Being based in the NSW regional centre of Broken Hill hasn’t prevented entrepreneurs Josh Cowdrey and Steven Johansson from dreaming big.
The pair launched Brand Creative, a design and creative agency, last year. They aim to burst beyond their Broken Hill base with a new innovation in QR codes (the scrambled square barcodes, read by smartphones, that are being used by a growing number of advertisers).
Cowdrey tells StartupSmart how the business will do it.
What’s the background to the business?
I used to work as a project manager before Steven and I started the business. I came back to Broken Hill and started Local Talk, a local magazine which I sold in April last year.
We offered design services at Local Talk and realised that we couldn’t get anyone to print the work we were creating.
From there, we realised there was an opportunity to make money by moving into that area. So we took the web design part of the business, left the magazine side, and started Brand Creative.
How have you funded it?
It’s been started with our own personal funds. We’ve had a lot of help and support from the Broken Hill community as it is just us two working full-time on it, as well as a trainee.
What have been the biggest hurdles you’ve faced?
Like any business, cashflow has been a challenge for us. Also, being in an isolated location can present problems.
There’s a bit of small town politics here. We are trying to bring city concepts into Broken Hill and often there is resistance to change. But, at the same time, there are also people who welcome new ideas.
What kind of things have you faced resistance over?
Mainly, getting other businesses online. We’ve seen a shift in the past few months, but many businesses here have been doing things the same way for years.
Some think they need nothing more than shopfront, but most realise that change is inevitable.
The other big change recently has been in customer service. There’s now a big focus on buying locally because businesses here realise that they are now competing in a much bigger market. They’ve got to step up their customer service.
We try to lead by example. We show how technology can help our own business and we don’t take no for an answer.
What’s your client acquisition plan, then?
We have more than 100 clients in Broken Hill. That forms the majority of our business. We’ve also done some work for clients in Brisbane and Sydney.
Our primary focus at the moment is Broken Hill, as sometimes people here are sceptical of outsiders. We are offering something that was missing before.
Once we build up our portfolio, we’ll look more for clients outside Broken Hill. Our services are more cost effective than the big city agencies.
Has your location hindered you?
There’s a lot of competition in the big cities, so you have to show something unique. Being in Broken Hill is a point of difference and we’ve got to tap into that.
There are benefits of being here, such as the cost. It’s much cheaper to operate studio space here than in Sydney.
Also, client relationships are a bit deeper here than if we were in Sydney. We are producing work that a lot of people say doesn’t look like it came out of Broken Hill.
What’s the growth plan?
We are looking to expand to places such as Mildura in Victoria, as well as other regional centres. There are not many employers in regional Australia that can offer jobs to people interested in design.
I think we’ve come along at a good time – not many people have realised the gap in the market for web designers in regional Australia.
We’ve talked about franchising as we already have strong processes that can be replicated elsewhere.
We are also looking to bring our work with QR code stickers to the world.
What point of difference do you offer there, exactly?
Lots of time is spent by other companies on the QR code itself, whereas we focus on the social media element.
So, businesses can say that they are on Facebook and Twitter on their QR code stocker, as well as providing customers with an immediate way to interact via the code itself.
Our code also allows you to change the link behind it without having to print off a new code. You can track it too, via an online campaign manager.
There’s nothing really like it out there. We’ve given some away and sold some. We’re now looking to get them into retail outlets.
Once you can buy them in a shop (for example Officeworks), you won’t need to worry about using a specialist publisher. You’ll just buy them and change the link as you need to.
We'll need more funding to get there – around $5,000 – so we’ve listed the project on the crowdfunding platform Pozible. It’ll take a bit of work before it’s ready for retail.