Simon chats with Gerard Doyle, Founder of Fractal.
Gerard Doyle is the founder of Fractal. His mission is to help the founders, innovators, creators and dreamers find their market, to realise their ambitions and fulfil their business potential. With 20+ years of marketing experience combined with his experience as the founder of three Startups, he helps founders discover and develop the optimal marketing solution for their business.
You can contact Gerard here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gerarddoyle/
Simon Dell: Joining me on the Simon Dell Show this week is Gerard Doyle, also from Brisbane, who is currently the CEO, founder… What exactly are you? What’s your job title, Gerard, at Fractal?
Gerald Doyle: I would never call myself CEO. I hate people of a company of one who call themselves CEO. Of what? Chief Executive Officer of myself.
Simon Dell: I hate that as well. Anyway, Gerard is the founder and boss of a company called Fractal, which is dedicated to helping startups find their unique business proposition, helping innovators, and creators, and dreamers find their market — reading directly from LinkedIn. Welcome to the show, Gerard Doyle.
Gerald Doyle: Thanks for having me, Simon.
Simon Dell: We are going to start off with my first question, which is normally: What was the first job that you ever did and ever got paid for? However, one thing we do have to point out to everybody on this show: When I share the link to the software that we use to record the show, it creates a short link.
For those of you who don’t know what a short link is, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past 10 years. And Cast, which is the software that we use, creates a Cast Link which is “trycast” forward-slash “guest” forward-slash six numbers or letters. Those six numbers or letters are completely unique every time so that every podcast has its own unique link.
This week, for the first time ever, the short link was 9XMOFO. So, Cast, Gerard, has already formed an opinion of you even before we’d started this.
Gerald Doyle: I’ve been hurt. That’s it. I recommend it to someone recently without even using it. But that’s it, they’re off the list now.
Simon Dell: I am going to screenshot this later on because I think that’s hilarious. It could accidentally call you a mofo. Anyway, back to the original first question, which was: What was your first job that you actually got paid for?
Gerald Doyle: First job I got paid for is boring. That’s just a paperboy riding around my bike delivering the Brisbane news, throwing it on people’s driveways. That’s not the interesting one.
The next check I got was actually doing internet marketing back in ’95. I didn’t even know what it was, but I built an online website that really spoke up to the pay-to-surf industry. If anyone’s old enough to remember, that’s when we had banners that would run on your browser and you’d earn a commission on how many banners were showing.
Simon Dell: I had one of those.
Gerald Doyle: There was AllAdvantage and all these different companies that went bust. They’re all pyramid schemes at the end of the day. But as a 17 year old, I felt this site became an authority in Australia. I got my second check – not the paperboy one, that’s boring, but my first business check was actually in US dollars. When it cleared, I couldn’t believe it.
Simon Dell: How much was it for?
Gerald Boyle: It was about 70-80 USD which would’ve been 150 bucks. Back in the day is where there really were dollar drinks when you went out. That’s a lot of rum and cokes at Rosie.
Simon Dell: How old were you at the time?
Gerald Boyle: If you ask Rosies, I was 18. But I think I was a mature-looking 17-year-old.
Simon Dell: That’s what the ID said anyway.
Gerald Boyle: Exactly. That’s a whole other business thing I’m not going to get into because I’ll put myself in jail.
Simon Dell: We’ve had some very suspect confessions on this show about past and things like that. I think the federal police have got much more interesting people to track down than you on this.
Gerald Boyle: Hopefully.
Simon Dell: What was the website that you put the ads on?
Gerald Boyle: I ran a website called cashgenerators.net, which is hilarious because back in the day, there were so many dot coms available, but for some reason, we’re dot net. Basically, it was really weird. I SEO’d it to the top of Excite, and Yahoo!, and LookSmart, and AltaVista because it predated Google. And then I started buying paid search traffic. And amazingly learned paid-to-click marketing back in ’96 when this just didn’t exist. It was so new.
I was buying Get Rich Quick at the top of Yahoo! which was being run by Goto, which became Overture, which then became Yahoo! eventually. They bought the whole thing. But just as a kid with his own personal common bank credit card and doing that and making it work, really. Built a mailing list and went from there.
Simon Dell: Did you keep doing it or was it just that one check, and you got so drunk at Rosies that you gave up the whole job?
Gerald Boyle: The biggest job was about 1,500-1,700 US dollars from a bunch of them. The pinnacle was actually getting… I got a phone call from The Australian newspaper of all things who rang up and rang my home phone number. That’s what was there. My dad answered. He was sure I was in trouble. And then amazingly, they ran an article featuring me as an international expert. I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, a whole bunch of people signed up off the back of that.
Then Australian Personal Computer magazine picked it up. I was at uni doing business and I had no real idea that even earning those checks, I still went and applied for internships at banks. One awesome recruiter just looked and went, “Hang on. You can just do this internet thing as a job, you know.” “Really?” “Yeah.” And then that was the start of everything. But it’s amazing: You can be making money running your own business and then you still fall into the standard, “Oh, well I’m graduating my business degree from UQ now. I’ve got to go off and work for a mining company.” That’s what you do, right?
Simon Dell: Your dad wasn’t suspect in big checks arriving once a month or anything like that?
Gerald Boyle: Totally suspect. When I banked the first one over $1,000, he came with me because he thought he might have to bail me out. He thought someone was going to get wrong, and then he laughed and went, “Well, it’ll never clear.” And then it cleared. And then he goes saying, “What are you doing?” I think he had this idea in his head that I was just sitting in his office playing computer games. But in actually fact, I was dialling into 14.4 modem mode, that thing us older internet veterans… You can play that noise.
