Small business: Fast growth - Jonny Mole and Chilli

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Jonny Mole, brand advisor and CEO at Chilli, started the Wellington-based company at the age of 20 in 2007, and has built a brand engagement business now turning over seven-figures and with strong growth rates

Jonny Mole, brand advisor and CEO at Chilli.
Jonny Mole, brand advisor and CEO at Chilli.

What has fed the growth of the business?

We recognised that with the increasing complexity of sales, marketing, recruitment and media industries, that there was a need to simplify, aggregate and package up a partnership offering to ambitious growth businesses.

With more and more suppliers and so-called experts launching new specialist or differentiated offerings into the market, we saw a huge gap for a partner who actually "got" growth companies run by good people with good ideas - who could take a balanced view and actually provide good quality well-informed advice, backed up with the ability to act on that advice and be a truly accountable on-going partner for the client.

We are now growing ballistics - we are doing so many cool things and creating opportunities for more people to do what they love. These include:

• Building a local media collective that spans across all traditional and new media channels and exists solely to connect good local people with good local stuff.

• Creating a community-based shared work, live, play space (in and around our offices), where people with shared values and a shared purpose love what they do and feed off each others enthusiasm.

• Expanding geographically, spreading our philosophy and empowering others to do things in the right way - including offices planned for the US and Australian markets in 2014.

• Developing a brand engagement technology platform that helps business owners see and understand the real, measurable results that come from doing brand engagement right, striving towards putting a valuation on the intangible goodwill that makes so many of these brands great!

Our core purpose is to inspire and support ambition. We're going hard!

How fast has your growth been?

We have grown our revenues by 300 per cent over the past three years. We have never known anything else. If we weren't growing fast, I'd get bored. We work with clients and partners who are growing fast too and we're on the journey together. We learn and feed off each other and we're all looking out for each other. We want to make ambition infectious and inspire others to do what feels good!

What sorts of systems did you have in place to help you with fast growth?

At the start, nothing! It was chaos. We went with our gut and winged our way through everything. This created a DNA where we figured out how to get nearly anything done. Now we are putting far more systemised approaches in place to support growth, but having no preconceived ideas or structures at the start, I believe, is one of the key contributors towards where we have got to.

As we grew and developed, we simply talked to more people. We got all sorts of advice, tried a few things - some things worked and some didn't. We got better at figuring out who to trust and who to listen to. They connected us with people who had skills we needed. The key thing was to share our vision, be prepared to be challenged and trust others to point us in the right direction.

Who did you bring in to help you?

We've worked with a business coach/strategist in the earlier days to help us focus our energies and ambitions and think about where we really wanted to go. We've brought in operational specialists, sales specialists, strategic specialists, financial specialists, people specialists and so on. We seek out people who know more than us about a specific area of need, share our ambition and let them tell us what to do, then let them put it in place. Letting others build each new layer to the vision is the key.

Have you seen other businesses in your industry grow too fast and fall over?

Absolutely, we've nearly done it ourselves, multiple times. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that any bright idea needs three things to survive and grow and they must scale up at the same pace, on the same page and at an ambitious, manageable speed.

1. Product Growth
2. Business Model Growth
3. Audience Growth

Understanding which one of these you are best at and then finding, empowering and aligning others to complement each other, is the secret. No one human being can be great at all three at any one time.

For us the challenge was finance. We were great at building the audience, building new products and finding new ways to deliver them better, but we didn't understand the financial dynamics of the business and the "cash lock-up" that grows as your business grows.

Luckily now we have an incredibly stable financial function in our business, due to bringing on an amazing advsior, Greg Sheehan of RightWay, who ensures it is taken care of and we're aware of what we need to be aware of.


And with precious customers in mind, next week, our topic of discussion is going to be customer service. What can SMEs do better and why do they sometimes do it better than their corporate competition?

- NZ Herald

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