“Be resilient. You need to be able to learn to do pain well. When you’re in self-doubt and fear, understand that you’re going through a personal growth phase, where you’re being asked to change, adapt or improve. Your capacity to respond to those occurrences ultimately turns to success. I usually embrace those periods even though I don’t enjoy them,” Banjo co-founder and CEO, Andrew Colliver, shares. He subscribes to this business philosophy, which has guided him through all these years.
Change is something that Andrew has experienced in his 20-year business career. The shift from two decades of being a banking executive in the corporate space to entrepreneurship was a huge one. “I had a health scare five years ago, which caused some changes to the way I view the world and my place in it. I thought of things that I should have done when I was in my early 20’s. But I was so immature and reckless in my 20’s. I was not capable. But I needed to know who I was as a person without the business card and salary cheque telling me who I was, and why I was here. Then I underwent the transition into the entrepreneurial world,” he began.
After 20 years in the corporate world, he somewhat self-destructed with the frustration of not being able to achieve the things he wanted to attain. He encountered some roadblocks throughout the tail end of his career. But it ended up with a mutual parting. At that time, he didn't want to re-enter the corporate world and decided to back himself by putting up his venture.
When he left the corporate arena, he had plenty of time to think. He was landscaping his backyard for six months and was contemplating on the idea of starting on his own. Then Andrew had a conversation with his patriarchal uncle in London, and he was encouraged by what his uncle did during his age. That conversation motivated him to give entrepreneurship a go.
The entrepreneurial journey seemed to be the natural route for him because he was always creative, curious and disciplined at a young age. He had one funny anecdote about this. “When I was about 8 or 9 years old, and this is a bit of a joke, a bit of tongue-in-cheek, I created the first mobile phone. It was back in the 1970s. My friends and I used to bury a jar in the front yard of our house. It was secret with the grass placed back on the jar. We had some paper and pencil so we could write a message. We could leave messages in the jar for each other when they weren’t home. It was something like a message bank.”
Curious and creative that he is, he researched on similar companies in the UK and the USA before he took the plunge into the entrepreneurial waters. What Andrew found out was this, “Online lenders grew post-GFC to address a fundamental issue in the marketplace, and I thought Australia was no different. We did some analysis to try to talk ourselves out of progress, and we could not find any reasons other than fear and self-doubt.”
Andrew found a new purpose when he and his co-founders put up Banjo. “We're an online lender or fin tech, and we provide unsecured funding to SMEs across Australia. The small business sector was starved of capital post-GFC and continues to be. Banks find it difficult to service the market. When they do, it's done poorly, as they rarely return calls. They change the relationship manager every six months. Deals are approved subject to mortgages over the house, beach house, kids and dog. And so, we target companies with a turnover range of one to twenty million dollars. These are some of the great companies in the Australian economy contributing to the communities. They're just generally unloved.”
Still, going into a new path was not easy for Andrew. There was a stark contrast with working in a structured corporate setting and working all by himself. “I think the primary difference is that there's a lot more volatility in your entrepreneurial life when it comes to the highs and the lows. The frustrations are the speed of response of certain people. When you're in a corporate role, you get a fortnightly salary. You know your specific job description and key performance indicators (KPIs). On the other hand, I think being an entrepreneur is a bit like flying an aeroplane in midair. You've got to hop out onto the wings and install the rivets, paint it while you're in flight and then hop back in the plane. It's a little bit more challenging,” Andrew explained.
It meant that the entrepreneurial track is full of risks. One thing that scared Andrew the most was using his own money as capital and putting it in the business for a long time. And the more he grew his venture, the more he needed capital. Still, he was hopeful as he charted his path. “I think that when I first started, I got quite optimistic about how my business is going to launch. I naively thought that when I put up a website, I'd get swamped with business. Then I made some mistakes. I went very aggressive with some marketing expenditures. That probably fed my ego more than it fed the market. You make these mistakes, and you've got to live with that ramification. Then you've got to pivot your strategy to recover and relaunch.”