I wouldn’t try to do it with my voice now, but it brings back memories of the day. And I was playing some games, but yeah, he didn’t realise I was building a real thing. And then it just took an employer, a founder of a company just looked and go, “Actually, there’s very people around you who can do SEO, build websites, run paid search.” I mean, it didn’t exist. And so yeah, I got a lucky first job and an even better second job working at Dark Blue Sea in Brisbane. At the time, it was really the pinnacle of internet working in Brisbane.
We had about 110, and it was all kids, just working. We ran affiliate networks. We ran online games, trading games. We’re in paid search engines. If we could think of it, we were getting back to build it. It was exciting times.
Simon Dell: I guess that was also a basic HTML as well back then, wasn’t it?
Gerald Boyle: Yeah. The first thing I built was whether I… Do you remember Sausage Software and whatever their software was?
Simon Dell: That sounds really dodgy but keep going.
Gerald Boyle: There was a darling internet Australian company that created a WYSIWYG HTML editor and it was called Sausage Software, and it raised a truck-load of money in the late-90s. During the US dot com boom, it was one of the few Australian companies and I used that. It was pretty helpful.
Simon Dell: I used Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver and Fireworks. I can’t remember who owned them. Was it Macromedia?
Gerald Boyle: I think it was Macromedia and then it became Adobe. Yeah, I had that as well, at the risk of making this entire podcast about things that I’ve done that don’t completely follow the law, I don’t think I had a completely registered copy of Dreamweaver.
Simon Dell: Nobody did. Back in those days, you could find the keys online, couldn’t you? You can find generated keys for Dreamweaver and all those kind of things. You put them in and the software would work – until it didn’t work one day, and then you’d find another key.
Gerald Boyle: And then you realise that Netscape’s got something built in, a communicator or whatever it is. You just find the cheap free alternative and you go from there. It pays testimony to the idea that trying to charge students and everybody money for your product isn’t always the best approach. Sometimes, the best approach is to becoming better, become a standard, and then charge the enterprise level. You’re going to probably make more money for a longer period of time rather than chasing around impoverished students all the time.
Simon Dell: Yeah. I mean, I think back in some of those pieces of software… That was back in the Napster days as well when you could download whatever the fuck you liked off the internet, really. I was just downloading. I’d like 20 MP3s downloading at any given time.
Gerald Boyle: I actually remember working with Napster. I pioneered this idea of… They seed up fake videos now and they put fake songs on. One day I worked that I could optimise a song, a track, to get at the top and become really popular. And one night, having a few drinks, I recorded my own voice and got the track link to the exact one of the latest song, put it up there, and I woke up the next morning and realised I had tens of thousands of downloads of me singing whatever song it was just to see if I can get away with it.
And I did and I thought, “That’s actually a bit of an issue.” Technically, I had a short career as a musician.
Simon Dell: If you counted those downloads today in the ARIA Chart, you’d probably chart somewhere.
Gerald Boyle: The whole reason I did it was to trick my wife so I could put it onto a CD and put it into her car because she was driving a long way. I would burn CDs for her for her travels, and then at about track 7, I just introduce the song where I sang the entire thing, which I thought was funny and ended up becoming an overnight Napster sensation.
Simon Dell: An unknown internet sensation because, obviously, I guess you didn’t tell everybody who you were. You were just singing it.
Gerald Boyle: Yeah and really badly, too.
Simon Dell: That’s a shame. You could’ve become famous.
Gerald Boyle: Look, all these starts of businesses, all these things that I’ve started and never followed through on, yeah.
Simon Dell: Do you have that entrepreneurial ADD where you start things and don’t finish them?
Gerald Boyle: I used to say that. I met a few people that describe themselves in the same way. It used to frustrate me. And I couldn’t figure out why when they said it frustrated me, but I felt it was a reason for me. As I’ve matured, I’ve decided that it’s not that I don’t have trouble finishing things. What I tend to not get pleasure out of is exploiting something to the Nth degree.
What I mean by that is, once I’ve solved the business problem, once I go, “Oh, I’ve got it! I’ve built it. It’s done. It works.” I don’t tend to then keep pushing all the way through and get a huge amount of money from it. Whereas I met other people who, their version of it was, “I came up with a good idea” but they don’t actually deliver the product. They don’t actually make it work and test it. It’s just an idea in their head.
And the third type of people are the ones who see that idea and go, “Oh, I’m going to build that and I’m going to make a whole lot of money.” And I think of search engine marketing as being… And I’ve had a great career as a search engine marketer for the last 20 years, but there’s people that even in the last 4 or 5 years have spun up search engines in Australia and still exited and made millions. And I always look and go, “I still could do that but I get no pleasure from that. I know that I’ve done it, so I don’t need to follow through and make the big money.” Which is even now and then I stop and thinking, “Oh, that’s assuming that I could of course.”
But I think serial entrepreneurs who are successful are the ones who come up with an idea, prove that it works, solve it, create the business, and then they go, “Now that I’ve done the tricky bit, I’m not going to sit here and build a big company and make a lot of money and see the numbers are all in. I’m quite happy to go the next idea.” To me, that’s the difference. Delivering a product that works and a business that’s going to scale and then walking away from it: That’s totally different from somebody that goes, “Oh, I’ve got an idea for a fast car or a better mousetrap” and then they just leave it. That doesn’t count. You got to have the hustle to solve the problem.
