Dwayne Martens is the founder of Amazonia, a NSW-based business that recently became one of the first certified fair trade sources of the Açaí berry, a superfood found in the Amazon Rainforest.
Aged 26, Martens says his ultimate goal is to foster a sustainable industry and produce an exceptional health food.
He talks to StartupSmart about navigating his way through the industry and the challenges of being a young entrepreneur.
What inspired the idea for Amazonia?
After travelling through Europe, I returned to Australia, refreshed and determined to put my energies into a project I was passionate about.
Amazonia came about from meeting a small Brazilian distributor of Açaí who sold his business to me for the price of stock.
I designed my logo, set up a portable juice bar and worked long, hard hours hitting up markets in Perth. As I worked longer with Açaí, I discovered how nutritious it actually was.
It clicked at the very beginning that I had a very real opportunity to culture a sustainable industry and produce an exceptional health food. The business has developed from very humble beginnings.
How did you fund the business?
I invested $3,000 in stock and decided that the retail sector should be my first destination, as opposed to direct to consumer.
After developing a presence at the markets, I decided to target some football clubs in Perth, making special Açaí treats for the players. I thought the footy boys would appreciate the health benefits and taste of the Amazonia products.
How did you drum up interest for the business?
It was all about finding a niche. I can’t stress that point enough – for any inspiring entrepreneur, find a niche for your product. Make sure there’s a steady place for your product or service and develop it from there.
Once I found Amazonia’s niche, everything else seemed to fall into place. The product began selling like hotcakes.
The wholesalers I’d approached loved the product and the shopfronts I was working with loved it too. I made an important point of really developing those initial relationships. You never know what connections someone may have and where it may lead you.
How many staff do you have?
I’m supported by a wonderful, extensive network, but within the business there’s a team of three – myself, national marketing manager Jesse Kaniecki and managing director of operations Chris Norden.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
I’m hoping at a minimum to exceed $4 million in sales revenue.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Losing sight of the ultimate goal. It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially when providing a product that has a unique selling point. I believe in having your business goal printed somewhere, where you can reflect upon it every once and awhile.
Also, keeping supplies up-to-date is imperative. Given the unique nature of Açaí berry and our products, earlier this year during the Queensland floods I lost a lot of stock and merchandise.
It’s things like this that you don’t realise could happen until they do happen. Being unprepared, ultimately, is a risk. I always like to have a plan of what I’m doing, what the next step is and what the goal is – it’s a good way to plan and make sure you’re on track.
What challenges do you face as a young entrepreneur?
One risk comes back to the point of finding a niche, losing sight of what you’ve developed and being tempted to stray from what you’ve originally set out to achieve.
Sticking to your business plan is key for any entrepreneur, young or old. Obviously, adapt as and when you need to but make sure it’s in the best interests of the business and going to be of benefit in the long run.
Also, as a young entrepreneur you can often face the risk of being seeing as a “smartypants” who’s trying to be bigger than he actually is. I’m very lucky that I’ve been supported by a great team and suppliers who have the best interests of Amazonia at heart, which I really appreciate.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Research, research, research – especially pricing points for product range. Also store research, which in hindsight I should have done before enthusiastically running out to the marketplace with the Amazonia product.
I’m so keen for Australians to experience the Amazonia range that I just wanted to get it out there. This being said, I’ve learnt from what I’ve done so far and am using these lessons to make the business and the product better.