Andrew Mackie-Smith talks about the importance of building a personal profile, the experience of writing and publishing a book, as well as his new tech startup and what he had to do to win funding for it. Don't miss this episode for some great insights into the startup world.
Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Go For Growth Show, my name is Mark Engelmann and I'll be your host today. And I'm very pleased to also welcome Mr. Andrew Mackie-Smith, one of the founders of Building Pro. Welcome to the show, Andrew.
Andrew: Thanks Mark, pleasure to be on the Go For Growth Show, mate.
Mark: Yeah no worries. So Andrew, well let's get straight into it. Can you tell me a bit about what you guys do at Building Pro and how you help your customers?
Andrew: Sure, well, my wife and I founded Building Pro in 2002, we've been running 15 years, we're based in Southeast Queensland, we specialise in helping property investors buy property. We do that by providing, essentially, building consultancy services, and that's, the main part of that would be building and pest inspection reports for people when they're buying and selling property. And that's both residential and commercial, and we also do handover inspections. So when people are doing a new build, they want to know the quality is there, getting what they're paying for, we do inspections on new builds. So, yeah, quite a range of inspection services is what we offer.
Mark: Yeah, fantastic, Andrew. So I've dealt with building and pest inspectors in the past, and I know that there's a diverse array of quality, and I know that you've always had a real laser focus on customer service, which I think is great in your industry, it's great in any industry. Can you tell me about where that sort of laser focus to customer service, you know, where did that come from? And can you tell me a bit about that?
Andrew: I think it's ... All Australians have pretty good in-built detectors to know if someone's actually giving a hoot when they're providing service. We've all sat at that café and had that experience where you get the "You know, you're so lucky I'm serving you." experience. And we all know if people are offhand or if they actually really care about us. Well, I've just always had the approach and always employed people who have the approach that we're providing a very important service for people. They're often stressed when they're buying or selling, it's a huge financial commitment for them. They really look to an expert to give them the reassurance that they're making a good decision, or if they need advice they're getting that right advice at the right time.
So, we're really grateful to receive the opportunity of serving them and working for them, and I just think that the way we demonstrate that is by essentially going the extra mile. So a lot of people talk about going the extra mile, but I'll give you an example of the sort of things you can do: I find that just about every customer, Mark, they'll try and ask you "Do you mind just doing this or that?" And, you know, you might think "Well, that's not actually part of what we do, that's not within our scope, you're not paying us to do that work." And it could be something simple, like: "Would you mind, when you're there at the property, just measure up that fridge space so we know if our refrigerator is going to fit." And we just say, "Sure, no problem." We do that for people.
They might say: "Look, we need to insure an estimate on what's the replacement the property so we can give that to the insurer." Or, "I'm not sure what the external material is, I don't know if it's brick or block or what it is, can you tell me that?" And yeah, it might be something simple. It might be something more complex. They might want us to measure up each room for them, so they know roughly how much carpet they need. If it's something like that, it's five minutes, it's ten minutes, it's half an hour extra, why not do it? Makes the customer happy and they feel like you've really tailored the service to suit their needs.
And the other thing you can do, before you take on that work for that client, is just decide ... Ask them questions, find out what they really need to achieve out of this. And sometimes by asking the questions, you might find they're not actually a customer for us, but we can refer them on to someone else. They might need a structural engineer rather than a building consultant. They may need a builder to come equate them and do the repair work rather than getting a building consultant. So, if we can't get a job out of it but we can refer someone else, within our network who we know is a good trusted professional, and look after that person. That's what we do. We wouldn't just send someone away and say, "Sorry, we can't help you." We would look after them and tap them into our network and they would feel looked after.
And then, I think that all generates word-of-mouth, and that's why people will come back to you. And I think ultimately, in the world of saturation of advertising and marketing, I think good old-fashioned word-of-mouth and taking that recommendation from a friend, that's what people still will keep for today.
Andrew: That's why we offer it, and it's a formula that's worked really well for us.
Mark: Yeah, totally. Totally. And it's so in line with the- sort of the- help vs hype marketing approach that you read about these days. That's fantastic. I guess one of the reasons I asked you to come on this show, Andrew, is something that a lot of our listeners will be very interested to hear about, I'm sure, is the fact that you've recently launched your own book that you've written. You've written it, you've published it, it's been properly edited, it's out on the market, and it's about exactly what you do. Can you tell me, sort of, a little bit about that and what made you decide to write that book and what was that journey like?