Simon Dell: One of my favourite quotes is, and I can’t remember who it’s from, is: The best way to make a fortune is to have a really, really good idea and then never have another one. And I love that because I go… That to me is if you are going to make a fortune, you do have to follow these. I think you still have to follow these things through to the end. I understand your point about jumping from creating something and then allowing someone else to scale it. Look, it’s interesting. I mean, I think that the entrepreneurial ADD that I talk about with a friend of mine is sometimes damaging.
Because when you’re in the middle of doing one thing, all of a sudden you go, “Oh look, there’s a dog.” And you go running off like you were Homer Simpson and get distracted from actually completing the first thing.
Gerald Boyle: Absolutely. That’s why I think in the start-up industry and working with founders, one of the questions that good investors often ask is: Do you want to be in this industry for 10 years? Because what happens is, after you’ve discovered the business, once that gets going, you could’ve run this business, and grow this, and then exit the business. And so, there might be five years of up and experimentation, but there’s also going to be five years of corporate-style grind if you are successful to get that proper exit.
And from the investor’s point of view, the last thing they want is someone like the entrepreneurial ADD because that just means they’re going to have almost a great investment and then it’s going to disappear on them. I think that’s why you want to pick an industry that you would work in anyway, whatever it happens to be. The way I solve that for me was to not be another founder of a start-up company and become an agency or consultant to startups.
So, all I do is get the fun of helping founders without necessarily the same amount of risk. But it allows me to satisfy that ADD of different ideas, so I can work with 10, 11, 12 different founders at any one point in time. That’s been my solution to that problem so I hope it works.
Simon Dell: We’ll come onto that later on. I want to touch on a couple of things earlier in your career. As you mentioned, you’ve got a background in digital marketing, and especially looking at your history, lots of search engine optimisation, pay-per-click, and all those kind of things. How important is search engine optimisation today to the average business and the average small business?
Gerald Boyle: It’s not what it was. I think it’s important that you own your brand. I think too many businesses all chase the one holy grail of ranking #1 for the generic term that they want to chase. And search is a winner-takes-all. I feel for most brands, you’re better off trying to create the demand and have people search for your brand and own that rather than trying to pick up the generic. I also know that generic search terms tend to have more fickle visitors. The customers are a bit more likely to be price sensitive and less brand-loyal.
But for me, this is the evolution of search. The first evolution of search was very much about on-page keyword density. Back in ’96 when I was optimising, it was just about keyword stuffing and hiding text with white backgrounds, white text on white background, that kind of stuff. And then Google came along and Google’s big change was valued links and links with votes. That was a bit different but we can still game that.
The third evolution that we’re currently in with search is very much around the user experience. The people’s experience of your website and how they find it in other sources of traffic, not just links. That means that it’s much harder to game it. With founders, I’m almost always saying SEO is a long-term game. This isn’t something you want to be getting into now. In fact, you’re better off doing paid search, seeing if it works, and then worrying about if you want to start a 6 to 12-month SEO campaign.
The illusion of free traffic for SEO is not right.
Simon Dell: You get a lot of people saying… The challenge I find is a lot of people want to do SEO. One of the things I push back on them and say, “There’s a content play here as well. You need to be producing good quality content as well.” And not just producing good quality content but amplifying that content. You need people reading your blogs. You need people watching your videos and all those kind of things. That suddenly becomes a really hard ask for a small business who’s got maybe $1,000 to $2,000 budget every month.
Gerald Boyle: Yeah. There’s always going to be middlemen who sit in there. There’s always going to be the aggregator and comparison site that’s going to do better or the restaurant review site, whatever it happens to be. So, you just look at this small business going, “Don’t worry about it. Create a good user experience, give what you need. Look, I think SEO for small businesses, there’s a lot of small agencies out there doing it, charging those basic retainer packages, but very rarely does it make sense for these guys.”
Like you said, they’re much better off focusing on something they’ve got more control over. And as the world grows up, there’s always going to be some site – usually Google – but there’s always some site that’ll sit in-between. And you’re much better off just playing the game and just going, “Do I build up my BNB to rank on a particular search engine or let’s put it on Airbnb and they own that space?” You just accept that you’re just not going to have that same kind of scale so you’re not going to win that game.
Simon Dell: What about the voice element of search? Do you think that’s going to become… I don’t know if you read any tech magazine or any tech website. Everyone says voice for the next 5 years, 10 years, whatever. What’s your feeling on it?
Gerald Boyle: I think voice is the next 5-year horizon. I think what we’re facing is we’ve gone from text… Voice started, videos become bigger, but the problem with videos is it’s an all-encompassing medium whereas what we’re doing right now. Most people who are listening to this are probably doing something else. They’re either walking the dog, they’re mowing the lawn, they’re driving their car, they’re sitting at work.
Simon Dell: I hope they’re not doing anything, Gerald. I hope they’re sitting there paying fucking attention. That’s what I hope. No, you’re right. You’re right. They’re doing something else.
Gerald Boyle: And that tasking, that’s the change. You’re sitting on a bus right now and you’re listening to a podcast. This is how you’re consuming content. Yet, all of the amazing nuggets and information that we’re about to share over the next 10, 15 minutes are lost to most of the search engines because they’re not indexing this. They’re not putting it there. Back in the ’90s and early ’90s when I was building search engines and optimising, I used to always run the basic questions which was: What would I do if I was Google?
If I was Google, I’d be working how to get this information out of audio really quickly. Because if someone else beats them to that, then all the information that we’re sharing here, every podcast, if there’s another search engine that can pull that information, that’s going to be the win.
Conversely, from a business point of view, it’s entirely different. We’re not playing a scale game now. You might have a few hundred people, maybe a thousand people listening to this episode. Maybe it’s 5,000 a few years’ time or whatever it happens to be, but the engagement here is entirely different as well. Half an hour of you and I talking is a much deeper, more personal experience than a bit of text on a page that you can click back off of.
