Joining the My Business Podcast, gough, “a one-word name, like Madonna” discusses exactly how he has overcome not just the challenges that everyone faces when starting and growing a business, but doing so with a disability. Tune in to hear:
- His unique tips for identifying the right people when hiring
- How he overcomes the challenge of driving traffic to his website
- Tricks associated with reinvesting profits into the business
- What other business leaders can learn from the visually impaired
And loads, loads more!
Adam Zuchetti: G’day everyone. On today's show we've got a really inspiring story of overcoming adversity to build a profitable business. He's a former stand-up comedian. He's been running his own video production company since 2006 and he does everything without the resources of major studios, cinemas, or TV networks. But the real clincher to his story is that he's blind so we've got gough from Beernuts Productions on the line. He says that his name is a one word name like Madonna.
Adam Zuchetti: Hi there gough. How are you going?
gough: Very well Adam. Yourself?
Adam Zuchetti: I'm good, I'm, good. gough we really need to start with the most obvious question. You've gone into video production and you're legally blind. That must have been such a challenging journey for you to embark on and to really make a success of. Can you talk us through just how that journey began and what it's really looked like for you?
gough: Absolutely. Well firstly thank you Adam for having me on the show, but absolutely. Basically to go all the way back to the beginning, when I was a little kid I mean I used to always be writing scripts and books and little plays and things like that you know? Then when I finished high school I started up doing standup comedy and writing, doing that sort of stuff, and working in radio as well as an audio producer.
I always kept writing scripts and everything through my teenage years and into my twenties. Then one day I thought well I want to turn these scripts into reality. That's really how Beernuts Productions came to be. I mean that's essentially the long and the short of it. Then I started up making my productions. I went out obviously looking for funding and all that kind of stuff.
When people found out I couldn't see, they sort of didn't want to know. I figured well the best way for me to go forward if I want to make my dreams a reality, the best way to do it is to just do it myself. So I funded my own projects and I got started that way.
Adam Zuchetti: It's a very similar journey to a lot of people who go into business, but you had that added challenge of you tried to make a profession out of it and no one would give you a go because of your disability. You then decide okay I'm going to do this on my own as my own business, but again you face that additional challenge that because you not only don't have the necessary experience potentially but also your disability on top. Was it really difficult to push in and get the business established in those early days?
gough: Oh absolutely no doubt about it. There were lots of times where I thought my God, this probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had, but then I think to myself well you know what? I believe my work is of a very quality and of a high standard and it would be really sad if I just let all of that go to waste because you know, I'm feeling down on myself where the people won't give me a go. So I want to do what I want to do and I want to pursue my goals, so you know what? We just have to overcome whatever obstacles and hurdles are in our way and proceed, push forward.
Look, at the end of the day you do the best you can with the skills that you've got. I admit look in the early days of starting up Beernuts Productions I made a lot of mistakes. There's no doubt about that and you know what? I'll probably will make a few more going forward no doubt, but you know you learn as you go. You do like I say, you do the best you can with the skills that you've got.
Adam Zuchetti: That's a very matter of fact way of looking at it, but when you're consistently getting door after door after door closed in your face, you're getting people telling you no. You're getting people doubt your abilities and your skills and things like that. How do you really maintain that mindset of just not giving up and pushing forward so that you do get some traction with what you're doing?
gough: You are right. I mean it's so discouraging. I mean it can be heartbreaking at times because in my profession let's say you've got a really killer script and you think this is going to make, you know. A production company out there and a distribution company, this could make them a whole heap of coin. It's a really great script. This is going to make a really fantastic film, and just nobody wants to know. I mean it's heartbreaking.
So you just need to believe in your work. You need to go back to the beginning and go well you know what? I think this is a high quality project. How else can I make this happen? Then you just figure out how else you can make it happen and so like I said so I made the very first project. I thought well the only way I'm going to make this happen is to fund it myself.
I got all my savings. I put all my eggs in the one basket which I guess a financial advisor probably wouldn't advise you to do, but I mean at the end of the day you've got to take risks sometimes. I got my savings. I put it all into the first project and then we started up Beernuts Productions and obviously the profits from my films go into the next film and it's way on top of way from then on in.