Andrew: Yeah, so the book is called "Building Success: Why Property Investors Need Building Inspections". And I suppose, you know, I've been in the industry 30 years, I've been running this business 15 with my wife Trish, and we've just kept getting asked the same questions over and over, and hey, I'm being paid to answer the question, but when you're thinking: "Gee, I wish I had a dollar for every time I've explained this." So what we started to do is develop white papers, like a simple one-pager to sort of sum up, "Look, here's how you can negotiate price reductions when you buy a property." Alright?
There's nothing you'll find written about that topic, so I just wrote a paper on it. And then I might have written a paper on, you know, something like ceiling heights. What's minimum legal ceiling heights? What's the ramification for buying a ceiling with low ceiling heights? Can you still get it insured? Can you rent it out? Will that reduce the value on resale?
So, again, what is the building code say about this? What's the council think about it? I could just hear a gecko. Don't know if that will come up. So, what people are asking those questions over and over and sometimes people don't know the right questions to ask and we need to, sort of, fill them in on that information and things they need to be aware of. So I had some of those papers already prepared, and that was really the core of the book, and then I just found the opportunity to add more to it. And it was really something I put together over six months, I was lucky enough to have a really good book-writing mentor, Andrew Griffiths. He's written ... I think he'd be up to about 13 or 14 different books, a lot of them bestsellers in small business, and so he was a mentor that was recommended to me and he was excellent.
So what he did, essentially, of all things, he set me two tasks I could share if you want to write a book. It's good to have a mentor, someone who can inspire you and tell you, but the main thing he did is gave me the self-belief that I could do it. He said, "You can do it. You can write a book. You'll be able to do it." And just putting that ... Having that someone believe in you that you can write a book, that's huge. And that's what you really have to believe, that you've got a book in you and you can do it, number one. And then I think number two, he said the challenge, and he said, “I want you to write like 30,000 words in a month your first month." And it's actually a thousand words a day, so it's not that much to do, but he said, "You can write a thousand words a day." I sat down and wrote like, 4 or 5 thousand words over a few weekends. And that's how I got there. Maybe 5 or 6 thousand.
So I chose to write on Saturdays and Sundays, but whatever you do, you just have that challenge that you have to meet that, and once you've got that work, you can then start editing and polishing that. So, also, you need a good editor. Because what you write, in my space I didn't want it to come across as technical and boring, I wanted it to be a nice, chatty, easy to read book. And so I had the help of Leslie Williams, who's at Major Street Publishing, they do a lot of business books and property books, and she was excellent. She was able to take what I'd written and helped me turn that into something a lot more chatty, a lot more easy-to-read, and she could see it from a third-party perspective.
So, that was very useful. Also, Mark, I suppose I wanted to leave a bit of a legacy, I didn't want my kids to think I was such a dummy. But to put a book out there also helps to build you credibility within your industry, as an expert. Author means, as I'm told by Andrew Griffiths, author means authority, so once you’re an author you become an authority on the subject, and I have found it has certainly opened doors to things like speaking engagements and being asked to be an expert panelist on certain websites and contributing to other articles and things, so ... it's been good.
You don't write a book as a self-published author with a view to out-selling J.K. Rowling. You're never going to do that. In fact, it's probably ... You're not going to re-coup the original cost you spend. And even each book costs me $6.50 when I give that to a client, but I'd rather give that to a client than a stubby holder, because it's something that will help them with their property investment journey and perhaps they can pass that on and help someone else. So think of it like a business card on steroids. And if you're thinking about writing a book, look up Andrew Griffiths, he's a lovely, big-hearted guy. I'm sure he can help. There's many other, you know, self-publishing resources around. There's a great website called "Book Baby" that I published that through, and they will help you get your IBNs and things like that for you book, and there's a lot of blog information about self-publishing, it's a big industry, and what's opened it up to being such a big industry now is the availability of short-run printing.
