That next step is all about the inner drive and external push to continue down an avenue through thick and thin. You can have a good company and remain somewhat stagnant in progressions, whereas a great company will test boundaries, strive for more, and never settle. There should never be restrictions within a great company, and I believe that one’s self has to cultivate these opportunities and goals. Why stop at great? When you have the enthusiasm and urge, there’s nothing stopping you from being brilliant.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Will McCallum.
Will McCallum and George Wilkins (co-founders) started George & Willy out of college. As a pair of young entrepreneurs, they saw a hole in the market for unique signage, letter boards, and display solutions and thought their passion of design could answer the needs and wants of customers. George & Willy ship to over eighty countries worldwide. Over the past eight years, the company has experienced countless highs and lows, always coming out the other side with more knowledge, experience and appreciation. These lessons have elevated the company from good to great.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
George & I were at college together and started making things in the university workshop towards the end of our degrees. We were having so much fun that we forgot to apply for grad roles. We then found ourselves jobless and started painting houses for money so we could continue doing what we loved, making things.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the things we learned slowly was pricing. We used to sell our desks for 150 dollars NZD and hand-deliver them around Auckland. I remember one guy said, “I’ll only buy it if you double the price and make that the new price”. Looking back, we made no profit and basically worked for free.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I still remember when we sold one of our first products and the customer asked for an invoice and we had to Google what an invoice was. The whole financial side of things is sometimes not the most glamorous but it is crucial and allows you to do fun things like making new products.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We make products that no one else makes, that’s always a good start to standing out. If you successfully limit your competition, create new products, and care about your customers, then you’re instantly ahead of the game. People will love you. Our company culture is something we treasure and it’s something that transitions into the customer’s experience. On Fridays, everyone has to wear a Hawaiian shirt to work — you can’t have a bad day when you are wearing a Hawaiian shirt!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Patience & Impatience — Patience is something I have become better at lately and is crucial to staying sane in a world where things always take longer than anticipated but you don’t want to be too patient — that can be lethal. If an entrepreneur is too patient nothing will get done or they probably wouldn’t haven’t started the business in the first place.
- An ‘oh well’ attitude — Things will go wrong every day but you just have to say to yourself ‘oh well’ and know that in the long run everything will be sweet and take action to fix the thing which went wrong.
- Fun — Make work fun, you spend most so much time working and if you make it fun the lows aren’t trenches, just small speed bumps.
- Trust — You will make mistakes and so will your teammates. Have the wisdom to hire people who are better than you and the confidence to trust them and let them do their thing.
- Think bigger — Products will break, people will complain, things will get lost, you will get taken for a ride but know that if you focus on what you are doing and commit yourself the big picture will work itself out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
George — my business partner. He & I have an epic relationship. We never argue and have remained good mates through eight years of business. His strengths negate my weaknesses and vice versa. I am equally proud of the way that we have maintained a strong relationship as I am of the business. The key to this has been communication, one of the many things George has taught me.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Taking George & Willy from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’ has been an eight-year experience that includes constant growth, lessons, and knowledge. I am fortunate to have faced each and every obstacle, milestone, and achievement with Co-Founder, George Wilkins. At the core, taking any business to the next step requires a strong passion for supporting the business. It’s what gets me out of bed, I get excited about producing new products, and I am genuinely committed to what we do at George & Willy. That next step is all about the inner drive and external push to continue down an avenue through thick and thin. You can have a good company and remain somewhat stagnant in progressions, whereas a great company will test boundaries, strive for more, and never settle. There should never be restrictions within a great company, and I believe that one’s self has to cultivate these opportunities and goals. Why stop at great? When you have the enthusiasm and urge, there’s nothing stopping you from being brilliant.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You have to be passionate — you can’t fake that.
- Your idea or business must be profitable, it simply has to be in order to be sustainable.
- You have to ask yourself, ‘can we be the best in the world at this?’
- Build a great team — you hang out with your team all day every day — it’s like a family — get it right, and you’ll get somewhere.
- Your product needs to be something different or better, life’s easy with less competition.
Purpose driven businesses are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Having a purpose is key to staying motivated at work. George & Willy does not sell signage — we create inspiring spaces where people can go and become stoked. People are proud of their business — it’s an extension of themselves. We are here to help them.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
I think growth is looking at every little thing and asking yourself — ‘how could this be a tiny bit better than it is at the moment?’ Not becoming complacent, thinking about continuous improvement, and making it an everyday habit is key. There is a saying ‘If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking’.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
One of the things we do at G&W is trying to keep our costs down. Amazon is famous for this. For years they had old doors as their desks and cheap pizza parties were as far as fine dining went. We are not that extreme but we definitely like to keep our costs relatively low.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
When you are running a company, you cannot escape it. Which is a good thing if you love it and not so much if it’s stressing you out. The ability to compartmentalize is huge. I have become better at this over the years. If you are unable to do this you will become very exhausted, very quickly.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Experts talk about changing the color of your Add To Cart button to increase your conversion rate. I personally have never purchased anything based on the color of the ATC button. I think nailing the basics is important. We recently interviewed customers and thought about what they needed from us. They needed to know when the product was going to arrive — to fit into their tight schedule. So we added in the arrival dates and ran a split test to see what impact this had — it was positive. Think about what your customer actually wants, how can you help them?
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Always be honest and transparent. Have beautiful photos. Expose the people behind the brand — people love people. Give customers an experience when they buy your product, they will tell their friends and that is the most trusted way to find out about a brand — from your friend.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
We don’t have a strict framework. We always look at everyone’s specific circumstances and look at how we can help them. If something has broken in transit — do what you can to fix it. If a customer is angry, make it your goal to turn them into someone who is an advocate for your brand. We also like to include gifts in some of our products, as a nice little surprise.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
You have to be careful about what you do online. The internet can be ruthless if you step out of line. We keep everything pretty humble and stick to posting about beautiful products.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Lots of people start a business with the idea of selling it from day one. If people go in with this mindset they will not build a business with heart. Shortcuts will be taken. Go in and solve a problem you care about. I have seen a few businesses lately selling products that do not solve a problem or address an issue. The problem we are solving is that it takes time and money to make your space cool — we make it easy and fun.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Learning about starting a business and creating products is something that can bring so much joy to people, but is never really encouraged at school. They teach you to find a job but perhaps they should teach you to create your own job.
How can our readers further follow you online?
George & Willy:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!