Episode 1: Leaning in and leading through

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
24 MIN

Faced with a challenge like no other, and with the responsibility of other people and your employees jobs on your shoulders, how do you lead your business through uncertainty? In this episode we speak to two business owners who have: Joe Davis, co-founder of transformative STEM education provider Nanogirl Labs and Jason Macklow from Good George brewery and restaurants share how they embraced the challenge – leaning into the COVID-19 crisis and leading their teams to make it through lockdown. 
Hosted by New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large, Liam Dann. 

The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences. As this podcast is for general information purposes only, content should not be relied upon as professional advice. Always get your own independent advice that takes into account your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

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Transcript

Liam Dann:

This podcast brings together two innovative businesses to discuss how they’ve navigated change since lockdown, what they learned, and how they are looking to the future. In this episode, we speak to Joe Davis from Nanogirl, a Kiwi business, transforming science, technology, and math education around the world. And Jason Macklow from Good George Brewery and Restaurants to discuss making major decisions under extreme circumstances.

LD:

I’m Liam Dann, New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large. Welcome to BNZ Connect SME. The guests featured in this podcast are sharing their own views and experiences, as this podcast is for general information purposes only. Content should not be relied upon as professional advice. Always get your own independent advice that considers your personal situation. If you’d like to access a transcript of this podcast, you can view it online at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

LD:

Joe, I’m keen to hear a little bit from both of you about your businesses, but Joe, if I start with you. Can you just tell me a little bit about the way Nanogirl works as a business? Obviously quite a high profile with Michelle Dickinson, face of science in New Zealand, but tell us about the business side.

Joe Davis:

So, Michelle and I set up Nanogirl in 2016, and have built a business around transformative education and entertainment in science and tech. We believe that everybody should have the opportunity to have a really meaningful relationship with science and technology. That’s how you’re going to participate in the future economy. And we’ve built a business around that and coming back, I guess, as recently as March this year, that was a business that had a real interest in live eventing, in publishing. Like old fashioned printed books publishing, and some digital presence.

LD:

Great. So I can see where the problems are going to come in around live events, but first I’ll jump across to you, Jason. Good George, a really well established craft beer brand now, but tell us about how you built that up and about the business so far.

Jason Macklow:

So, we’ve been… Good George has existed for about eight years now, but my original background was in hospitality. I used to work for Lion Breweries long time ago, and then I set up some bars about 20 years ago, and discovered craft beer. And then about eight years ago, myself and my business partner teamed up with a highly qualified brewer and built a brand. Found an old church, thought bring back a bit of spunk into religion. And we stuck a brewery in a church and away we went.

LD:

That’s great. It’s really snowballed from there, hasn’t it?

JM:

Yeah, it has. That’s been going great and having lots of fun along the way too.

LDOkay. That’s great. I mean, and this will be the case for both of you guys and a lot of businesses, things going quite well, the economy’s in good shape. You’re on a roll. Joe, I’ll come back to you. Can you remember where you were when you realized that the world was going to change?

JD:

Okay. I think for a long time for many of the people that I talk to now, it felt like COVID was going to be another SARS. Another sort of, yes, it was frightening, but it was happening over there. The impact here in New Zealand was probably not going to be that great. I absolutely remember where I was that week when the emails started coming in from [inaudible 00:03:24], particularly our live eventing and our corporate consulting clients. And that week before the prime minister announced the level system, everything just started to evaporate. Like over two days we lost an 18 month, 24 month calendar of work that just evaporated in 48 hours. That concentrates the mind.

LD:

Jason, how about you guys? Did you see this coming?

JM:

No, I was living in a world of bliss actually. No, I was completely ignorant to it, really, but the snippets that I was picking up on… Actually, my business partner came to me. He was in the process of buying a house and he said, “What do you think about this, COVID? Are there any issues?” And I was like, “No, man, it should be… Don’t worry about it.” But I was completely wrong with that one. We got slaughtered a couple of three weeks after that. Real sort of didn’t take it seriously. I think I hit my head on the [inaudible 00:04:13] for a little bit. Found myself trying to talk other people out of taking it seriously for a period of time. Just, no, no, it should be all right, but I’m not totally wrong on that one.