You used to have to do, like, massive print runs and print 10,000 books. You can now print 1 book, you can print 10 books, you can print 100 books, and giving people an eBook is nice, it's kinda cool, but hard-copy book people are still impressed when I give them a book, sign it, put it in their name, sign it over to them, and point out, especially when it's a client, and I can circle a chapter or a part and I can say "Look, I think this will be really helpful for where you're at now, have a look at this chapter here on negotiating, and this could probably help you." And then, you know, it's just good to do that.
It's pretty hard to elicit Amazon reviews from people, considering all the books I've given away, but it's worth it for the business and for the authority it generates for you. So I've enjoyed the process, if you're thinking about writing a book, look into it, it's a lot easier now with short-run publishing, mentors, communities set up around that whole self-publishing industry. And it's still an awesome thing for your business and still can make you stand out.
I'd suggest that if the topic's being written about a lot already, like say if you're mortgage broker or something you think can I write about mortgage brokering, find a niche, maybe you can write about mortgage-broking for farmers, or something like that. There's always a niche that you can write about.
Mark: Yeah, great.
Andrew: Good luck to anyone that wants to do it. It's worth it.
Mark: Yeah, it's interesting because a lot of people listening hear the term "content marketing" and they think that's just a newly coined term, and It's kind of come along with the advent of digital marketing and the internet and all that sort of thing, but what you've described there by writing a book, that is content-marketing, alright? That's been around for hundreds of years and what you're doing is fantastic and it does ... It is a bit different than people are used to now, and I think different is good. So-
Andrew: And people, Mark, just to add to that, people are using the book because you've got this nicely edited content, and you can re-package it and re-purpose it. One chapter, for example, could become an article that you share with another website. Or a magazine or newspaper. And then, a paragraph could become a blog post, and a few choice lines or warnings or tips or something you've got in there could become a tweet. So, you've got a way of repackaging or repurposing that content to extend it out maybe ten times of what you've already produced. And you can actually pay content marketing professionals, remotely, I know Beepo does that sort of thing, so you can give it to those people, give them your content, and they will just be able to churn that out and be a social media marketing machine for your business. And when people see you as that trusted authority providing them with good-quality, free information and content, and I’ve got to say, people don't really want to pay for information these days-
Andrew: They want to pay for implementation. So, if they trust you and like you because they like your content and how you're sharing and helping them, then they'll come to you for implementation. And they're not going to ask how much, they're just going to say: "Please, can you help? Because I love what you're saying and how you've been able to help me so far, can you just do it for me?" And that's what you get more of, the more content you put out there that's quality.
Mark: Yeah, totally, totally agree. So you've spoken a little bit about the benefits of writing a book, can you talk a little bit about, you said you've got some speaker engagements out of it, you've gone and positioned yourself as a bit of an authority in your niche, in your industry. I know that the benefits of writing a book have also tied a little bit into your latest project, can you tell me a little bit about what that project is, and I assume you're sort of well and truly in start-up mode again. And you've secured some seed funding for your new project, can you tell me what that process has been like in terms of applying for and winning that seed funding?
Andrew: Yeah, sure Mark. So our new start-up is called INNdox. INNdox is a digital logbook for your home. We’re still a very new company and we're still in startup mode to a degree, stealth mode, I suppose. Can't give away all the secrets just yet, however, INNdox is essentially helping people to digitise property documents and what we're about is trying to disrupt the industry, because especially in the property industry, there's been a tradition of very paper-based records. And so there's a real opportunity to provide, you know, digital records. And to use all the benefits of technology: the security, the accessibility, the share ability, and so forth. So that there's a lot of property tech start-ups at the moment, and the tech, the start-up space is very exciting in Australia right now. And in fact, in Brisbane, we're only second to Sydney. Brisbane's actually ahead of Melbourne, “You Beauty” for all the Melbourne people, in terms of the number of startups.
And so, that's a lot thanks to the initiatives of Queensland government, credit where it's due. They've put hundreds of millions of dollars of investment via Advance Queensland, they've got some fantastic offices down, nearat Fortitude Valley, and Advance Queensland is investing heavily into start-ups. And we were fortunate enough to apply to a programme called "City Connect". It was over 200 applicants, there was 8 start-ups that got through, we were fortunate enough to be one of them. And that means we're being funded by Advance Queensland, as part of the City Connect programme, to build our tech solution for the property industry with digitising documents.