I think investing in content that lasts forever will pay off in the long term. Fleeting engagements are exactly that – they come and go. But if you put content out there, and voice I think is a great place to be, and if it aligns with your business objectives, it lasts forever. It pays back so you’re building an asset base of marketing content that’ll keep paying back to you. I’m a massive fan of voice. I think it’s probably got – that next five years is going to really become a big deal. And with the increase of Siri, and Google, and Google Homes, and whatnot, it’s going to be there. That’s what’s going to happen.
Simon Dell: The two challenges I have with voice search is, number one, having something in my house that’s constantly listening to me. And as my wife continually points out, I already have that with a phone. But let’s digress. That’s challenge number one. The second one, and I use the exact example, is when I try to explain to Siri the word Indooroopilly, which is the suburb I live in in Brisbane, not even close. What Siri hears is gibberish and I’m going, “How does AI, how does more sophisticated search, solve that problem that it frustrates me so much, that eventually I go, “Fuck it. I’ll work it out when I get home” or whatever.” And I abandon the whole concept of search because Siri can’t pick up certain words.
Those are my two big challenges, and I’m sure AI is going to solve one of them. But the privacy element, I don’t know.
Gerald Boyle: Privacy, that’s the secondary consideration. Look, I just believe in the evolution of technology. And I think back to the 90s again. Text search was horrible. It was really hard to find what you wanted. There was all sorts of things and tricks you had to do to find what you wanted. You go to directories because they were curated and they’d work better. It’ll get there. It will just happen. They will eventually get it to work and you’ll be able to say anything in an Australian accent, and you can have crazy places like Indooroopilly and Capalaba, all the Australian locations.
But they will work it out and it will be a better experience. It’s just it’s not quite in that mass adoption phase. And I think for most people, they live their lives as late majority, early majority adopters on that adoption of innovation curve. And this technology is way off at the front end of it, so I’m comfortable with things that don’t quite work. I’m comfortable operating at the pointy-edge of that adoption curve. Most people aren’t, so they’re experiencing Siri, and Alexa, and Google Home, and getting increasingly frustrated.
Because normally, these products don’t hit the market until they’re consumer-friendly. They’re not normally saying it. And I think what’s interesting about all these home pods is that these tech companies have pushed people to become earlier adopters of technologies than they’re normally used to. Normally, this stuff is tested. That’s because Google, they’re an innovative company. They’re used to rolling stuff out pretty quickly and just letting it go.
I think that’s the pushback for most people: It seems like a mass consumer product but it’s not finished yet, still. It’s still in beta. So, I’ve got friends saying the same thing: “It doesn’t work. This is terrible.” And they get frustrated with it. For me, I just go, “Yeah, it doesn’t but it’ll get there.” And to me, that’s what an early adopter is: Someone who is willing to take the bugs, and the crips, because you look and you go, “But when it does work, this is going to be great.”
Simon Dell: The interesting thing is, the only thing that’s funnier than listening to Siri try and handle the word Indooroopilly is listening to my mother trying to do it. Again, I digress. And I wonder whether that idea about getting beta versions of things out there is where we’re going to go with things like autonomous vehicles. I think the challenge there is…
Gerald Boyle: There’s a bigger cost if they get something wrong.
Simon Dell: You can’t really have a beta version. I mean, the argument would be that there are beta versions of autonomous vehicles out there at the moment and they’re called Teslas. People are trying to use them like they are level-four, level-five vehicles.
Gerald Boyle: I learned that the other day. I listened to one of your previous podcasts and I learned about the levels. I’m just purchasing a new car, it’s just a Mazda and you think, “Oh, it’s a Mazda.” And I was explaining to the Mazda dealer about all these levels of automate… Literally quoting you back to the dealer. And saying, “This counts because when I drive this new car, it reads the road signs, it’ll flash it up on the dash.” And I said, “Well, that’s level zero but I’m getting the extra feature that if the current front is stopped and we’re going to hit it, I’m breaking it, but not hard enough, it’ll take over and break for me.”
And so I said, “That’s level one” or whatever it was. I probably got it wrong. But the salesman was totally taken by it. I spoke to him yesterday and he said, “I’m telling everybody about that thing you told me.” I hope I got that right.
Simon Dell: I hope someone got it right and he’s not feeding me… I can’t even remember where I read it off but I’m sure I read it off an authoritative website. Yeah, I mean, that’s the whole argument: me getting into autonomous cars, and I shan’t repeat it again. I felt that in three years’ time, a second-hand non-autonomous car is going to be so devalued that it’s going to be close to worthless.
Because anyone who’s going to be wanting to buy a car in three years’ time is going to be wanting to look for a level four or level five car or is going to be wanting to move on to a subscription service that has, say, 50 households on it and a pool of 75-80 cars. That, to me, is where we move to next. That’s why I keep saying to people, “If you’re going to buy a car now, have a real think about it because it could be worthless in three years’ time.”
Whereas previously, three years’ time, you’d expect cars to have a residual value.
Gerald Boyle: I said that to my wife when we were buying, I said, “This is probably the last time we’ll probably buy a petrol car that we have to control these things.” So I’m like, “Let’s get that one with the turbo because I’ve never had anything with a turbo in it.” Again, that’s probably the last time I’m going to be able to do it.
Simon Dell: Let’s go really ostentatious considering this might be the last car that we ever drive. Alright, look: There’s a couple of other bits and pieces I want to talk to you about. Again, I think full disclosure in here, as I’ve found out the other day, you and I happen to own shares in the same company, which I’m like, “Oh, there we go. That shows the research and due diligence that I did in the past.”