LD:

Well, I mean, it did turn out to be totally unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes. Can you remember where you were and how you had to… What were the immediate things you had to deal with when you realized how serious it was?

JM:

I think the moment I took it seriously, I was sitting across the table from my CFO and I was saying, “No, no, look, it’s the flu. It’s that.” But she said to me, “No, I was thinking that a week ago and I’m sick of it now. It’s quite scary.” And I was like, “Ooh,” this isn’t a person that overreacts. So in that moment I was like, “Okay. I can’t talk my way out of this. I need to really engage in it and get my head around it.” Yeah. So, that was it. That was that point in time where I made that shift. And that was about, I think, that would have been three weeks out from us getting lockdown.

LD:

Yeah, sure. Joe, so coming back to those live events. I mean, that was probably one of the first things that became apparent people couldn’t get together. So, your live events, which is a really core part of the business was going to be gone. How do you even approach something like that? Were you concerned that you might just have to shut up shop?

JD:

We had live event tours. Booked the UK, the Edinburgh Festival, the Middle East, Australia, coming back through Asia. So, I mean, a really solid calendar of live events work, and that disappeared in literally over those 48 hours. Michelle and I… So, we’re a husband and wife team as well. And Michelle and I were sitting over our dining table having a meal talking about this.

JD:

And there was this definite realization that there are two choices. There are two palms open in front us. You either let the staff go, lower overheads, wind up the business, and survive on the savings until there’s some sort of emergence to the other side of this thing. Or do we try and do something different? Neither Michelle or I are wired very well to not try. We’re very much wired to lean in and take the bold shot. And obviously that’s what happened. We made a decision to try and change the business’ direction. And that was a really defining moment for us. But yeah, that dinner, it was a Tuesday night. It was that Tuesday before Prime Minister Ardern announced the levels. That’s a definite moment in our company history now.

LD:

Sure. Do you have a lot of staff that you felt responsibility for or is it fairly lean operation?

JD:

That’s a… I mean, any startup, any small business, lean as we can possibly get. So we were five people before lockdown with 15 after.

LD:

Wow. That actually sounds like a hint about some success, but we’ll keep working through that. Jason, when it did dawn on you, and you’re thinking, okay, well, certainly once the lockdown stats, and people can’t go to the pub. I guess with you guys, there must have been enormous logistical challenges around production and manufacture even just to get stuff out to people to drink at home.

JM:

Yeah. Our business is made up of probably seven different channels. And instantly we got chopped down to basically one, which was supermarkets and the supermarkets basically said we’re not taking anything direct to store. We’re only going through DCs, which we went part of the DC program, largely speaking. So, we went down from seven to a limping one.

LD:

Just explain that to people that don’t know the industry that well. Is that effectively, they’re talking about the big players, the big beer companies are still in there, but the independents were going to struggle.

JM:

Yeah. So, exactly that. So people supermarkets weren’t accepting deliveries to the door from suppliers. It was only coming from the distribution centre, their own centre, so they can control it, which you can understand that totally. But so we got sort of shut out of it for a period of time. And then online was the other part. So we’re heavily involved in bars and restaurants and we employ about 300 and something people, which was when you’re… You know, when you’re in… If you’re in business, you’re trying to make decisions. You’ve kind of seen most problems in various different forms. So you know the version of an answer to something. As with COVID, this was just unprecedented totally. So, it didn’t have any reference of what to do and how to handle it. So I went through this emotional roller coaster of, are we going to lose everything? The business is going to close. We’re going to have to let everybody go this whole sort of… It’s quite an extremely stressful time. There’s no doubt about that, but we managed to work our way through it. Keep some core [crosstalk 00:08:39]-

LD:

Did you have people around you that you could share that with on the team or externally as well? I guess, in terms of getting help to deal with what is, as you say, an emotional roller coaster and then just a real logistical headache.

JM:

Yeah. I’ve got two partners that we worked really closely together to try to work out what the hell the process is. What’s the priority? So internally we had a team. We’re having early meetings, changing of directions as new information came through. And then there was a few people within the organisation as well that really stepped up. Because some people perform better under pressure than others, and other people just look at you and go, “Tell me how am I supposed to act? Am I supposed to freak out?” And that’s where the leadership team’s got to come in and give a bit of security and guidance around that. So, it was interesting times.