With a bit of naivety when he started his enterprise, he nearly blew the venture within 12 months it began as they faced an administration scenario. It was one of the lows that Andrew went through in his journey. But it was a humbling experience for him as well. “We had to reduce our operating expenses. We had to focus on a particular customer segment and relaunch the business. For a long time, we were completely unpaid. We had to lay off some very valued staff members. That was quite heartbreaking,” Andrew narrated.
He picked up valuable lessons from those experiences as well as from the guidance he received from others. “The best advice I’ve received was to run a business that was agile and open to constant iterations of trialling, testing, learning and adapting. Another advice was not to spend too much on digital advertising because our business dealt more with accountants and brokers. If you’re going to ask people for advice it’s good to listen. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to the advice and went hard on digital. I wish I listened to some of that early advice I received and implemented. That was probably my biggest mistake,” he revealed.
But he learned to admit his mistakes and listen to the counsel of his supporters and business partners. From there, they halved the operating expenses of their enterprise and conducted a strategic pivot. As to leading their team, they ran multidisciplinary cross-functional teams of six to ten people that worked and solved problems together. To further inspire them, they have a Blues Brothers poster on their wall, stating ‘We’re on a mission from God.’ “Now, our vision, which is to become a pre-eminent financial services provider in Australia, has a higher purpose. The whole team believes in it,” he quipped.
Joining EO Melbourne has become a powerful factor in Andrew’s journey as he embedded new practices into his business. Acknowledging the need to develop himself continually, he believes that EO Melbourne is a big help to him. There were precious insights that he picked from the events he attended. According to Andrew, “I've attended a couple of the accelerator learning days. I think the session on the Rockefeller strategy that I and two of my co-founders attended helped us implement parts of that framework in our business. There's still a bit of more work to do to refine it. But we found that incredibly valuable.”
Meeting other like-minded business owners also made him feel that he is no longer alone. Andrew shared, “I don’t feel any more as if I am the only person on planet earth facing difficulties with my business. The forums constantly amaze me given the diversified experiences and learnings. The quality of the speakers has opened a new dimension for me in learning. Some of the structured courses have been very beneficial.”
For a long time, Andrew and his team were somewhat feeding themselves on two-minute noodles. It was as if there weren’t any victories but only lots of hard work. When they started raising external capital from investors, it validated their new direction and business model. With the right tools, strategies, and people, they have raised 50 million dollars’ worth of capital. They also received a net promoter score of 71, when most of the banks are minus 15 or 10.
But the biggest win for Andrew was the birth of his children. His kids’ sporting activities make him very busy during weekends. What he loves most with his new role as a business owner is the flexibility to spend more time with his family, despite the bigger responsibilities he has to perform. “In contrast to my role in corporate life, I used to work from eight in the morning until seven thirty at night. Now, I’m probably working 24/7, but in the hours that I choose. I think I can become more efficient and effective in trying to get that work-life balance. I drop my kids off at school, and then I come to work. This afternoon I'm going to visit my kids' school to see them play music, but then I'll probably end up making up for the two hours this afternoon by working over the weekend for two or three hours.”
Despite his busy schedule, he also finds time for his other interests. As a Carlton fan, his team’s football win this season felt like a grand final to him. When he wants to escape, he watches Chinese war movies and Netflix. He also meditates to help him de-stress and focus on what lies ahead.
Thinking of the future, Andrew already has plans in mind. He hopes to live on a farm someday and tend to his cattle and ride his horse. On the business side, he has goals for the venture that he and his co-founders own. He wants Banjo to become the pre-eminent financial services company that serves SMEs across Australia.
Andrew has learned a great deal from his entrepreneurial journey. Over the last few years, he has seen the improvement in his capacity to manage setbacks, capitalise on opportunities, and communicate with his stakeholders in a better way. He hasn’t reached his peak yet, but he is climbing towards it.
For those who are just about to start their entrepreneurial adventure, Andrew has some tips to share. “I think entrepreneurs need to know themselves well. They have to learn to respect but not give in to their fears and self-doubt. They need to keep an open mind to new ideas, people, processes, and solutions,” he counselled. He also pointed out the danger of trying to do a big bang implementation of concepts without any trial or testing beforehand.
“Everyone's going to have their journey. In that journey, find a better version of yourself. If you have the commitment, the higher purpose, and the passion, then I encourage you to do it,” the passionate business owner imparted.