Zippy.com.au, tell me how that started.
Gerald Boyle: It’s a good one. It was my attempt to get myself from Britain back to Brisbane. Living in London for 10 years, my daughter was born. I just exited a business and I needed to come back to Brisbane but there were no jobs that I could really see or I wanted to do. So, if you can’t find a job, you make a job. I decided to launch an Australian business from my Putney home in London and it was Zippy.
Zippy originally was an insurance comparison business, then I pivoted it into a coupon sale business which I’ve been working on in the UK, then I pivoted that into a local rewards-based company. By that stage, I was living in Brisbane. I’ve moved and put everything into it. So, I went through a few evolutions. It was that rewards-based app tabletty business that was the one that became the evolution that moved up into BDS we raised money for and is the version of the business that we jointly hold probably very few shares collectively now.
It’s a bit of an amalgamation of a bunch of businesses rolled up together now.
Simon Dell: I was trying to work out that should all those convertible notes be cashed in, exactly how many shares I would have.
Gerald Boyle: Don’t do it.
Simon Dell: Well actually, it wasn’t too bad. I think it’s something like 5% and I was like, “Eh, it could be…” Considering the evolution of the lifecycle of what that went through, I’m happy with that. There was one thing I was going to touch on there. All those pivots from insurance comparison to a coupon business, what sort of drove those pivots? Were they overnight, like you woke up and go, “Alright, fuck it. Forget that. Let’s go and do that instead.”
Gerald Boyle: No. Each one’s got its own story. The pivot over insurance was driven by the fact, being an SEO, paid search guy, I got Zippy to rank #1 in Australia on Google for car insurance, number three for home insurance, and all these terms. I was doing heaps of quotes, but I had to hack the system. I even had an AFSL. It was an authorised rep of an AFSL. I got three tip-offs. The first tip-off came from a friend who was working at a law firm who said, “I think you need to be careful about this.”
The next tip-off came from a guy I’d worked with a couple of times before who actually was building a comparison business himself. He got taken to court by ASIC for breach of the General Insurance Act in Australia. One of the great insurance companies to challenge the insurance brands in Australia actually paid his $50,000 fine and took his assets off him. But they pretty much paid a fine just so he wouldn’t go under.
And what I learned was that actually, the two big general insurance groups in Australia, they don’t need to fight. They simply hide behind… Australia has the largest general insurance act in the world, so they just hide behind in. Every single general insurance company in Australia is in breach of it all the time because it’s so complicated. You can never be 100% compliant.
All they do is throw lawyers at each other. Now, if you’re a small start-up business and you start ranking and disrupting an industry with a comparison site, they just throw the book at you. Even if you’re doing the right thing, you’re just going to get taken down. And so, I got a tip off both from that challenger insurance company, the founder of that, and my lawyer, Fred, who just went, “Yeah, you’re next in line, Gerard.”
I had to actually 404 the entire site, so I went from doing 400 to 600 a day to 0. I just lost the whole thing just because the cost was going to be huge. I’ve always had a bit of a bean in my bonnet about the way Australian sets up these regulations and laws in theory to protect people. But they come so bureaucratic, the only people who can actually comply to them have the money and probably in a monopolistic or duopolistic position. Secondly, it just goes to feed the beast.
They forced my hand, really, and then moved into vouching which was I was doing in the UK. So I sort of said, “Oh, I’m going to vouchers. I know that space inside-out.” We hit Australia. I brought my English co-founder over with me. And about two weeks after we were here, Myes sent us a cease and desist letter for three breaches, or two I can remember. One was using their logo on our website, which we didn’t actually do. It just so happens that Myer’s logo is so inventive. It’s just black text on a white background, so we responding to that.
Two, this is in 2007, sent a cease and desist letter for linking to their website. I got that, and my business partner who was British never moved to Australia and I’ve been gone for 10 years just went, “Oh my god, what is wrong with this country? How is this a thing? How is someone not wanting a link? How is someone not wanting traffic? How are they sending you a cease and desist letter? That costs a fortune.”
And so, we had to take it down and it really showed me that they weren’t ready, not only for online marketing and affiliate marketing which is where we were going to monetise it, they weren’t even ready for the internet. When I think about where Myer is now, as a company, take staff and people out, I laugh. I love the fact they’re struggling because I just go, “You know what? That’s on you. That’s the bed you made. You actually paid your internal lawyers to send cease and desist lawyers to businesses who are linking to you, mentioning things like, “Hey, Myer got a stock take sale on.”
Well, you know, you’ve got some kind of a relationship with us. And you think, “Gee, do you wonder why Myer finds themselves in the problem they’re in, when they were sending cease and desist letter to start-up companies who ran small websites that, God forbid, linked to them and sent them visitors?” As a corporation I just go, “They’re not going to be able to change.” That DNA was there in 2007, 2008. It ain’t changing.
Simon Dell: That’s madness. And you look at the businesses now in 2018, and we’ve spoken about it many times on this podcast. I don’t know how Myer hangs on. We talk about potential mergers with David Jones and all of those kind of things. You go into the store and you go, “I’m having the same experience here that I was having when I was in the middle of the ’80s in Orders” which was a British department store that died a death back then where my grandma used to work.
We used to see my grandma working in Orders and I’m going, “It just hasn’t changed.” It’s a shame that it hasn’t changed but you’re right. It’s top-down. If the management can’t get that, then nobody will.