LD:

Yeah. I bet. Demand for beer didn’t disappear. I know from my own experience that everyone was very keen to make sure that they had beer during the lockdown, but the logistics of getting it to people were very difficult. Were you geared up in any way beforehand for direct sales, online, and delivery?

JM:

No, not really. It was a really, really small if not completely insignificant part of our business prior. So we weren’t particularly geared up in that space, but we got geared up pretty quickly as a matter of necessity. So, developing relationships with career drivers. At one stage we had our own guys in there, out doing our own deliveries, and our own youths just getting product to people to keep the tills ringing where we could.

LD:

And how about the tech side? Did you have to redevelop the website or make changes there?

JM:

Yeah, we did. We had a guy actually just come in. He’d been working for us for four years or so. And he’d actually just come back and started with us about one month before we got locked down. He’s a real expert in that space. So that was very fortuitous that we had him at our disposal when it was just wicked. It would have been quite a scary process without that sort of expertise.

LD:

Sure. Joe, let me come back to you. We left it hanging there with the events business effectively being gone. And you guys deciding that you wanted to keep going. What did you land on, and how did you sort of go through that process of what is effectively some strategic thinking and creative thinking that normally might take a long time, but obviously had to be done quickly?

JD:

Yeah. Jason, you made the comment. Some people are really good in a crisis. And I think what we saw was members of the team were exactly comfortable in that space. I’ve spent 20 years volunteering for the Coast Guard as an emergency services guy in my spare time. And I definitely think there are different types of people in a crisis, and you can really reveal the best in some people in that time.

JD:

We came up with this idea. We wrote it on the white board the next morning. We said, “Well, what if we gave her a Nanogirl science adventure every day through the course of the projected lockdown. And it was just a dollar a day. And that sort of distilled down to 50 science adventures for just $50. We didn’t know what a science adventure was at this point. We didn’t know what that meant, but it was enough of an idea that we could kind of go to sleep and feel okay about having a direction. We got into work the next morning, and we wrote this on the board and said, “This starts today.” That was so that was Wednesday morning, and the product launched to market on Sunday with a soft launch and Monday with a proper launch.

LD:

How did you launch that to market? Did you go to clients who you had a relationship with in the first instance?

JD:

We started with a strong push on social media. We spent a lot of energy and a lot of time building the contacts and those direct relationships with our customers. So, we had a strong fan base from our live shows. Obviously, Michelle does a lot of work in media. And so, there’s good following there. And we leveraged everything we could to sort of… we have this new baby, let’s shout that news from the rooftops, and get as many people as we could involved. This was a time of immense fear and immense suffering for a lot of people. But one of the amazing experiences was how people lent in and actually saw the opportunity to help a good case, get behind something, try and find that optimism, find that silver lining and really push into it. And so, we had incredible support. Lots of people amplifying the message.

LD:

Sure. That’s great. Jason, was there a similar sort of thing? I mean, your industry is well, quite competitive, but I guess the craft beer space is a bit more collaboration. How was it within the brewing community in terms of looking after each other? Was there much of that?

JM:

I think we’re all fighting individual battles there. So there wasn’t a lot of collaborative approach during that lockdown period. [inaudible 00:13:08] Joe, you’re saying the year before about your team leaning into something. I think that was one thing we really picked up was when you’re in the midst of fear and people are freaking out, they need something to focus on. So we had a real strategy around, okay, how do we judge our success? And we thought, right, we’re not going to judge our success based on how much money we make or how much money we lose. We’re going to judge our success on how we conduct ourselves and how our brand conducts itself within the community. So then we started to set up things. Okay, what does it look like? How does it come into reality and give people that direction. We’ve found that to be really, really positive because you need momentum. You need a direction. You need to keep the team moving because if you don’t give them a focus and don’t give them a direction, they now just wallow and they freak out [crosstalk 00:13:54].

LD:

Yeah. Can you give us an example of a specific area where you had to get everyone moving on a project? [crosstalk 00:00:14:00].

