeavour until he was in his twenties, Kane grew up around entrepreneurs. He narrated, “My parents were farmers. So, we grew up on a farm. We're always exposed to the entrepreneurial spirit, as you put it, such as having a goal, getting out, and making your luck. I think that's not the correct word,” he quickly corrected himself. “For business owners and entrepreneurs, you have to create your opportunity,” Kane added.
Working hard to carve an opportunity was what he witnessed his parents did, facing the adversities of life as a farmer. “So much of it is out of your control. You can work from sunup to sundown and have nothing at the end of it, especially if it's a bad year, or if there's a plague of locusts or mice that take out the crops,” the artist-entrepreneur reasoned.
Although he has seen his parents experience it, It was not until he and Holly started Verve that he realised the complexities of running a business. Originally, he just wanted to help his sister set it up then return to what he was doing before. But as he got into the momentum of the entrepreneurial journey, he quickly realised there’s no escape, since the motions suddenly suck him into the business world.
Looking back to the point when their journey began, he knew that they jumped into the entrepreneurial waters with a naïve sense of security and confidence. But what scared him the most was the prospect of failing. “I put on what money I had into the business. Holly had done the same. We got a loan from our parents to top up the bank so that we could open our first store. We were very mindful as we didn't want to be in a position where we would lose that money,” he remarked.
Doing things on their own and experiencing the journey themselves brought Kane and Holly to a different dimension. “I learned so much in those first few years in the business. Starting up something, we knew the model was right in the very beginning because we just threw everything into it. We absorbed ourselves into this business. Very quickly, it started to be very profitable. It surpassed our expectations,” Kane shared. Green and wet behind the ears, they turned to the National Employment Incentive Scheme (NEIS) where Holly can learn more about running a business.
However, when Holly submitted their business plan, the lecturer just laughed at what she wrote. He told her, “You've got stars in your eyes, missy. I can't pass you unless you go back and rewrite this and be more realistic with your turnover.” Kane and Holly reviewed their plan and stripped back their targets. But at the back of their minds, they wanted to prove that they could turn things around. True enough, they surpassed their target in the first 12 months of operation. It pushed them to move forward with confidence and full of positive energy.
They did almost everything the business demanded them to do. In the first few months, there were only five of them in the team, three of which happen to be siblings – Kane, Holly and Tina. “One of the great things about that was that we learned, understood and executed all functions of the business at that time. We were the call centre operator, photographer, salesperson, and manager. We did all of those functions. In the early days, we went out, marketed the business, and generated leads. From the very ground up, we learnt everything,” Kane pointed out.
One of the challenges they encountered at the beginning was having a new product that nobody knew. They felt the need to put it in front of the people to see what their product was and how it differed from the others. He recounted, “We would put everything on the back of a trailer, take them to a shopping centre, and put it up everywhere for people to see. We would ask them what they thought of it and get feedback that way. Another fear for us was that we liked it; but what if other people didn't? That was dispelled fairly quickly because we had an incredible response straightaway. People were giving us great feedback. Then we had to take that feedback and translate that into revenue.”
Kane admitted that there was an element of fear as they took more risks along the way. But he also found it exciting. For him, it was better to take their chances than to avoid risks altogether and eventually stagnate. As they grew, they needed more people to manage the increasing demands of the business. The siblings had the passion for their venture, but getting the right people on board was more crucial at that stage of the enterprise. “We needed to find people that would get behind the vision and live and breathe the values of the business. We didn't always succeed. On the other hand, one of our major successes was bringing in people that understood why they were here and what we were trying to achieve. Essentially, we're here to reconnect people and celebrate relationships,” he stressed.
As much as picking the right staff members was a challenge in itself, the heartbreak for Kane was when good people leave the company, especially those who needed to go back to their country of origin. It’s also a heartache when he sees them work towards a particular goal and not get the result they wanted to achieve. One thing he learned the hard way was not to hire friends. He realised the necessity of balancing personal relationships with the professional side, and that could sometimes get on the way. There were also instances when processes fail or when they let their client down. On the other hand, he views the disappointments and frustrations as opportunities to fix or change things within the business. He is careful to manage these changes in a way that they bolster the venture rather than inflict damage.
In an industry where technology is an important player to change, Kane makes sure that they constantly innovate. From five employees, they have grown to about 160 people scattered in eight to nine locations around the country. With their growing workforce, he wants their DNA, as founders, to be entrenched within their people. He continues to develop them and the business by applying what he has learned from EO Melbourne, a group that was introduced to him by his sister. One of the insightful events he attended was the Rockefeller Habits, which was both informative and inspiring to him.
“Being around similar people with the same challenges and successes, and being able to learn and model yourself on their success is a great privilege. I think it's easy for a lot of entrepreneurs to feel isolated. You're so focused on the business, but you also have to manage your home, family, and personal relationships as well. If you don't have a sounding board, it's easy to feel like you're in it alone. EO enables you to have someone on the other end of the phone to talk about an idea, catch up with your buddies, and talk through your challenges in a very unguarded way,” Kane conveyed.
Outside of work, Kane finds time to be with family and friends or attend performances, concerts and plays to connect himself with others on a creative level. What he loves about having his own business is the degree of flexibility that comes with it. “As a CEO, I can balance my life. I can go to the gym in the mornings and work back late at night,” he explained.
Kane believes that part of their success was his and Holly’s personalities complementing each other. It was an advantage to the longevity of their venture. According to Kane, “Holly is very much an idea person. She is the true entrepreneur. I'm more of an operational person. I'm very comfortable leading. Over the years, we've balanced each other perfectly because Holly would have these ideas and I would work out a way to make them happen.”
Since Holly recently moved to New Zealand to start a family, Kane is now Verve’s CEO. He is happy that he has a strong management group behind him. “Now, I've got an incredible senior leadership team. Together, we generate incredible ideas for the business and find a way to implement and execute those ideas,” Kane revealed. With their support, he is looking fervently to a positive future ahead of them.
“I am sure that in five or ten years, we'll be making use of and competing with a lot of new technology. We will need to diversify our product offerings and the way we market our business. I'd like to see us grow into international territories – Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.” He also regards the transformations happening around him as a fertile ground where he can help bring out the creative side of people and inject more verve into their lives.
The industry looks promising as well. Kane sees our society becoming so bombarded with imagery. True, people are getting busier, and the world is becoming more cluttered and crowded with events and tasks. Nonetheless, he sees this as an opportunity for people to take time out to celebrate relationships by creating memories and preserving them.
“It's rewarding to be part of something that provides an experience fully surrounded by positive energy. What we put out into the world makes a difference in people's lives. I see people cry tears of joy. I see them hug each other. That's a beautiful thing to be around. I'm also around a family of creative people that do what they do every day and feel amazing of their contribution,” the passionate CEO imparted.