By writing the book, forced me to learn to ... I had to do more speaking. I've done bit of speaking in the past but I've had to do more speaking as a result, and presented at conferences and seminars and things. And that experience of speaking is very much related to pitching, and when you do a start-up you have to learn to pitch. And so a pitch is like a five minute presentation where you're essentially pitching your company, usually with what they call a "Pitch Deck", which is like a PowerPoint presentation. And that's how you secure your funding.
So, if you're interested in doing a start-up, I would encourage you go for it. It's way better than working for the man. You jump out of bed every day excited, thinking, "Wow, I could change ... I'm changing the world. I'm doing something fantastic." And the benefits and opportunities are just sky-high. And you're totally motivated every day to rip into it and change the world, effectively. And look, not every start-up makes it, but there's certainly an opportunity. So, there are fantastic resources available, again, Advance Queensland, if you're in Queensland, or look up in your state, or whatever country you're in, and look up what opportunities there are for start-ups, and there's a lot of start-up groups you can join and learn more about the whole start-up industry and process.
And once you become more comfortable with it, you'll start to look around your world and develop ideas. Essentially you need to be solving a big problem. And not just a vitamin pill. It must be like a headache pill. It's got to be a problem that keeps people up at night that really bothers them. And that's the sort of problem you've got to be solving, a big problem. And you really need to be able to have a problem that's affecting a lot of people, like a big market essentially.
And beyond that, you need to have a team to execute that, you don't have to be a tech person if you've got expertise in industry. You can partner with tech people, they're always looking for industry experts to partner with. So if you're in industry at the moment, you need to position yourself as an expert, you can do that by writing a book, you can do that by achieving awards. And let me just say this about awards, Mark. We've won quite a few awards, and the reason we've done that is we've applied for many awards. So, we've spent years and years applying for awards and we started off with little small awards like West Side Newspaper Award. Surprisingly, we won it. Great. And then we applied for the, you know, Optus My Business Awards that Phil Tarrant runs in Sydney. And great awards to be a part of. There's Small Business Achiever Awards, is another one.
So, these awards are quite accessible to small business people and individuals who are doing something good. I'd encourage you, apply for those awards. What's the worst case? You come up as a finalist, that's still an achievement to be a finalist. And the people who win awards aren't always the best in the industry, they are people who are best in that award application. So, the more awards you apply for, the better you get at applying for those awards. And you build on your portfolio of information. You've got professional photographs of your work, you've got testimonials from clients, you've got all this collateral and you've done all these things, and by achieving the criteria for awards, you're essentially improving your business along the way. And you're also, importantly, building a profile within the industry. And in by doing that, you're then positioning yourself for opportunities to come to you.
And so then when you start applying for grants and other things, not only are your application skills first-rate, but your profile is there. So when people Google you, and they look up "Who are you?" I mean, I'm amazed. I've had meetings with people, Googled them, and can't find anything about them. It's just a total mystery. I think if you're in business, you want to be found. You want people to know who you are and what you do. You should at least get a LinkedIn profile and if you're not good at putting that together, there's plenty of LinkedIn consultants that can make you a nice profile and put that- get some professional photography done. Don't just take a fuzzy photo, get a good photo done. Bit of Photoshop if you have to. Photoshop some hair in.
Mark: There's nothing wrong with baldness mate, embrace it.
Andrew: Embrace it. So, I'm talking for me, Mark. You rock it. I'm talking about for me. But, get some good professional photos done, get a good profile on LinkedIn. That’s an excellent start. You can be found like that, cost you next to nothing. Few photos, put your profile up, start thinking about building that profile, about putting some articles in. Start applying for some awards. If you want to raise your profile, you make yourself more employable, you open yourself up for a lot more opportunities. And then those opportunities just start coming to you because people want to partner with the movers and shakers in the industry. And you'll find the doors will just open. And that's what's happening for us now. I just today got a call from someone at SunCorp Bank and they want to partner with us, and send us ... Yeah, a lot of work. So, that's ... I don't think it's a secret, but anyway, so that's just the sort of opportunities that come your way, and then the next problem you have is actually trying to sift through those opportunities to see what are the good ones and what are the not-so-good opportunities, because your time is valuable, right?