JM

Yeah. One of the key initiatives we put in place, and normally when we put a product together, it takes three months or two months. We were putting products together in about 48 hours from conception to launch. Hand sanitiser was one of the key things we did. I don’t know much about hand sanitiser. I know probably a little bit too much now, but so we are still at the brewery and I went down to the local shop cleaning company to get some sanitiser for the team. And the lady behind the counter just looked at me like I was some sort of weirdo because hand sanitizer had ran out about two weeks ago, and it actually upset me because I thought running out of something as simple as hand sanitiser, which gives people the sense of safety and security. And we don’t have basic stuff like that. I found that quite upsetting.

JM:

So, I went back to the breweries, started talking to Brian, my business partner. And he goes, “Yeah. We’ve got some ethanol here. We can probably make some hand sanitiser here.” Cool, cool. And then it was about three o’clock in the morning that night I woke up and thought, “Hang on. We can make some.” That morning when I woke up, I woke up on a mission. We were going to make hand sanitiser. We were just going to make as much as we possibly could. And I think we could make about 150 or 200 litres a day if we ran our still 24 hours a day, basically.

JM:

And I was like, I googled how to make hand sanitiser and I went onto the WHO website, and here’s a recipe. We had all the ingredients, but one, which was easy to get. So, the hard part to get hand sanitizer was the ethanol and that’s where the still came into its own. So we were going as hard as we could making this stuff. From the decision to make it, to getting a first bottle made, I think was about 48 hours. And then we just launched it on social media and it just went [inaudible 00:15:45] actually.

LD:

That’s great. Is it Good George branded hand sanitiser?

JM:

Yeah, it was Good George hand sanitiser. Helping hands was the sort of the concept behind it. So, my phone just would not stop ringing, and it was my poor little heart couldn’t handle all this people ringing up from old age homes and schools and people freaking out and it was heartbreaking.

LD:

That’s a great story. I mean, it must’ve been quite satisfying, A, to have a revenue stream that could keep things ticking over, but B, to feel like you were contributing to helping out with the crisis and to some extent.

JM:

Yeah. It wasn’t a money making thing. As I sort of said, the money making part, we just had parked. We’d put that to one side. So, we were giving it away. So, it was going to old age homes and schools. It was going to government departments. It was going to the New Zealand Navy. We gave some to them, which is a bit scary, right? It was just giving it to the front line essentials. And so, we didn’t sell any for quite some time, and I was really nervous about selling it because I didn’t want to be seen to be trying to profit out of a demand for something so necessary in people’s worlds that they needed in order to feel safe. So I don’t actually think we sold any for… Oh, I’d like to say maybe four weeks of that time. There were extra stuff that we might’ve had. We were putting it into six packs or eight packs of Squeals and people were buying the beer and getting the sanitiser for free. So there was never a dollar amount associated to the sanitiser.

LD:

That’s great. Joe, just come back to you. Obviously, once we got to the point where it was clear, schools were closed, people wanted to homeschool. So, you had good pickup around demand for the online and the digital learning stories.

JD:

It really went incredibly well as a lockdown product. It surged very early on. I mean, thousands of people on platform, but I think if I can reflect on something, Jason said, that sense of mission and contribution to try and help the country. It wasn’t for us at any point about, “Hey, there’s demand. How can we profit?” There was definitely, how can we survive and make sure that the team we’re responsible for are paid and looked after, and can look after their families. But we really recognize the challenge that having a gap, an unknown length of time where you’re not getting that critical education as a child has a long-term effect on your relationship with science and tech, future critical skills. So our impact program meant that for everybody that signed up for the program, we were donating one to a family that wouldn’t be able to get access. And really the conversations in our meetings, we had an all hands every morning with the team, and they’re spread all around the world. The unifying piece of that was that sense of mission and the help that we were able to offer for sure.

LD:

Yeah. Contribution is one of the key things. If you contribute you’ve got a reason. So, I think that’s a key part. I just wanted to ask you quickly, Joe, science and tech, but how did you guys actually go with the tech side? Because you were quite a bricks and mortar, real life, face-to-face business, and you had to digitize quite quickly.

