Online fashion retailer The Iconic has been challenging bricks-and-mortar department stores in Australia since 2011. Its co-founder and managing director Adam Jacobs sat with Business Insider ahead of the Wild Digital conference to be held in Sydney this month.
Adam Jacobs, co-founder & managing director, The Iconic
1. How did you feel about the news that The Iconic was the third-most visited website at federal minister Peter Dutton’s office last year?
It is indeed a very well-dressed office, so it came as no surprise :)
2. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in building your business?
This would come from one of my favourite Steve Jobs sentiments – “the world is built by people no smarter than you or I”.
If you believe you can do something better than the status quo — like create a better fashion shopping experience than the one Australians have known for decades — there is literally nothing stopping you. Too often to we think the structures of the world and our societies are built by people more intelligent or more capable than us. They’re not. They’re built by people just like us, and you can build them too.
3. How is the hunt for a new warehouse going — has a location been found?
All I’ll say is: watch this space!
4. What one attribute do you look for in an employee or collaborator?
I’m a huge believer in hiring for values over skills.
Our world is changing so fast that skills are constantly becoming redundant or renewed, and in any case skills are only a pre-requisite for a high performer but not a predictor. Whereas values can indeed predict how people will behave and grow.
One fundamental value I always look for is humility. Humility is the foundation of so many high-performance qualities: curiosity, learning, collaboration, judgement, self-awareness and intellect.
5. What one attribute do you have that has most contributed to your success?
We started The Iconic as a concept when I was living abroad, and within five years grew to nearly 500 staff, 10 million visits per month, and the largest online fashion destination in Australia. It’s fascinating how much I’ve been required to grow and adapt as a leader.
Managing a chaotic startup of 50 people in year one, when I was hands-on designing warehouse processes; to 350 people in year three, when, following hyper-growth, we were establishing scalable and sustainable structures — culture, margins, partners, brand propositions… To today where most of my time is spent with incredibly talented, motivated and high-performing leaders of various departments in our company — it has been a lesson in leadership introspection and reinvention.
There is no place to hide when you’re leading that kind of growth – all of who I am is exposed to the team around me. No one can build a company on their own, and no one I know is actually “successful” without the talent that surrounds them. And so I would say the attribute is learning agility. To be curious about each stage of growth, about every part of our business, about myself as a leader; to confront those topics with vulnerability and dedication to keep driving myself up the leadership learning curve, and to inspire the same in the team around me.
6. What’s one thing Australia can improve on to make life easier for startups?
Attract more international talent to our shores and reverse the brain drain. It’s super hard to find high quality engineers, designers, data scientists and others — and we need them!
Australia is an incredible place to live and so we just need to make a concerted effort. TechSydney is making a great start here. I made a quick fun post about how we might do this a few weeks ago.
7. Who do you look up to in the digital industry? Why?
I’ll have to say Elon Musk, because he is incredibly purpose-driven. He has ascribed a clear vision for himself and the world and is busily creating an ecosystem of companies to achieve that vision, no matter what status quo may be in his way. Re-thinking the engineering process in the automobile industry is a great example of that.
Humans are complex characters. None of us are intrinsically simply good or bad, and there are many traits of [Musk] that I wouldn’t aspire to. But I certainly draw inspiration from his purpose-driven focus, ambition, and his lack of fear to master new territories.
8. What problem do you wish someone would solve?
I’m going to be trite and say Sydney real estate. Now that’s a problem to be solved!
Confession: I’m still not a home owner and feeling some serious internal conflict about it. Social expectation says you’re crazy to not buy property, but the market is incredibly inflated and wrought with inefficiencies. What’s a Sydneysider to do?
9. Aside from your own, which three mobile apps do you use the most?
Spotify – music is one of the great graces of being a human.
CNN – because I’ve been a little obsessed with what’s going on across the Pacific, but I’m hitting overload levels.
LinkedIn – because I keep getting dragged in by notifications. I think I need to adjust my settings!
10. Which technology trend will go mainstream in 2017?
Voice activated Internet of Things in the home: Amazon Echo and its competitors. It will soon become so easy to do simple tasks at home by asking Alexa, and my guess is it will take off like wildfire.
11. If money was no object, what would be your dream job?
Space exploration. What else?!
12. Which superpower would you most like to possess?
Surely time travel. We live in an incredible world but we only get to see a sliver of it. I’d love to drop in on past historic events and maybe even demystify and humanise them.
One caveat though, I don’t want the ability to time travel to the future. I think that could only lead to bad places, and yet I wouldn’t be able to stop myself – much like the “next episode” button on Netflix… I’d still hit it in guilt.
Wild Digital Australia, to be held at the Sofitel Sydney on 20-21 February, is a platform created for key internet leaders to come together and share their bold and wild visions for building great disruptive companies.
Attended by leading tech CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, senior executives and investors from around the world, the event provides unprecedented networking opportunities, a chance to explore the trends shaping the industry and region, and discuss strategies for building billion-dollar businesses in this space.
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