TECH ENTREPRENEUR ON HOW TO BUILD A BUSINESS FROM THE GROUND UP
Written on the 29 November 2017 by David Simmons
WHEN new employees start work at HTG, Paul Gunther, Director at HTG, likes to remind the fresh faces where he began.
Just ten years ago, Gunther and his business partner Tim Tocco started out on a journey that has seen HTG go from just six employees on the Gold Coast to now over 250.
However, the the success didn't come overnight, and he makes sure his new employees understand this.
"I always tell new groups of retailers who start with us a story," says Gunther.
"Most of them don't believe this, but Tim and I worked for the first 12 months, seven days a week, 14 hours a day, in the store."
"We didn't have any money and we worked hard. People see us now, but they don't see what happened, what the journey was."
That journey began 11 years ago when Gunther and Tocco applied a new touch to the way they went about business and life.
Recently HTG was named a Great Place To Work, an feat which places the company up with many of Australia's finest.
Ten years ago, HTG were among the finalists in Business News Australia's first ever Young Entrepreneur Awards. To commemorate this milestone, we sat down with Paul Gunther to ask him about his successes, the strength of the business, and his advice for young entrepreneurs.
Why did you strike out on your own, what was the motivation?
Tim and I sat down with for a coffee and we'd been working for Telstra for about eight years with a coffee and we realised it was a fabulous brand. At that time we had children, we were heavily mortgaged and we told our wives 'we have a fabulous idea, we want to open a Telstra store and we want to risk everything'.
As you could imagine, that went down tremendously well. When we started we had nine months of working seven days a week and what we were working towards was getting ourselves up to the level we were earning at Telstra.
Ten years on from being a finalist in the Young Entrepreneur awards till now, what's kept you motivated and energised?
I used to say it's the growth of the business, but it's actually the people now. We've got five or six people who've been with us over the ten years still in the business.
We've got people who've been here over seven years. We've got a lot of people who've been with us and seen the growth and seen their development and they're now running a businesses; that keeps us still motivated and excited about the next opportunity that comes our way.
It's about seeing a young kid come up through retail and move up and move up and then run a business.
What do you think is the secret to establishing and maintaining a business for as long as you have?
Our working relationship helps big time. We've had thousands of very robust discussions over the years, and we know each other's personality and we know each other's strengths, we talk about it all the time.
Being very stable from a leadership point of view means I think our staff sense that we're leading it and then they feel comfortable to make decisions.
The secret to our success is that we realised early on that we needed to spend money on training and development.
In the early days we do everything ourselves, we think we're great, we think we know everything - and the turning point is to realise if we want to grow bigger, we need to engage other people to come and help with the training and development of our leaders and our people.
When people work within our business they're shocked at how much training and development that we actually put in. I think last year alone I think we ran something over 200 courses in our business.
A lot of businesses don't train and don't give development for their staff because they wonder what will happen if they leave. But we ask, what happens if they stay.
You put them in some courses and you see how they act and interact and you start to see whether they can be leaders.
HTG was recently named a Great Place to Work - how did that feel?
It's a really proud moment but we were disappointed we didn't get higher. We want to be number one.
The big thing for us, when they break down some of the key criteria, one of the most important things is culture and the culture index.
Now that to me is the most important measure about the whole thing, because it's absolutely crucial to encourage people to stay longer who enjoy their job, who want to work here, want to achieve, and want to succeed.
It gives us a stepping stone to look at how do we do better and what do we need to do. To come down to it it's not about the score it's about the data you receive from it and that's the most important thing.
What has been a key highlight over the years?
I think reaching 10 years. We had a big 10 year party and I think the reality sunk in there to say in 10 years look what we've done.
We were at Dreamworld, we had 200 staff there, you look back and go wow. What was awesome was that we actually got to 10 years and in 10 years in a really good place, in a really good headspace, and continuing on to look to the next opportunity. That's probably the biggest highlight.
How long did you guys have to work at building HTG before you could finally take a break?
Tim and I work every day and we love it. We have a better work life balance now.
We're still absolutely involved in the business, we love being involved in the business, but the one thing that we have done over the years is invest in coaching and development.
Our whole goal is that we develop general managers to run the businesses. Tim and I don't run any of the businesses. You can call us directors, you can call us executive, whatever you want, but the reality is every one of our businesses is run by somebody else and all that we do is support them.
What's one thing you'd tell budding entrepreneurs to do?
Ensure you hire good people, and the other side of that is have the balls to sack your friend who's working for you.
Don't keep them on for a period of time because you feel guilty about it. We have a saying in our business: right person right role. The other side of it is not their fault, they're just doing the wrong job.
Give them the opportunity to go to another job and they'll be way happier and they will feel way better.
They are probably not enjoying the job either. You're keeping them there because you have a loyalty and you feel bad for them.
What do you wish you'd known before going into business?
Probably I think to get help earlier. I wish we brought in people for advice and sought out mentors earlier.
Because we didn't, we just did everything we wanted to do in the early days.
If I'd learnt something at the start it would've been seek support, help, mentors - really identify what are you good at, do that, and if you're not, hire.
Business News Australia
Author: David Simmons