JD:

Look, Michelle and I are sort of tech entrepreneurs. In my case, a serial engineer, and deep technologist in Michelle’s case. We were very comfortable with the technology. We’d actually spent six months prior to COVID planning to raise investment to take the Nanogirl business into an online platform. And when I talk about it, we were looking at raising one and a half million US or so for a 15, 18 month runway to pilot some stuff and build this product. And we did it in four days and on 40 grand of our savings. Obviously, the product that we built is not the same product that we planned on, right? There’s a world of difference, but it really puts things in perspective. Like when there’s that moment, that absolute clarity on what you’ve got to do, this is a do or die situation you can achieve so, so much.

LD:

Jason, did you feel that as well, that sense that having to do things just crunches down the kind of strategic thinking that might have taken months on the drawing board?

JM:

Yeah. I didn’t know how slow we were before COVID. I think we were like snails beforehand, but it was incredible how fast you could do things when you needed to. And I think that comes out of that absolute need and the right motivations that people need this, want this, etc. I think it really refines down when you’re in a crisis mode, it refines down to the things that are really, really important. Whereas when there’s not that crisis mode, you’re kind of keeping yourself busy with doing lots of things. Feeling like you’ve got things going over the year and going over the year and going over there and actually just all sort of slows things down. So when the pressure is really, really on, you’ve got the right people and the right team and the right motivations, you can achieve unbelievable things in short periods of time, which is quite interesting. I feel quite emotional when I think about it’s only a couple of months ago, but far out-

LD:

When you look back-

JM:

It feels like a long time ago.

LD:

You look back and just realise how different and a completely unusual that time was.

JM:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

LD:

Joe, a little bit the same for you. The alert levels came back and working back through those alert levels and what you’re allowed to do was quite tricky. Were you able to bring back parts of the business through that?

JD:

Going into the alert level, so we had camera man, editor, that sort of thing all come into the office and start shooting this content. And as we move towards level four on the way into lockdown that was… I mean, I literally had a crash course in how to use a film camera, right? How to run a studio and all of that stuff so that Michelle and I could just live in the building and do it. As you start to emerge from it. I mean, I think it felt like things were just getting a bit easier because we could have more people around us. That was pretty straightforward. It’s interesting that our business interactions have actually stayed quite video call based so far, even for people who are quite local, that that seems to have been embraced. But I don’t know when people will want to come back into a theater for instance, and be in a large crowded event. Maybe it’s sooner than we expect. Maybe it’s not, but it’s certainly an area of risk.

LD:

Let’s shift to the [inaudible 00:21:47], and maybe it has shifted us towards a bit more of an online focus overall.

JD:

As a business leader, I’d say the key thing we recognise is that we don’t know yet, and that we’re having to be really as comfortable as we can be living with that unknown rather than trying to make predictions and sort of bet the farm on anything. I think it’s certainly possible that we favour more online interaction. I’ll be honest. I don’t think we’ve seen the real bite of COVID and the impact on us economically or the impact on us in terms of our day to day lives yet. I think we’ve been pretty lucky cushioned down at this end of the world.

LD:

Yeah. I was going to ask about optimism for the immediate future. How are you feeling?

JD:

Look, I’m always optimistic. I’m not a glass half full guy. I’m like a glass overflowing on the table guy. I think that there’s a way through. And I think that as a nation, we have the ability to pull together and to get through this. And if we get some things right to emerge in a strong place in the future, but man, I think there’s some hard yards to be done between here and there. I think we’re going to see the economic impact really land. My focus is certainly on building resilience in our business, not just sort of bright, optimistic stories, right? Really building resilience and taking responsibility for the lives and wellbeing of our people.

LD:

Sure. Jason, similar sort of question. I think we’ve gone the admittedly from what was kind of an apocalyptic and very scary scenario going in, but we are now facing quite a severe recession. How do you approach that and how are you feeling about it for your business?

JM:

I’m hard wired to be positive about the future. Just seems to be how it is even coming back to the deepest, darkest days of COVID when I was going home to my wife. I still managed to say to her, “I don’t know how, but I feel incredibly blessed and incredibly lucky.” And had lots of reasons probably not to. Look, I think the future depends a little bit on what happens in the next few months. If we go backwards, it’s going to be really, really detrimental. I don’t think a lot of businesses have got the balance sheet to sort of sustain getting locked down again. But I’m eternally optimistic.

