Trust in your labour
Brad Smith is an Australian entrepreneur, speaker, champion Superlite MX motocross rider and advocate for safe motocross riding practices. He was knocked back by over 50 manufacturing plants during the start-up of his motocross brand “braaap” however, his drive and tenacity lead him to successfully build Australia's only motorcycle company. Brad is the recipient of several achievement awards including two times Australian Young Entrepreneur of the year and four times Australian Retail Business of the year. Brad is also on the advisory board to the Reserve Bank of Australia. In 2008 Brad launched the first braaap store, a retail outlet intended to be “the motocross equivalent of a surf shop”. Braaap has since expanded and has four retail outlets across Tasmania and Victoria and is available in seven countries worldwide.
"Guard the heart because it’s the well of life"
My parents grew up on the poor side of the river, working day in and day out in order to raise a family on the right side when they were ready. When they married they were finally able to move to the right side and they swore that they would never move back. They saved up and bought the land, living in a caravan whilst the built a shed, then a first story of their house and then eventually a second storey. Growing up, despite the hours that they worked, my parent’s were definitely not rich but they ensured that my sister and I never missed out on anything.
When I first discovered, some 12 years ago, that motocross riding was my true passion, they weren’t going to allow the costs of the sport prevent me from being able to fully participate in it, if anything they only worked even harder. From an early age I was aware of the pressure, especially the financial pressure that my chosen sport was placing on my family. It was on a first family holiday though that it really hit me when we travelled from Tasmania to NSW for my first interstate competition. I remember arriving for the race and being met by 800 other kids there for the same reason, which for someone from a place as small as Launceston is overwhelming in itself. We pulled up in our little white Econovan next to a kid who had his own semi-truck, 6 bikes, a mechanic, a nutritionist and a coach. Seeing such excess sparked my curiosity, I was curious as to how these people got to this point, how my parents physically could not have worked another hour a week but were only just making it by, for me this was the seed.
Mum was always planting seeds in our minds as children; she would tell us that we could grow up to be the people that we wanted to be. Instead of putting on the radio or playing music she use to play us Tony Robbins tapes in the car; at age 13 we hated them, at age 18 we wanted a copy of them. I asked mum a million questions about how these people could have these things but we worked our butts and still couldn’t have them. Mum’s answer to me was that these people didn’t have these things because they worked harder than us; she said it was because they were smarter than us. This inspired me to learn from an early age, even back then I began to think of how I could turn this passion into a business, to use what I knew and loved. I saved up all of my money from mowing lawns, pushing trolleys, even selling Graphix calculators with the answers already programmed into them, whatever I could do to save money in order to get my vision started.
I knew I couldn’t compete with the big dogs, the likes of Honda and Yamaha; we had to find a niche in which we could compete. I finally found this niche bike, I thought if we can make this thing affordable, then we could make this sport more accessible and affordable for all. So rather naively I sent my four years worth of savings to a man in China who I had never met, whose name I could not even pronounce but who told me that it was possible to make this bike a reality. I anxiously waited 10 weeks for my first 10 weeks to arrive, the goal of the bikes being to help young people get a clean adrenaline rush from the sport of Motocross . When they finally arrived, I could not wait to rip open the boxes. And as I did my heart began to sink, the 10 bikes we got weren’t the right bikes, it ended up taking me a year to find a home for these bikes, I lost my money, I lost a year of progress which at the age of 16 was a pretty big deal.
It was then that I had to take drastic action, I had to go to China and meet the factory owners face to face in order to find someone who actually understood and believed in my vision, I saved up until the day I turned 18 when I bought a ticket to China, this 18 year old boy who had never been outside of Tasmania without his parents . I was that young and naïve that I hadn’t thought to book accommodation or an interpreter prior to my arrival thinking that I would worry about it when I got there, only to discover upon my arrival that I had arrived during the middle of a trade fair which 2-3 million people were attending, there were no interpreters left and there was certainly no accommodation left. I was certainly the only western kid there with a blonde mullet who didn’t speak any Chinese, I was very fortunate though to find this man who offered to be my interpreter and to take me wherever I needed to go. I had planned on spending the first 13 days of the trip visiting as many factories as possible and then to spend the last day returning to the best one and signing up with them, as if I could freely choose which factory best understood my vision. I took my first steps into the first factory and already it was nothing like I had imagined, a massive 4 floor warehouse pumping out over 16,000 bikes a month. We had to go up to the fourth floor just to meet the owner who sat at the head of a 12ft marble table and whose fingers you couldn’t even see underneath all of his embellished gold rings.
