My first transformation

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“I promise to share the founding of this agency as it happens” is my first broken promise. Or maybe it’s my third. That would be a shame.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and if I’d been true to my promise, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d decided to give it all up and never leave the Fiji villa.

That’s in fact not what I decided, and I’ve been quite busy DOING THE WORK.

Because I now have clients. (Damn it – I never quite settled on a better name, despite the many generous and creative and sometimes quite weird suggestions I received).

I figured that eventually the agency would actually be FOUNDED, and so The Story of the Founding of Cult Tribal would be under some pressure to become the stories of the brands and tribes we’re working with. (I’m starting to say we, because I’d really like to have a small team soon, and so I’m manifesting).

The agency is still evolving every day, so it’s by no means the end of that story, but I thought I’d share my first brand and vision transformation anyway, because they’re a good company and I think it’s pretty good work, and it might help show you how my theories on culture and brand and tribes work in practice.

So – where to start? I’ll tell you the story of how this client came about, and what we’ve done together.

About a week after I left Vinomofo (so I was feeling quite fragile), I caught up with Marcus, who has an M&A Agency (buying and selling companies) and actually helped us years ago to buy our shares back from Catch of the Day.

He was quite shocked at my leaving, and bemused at my idea for Cult Tribal (which at that time didn’t have a name) – probably mostly bemused that I’d already started building something new, and that perhaps my brain and heart should have taken a breath.

But he saw the fervour of my conviction, perhaps he smelled the desperate hope, and he said something to me. Something so simple to give, yet at the time it was oxygen for me.

“Mate, everyone will want to work with you.” How I needed those words at the time, and I’ll always be grateful.

A few weeks later, we were meeting for another coffee, and he told me about the BIG LIFE CHANGE he had just made.

You see there was this company, Polygon, that he’d been advising. The company had been going for about 35 years, was quite successful ($25m or so revenue, nicely profitable). The founders were in their sixties and exploring the possibility of a well-earned reward for their hard work.

But the more Marcus learned about the company, the more he saw the untapped potential, and opportunity for growth.

So much potential did Marcus see in this company, that he had decided to quit his M&A life and become the new CEO of Polygon, grow it into what he believed it could become, and then perhaps take it public.

He was putting together a core growth team, and wanted me to join them.

We sat together for two hours and he told me all about the company.

They’d started as Musicorp, renting musical instruments to schools (there’s a cool backstory before that), which over the years grew into what they did now – basically they were a rental payment solution for music and camera gear.

So if you went into a Yamaha store, or Ted’s Cameras, and you wanted to get a guitar, or an expensive camera, instead of buying it, you could rent it. They would buy it, so you could rent it from them, and either pay it out or give it back when you were finished.

This brand was Studio 19.

They also had musicorp.com, and cameracorp.com where they rented out the pre-loved gear when someone didn’t want to buy it out; sportcorp.com for golfing and other sporting gear, technocorp.com for laptops, tablets, screens, etc.

Useful, but not really very sexy or emotive. None of the brands really stood for anything, and they didn’t even really play nicely together.

They did have a good, solid reputation with the retailers they partnered with, but in the world of Afterpay, Zip Pay and a bunch of other cooler fintech solutions, they simply didn’t have any brand awareness among consumers. Or as I like to say, people.

I went into a few stores, posing as a customer, and nobody was telling me about Studio 19. When I asked about it, the people in the store didn’t know much about it. They’d reach down under the counter, fumble for a folder, and then tell me about Zippay, which seemed a whole lot simpler for them.

It wasn’t great. That wasn’t the experience everywhere, but it was a concern.

So what excited me? Why did I want to work with Marcus on this?

1 – They weren’t in the business of dishwashers or microwaves. They stuck with music, photography, sports… things creative and things of play. That meant that there was passion shared with and among the people they needed to reach. They were already a tribe. They just didn’t know it yet.

2 – It was actually better for the business if someone gave the product back when they were finished with it, and rented something new, rather than buying it outright, because that thing would then go into their preloved stock, and they would rent it out again.

So what I loved was this concept of these creative and lovingly-crafted products not being disposed of, and not languishing unused in the bottom of the cupboard, but going to a new owner, bringing joy and making stories.

I loved this idea that an owner was a custodian.

I saw the potential for this not to be about a rental payment solution at all, but a whole new concept to challenge the idea buying and selling. A kind of sharing. A sustainable ecosystem of products and people and passion and play and creativity.

So we got the founders together with Marcus and James, who had also left the M&A Agency to join Marcus on this new adventure, and I took them up to Seppeltsfield in the Barossa to workshop the brand, rediscover its purpose, what it stands for, or what it could stand for, and what it might become.

I chose Seppeltsfield for it’s life-changing Centennial barrel room, the world’s only unbroken line of port vintages dating back to 1878, because to me it is a moving testament to a truly beautiful and important vision.

In 1878, Benno Seppelt decided to put a barrel of his best port aside, not to be touched for one hundred years. He dreamed of making a hundred-year old port, knowing that not he, nor his children and perhaps not even his children’s children would be able to see or taste the very thing they were producing.

Imagine what it took to see that vision through. Through war and depression, and another war. Through future generations of sons, any of whom could have not shared the vision and sold off the incredibly valuable stock at any time. Through corporate takeover, and potentially greedy executives. But no one, ever, no matter the reason, dishonoured Benno’s vision, and broke the line. And when Warren Randall (bit of a wine industry legend) bought it, he honoured that vision and created the Centennial Barrel Room.