So, you have to choose who you're meeting and where you're spending your time. But getting back to start-ups, start-up you have to learn about how the industry works. To get involved learning about start-ups, if you're gonna read one book on start-ups, it's probably "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries. That's the seminal book, that's like the bible for start-ups, so read that. Or at least, if you're lazy, Google, sort of, YouTube a summary or something and listen to that. And once you understand that concept, that's how you do a start-up.
Mark: Yeah. Fantastic. And do you think that, you know, you've spoken about building your profile in your industry and positioning yourself as an opinion leader or an expert in your industry through, you know, winning a series of awards, publishing a book, I know that you've got a number of media appearances as well. Do you think that was all taken into consideration in winning seed funding for INNdox?
Andrew: Yeah, two things I want to say about that. Yes, I think so. I think you do need to have a profile, because I think that if you're a start-up and you're a founding entrepreneur, the investors are looking for someone who's invest-able. And that's someone who can be the CEO of a global company. Now, if you can't stand up and talk to a group of people without breaking out in a sweat, how are you going to talk to your board of directors? You know, how are you going to talk to your shareholders at a meeting? How are you going to go on pitch for a 500 million-dollar deal? You need to have that confidence, that ability to present very well. And I mean, you might be an introverted person and public may not be your thing, but it's a skill you can learn and there's, again, old-fashioned things like Toastmasters but there's all these groups, these start-ups, and they practise their pitching skills. And that's really essential.
So, being a high-profile person within your industry is possible, even if there's a lot of other high-profile industry people, because you can niche. So that's the key. You have to find an area that you're passionate about, and the way you find your niche is you think, "What's my industry and my skill there, and what's my other interest?" Like, if you're a nurse, and you're into physical fitness, that's your intersection. Physical fitness and nursing. And you find a niche within that. And believe me, those skills that you've developed throughout your life, they've all been for a reason, there's a purpose behind that. And then you put the intersection of all those skills, that culmination of all your career, even that little job you had where you just sold something and you got those sales skills, that'll be where your skill lies, your unique skill, and what you have to bring and offer. You've got this big mountain of value you can bring.
But it's based on the intersection of all those skills coming together, culminating. Like you, Mark. I mean, you go for growth.
Mark: That's right.
Andrew: Your MBA and your background, and all the things you've done positioned you well to do this. So, likewise, people have to look at their skills, take an order of that, and see where they can, you know, where they have this unique skill set and this value they can share.
But one other thing I just wanted to say, if we're not running out of time ...
Mark: No, no. Go for it.
Andrew: I don't want your listeners of viewers ... I hope that they're not viewing because I don't make great viewing. Hopefully reasonable listening. I would like to suggest that whatever you do, you have to have purpose that's bigger than you. And your purpose should not really be to get rich, it really should be beyond the everyday. So for my wife Trisha, myself, we're involved in the industry and we started to get asked as expert witnesses to come along and look at people's situations where they might have been ripped off by a dodgy builder or they've had their house infested with termites because they didn't get an inspection, or they got a bad inspection. And/or sellers were selling properties that were flood-prone and not disclosing it. And so, were seeing people being severely financially disadvantaged into real hardship. They essentially got darted and ripped off. And we really felt for them, and we thought, "There's got to be something we can do."
And so, we started advocating for things like better seller disclosure laws, and I'm happy to say we've got some traction there recently. Just last week they announced that there's going to be an increased seller disclosure requirement in Queensland, and that's a direct result of our campaigning for this issue. And so, I could go on about that, but that's something else we've been doing. So we've been trying to make a contribution there, and that's been a purpose that's benefiting the whole industry and people, and we've made that our cause, and we've championed that cause. So, when we're attracting the media, we're not attracting the media to ourselves and our business, because no one's interested in that. That's called advertising and if you want that, pay for advertising, thanks very much.
So you won't get ... Channel Seven won't come and interview you about your business and how you want to get rich doing your business. What Channel Seven will be interested, or these media outlets, et cetera, like radio stations and TV networks, will be interested when you have a cause that affects the public. And you're passionate about that, and you're the advocate, and you're getting that spotlight and bringing that spotlight not onto yourself, but onto your cause and what you're passionate about. And when you become that lightning rod for that cause and you're the go-to person, indirectly, you, of course, do benefit towards your business. Not that much, but it's not about the business effect it's about you doing something more purposeful with a higher purpose than just making money.