I wasn’t deterred by the sheer grandness of it all, I shared my vision with him, not just the vision for the physical bike but the concept, he rose to his feet and through my interpreter I discovered that he loved the idea, he wanted to know how much money I had to invest in it. Of course I had nothing so he asked what my engineering experience was, I replied nothing. He asked since you have got no money, you have got no engineering experience, what’s your distribution channel? I didn’t even know what a distribution channel was. He laughed me all the way out of the office, as did the 2nd, the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th factory owners ; they all said the same thing; that I was too young, I didn’thave the money, I didn’t understand motorbikes and that Ididn’t understand China, but I didn’t come to China to go home empty handed.
There were more than 50 factory owners who all that they weren’t willing to take the risk on an 18 year old boy from Australia who didn’t even understand how much it cost to make a bike, for example just the tank mould is $50,000.00, let alone the chasse, the guards, all the other things that make a bike. It can cost between $500,000.00-$1,000,000.00 to get set up to make a bike and I was pitching that we build 7 different models straight away . Finally at the umpteen factory I found someone who was willing to take the risk, I promised them that I could sell a minimum number, I met this number and here we are 11 years later. Now we have 35 staff here locally, we design and develop locally, the Aussie guys lead the team in the manufacturing factory in China, we have our own quality control, our own assembly moulds and this is how we can offer lifetime warranties.
At the time I felt like motocross was everything but looking back it was just sport, it was meant to be fun yet because of the sacrifices that my family were making, we treated it professionally, we trained, I was disciplined and prepared. It was a great environment in which to learn to be an underdog, to come from Tassie where you are a big fish in a small pond, to the mainland where suddenly you are getting your butt kicked. The lessons and skills that I learnt in motocross are the same as those you need to learn in business; I learnt to manage emotions, to get focused, to build a vision, all of the same elements of growth that you need in the business world. I always come back to vision overcomes challenge, you have to outvision your challenge and of course with vision comes action, this has always got us back on track.
i) About the Company
We see ourselves as a challenger brand, we seriously are the underdog against major corporations such as Honda and Yamaha, because we cause them a lot of trouble, they cause us a lot back. We have to find niches in which we can stick it to them; where we can out service them, out price them, out love our customers. Our vision has always been to eventually be able to manufacture our bikes in Tasmania completely and we will get there, we have just innovated our new electric motorcycle, statistically it is the best electronic motorcycle in the world with speeds of up to 165km, flexible solar panel bearing, at a price which is half of what the American electronic bikes are at the moment. We have made a pledge that we will develop them entirely here, that we will achieve an ANZ certificate of origin which certifies a product as being Australian made and developed. These will be street legal sport bikes, the UK and the US are currently offering rebates on electric bikes, we don’t yet in Australia but we will push them and see what we can do about this.
Regarding the allegations made in July, obviously I can not say too much but what I will say is that clearly we arein a position that if you google us at the moment it is very challenging, everything we have ever worked for has been under attack. I can not put words on the affect that it has on you, it tears all of your ego out of it, it tears all of your personal attachment out of it. It’s all part of a journey I suppose, I guess we just have to wait until we have the opportunity to defend ourselves, in the meantime we can only be ourselves, we deny any charges and we have to trust the legal system to deal with it accordingly.
ii) The five year plan
I always said that I wanted to use my 20’s to get myself commercially set up and then use my years after this to contribute, however that was a lot easier said back when I was 21, not now that I am 29 and a half. I want to build a business that can make a difference, to sew seeds of wealth. I don’t want to be a theory based person; I want to be someone who has walked through the fire and come out the other side.
I don’t know what they teach at business school as I have never been, but I don’t believe in backup plans, I believe that you should fully go for it. Yes, you should verify your plan and you should test your plan but the plans that I have seen fail, the people that I have seen fail, it is significantly more likely to fail by only dipping our toe in the water The question for me is how do we verify our vision, how do we know that it is real but you are either in or out, there is no grey area for me.