And so now we have this incredible legacy, and that morning before the workshop we got to walk through the barrel room, taste our birth years, and the year the company was founded, and finally a hundred year old port made in 1918, straight from the barrel.  

That alone was spiritual. But I wanted to share this experience together, because this day was about going back to the foundations of this company and its purpose; honouring that, and building that into a new brand.

It would be a mistake, I believe, not to honour the legacy of thirty-five year old company and the values of its founders.

I was finding it hard enough to let go of a company I’d put twelve years of my life into. I respected what they were going through.

After the tasting, we dove into their founding story. What drove them to start this? Why did the company exist? What did it hope to achieve back then? How was the world different by having it? How would the world be worse off it it ceased to exist? Would anybody care? How would it affect people’s lives if they were a part of it? How did people feel about it? What did THEY feel about it, as founders and new leaders? What was important to them? Who was it for? What connected them with each other? With the brand?

We talked about the concepts of buying, and sharing, and what it was to learn an instrument, to make music, or take a picture. We talked about passion, and kids, and the planet, and our own purpose as people.

By the end of the day, I had a full mind, and about fifty flipchart pages of scribbled words and diagrams and post-it notes and concepts and stories that were already fermenting in my brain with the lingering taste of the unctuous liquid vision from 1972 and 1918.

I felt like we’d connected with truth, and I was excited about what we had discovered, only to learn the next day from Marcus that the founders had felt like it was a bit of a waste of time, and were questioning not only my methods but the money they were paying me. I was surprised by that, and it did shake my confidence that we’d opened up something special.

But I believed in this vision that was taking shape, and I guess in fairness, most of that was happening in my head.

Over the next week I sifted through the notes, the stories, as ideas and concepts slowly took shape.

It’s a funny process, this particular creative one. It’s one I find that can’t be pushed, so much as nudged and kneaded and teased out and explored. Like stirring up the waters and letting the ripples take you as you float and feel.

This is where the ripples took me…

This brand was about helping people connect with the things they love, so they may follow their passions. This was the purpose, the why.

They had in fact created a way for people to have the things through which they express and explore their passions – musical instruments to make music, cameras to make pictures, bikes to ride, golf clubs to play…

These were the things the people in their tribe loved to do. Things they were passionate about.  Things the founders were also passionate about, as it turns out. They shared that in common.

They had created a simple, affordable sustainable alternative to having to buy something.

And we would create a world where people can have and share the things they love. A place, an ecosystem. A community of passionate, creative people and the things through which they expressed and explored their passions.

Our mission would be to enable anyone to follow their passion.

This brand would stand for the makers – of music, of pictures, the adventurers, the players, the passionate ones.

We share your passion.

This was at the heart of the brand. The core idea that people would connect with. This was the beacon that would unite a tribe, and differentiate us from the Afterpays and the Zip Pays and the credit cards and Flexirents and all the other alternatives to straight up buying something.

I wanted the brand to be a verb, a new way of thinking about ownership, about things, possessions. I wanted it to be a community, a world. I had visions of John Lennon and of Scandinavia.

We share your passion.

And that’s how the new brand came to me… weshare.

Here’s how the brand and the new vision work together:

It’s quite  simple. If you’re in a store, or shopping online for, say, a camera, you could buy the camera for $2000, if that is the price. Or you could weshare it, for a small payment each month.

It’s yours. You have it. You are the first owner. The first custodian. The makers have made it, and now it is yours.

And then, let’s say in a couple of years, there is a new camera that you want, a better camera, as is the nature of these things. You give back the camera you had, and it becomes available for someone else to weshare, someone in the weshare community.

And you can weshare the new camera you want.

It’s a nicer way than buying and selling – wesharing, don’t you think?

So there. That’s my first brand transformation.

Perhaps you noticed something that I’ve discovered through this – that through finding the purpose, and what a brand stands for, you end up dissolving the boundaries of WHAT the company does, which gives way to a whole new vision.

That’s been an exciting discovery, because I find myself in the business of not only brand transformation, but vision transformation.

It’s only been a couple of months, and I’ve got some good founding clients, and what’s been quite wonderful is that every single one has come from the sharing of this blog, or a podcast I’ve done, or something where I’ve talked about what I want the agency to stand for.

People are contacting me and saying “hey, I really like what you stand for, this doing things good, and tribes, and purpose – I really identify with that. What is it you do?”

And isn’t that a living and breathing testament to what I know to be true, that people want to feel part of something.

They want to connect – with each other, and with an idea, a belief, a feeling. People talk about things they care about. If you want to be that, you have to stand for something.

That is what they’ll connect with, what they’ll care about, and talk about. That something has to be authentic, and connected with purpose and values.

You have to create a world that people want to be part of.

I’m working with a delivery brand that connects local communities to make it possible to have a parcel delivered to you wherever you are, whenever you like. They stand for corner store connection.

A one-woman skincare brand that is all about it being okay to be you, and helping women find their glow. They stand for self love.

An inspiring NGO that do mobile washing machines for the homeless, which is really just an excuse to have conversations, to make someone feel heard and seen, while their clothes are being washed. That’s all about human connection.

A forty year old foundation dedicated to finding, developing and connecting the young leaders of Australia’s future in science, tech and education. I don’t yet know what they stand for, but we’ll find out in a couple of weeks when we dive in.

It’s working. This agency is working. And I just wanted to share with you my excitement, my relief.

I don’t want to be doing it alone for much longer, and have my eye of a few amazing people to join me in February or March next year.

But for now, it’s still just me. But I don’t feel alone.

Thanks for listening. And thank you for being part this tribe we’re growing together.

Go do things good.