Gerald Boyle: One of my biggest annoyances of businesses is that they get to a strong position and they defend it. They have that typical monopolistic defence where they go, “Oh, we’re going to have restricted supply.” This is the Gerry Harvey approach to the world. “I don’t like the internet so I’m just going to try to shut down the internet.” And you just go, “That’s another business that’s just dead.” Harvey Norman is just going to die. It is a real estate-based business where they make money out of their franchises and store owners.
The actual consumer-side and the financing… It’s a dead business. It’s not going to continue. So, he’s just carrying on. And yet take another couple of years and they will look back and go, “Oh, what a surprise Harvey Norman…” Yeah, we always knew Harvey Norman was going to. The stock market pickers out there, so I just think if your business is about restrictive supply, you’re going to be pulled apart. Where you see the new behemoths coming through, your Netflix, your Amazon, your Google, your Apple, they know what disruption is. They buy the disruption. They try to disrupt themselves.
That’s actually more scary in my mind. The banks and their monopolistic position; supermarkets, the way they control a cart. I’m less worried about those guys because they’re not used to innovation. But someone like Google who knows how to innovate, they might hang around for a little bit longer. They’ve got that new style which is, “Okay, we’re not just going to be the dominant search player and just screw everybody over with that position and fight anybody that comes near us. We’re going to try and innovate ourselves.”
Which is a more healthy business position to be in. But I think if you pick any business at the moment who has got a monopolistic position, they’ve got a whole lot of redundant costs built in their business and the way they control is through restrictive supply. I’m not a fan of those businesses. I think most of them are going to struggle. I’m loving the fact that Myer is where it’s at as a company. As a consumer, for the staff, etc, that’s not a great thing. But from a purely non-emotional business sense, yeah, good riddance.
Simon Dell: The interesting thing is when you look at the Harvey Normans of this world and you just say, “Next week, I need to go and buy a washing machine.” To me, I think I bought my last tumble dryer online from Appliances Online and it was delivered within three days. They put it in, took all the packaging away, job done. Interestingly, that’s probably the first piece of electrical equipment that I’ve purchased that I’ve not actually wanted to see before.
The difference between that when I’m sitting here using two pieces of equipment, aside from the laptop, but a road microphone and some Bose headphones… I had to see those. I had to touch them and visualise them first before I bought them. Do you think that’s still going to be a necessity moving forward into the retail space?
Gerald Boyle: Yeah, but it won’t be the way it’s set up at the moment. At the moment, you can go into stores and you compare things. Look, I’m the same as you. I’ve got some Bose headphones, and I went into Videopro. Videopro is fantastic but those businesses, they’re not flagship. I think what’s going to happen is, if you go into a Westfield of the future, it will just be brand ambassador stores. You go into Westfield now, you can go into Bose and you can try out Bose things. You speak to the staff… They’re not incentivised to sell you headphones and speakers. They’re incentivised to give you a good experience.
And so, that is what shopping centres of the future will be. They will be experience centres where you walk in and say, “Let’s go into the Nike shop. Let’s go into Adidas. Let’s go into Country Road.” Any of these shops and you go, “I want to walk into a Microsoft store in Sydney and I want to touch the Surface Pro and go, “That’s what I want.”” And then Microsoft don’t care. You can buy it anywhere. And that’s what it is. And so, the idea that a store can provide that service and be undercut elsewhere…
The Harvey Norman example. I found exactly what I wanted to buy and then they said, “Oh, we’ve got to organize a courier which is a separate company. You can’t do this. You can’t do that. We’ve got nothing in stock.” And you go, “If you don’t have stock, what’s your purpose? You are a showroom of goods that other people give you. And really, what you’re hoping is I’m going to pick up one of those Go GE money credit card things and make a buck off that.”
Simon Dell: Two things that jump out to me there. When I bought a washing machine out of Harvey Norman, which was the last time I bought something from Harvey Norman, I had a conversation with the guy there. We’re looking at this long list, 12, 15 different makes of models there. And I said to him, “You know what? This is my budget. What would you buy?” And he just pointed to one of them. And I said, “Why that one?” He goes, “Oh, it’s just better than all the others.” For volume of water that it uses, blah-blah. All the features he just said.
And I said to him, “If that one is so good…” Because he goes, “It’s kind of head and shoulders above all the others.” And I said, “If that one is so good, why did you bother selling all the others?” And he looked at me and just shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t really know. That’s the one I recommend to everybody because it’s just the best one.” So you go, “If Harvey Norman recognised that,” which they do, I’m just thinking of the costs that they could save their franchisees by just cutting down the volume of brands and makes and models that they sold and just sold the ones that were actually any good, and fuck the rest of them off.
But of course, they’re not because they’re taking massive kickbacks, and discounts, and all these kind of things, so on and so forth from all the others. That irks me about Harvey Norman. The second one which you touched on there was the Freedom Furniture one: The idea of not having the thing in stock. When I bought the sofa that we have from Freedom Furniture, you went in there and go, “Right, we like this sofa. And we can pay for it today or we pay for it on interest free.
And he said to them, “How quickly can you get it to us?” And they go, “12 weeks.” And you go, “What the fuck?”
Gerald Boyle: It’s not in the country. It’s still going to come in from overseas.
Simon Dell: I say they haven’t even fucking made it. The order will leave that Freedom Furniture and it will go to China or Bangladesh or wherever it’s being made, and someone will make that sofa tomorrow, and then they’ll put it on. I’m going, “How is that a good customer experience in any way, shape, or form?”