JM:

I see people coming back into hospitality outlets right back to where they were. Interacting quite fluently and that fear effect is gone. So, if we can get people into normal rhythms again like that, then I think that’s really socially a good thing and positive for the economy as well. But once the subsidies run out, that’s when the real impact will come. So I think some of the real impact hasn’t been felt yet, but I am positive around the economy. I’m positive around the timing as well. I think things like some are just around the corner. I think that’s going to be really, really positive, but you just got to make sure you’re watching it as you go and being a little bit conservative on a couple of areas as well.

LD:

I guess as business people you are used to dealing with the idea of uncertainty out there. This is just on a much grander scale. There are certain things we just can’t know. You could talk to economists all day and they can’t tell you what’s going to happen with this pandemic.

JM:

No, I think as business owners too, you can only control the things you can control. So if you sit there and worry about what might happen or could happen and things, that will drive you crazy. So, it’s really focusing and making sure you’ve got a good strong team. You’ve got a good, strong culture within your team. Your brand is interacting with the community really, really well. So you’ve got a really compelling brand and the future should be bright.

LD:

Yeah. Joe, do you as well… I guess, one of the things that we can control is how productive we are. And one of the possible upsides that I’ve heard economists talk about is that we see businesses moving faster on things as we’ve talked about and coming out of this leaner and meaner to thrive once we get back to normal. I mean, are you, are you feeling that?

JD:

We’re absolutely seeing that. When you’re in crisis mode, grab an oar and start paddling is sort of where you’re at. It’s something done is better than something not done. When you come out of it, the time and effort to plan and get things right becomes important again. The sprint of lockdown and then having to sort of lead a team back out into that. I became very aware of needing to marshal my energy as a leader and make sure that Michelle and I were bringing our best to the team every day. We absolutely emerged leaner and meaner and with a totally new direction, but it’s not without challenge. But yeah, it’d be boring if it was yeah.

LD:

The things that you would offer as advice, and just again, being careful that this podcast is not a financial advice podcast, but in a general sense for people in that position now looking at that those longer term challenges.

JD:

I’d say there’s opportunity out there. This is a… Any big event that churns things up that changes the normal obviously creates a lot of pain and a lot of hurt for people. And you can read about that every day in the press, but it also creates some gaps where small players, and emergent players can move in and, and create value and find relationships that where the door was closed before. And I think not being afraid to get out and really develop those relationships has been key to us.

LD:

Sure. Jason, are there other things you would say to other businesses around where they should focus to getting through the challenges in the next months ahead?

JM:

Yeah. I think knowing your business, knowing industry, and then just having the ability to step back and look at it from different angles and different perspectives because there’s always opportunities out there always. So if your mindset is to see them or to just glance over them. So I think it’s really looking at your business, understanding because complexity is the devil of execution. If your business is overly complex then try to work out how to simplify because when you’re simplifying things, you can execute a whole lot better.

LD:

Sure. So, tell me, what do you feel that you have learned about the business in the spirit and yourself, I guess, as a business person?

JM:

Yeah, I’ve learned I’m probably slightly more resilient than I gave myself credit for potentially. Like a [inaudible 00:00:27:36]. If there’s something worth scraping for, I’m on there. That’s one thing. I’ve learned that I am hardwired to be positive. Although you get beaten up. I mean, we didn’t get it totally right during that whole process. I was losing sleep, stressed out, probably drinking too much, and not being a great dad from time to time. But I felt that I managed to keep my mind focused, and work on those important things. And we came out of the other side, I think actually a stronger business, and positively a stronger business with a stronger culture within our team. And we’ve got a whole new business that we’re working on as well. We’ve put some really cool innovation around some new products and actually leading into some pretty exciting conversations. We’re now a hand sanitiser company that we weren’t three months ago.

LD:

Yeah. Well, I wanted to come back to that just before we finish, because so where does that end up? You’re continuing that brand?

JM:

Yeah. We are at this stage only through demand, not through necessarily a total desire, but we are at this stage. We’ve got a contract coming in from Europe actually that wants us to supply some companies in this part of the world. So, I mean, that didn’t exist three months ago.

LD:

I guess if you can think that laterally about what you produce, things like different beer varieties and flavors, different drinks is going to be easier to achieve as well.