Adam Zuchetti: Given that you can see and you are dealing with video production, what are the sort of ever day logistical challenges that you face in trying to produce your products and how do you overcome them?
gough: Well I've got a great team around me so again it took a while to find a good group of people around me that we're able to share my vision and what I wanted to do and also communication which is key. I mean I think communication is key in any business really to make sure that you're communicating your ideas and your vision and what you want to achieve clearly to your team.
It did take me a while to find the people that I needed, but I've got them around me now which is fantastic. Yeah, so essentially you are right. There are some obviously some hurdles to overcome, but and so I've got a sighted guide who acts as my cinematographer. Simon is his name so give Simon very clear instructions on how I want him to shoot a particular shot. He'll do that for me and when it comes to the actors obviously I write the script. I know how I want my lines delivered. I know how I want my team to feel and all that sort of stuff.
I make sure ... I can do all of that just by using my ears so I use my ears instead of my eyesight and then of course I'll say to Simon, "Were the actors giving me the facial expressions that I'm after?" He'll say yes or he'll say no and if the answer is no I'll have a chat with them. If the answer is yes we'll move on to the next shot. There's a lot of trust that goes into it. There's no doubt about that and with editing, I edit by audio so I take all my cues by audio.
Then Simon again who like I say acts as my sighted guide, he cuts it for me and makes sure that everything looks nice and smooth and the transitions are working and all that sort of stuff. For me it's like editing a 19 minute radio play kind of thing. That's essentially how we go about shooting it and how we go about editing but you are right. There's a lot of trust that goes into it.
Adam Zuchetti: So I guess this really proves the point about out sourcing your weaknesses so that you can focus on your core strengths. I suppose your situation really hones that message into you from the very beginning.
gough: Absolutely, absolutely. Look I actually think in a strange kind of way being legally blind helps me in making my films because I'm not distracted by things I shouldn't be distracted by. I mean I've got a guy who takes care of all of the continuity and all that sort of stuff to make sure that if the water bottle is on the right hand side of the actor, it's always going to be on the right hand side of the actor. It's not something that I concern myself with because I've got a guy there making sure that that sort of stuff is how it should be.
Same with the artwork and stuff like that. I've got an art team who do all my artwork for me and so I just give them the brief of what they need to do and I just leave them to do it. I am a big believer in letting people do their job. I'm not an artist. I can't draw to save my life. If I need some artwork done I go to them. They make it happen for me and I have faith and trust in my team.
I wouldn't hire them if I didn't believe in them. I hired them to do a job. I pay them to do a job and they're going to do that job for me. They never let me down. They always do a fantastic job so I am a big believer in allowing people to do the job that you hired them to do. Also, like you say to know your strengths. I know that in myself that I can write a really good script and I can direct my actors and I can make a really good product, but I can't do other things.
Like I say, the artwork and all that kind of stuff and I can't ... The visual kind of aspects of it is something I'm going to struggle with. I make sure I hire people for what I need and when I know I can do something, then I can do it. I step in and I do that part of the job.
Adam Zuchetti: Speaking of paying your staff, you said earlier that you rely on funds from previous projects to finance the next one. How do you actually earn your living? Do you pay yourself and pay your staff a lump sum from the first batch of sales on a new release or how does it actually work?
gough: They get paid a wage. Everybody gets paid a wage. That's how that works with the cast and crew. They all get paid their weekly or daily wage or whatever it is however long I need them for. I do have some more permanent staff which get weekly wages and all that kind of stuff. In regards to my business model is quite simple in regards to the projects go up on the website. People download the projects and then that money goes into the production account.
We make the next project using that money and obviously the wages come out of that money for the project. So yeah, the more sales we get the more staff I can hire, the more films I can make, all that kind of stuff. It's sort of like the circle of life kind of a situation. That's kind of the basic works of my business model. Obviously it works well in that my films go up there forever so whereas a normal film might stay in the box office, you know stay in the cinema for two or three weeks then it obviously goes away. Might come back a couple of months later for DVD sales and all that kind of stuff and then it's dead.