Gerald Boyle: They’re suffering. Everyone assumes that all these big furniture retails have stock. They assume they’ve got it somewhere in a warehouse, they’re going to get it. And sometimes, I’ve had a bit of experience. Sometimes actually quicker to get it in from overseas than it is to move it inside Australia. If you’re in Brisbane and there’s a sofa in Adelaide, it’s actually easier to just get another one in from overseas than get it out of Adelaide.
Simon Dell: And then you look at something like a disruptor in that space like Koala. I’m sitting this moment on a Koala mattress. This is not a paid endorsement, I would like to point out. But I’m sitting on a Koala mattress and they’d recently started doing sofas. There’s one sofa, it’s one type. I think it’s probably one colour as well, but they’ll have it to you. You pay for it and order it, it’s at your house in 4 hours and you can put it together in 30 minutes. And you just go, “That’s a good customer experience.”
Gerald Boyle: They win. And I love a company like that. It was that kind of logic that made me realise when I wanted to move back out of agency land. I’ve worked three startups but at the same time I’ve also worked and created and built up three ad agencies. In the last one, it was that exact logic where I went, “I want to be working for the company like Koala that’s disrupting and giving a better service. Creating market efficiencies.” I don’t want to be working for the behemoth that’s crushing them simply by putting more stores out and buying millions of dollars’ worth of ads. That doesn’t excite me.
The way I describe it is it’s like being an engineer. What’s the best project you can work on? And it’s like the Death Star in Star Wars. It’s fantastic. It’s a mechanical engineering marvel. You’ve built an entire planet. But at the end of the day, it’s a death machine and you just go, “Actually, I think I’m going to join the Rebel Alliance because, yes, I don’t get to fly around and build the Death Star, but I want to be on the side of good.” And to me, it’s that clear.
I don’t want to do great marketing for companies that just put out shitty products. If I’m a great marketer, why do I want to support a marketer that delivers an inferior product or an inferior service? What I want to do is try to tell everybody about… There’s a better way to do this. It’s whatever happens to be. It’s delivered mattresses, or sofas, or whatever happens to be for the better and better for everybody, that’s the marketing I want to do.
I think it’s going to be an interesting time in retail, and we’ll slowly go through that phase of everything speeding up. Like you said, the next phase will be the idea that you don’t need to own anything. Everything you have could be leased and rented. I think we’ll just move further and further.
And the concept now seems strange but I think more and more things we have will just become leased and rented to the point where you just… If we can get people thinking around the ideas of, “If I buy something, it has to be an asset. And if that asset doesn’t produce income for me, then why am I buying it? It’s not what I should be… I should be dropping my money into things, into assets that appreciate in value. I should be dropping my money into things that I consume and need. If I want to invest in property, I’ll buy my investment house because I know it’s going to give me a return.”
And so, I think in every facet of our lives, we need to start looking at the things and how we spend our money and deciding, “If I own that, does that give me a return? And if not, then I’m doing it purely for self-indulgent reasons.” For me, that’s the big opportunity moving forward: So many things that we have can be leased or rented and shouldn’t be owned outright. I think savvy people are owning an investment property and renting the house they live in for the flexibility.
Simon Dell: It brings it all the way back to autonomous cars again. People own cars. It’s for vanity. And if you could rent something that just turned up when you needed it, that’s just such a much more attractive proposition.
Gerald Boyle: My wife and I debated what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to get two cars, because the kids are getting older, they’re moving into weekend sports. I just went, “You know what? For the rare occasion where there’s an issue, we’ll just get an Uber.” And even if that Uber, it feels like an indulgent thing to go, “Oh, we’ll cut from soccer across the netball. It’s going to cost us $30 in an Uber.” But that’s nothing compared to the depreciation of a car every day. We don’t see that money, so somehow we tell ourselves that it’s an asset.
I think the mentality is completely wrong. And so, for business owners, I think if you can think about areas where you can move a business from selling goods as assets, and lease and rent them, and change the mentality of the people behind that, I think there’s business opportunities all over for that area.
Simon Dell: Tell us a bit more about Fractal then. What’s your mission and how you’re working with startups there?
Gerald Boyle: My mission is… I’ve never considered myself a Queenslander. For the first time ever I called myself a Queenslander was a year ago when we’re talking about the start-up system. It’s the one time I’d say I’m a Queenslander is when it comes to startups. I’m a Queensland start-up guy. But for me, it was about supporting the industry. You know yourself. Last five years since I’ve been back, Brisbane’s going up a lot. Australia’s start-up system has grown up a lot. So for me, what I try to do is bring professional marketing experience and bring my 20 years and help founders.
Because what I felt was happening was, you had these founders who would be great product guys or great tech guys. There’s bespoke law firms out there for startups. There’s accounting firms that specialises investors, advisors, all these sort of people that do things. But there weren’t marketers that specialised in startups. And that’s not to say that it’s that different. The same principles apply, it’s just a different way of packaging the deal up.
So for me, my goal is help as many founders give their business a chance. Give that idea a chance to find their target audience. And so, I work three different ways with founders. If it’s a really early stage idea, my personal brand marketing for me and Fractal is all about give away your time, whatever information. If people can ask you the right question, give them the right answer. Don’t work in that restricted supply model. And as the business starts to get traction, they’re trying to find product market fit and get their first customers, I’ll typically then start to engage commercially.
But often, with those companies, I end up working with a combination of cash and safe notes. And the ratio changes, but I ultimately still charge the company an invoice or send them an invoice for my time so we know there’s a commercial deal being done. It’s just that for some of those companies, they’ll pay off my time with a safe note, which is the Y Combinator version of a convertible note. It’s not debt held against the company, it’s just upside for me.