And that is powerful. That's very, very powerful stuff. So what I've just shared with people, if they take that onboard, that is extremely powerful to think about your purpose. And if you're not sure about that, there are some excellent resources and ways and things around. Like one of my mentors I follow on that is Daniel Priestly.
Andrew: Fantastic Aussie entrepreneur. And he's a mentor to me, and he's fantastic at helping people find their purpose. So look up Daniel Priestly, he's got a bunch of awesome books. And if you want to raise your profile and get a purpose, highly recommend you get onto Daniel Priestley’s books. They're fantastic.
Mark: Yeah, fantastic advice Andrew. So we're coming to the end of this interview, I've got two more questions left. And I just want to ask you, do you have any ideas around if you had to give someone a growth tip for a business that's looking to scale quickly? What would it be? And you know, I guess growth could mean lots of different things to lots of different people. So ...
Andrew: True. I'll try and answer it generally. I think firstly, you've got to get your product right. So, you have to get product market fit. And the way you do that is you build something, you make a product or a service, you demonstrate that product or service to your customers, and you might get five or ten people, and you show them that product, they could be corporates, they could be individuals. You show them that project, you demonstrate the service, and you get their feedback and you say: "What do you think about that? What's good about it? What's not good? What would you change? What features would you like or want excluded? Get that feedback and then iterate. So you need to then say: "Okay, what do we need to change about this to make it better?" Make it better.
So you build the product, you demonstrate it to your customers, you take it to your test group, and then you iterate and you change. And if you find that you're totally wrong about your product, you're not doing a little change, you might have to do what they call in start-up land a "pivot" and that means major change. And sometimes that hurts, and that's not comfortable, to throw away everything you've done and really effectively start again and realise when you've got it totally wrong. But it's really important to find what people want, and what they will pay you for. That's what's really critical. Sure you've got to have your purpose, you can have your purpose, but you've got to find what people want and what they'll pay you for. Once you've got that right Mark, then you can scale and you respectively need to use technology to scale. So whatever solution you come up with, it's got to be tech-based because that's the most easy to scale.
So, that's my advice on ...
Mark: Great. Sounds suspiciously like something out of a lean startup textbook.
Andrew: That is lean startup 101, brother. That's right, get that book. Like I said, Erick Ries.
Mark: I agree, there's a fantastic saying that gets thrown around, it's "Fail fast and fail cheap."
Andrew: Yeah, same. Same. Yeah, that's what you got to do.
Mark: Totally, cool. Last question for you Andrew. Is there any new pieces of technology or applications or services that you've been using lately that have made your life easier?
Andrew: Sure, look. In around our INNdox start-up, certainly, we're just early days, so we're not really getting into the heavy tech solutions yet. I'll leave that to BlueChilli my tech founder, but no, it's more to do with communication tools like Slack and Zoom, this one we're on now. You know, they're great tools for communicating and chatting with your team. There's other ones too, there's sort of good ones around signing documents, e-sign things I think it's called. Trello is another good thing to get onto. You know, presentation apps ... Good old PowerPoint's not a bad one, there's other different ones. So, find the ones that suit you. Look for the app. If you can think of it, there probably is an app that does it. In our building consultancy business, we used scheduling software like GeoOp to schedule where we are. I highly recommend Xero, that's an awesome product for accounting, and mainly because the ease of use. The reconciliation, and especially just how easy it is for clients to pay you using something like Eway as a payment gateway that seamlessly integrates with Xero.
And Xero, the reporting is so good. This is really good reporting that you get out of your software, and that's the tools to manage a business. So, yeah, those sorts of things ... Really, you should have a goal. We use virtual assistants, like I know Beepo provides virtual assistants. Highly rate using virtual assistants. Awesome. They love it, we love it. So if you can get your business in The Cloud, you save all that office, that cost of having an office, your virtual workforce is there. It's just awesome. So, yeah. All those sorts of tools, Mark, they're really useful.
Mark: Yeah, great, it's exciting times for business owners at the moment, you know, there's just so much help out there in the form of applications and software options. So, yes, I can certainly appreciate those comments, Andrew. All right, well, I don't have any more questions, so thanks for coming on the show, it's been great talking to you and we'll catch up soon.
Andrew: Thanks, Mark. Nice to chat to you tonight. Cheers.