Hi! I’m Elise Daniels and I’m an entrepreneur from Sydney Australia. In this video, I want to share my business story with you or my business story so far. This video is not just going to be a highlight reel. It’s definitely going to be sharing a lot of the ups and downs that I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur. Something I feel really passionately about is sharing the realities of what entrepreneurship is like.
I think I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. I never really started businesses to make money for myself but I was really involved with my high school and did tons and tons of fundraising and instead of doing like your traditional Cadbury box of chocolates and selling that, I would take it to the extreme and organize like a mini music festival or a WWE wrestling night or something. In one night, I would raise like thousands and thousands of dollars. Even though I had these traits of an entrepreneur, I actually resisted entrepreneurship so much and the reason why is my dad is an entrepreneur. He started his business JEM Promotional Products when I was 12 years old. This is pre, you know, websites and internet and all that sort of stuff. I would see him go out every single day and he would door knock. He door knocked so much that he would literally lose his car because he would start first thing in the morning and just walk up and down the streets trying to get his first lead or first sales. I remember it took months for him to get the first sale.
At the time, I kept thinking no, that looks way too hard like I’m going to go do something easier. I’m going to go get a corporate job. I ended up studying a Bachelor of Business Marketing at uni and got the picture-perfect marketing assistant job in my final year of uni and probably it was six weeks in when I realized that I had made the wrong decision. I just didn’t want to be part of such a large organisation. I wanted to have a role where I could make a greater impact across the whole company.
I asked my dad if I could go temporarily work for him for his company and he said okay, but we’re a small company and so you can’t just do marketing, you’re going to have to do sales and marketing. But my dad spent the next two years putting me through the most gruelling sales training boot camp ever probably like more intense than uni. I actually had to come in at like 7:00 a.m. and do role plays, do book reviews or DVD reviews. By this time, my dad had had the company for nearly ten years or something and so they had a website and they’re generating inquiries, but what my dad would actually make me do is go door knock and cold call people. I would say, “But dad, I’ve got all these inquiries on the website that I haven’t even responded to. I’m so busy.” He would say, “No, no pick up the phone for the next half an hour, you’ve got to do cold calling because I want you to understand the value of a lead.
In hindsight, I’m so grateful because I feel like he’s sort of like Mr Miyagi-ed me or something because when it came time to run my own business and I had no leads, what was the first thing I did I picked up the phone and started cold calling.
I started my first business, Exodus Wear, in 2009 when I was 21 years old. Again, it’s sort of happened a little bit by accident. I hadn’t really at that point made the decision that I was going to start my own business. I was just working for my parents at the time. While I was working for my parents, one of their employees had a cousin who was in year 12 and she was responsible for organizing the year 12 jacket. I thought how hard can it be? Through my parents, I had learned how to buy blank jackets and put logos on them with local embroiderers and I thought this is just like the next step right?
I ended up taking the order and absolutely stuffing it up. It was so bad. Literally, the sleeves were too short. The embroidery, the whole thing was terrible quality. I was so embarrassed because it was one of their employee’s cousins and so I literally spent the next, I don’t know how many months, sourcing a factory just for the sole purpose of fixing these jackets that I had done that were absolutely terrible.
I managed to deliver the order and once I was done, I thought if I had gotten it right from the first time, if I had used that factory then, it would have been an amazing order. We would have made money on it. Maybe there’s more to this. I liked doing the process of designing the garments with the kids. Maybe I should start a business.
Being fresh out of uni, I put together like a marketing plan and I booked a meeting with my parents and since I was still living at home. It literally was like at the dinner table, but I pitched my parents the concept of investing $6,000 into me starting a company doing these you year 12 jackets. My parents were like are you crazy? That was the biggest nightmare like we don’t want anything to do with that. I was so shocked I was like dad look at this return on investment. Look at this and look at that. I had all the stats and everything perfectly outlined for him but he was just like no way. That was like a nightmare. I want anything to do with it.
So because I lived at home, pretty much like there’s no way to describe this besides that I just like chucked a tantrum for pretty much two weeks straight. You know when you’re a little kid and you want a dog and you say to your parents, “Please, let me have a dog. I swear I’ll walk it every day and I’ll feed it and you’ll never have to do anything”. That was made but I was 21 and I was literally begging for a business. So my dad, in the end, gave me the $6,000 not because he believed in the idea, but literally to just shut me up and to stop me nagging him. That’s pretty much how I started. My dad gave me the $6,000 investment.
For many, many years, we had a very good business. It was profitable and cash flow positive from day one. I thought hey, that wasn’t so hard. What’s the big deal? Fast forward to 2014 and we were growing I think between 40 and 50% YoY. It was fast. We were Australia-wide. We had all the plans in place for international expansion and I was just running a million miles an hour. Then the Australian dollar crashed. It went from 94 cents to 69 cents within the space of 12 months. I was just moving so fast and we were growing so fast that to me, I was like what’s this foreign currency thing. We’d never experienced anything like it. I had no forex plan in place and honestly, I just didn’t know anything about it and so pretty much did nothing about it.
We had a very strong relationship with the factory at that point who when things would happen like that say to us oh Elyse, this machine broke down or this happen and so we would work together to like air freight goods and would split the cost and I just felt like it was a real partnership. My natural assumption was hey like we’re going through this difficult thing like they’ll just help us out, which was a silly assumption to make. Hey like can you let us know the new pricing so then that way we can cope with this dropping dollar. They came back to us and they’re like oh no, we can’t drop the price. So what I do now?