And then as the company becomes more successful, then they’re more likely to pay me money. And usually, post angel round, and that’s when I become often the most valuable because you get investors. I find it kind of ironic. So, investors push founders really hard and then try drop $0.5 million dollars to scale up the business, but without a marketing person. You’ve got a founder who is maybe a programmer who is now learning SEO, paid search, and affiliate marketing, referral marketing, as they go.
And yet what investor would put money into a company, his $0.5 million, “And I’m going to learn to program with your $0.5 million.” And yet for marketing for some reasons, investors feel like it’s something you can just give to everyone. “We’ll work it out. I’ll just do some Facebook marketing.” It’s a bit more to our discipline of marketing than maybe just boosting a post.
Simon Dell: What I find even more disturbing is that the startups that do employ marketing people don’t listen to them, and make decisions based on what the technical guys are telling them as opposed as to what the marketing people are telling them. I’m not suggesting that marketing is the be all and end all of always getting things right, but to consistently discount the marketing advice is not necessarily suicidal, but it just makes it a lot harder to potentially create revenue later on down the line.
Gerald Boyle: It’s like coaching and sports. Every fan is an expert. You see on the side, you can see what it is. Or it’s like art: Everyone can be an expert in art, or they’ve got their own opinions. It’s really hard because you can spot the difference between a really great marketer and someone who just has a few things. It’s their ability to create marketing empathy. Get outside of your own head and go, “Well, that’s what I would do.” And go, “Well, what would other people do? How are they going to react to it?” Apart from all the academic discipline and the years of learned lessons of how to do things, how to write copy and sales, but just that basic essence.
It can be really hard because a non-marketer, a non-professional marketer will just see the world through their eyes and they will not be able to see what you’re trying to explain to them. Hugely frustrating but that’s the challenge. On the upside, the difference with working with founders is, a founder actually does want to hear. A business owner or a founder, if it’s their money that they’re spending, they want to hear if their marketing is not working as opposed to a corporate salary person who is sitting mid-tier. They actually don’t want to hear that the marketing is not working. They want to hear that it is working and therefore they’re quite happy to pay you if you can sugar-coat what they’re doing. Make it look good. Protect their job.
And that’s the bit I like. I like the fact that founders sit there and say, “Is this working or not? Because if it’s not working, then stop spending my money.” That’s the one thing I’ve got that’ll mean they’ll probably try to listen to me.
Simon Dell: We’ll have to wind this up. I’ve got three more questions for you. My usual three final questions. What are some brands that you like? What are things that you aspire to, or enjoy and buy all the time?
Gerald Boyle: I’m a massive fan of a shoe company called Allbirds. This New Zealand wool, their advertising… The shoe industry is so locked-in. It’s almost corrupted. These guys are breaking it down. One founder is a Kiwi guy but their ads are great. Their social media is great. You can see the vision. You can see the mission of what they’re doing. I’m wearing them now. They’re kind of like street-ready UGG boots but they’re machine-washable. Their branding is just good.
They’re light-hearted. They’re like a MailChimp brand for shoes. I love what they’re doing and I love that they’re sticking it to the big companies.
Simon Dell: Second to last question is: What’s next for you? What are the rest of 2018 holding and beyond?
Gerald Boyle: I’m just finishing my first year as Fractal. For me, the first year was all about working at how to make the model work. Next year for me is going to be about expanding Fractal to tap into MarComms professionals that work outside of the start-up industry and bring them in in the same model that I’m working. So, a head of a massive creative agency who actually hasn’t done anything creative for the last three or four years and say, “You know what? I’ve got a start-up company here. Why don’t you give them 10, 20 hours of your time? Take a safe note. It might work.”
But the thing is, they get to do an innovative product, they get listened to, and they’re probably on Bitcoin anyway. They’re probably making $2,000-3,000. What they want is actually some way to make that money without having to pay more tax on it. And I think if I can create a network of people who believe in the idea of Fractal, the idea of helping startups, putting a bit of skin in the game and maybe taking a bit of an investment, then my idea is to expand across Australia so that start-up can come to me or Fractal and say, “Hey, I need PR. I need marketing. I need branding. I want to do it out of home. Who can I speak to?” And there’s a whole bunch of people like us who go, “Yeah, I’ll put some skin in the game and I’ll help you out.”
Simon Dell: Brilliant. Last question: If people want to get a hold of you, what’s the best places, way of getting a hold of you?
Gerald Boyle: LinkedIn is my social network of choice at the moment. I’m just Gerry Doyle on that. Twitter, I’m @gerbot or you can just email me directly at [email protected] I pretty much will speak to everybody.
Simon Dell: Gerbot is not actually a bot if people find you on Twitter.
Gerald Boyle: That is a result of me… Right at the beginning when I said, “What would I do if I was Google?” I said that so many times in one Google, they stopped talking about Googlebot and started saying, “Okay, so Gerbot would do this.” And so, I just adopted that and it became a thing. But it’s not actually a bot, although I probably should put something on there.
Simon Dell: Maybe that’s the next business venture, is everyone can have their own Gerbot in their home. Maybe they can have their own pod, Gerpod.
Gerald Boyle: That would be very scary to give a marketer…you give a marketer access to all that kind of data. I don’t think we always do the right things.
Simon Dell: I think you might be right. Anyway, mate, thank you very much for being on the show today. We could’ve spoken about a thousand things for another two to three hours, but it’s been really informative and I hope people out there found it useful. Thank you very much for your time.
Gerald Boyle: Fantastic. It was great being here and I look forward to listening to this and obviously not just my own podcast, but all the other ones in the future. They’re great. Keep it going.
Simon Dell: No worries. Cheers, mate.
Gerald Boyle: Cheers.