JM:

Yeah. Funnily enough. I mean, the reason we’ve got a still… As I said, we make the hand sanitiser, but the reason we’ve got a still is because we wanted to make gin. So we stopped making gin and whiskey for quite some time, but we are now making gin. And this has somehow been this massive platform for launching a cool-ass gin product. The gin is called Day Off Gin, which is we gave the still a day off from making hand sanitiser, and we’re making gin, which was what the thing was bought for in the first place.

LD:

That’s a great story. Joe, I’ll ask you a similar sort of question, but did those things that you’ve learned about the business, and yourself, and I guess with Michelle as a couple.

JD:

What do we learn about the business? One of the things I’m really pleased we did through the course of this change, we tried to have a conversation every afternoon with a mentor or a business person who could really challenge our view of the business and what we were doing. And it gave us the incredible benefit of an external perspective on what we were doing, but also really challenged some of our assumptions. Should we be long-term, a subscription-based business or not? Is digital media where we should be focusing our time or not? Like some really good challenges. And I think we learned a lot about the business by doing a lot, but also by having those conversations and people have the time, and I’m really grateful that they were willing to share that with us.

JD:

What did I learn about myself? What did we learn? We came out definitely stronger as a company, but also stronger as a family, stronger as a couple. I think we learned that we’re both pretty solid in a crisis. That we’re both comfortable leaning in. And I think one of the things that… Michelle and I have very different skill sets, but one of the things that we share is a really profound belief in servant leadership, and culture first. Really building up our people, and the people around us. And that can sometimes seem like it shouldn’t be as much of a primary focus.

JD:

It seems a bit soft sometimes I think. And it’s absolutely what I credit with getting us through the crisis though. That the team’s connectedness and ability to lean in. And as we scaled up during lockdown to communicate that culture and to live our values, and bring those new team players into those values, so powerful. So, I guess, I learned that at least on that front, we’ve been investing in something that was worthwhile.

LD:

That’s great.

JM:

That bonding moment for the team. It’s quite a cool thing when you see that.

JD:

It’s huge, man. It really is. I hope we can hang on to it.

JM:

Yeah, totally.

LD:

Absolutely, and carry that forward. Look, thanks, Joe, and thanks, Jason. Just finally, before I wrap it up, we’d love to get you to reflect on a business or business leader that’s really inspired you and who’s ingenuity you’ve sort of drawn on. Joe, I’ll start with you a business that really inspires you.

JD:

If I was going to point to one local hero that has inspired me, it would be David Downs and his work on SOS Cafe and SOS business through the course of lockdown. A lot of people went in and tried to help. I think what David did, and he’s such a guy of optimism and positivity, but just action leaning in, and really trying to make a difference in the New Zealand small business space. As well as by the way, being willing to give us some advice and the benefit of his experience and wisdom. Total respect. Yeah, he’s a great guy.

LD:

Great. And Jason, how about you?

JM:

I would pick on a couple actually, because they were ones that leaned a hand to us to make some stuff happen that we could do some good things within that hand sanitiser moment. Tim Beere who reached out and was like, “Hey man, how do I help?” He was from a plastic moulding company that helped us get our plastic bottles organized. Another guy, Kip, who actually from Deosan, who made us produce the hand sanitiser in a safe environment, and just reached out and was like, “This is what I want to do in the community. How do help? And I can help you guys present this.” So, the local community coming together, binding together. So, yeah, totally.

LD:

That’s great. Thanks, Jason. And look, thanks to both of you. It’s been fantastic to chat. Both really interesting stories.

JD:

Thanks so much.

JM:

Thanks Sam. Thanks Joe. Cool story, man.

JD:

Yeah. Nice to talk to you too. Cheers, man.

LD:

This Connect SME Podcast was brought to you by BNZ in association with the Business Herald. Subscribe to the series to hear more stories of SME businesses who have navigated sudden change as a result of COVID-19. Hear about the decisions they made and the lessons they learned along the way. The resources, links, and transcripts of this podcast can be found at blog.bnz.co.nz/podcasts.

Liam Dann
New Zealand Herald Business Editor at Large
Liam Dann is one of the country’s most respected business journalists and has been a business editor for the New Zealand Herald for more than 10 years. He writes opinion and commentary covering markets, economics and politics and is host of the weekly Economy Hub video show.