Growth Tank Founder and Director David Willey is passionate about helping people and brands grow through the transformative power of events and experiences, which is not always easy during a pandemic. With restrictions easing, David’s Youth Marketing Australia conferences are back on the calendar.  We catch up with experienced business entrepreneur and marketer to find out more.

You refer to yourself as a Serial Entrepreneur on LinkedIn – what does it take to be a true entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is a funny old game. It can sometimes be incredibly lonely, heart racing, exciting and terrifying at the same time. You’ve genuinely got to be okay with riding the waves of that lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, and I’ve got to say there have been many times that I’ve questioned the path I have chosen. It takes a lot of time, mistakes, grit and determination in my opinion. But overall, I think being a true entrepreneur gives you so much freedom to explore who you are, what you want from life and the ability to shape that destiny. 

How and why did you start YMA (Youth Marketing Australia), Australia’s largest youth marketing conference, held annually in Sydney and Melbourne?

Youth marketing has always been my area of expertise, and my initial goal was to launch a marketing agency here in Australia. However, being fresh off the boat, I didn’t know anyone, so I set out to share some of the skills that I’d learned in the UK in the hope that I would build up a list of contacts. Then it finally hit me, that ‘light bulb moment’ if you will, why not round up local experts and create an event to meet people, share knowledge, research and insights. At that time, Millennials were a hot topic, and I set out to develop the first iteration of YMA and managed to secure some of the biggest names in the game. Now, five years and one pandemic later, we are back bigger than ever (with a healthy book of contacts). I cannot wait to run a real-life event again.

You arrived in Australia from the UK in 2015 with spades of marketing and management experience. What did you notice lacking in Australia?

One of the critical things that I noticed was not something that was lacking, but rather there was an underlying desire to learn from the rest of the world. Australian marketers have always had a healthy obsession with understanding what works (and what doesn’t work) in other regions. The UK and the US are particularly interesting as our purchasing patterns, and consumer behaviours are very similar. This desire to hear stories of success (and failure) led me to develop events focused on helping brands understand their customers.

What business opportunities did you identify in Australia?

Skills building, training and entrepreneurship is big business in Australia and is growing by the day. Personal growth and skills-building were my business’s main business opportunities when I first set it up, and I believe it is still a massive area of growth for us. I feel that now, more than ever, people want to develop their business skills and carve out new paths for themselves rather than taking traditional career routes. I speak to so many people regularly about owning a business or taking on a side hustle. I think Covid-19 has caused a lot of people to ‘take stock’ of what’s important to them from a career perspective. I genuinely believe many people will change careers and take their lives in a new direction in a post-pandemic Australia.

Can you share some of your successes with starting up a business in a new country?

I think entrepreneurs get so caught up in the big vision we forget to celebrate small successes, so I’m going to start with the small wins. The day I hired my first employee, the day we got our first office were all stand out moments for me. But on top of that, securing deals with the likes of Warner Brothers, Samsung and Amazon have also blown my mind.

What challenges did you overcome?

The first few years of any small business are always tricky. Securing funding and managing cash flow kills most companies, and I was almost one of them. There have been many months where I’ve not paid myself anything and lived on a shoestring budget, but that’s part and parcel of the game, right? I was gutted that the banks wouldn’t support me, but perseverance (and a good accountant) are key to working through that challenge. I should also mention that securing Permanent Residency in Australia as a start-up founder has been incredibly hard and expensive!

What’s the one benefit of hindsight you have gained?

Ask for help earlier. I think entrepreneurs (myself included) have inherent confidence. Why else would we make so many bold, risky decisions! I wish I had asked for help earlier from business owners with more experience than me. Another thing I love about Australia is the massive amount of people out there willing to give up some of their limited time to help others. I would recommend that all business owners investigate working with a business coach, growth advisor or, at the minimum, get someone to help you manage cash flow.  

What do you love about your industry?

Running events is a very gratifying game as you can take stock and look around and think, we did this. We made this happen. Everyone is in this room because of all our hard work and planning. It’s a great feeling, to be honest, and so is kicking back with a big gin at the end of it.

How can brands get involved with Growth Tank?

We have three inspiring events coming up in 2022. Youth Marketing Australia is held in Sydney on March 17 and 18, and Melbourne on April 12 and 13  – great for any brands looking to get the edge on marketing to Gen Z. We also have Influencer Marketing Australia in Sydney on March 30 and Melbourne on April 28. Finally, we have Baby Boomer Marketing in Sydney on March 24. Use code: RETAILBEAUTY to get 20% off tickets.

This article was first published in the Summer issue of Retail Beauty.

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