I feel like I have been so guided to get to this point that this is my path, that this is who I am. That the commercial and business side of my life will allow me to plant the seeds of wealth. Also by my family, my parents have sacrificed everything for me to do what I do and so has my sister, I mean participating in motocross means that you are in a different state, a different part of the country every weekend trying to ride dirt bikes just for fun really, they sacrificed everything so that I could become who I wanted to come, and I feel greatly indebted to them. I want to fulfil the vision that I have got, I think that vision is worth getting up for everyday.
iii) Company Culture
The people that surround you, you can definitely choose, as the expression goes you are the average of the 5 people that you hang around with most. You have to be deliberate about whom you approach, about who you spend your time with and you should be unapologetic about this. I always have my proximity list, those who I should have dinner with or coffee with or go for a rid with or whatever it takes to get around to meet the real person, rather than the publicised person
In terms of my business culture the question is a lot harder, we have had highs and we have had lows where its has felt as though we were being punched in the face week after week. It’s during these low times that your culture is the most important and in which true colours are shown. I think it comes back to having a vision and having the attitude of you are either with us or against us. I think it’s not so much an issue of building culture but protecting it, it only takes one bad apple to create a big problem. At the end of the day, if you spend your time guarding your culture and keeping the bad apples out of it, that’s probably the most important thing that you can do.
Advice to self/others
The greatest piece of advice that I would have for myself and others is everyone here has everything we need, in Australia we all have everything we need but we don’t have everything we want and that’s a real big challenge when you are chasing aspiration and growth. If I could go back in time and speak to myself, I would tell myself to rest and trust in my labour, I love the idea of believing that what you have done is enough. I have been that guy who tried to learn all the tricks to sleep 4 hours a night and sure you can do it for a short period of time but I think there is so much power in believing in your labour and having faith in what you are doing. This can be a real challenge in the achievement world, where we all wear how hard we work as a badge of honour and I think this is dangerous. When I first left school I traded the stock market so you are up all night and I wanted to build my business which meant I didn’t sleep much. I think it’s so inspiring that my mum trusted her 15 year old son enough that they mortgaged this home that they had built themselves, to allow their son to trade online unsupervised, quiet frankly she is mad. But how inspiring the faith that mum put in me was; I was trading in leverage auctions, at one point I was so far down that it could have got called in at any moment for more than what the family home was even worth, I remember telling mum this and she said I believe in you, I think you can ride this out and lets not tell dad this until we have too. Luckily I traded it out and mum and dad could keep the home that they had worked so hard for.
I think that entrepreneurship doesn’t mean that you have to be the front of the business; you can be entrepreneurial within someone else’s organisation. It’s the thought pattern and that aspirational mindset that is so rewarding but also risky, it would be so much easier to stay in a comfortable job, but no one has it easier who is making it great.
There are three fundamental principles or lessons I have learnt;
1. Motion creates emotion: I couldn’t tell you how many times we have gotten up at 4 in the morning and gone for a walk because we were getting beaten up so badly, you can’t possible feel depressed if you are moving and I think that’s such a powerful thing, I think its important to recognise that everyone has these feelings and to learn how to deal with them.
2: The power of meditation; I have learnt to meditate and I think that it’s so powerful to rest yourself, your mind and to open you spirit , your heart and to just open everything really. I wish I had learnt it at a much younger age
3. Have faith; you need to trust in the plan that god has for you, no one gets put on a path that they can not handle.
One quote that really has just come to me in the last three days, something which is relevant to what we are going through at the moment, comes from proverbs and is ‘guard the heart because it’s the well of life’ . I think it’s so true, you need to guard who you are because everything else flows from this and this is so easy to forget in a business environment where we are chasing numbers, dollars and transactions.
Apart from my own book, I couldn’t choose just one so I have recommended three books:
1. The game of life and how to play it which is not focused purely on business but on life more broadly
2. Thinking grow rich this is the sort of book you should read once a year because every time you read it you will take something different from it, what a man, what a book
3. Good to great which has been one of my favourites for learning hard skills, I think everyone should get to know it.