When Joe Andon was 15 years old, he would skip school and head to his own rented office where he had a business helping others with online marketing.
Over time, as he honed his skills, he saw how his work online had an immediate benefit for the businesses he was helping.
“I would build an online store for them, which was new at the time, I would do brochures, billboards, all sorts of stuff,” he told Business Insider.
“And I could literally see their sales going through the roof.”
He decided to try his hand and realised it didn’t really matter what he was selling. He ran his finger down a list of products he could sell online and stopped when he came to trampoline.
He didn’t physically have the trampolines. All he had was a photograph.
When he had enough orders, he contacted the supplier in China, made delivery to his customers and took a profit.
Today, Andon and his company Vuly sell trampolines and accessories to Toys ‘R’ Us, Harvey Norman, in about 50 locations across the Middle East, and, since 2015, in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Russia.
In November this year, the business will be 10 years old. Andon also turns 29 this year.
Vuly trampolines have no solid surface for children to crash into, no springs to get caught in and no frame to hit.
The company, Vuly, named for Vulcan, the Roman God of Fire, now has offices big enough to fit 200 of Andon’s original leased space when he was a teenager.
“I’ve now got two offices,” he says. “One that doesn’t have a door and that’s where I sit for most of the day, and I’ve got a private office that has a door and a giant Do Not Disturb sign on it. And sometimes I go in there because I get an important call or a private call or I need to focus on some documentation.”
Andon has three tips for those wanting to start their own businesses:
1. You have to love what you’re doing.
“Sometimes you’re going to be making money and then sometimes you’re going to be losing money,” he says.
“And so, you have to do what you love because if you’re doing it for money, it’s not going to work out.”
2. Managing cash flow.
“A lot of entrepreneurs have a sales background where they want to be great sales people,” he says.
“But something I found that maybe ninety-nine per cent of people starting their own thing are kind of missing is a real proper understanding of how to manage your cash flow, your P&L, your margins and all of that.
“And unfortunately, they don’t really teach it to you properly in any course. And then they teach you the definitions and all that but they don’t teach you how to apply it to what you’re actually doing every day, which is what I teach everyone in my company.”
3. Go with your gut.
“People that give you advice have alternate agendas,” he says.
“Or they don’t really know the full picture. Maybe there’s something you haven’t told them or something they haven’t picked up on. Or something they just don’t know about the industry.
“So listen to everyone but go with your gut in the end. Don’t care what other people think. I talked to lots successful entrepreneurs all the time and that’s a common thing that they all say.”
In 2014, Andon won a BRW innovation gong at the BRW/GE Capital Mid-Market awards.
And last year he was named Brisbane’s Business Person of the Year, the top prize at the Lord Mayor’s Business Awards.
“At just 27, Joe already exemplifies the type of business leader who has helped place Brisbane squarely on the world stage as Australia’s new world city,” says Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.
“Joe started his business from his childhood bedroom and has turned it into one of Australia’s largest outdoor play companies selling products worldwide.
“In the process, he has revolutionised the industry by inventing and commercialising the unique leafspring drive system, as well as numerous trampoline accessories.
“Joe and Vuly are now recognised as global leaders in trampoline safety and aesthetic progress.”
Expanding overseas has been costly.
“Each country has different rules, regulations, tax laws, import quotas, etcetera,” Andon says. “In 2012, we burned $300,000 just trying to get into the United States.
“We couldn’t get an office lease because we didn’t have insurance (covering death and serious injury). We couldn’t get insurance until we had an office lease. We couldn’t get our business registration until we had an office lease. We couldn’t get a visa until we had an office lease. We couldn’t get an office lease until we had a visa. It was an impossible situation.”
However, Andon loves the idea of someone in Germany or the US opening a box stamped: Designed in Brisbane, Australia.
“I love getting the word Brisbane to all the corners of the world,” he says.