We just had so many orders coming in that like literally I just focused so much on sales that I just was like oh that will fix itself and to compound the problem, of course, we were in the midst of a transition from MYB to zero. We had this auto transition has done for us which absolutely like stuffed everything up and I had no idea where we stood. But the thing was that we had lots and lots of money in the bank like hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I felt like bills would come in, I’d pay it. Everything’s fine. There’s no problem. Probably within the space of about three to four months, all that money disappeared. It started to go the other way where we lost hundreds and thousands of dollars and I was like far out. What do I do? What did I do? Luckily, I had my dad who I could go to and he’s like just put the brakes on everything stop. You need to fix this situation and then move forward. Stop growing, stop focusing on sales, get your cogs right, get your expenses right, sort it all out, and then move forward.
That’s what I did. I put the brakes on everything and sorted out my factory situation, sorted out you know like forex all that sort of stuff. It took me a good 12 months or more to turn the situation around. At the time, I was so focused just on getting through each day that I didn’t even really think about my mental health or what I was going through, but I definitely was experiencing depression and anxiety and just so much just terrible stuff that I was going through and my physical health suffered and just all aspects of my life were really struggling like even just seeing my friends and stuff like that. It was a really, really dark time.
I regret that I didn’t attempt to do more to fix it at the time. I tried to see a psychologist but the format of going and seeing a psychologist during the day just didn’t work for me. I was like I don’t have time for that. I’ve got to fix my business and neglected my physical health. I just didn’t do anything right.
When I sort of came out of this situation, I thought that when the business was fixed, that I’d be fixed. It almost came as a bigger shock to me that once the business was doing well, that I wasn’t doing well. Finally, I had time to look at myself and be like wow like things are not good, you really need to do something about your life. I found a Skype psychologist who I could speak to at any hour of the day. I put together a health and fitness plan and just totally change my perception about health and fitness. I decided that I was going to exercise for mental health instead of exercising weights or anything like that.
I changed my lifestyle completely and went much, much slower and took life a different pace. I just did so many different things which I think I need to do a separate video about how I sort of came out of the situation that I was in. But honestly, it was so much a dark time and something that I remember so distinctly is just feeling like an absolute idiot because no one I knew had vocally said that they had gone through any problems. All the stories that I heard about entrepreneurship were like I have raised capital and I did this. It was all amazing and I thought wow, I’m an idiot and I’m dumb and I don’t know how to run a business because I stuffed up and everyone else is really good and I’m like a terrible entrepreneur.
I never actually shared my story until earlier this year when I shared my story with the Sydney Morning Herald. They talked about mental health struggles and entrepreneurs. I couldn’t believe the number of people who ended up reaching out to me and saying I’ve gone through this and I’ve gone through that. It just shocked me so much because it’s just not something that’s talked about in our community which is why I really wanted to mention it as part of my story. I think it is a big part of my journey and it actually was a really pivotal moment for me because I pretty much fixed Exodus Wear and I came out of the situation. I just didn’t even know what to do next. I had so focused on just getting through each day that I didn’t think about the bigger plans and what would happen. Once everything was back to normal, I was like okay, do I continue with the international expansion plans or what do I do? I ended up dabbling in e-commerce (inaudible) and seeing if I liked that and I just was completely lost, to be honest.
I ended up chatting with investors and talking about maybe expanding internationally again or just trying something different. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was funny because while I was chatting with some of these investors. I had someone who made me an offer and as part of the offer, they wanted to acquire the company within three years. I was absolutely shocked. I had never ever considered selling Exodus. I started the business when I was 21. It was my baby. By this point, it had been like seven years or something like that.
That was such a shock to me that it literally took months to process. I had to ask myself if I wasn’t running Exodus, what would my life look like? Who am I besides my business? What are my passions? What are my hobbies? What do I do besides being an entrepreneur? I ended up saying no to the offer because I just really was not sure what I would do if I didn’t run Exodus.
I decided to explore my passions a bit. So something that had always been a passion in my life was video. I’d always made travel videos and videos for my family and just you know some recording the day-to-day life. I’d always edit them you know share them with family and friends. I know a video obviously is having like you know a big moment and it’s growing and I was like ah you know I wonder if there’s like the potential may be a business or something coming from that. Something I 100% wanted to do this time was to take it a little bit slower and sort of decide what I wanted to do before I sort of dealt with it.
What I decided to do is just start a YouTube channel and a blog where I’ve literally just immersed myself in the video. I’m vlogging. I’m doing how to’s and tutorials like testing out all sorts of different equipment and kind of just loving that I don’t have to monetize it for the moment. I should say I’m extremely fortunate that I was able to keep Exodus and turn it into more of a lifestyle business.
So that really opened me up to try new things. I’m loving it the moment that with Synoply, I don’t have to monetize it. I can just have fun and I can just make things because I want to and not because I need to get a return on investment on it. I’m in the really early discovery stage again and I’m loving it. It’s that you know start-up entrepreneur feeling again which you always get because one of my favourite sayings about like I guess entrepreneurship is from Reid Hoffman the founder of LinkedIn who says an entrepreneur jumps off the cliff and works out how to make a plane on the way down. I feel like I’ve done that. I think at 21 jumping off the cliff was a little bit different. I very quickly wanted to turn it into my income whereas right now, I’ve sort of jumped off the cliff but I’m going like in a really slow descent like maybe I’m still wearing a parachute or something but it’s exciting.
That feeling again and there’s just no way like even if I sold Exodus or did something like that, there’s just no heck I could have a corporate job. I did it for six months. After six weeks, I knew I didn’t want to work in corporate, but I lasted six months. Yeah, that’s where I’m up to now. I’ve got my YouTube channel. I’m still running Exodus. I’m at a good place where we’re just keeping it stable. I’m not going for growth. I’m just sort of enjoying this calm that we’re going through at the moment, while I get to explore other stuff. That’s my entrepreneurial story and my journey so far. I would love to hear from other entrepreneurs what you guys are doing.