What do you wear when the invite says black tie, lounge suit, after five, formal…
One of the greatest pleasures in life for Ashleigh Went is talking to Canberrans who share her passion and love for our city. So you can imagine her excitement when the opportunity to chat with Mick Spencer from OnTheGo arose. A Canberra-born sportswear business, OnTheGo recently took out the Online Retailer Exporter of the Year award at the ACT Chief Minister’s Export awards. Ashleigh caught up with Mick to talk business, social responsibility, and life in the world’s most liveable city.
AW: Congratulations on your success at the ACT Chief Minister’s Export Awards. What does winning this award mean to you?
MS: We’ve won a lot of awards over time and a lot of them can be about just your marketing and promotion, whereas the Export Awards involved such an in-depth application and strict judging process. The application process was so intense that it makes you have a fresh look at your business and your international business plan. For us, it’s a good feather in the cap in the fact that we’ve been doing a lot of hard work on making sure that all of our processes, all of our strategic drivers, all of our financial management are working smooth and are scaleable, it also demonstrates that the time we’ve invested in our model and our strategy is well on the way to success.
Being a finalist was amazing but to actually go through and win was really, really cool. We’ve been able to disrupt the sports apparel industry with customisation and by brining a 2000-2014 business model into an old-school industry, which is why we’ve been able to capture a significant market share.
You’ve said in the past that Canberra is a great base for your company. What makes you say that?
For me, it’s been a great place for us as an area to test and develop the company. Also, we have access to great people. Canberra’s a really loyal town where people want to help everyone, in business especially. I also think it’s a big enough economy that you can survive here whilst testing markets overseas especially and also having the ability to travel to other cities, where you’re not necessarily obliged to live there and have to compete in those areas.
What do you think about Canberra’s growth as a city and the claim that we’re the world’s most liveable city?
Look, Canberra’s been great to me. I think it’s grown over the last five years, in particular for me, as I’ve matured as an adult and growing the business. I’ve seen it come a long way from a really public servant driven town to a town that’s filled with a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of innovation, and a lot of heart. I think it’s very liveable. I mean I’m a young bachelor so I don’t have a family life myself but from being able to see what it offers families, I very much agree with the term “liveable”. I’ve travelled to many, many cities around the world and around Australia and it’s always a pleasure to come home.
How can people in Canberra benefit from OnTheGo?
We now manufacture over 400 products and have capacity to manufacture 25,000 pieces a month. We supply to a lot of cycling groups, triathlon and running clubs, health clubs chains, businesses, enterprise, not-for-profits, and we have a lot of customers in Canberra. Canberra now is only about 15% of our business revenues, but a lot of Canberrans can benefit by working with OnTheGo in any of their apparel or team-wear needs, and also buying into what we’re doing by using our products to make a difference.
Every purchase made with OnTheGo makes a difference to a child’s life through sport. We work with humanitarian organisations in under priveledged areas of Australia to use sport as a vehicle to change kids lives. We’re always very passionate about charity events and about anything involved with getting the world into sport. We’ve got a big goal of getting one million kids into sport by 2020 behind our Every Day Matters Initiative so to do that we need to sell more and to do that we need to grow more. So Canberran’s can get behind us by working with us.
Tell me more about the Everyday Matters Initiative.
The Every Day Matters Initiative was born on the foundation of my passion to use sports to develop youth that will give them a tool for leadership and change their lives. It came about when I was volunteering at a kids’ camp (after I left school in Hawaii) where my role was to empower kids through sport. I’ve grown up with a medical condition with my eyesight but I’ve also got two heart conditions which have almost killed me a couple of times. Sport for me was the one thing that gave me some confidence.
So the purpose for me was actually not to actually build a global apparel company, it was to build a brand that had meaning behind it that could empower and give back to communities. The Every Day Matters Initiative is something within our company that we can communicate to our partners and our customers – that every purchase they make will make a difference to a child’s life through sport.
What we do with that initiative is we partner with strategic charities in Australia and Fiji, and have a system in place to deliver programs in regards to sport for development. I was in Western Australia just recently actually, I took my one week of annual leave to volunteer with our charity Fair Game. They’re all about recycled sports equipment and inspiring healthy communities in indigenous areas. We took loads of gear over and were there to see how the programs are being delivered and view where the funds are used.
What have been the biggest milestones for you in terms of developing the business and how far you’ve come?
The biggest milestones I suppose are being able to wake up every day and follow a love of what I’m doing and seeing others in my company and outside of my company whose lives have developed quite incredibly as a result of my creation. That’s a daily milestone and something that I’m so lucky to be able to do.
I’ve also been able to work with some amazing individuals including Sir Richard Branson, who’s the founder of Virgin Group and heads of brands like The North Face, Billabong and David Jones on a regular advisory basis. I spoke at a conference with Richard Branson last year and worked for a full day with him, and that was a massive milestone for me at age 23.
Being able to achieve rapid growth in the company year after year — we’ve averaged between 80% and 150% growth each year since we started back in Mum and Dad’s garage four and a half years ago. Growth is a big one, as is strategic partnerships with global organisations like IRONMAN® Asia Pacific, UNICEF, Ernst & Young and many more, which was massive for us to do in the short years we’ve existed.
What kind of advice would you give to entrepreneurs in Canberra looking to start a business?
The first piece of advice I would give is find what you love and then go and do it. Don’t talk about it, don’t plan it, don’t think about it, just go and start it now. There’s no time like the present. Opportunities and ideas will always come about but often enough, in business, it’s not necessarily about your idea—it’s about the execution.
To execute on an idea you have to start, and in this day and age we lose many, may ideas because people think that they need to spend time planning it and they need to spend time getting money on board. I’m the perfect case study in doing everything wrong against what people say is right in developing business success, but nearly five years in we’ve surpassed every box. I started OnTheGo® with $150 in my bank account in the year that was just outside the global financial crisis, in a terrible economy and in a marketplace full of global billion dollar competitors who eat up companies like us every single day. So in the eyes of society I didn’t have anything going for me. The only thing I had going for me was passion, purpose and the drive to make it happen; to make a difference and make products that people really love, and to inspire our customers to make every day matter.