My stuff stays up there forever so a film that I made a year ago for your listeners that might head over to beernutsproductions.com, they will see a film I made a year ago, but it's new to them. That's the other way that helps as well. So the more projects that are up there obviously the more profits are being generated as well.
Adam Zuchetti: What pressure does that put on you and your team given that if a film fails to sell well, it really restricts your budget for the next one?
gough: Oh absolutely, there's no … That is the downside. There is no doubt about that so there is a lot of pressure on me to make sure that the projects are as good as they possibly can be because I mean nobody is going to download a crappy film. I need to make sure that the work that I'm putting out there is of the highest standard and so I don't ever put anything up on that website that I don't think is of a high quality and of a high standard so yeah, luckily we haven't really faced that situation where a film has absolutely bombed.
Most things that we've put up there have been really successful so we've been able to have a pretty quick turnover and get straight into the next project. I have been pretty lucky in regards to that, but like I say it's all about just making sure the work is as good as it possibly can be.
Adam Zuchetti: Now speaking of quality, you're essentially an online retailer given that you sell your films exclusively through your own site, but that means you're heavily reliant on things like power, and not having internet outages, things like that. When the quality of those things isn't there, what kind of backup strategies do you have in place so that if the power goes off where you are in Brisbane or the Gold Coast I think you are.
gough: The Gold Coast, yeah.
Adam Zuchetti: So if the power goes off inside the Gold Coast or you've got a local internet outage, what strategies do you have in place so customers let's say in Perth or Sydney or somewhere else can still access the site?
gough: We've never had any major crashes or anything of that nature because we go through our website provider. They handle all that stuff for us and we've never had any major issues in regard to that. Power outages and stuff like that, they don't really affect what we do because we're more international. We're not local. That kind of stuff doesn't really have a say in how we conduct our business which is luckily for us obviously. So yeah, we haven't really had that sort of an issue crop up to be honest with you.
Adam Zuchetti: That's lucky then. Fingers crossed it doesn't.
gough: Because you are right, we are an internet retail business. That's how we make our money so if the website goes down, then we're in a world of hurt so we need to get it back up as quickly as we can. Like I say, luckily for us that never has really happened. We've had a couple of times where I've had to get the IT guys in there real quick to do a quick fix up job to get it back up and happening, but I don't think we've ever been down for longer than about two or three hours. The IT guys I've got have been really, really good, so yeah.
Adam Zuchetti: So again trust your people it sounds like there. Speaking of websites though gough, you mentioned to me previously that you've got quite a good conversion rate when people are on the sites to actually download films and purchase them. But you sort of said that it's really tricky to get people to the site on the first instance. Now that's obviously something that all our listeners are going to relate to. What tactics do you really use to drive traffic to the website?
gough: Oh I got a new marketing, a young lady in the beginning of the year to fix up my marketing because I was having all kinds of trouble getting people originally to the website. Once people are on the website we do have a really good conversion rate because they see the trailers and the clips from the films and stuff and they download which is great. So we've got a great conversion rate once people hit the website but yeah, it's all about marketing your business and getting traffic to the website.
We use station media now more than we ever have before and we also use old fashioned sort of techniques using print media, radio, television and also podcasts we're getting into a lot more now as well, advertising on those sort of formats as well and getting media coverage in regards to that. The new marketing girl that I've got, and she's done a really fantastic job. To be honest with you, I really should have put a bit more time and effort into the marketing side of the business a lot earlier than I did because I now see what I was missing out on really.
Yeah, that would probably be a good bit of advice for anybody who is starting up to really, really concentrate on their marketing because it's just key. Without good marketing you don't get people to your business and without people to your business, you don't have a business anymore so the marketing aspect has been probably the hardest and it's something that we continually have to stay on top of.
Adam Zuchetti: Now marketing isn't just about raising awareness of the brand, but it's also conveying value. Given you're a small business and you're operating a sector that has the likes of Hollywood studios, those big giants, commercial TV networks, things like that, they're essentially your competitors in terms of getting people to sit and view something. How do you deal with that?
gough: That's a very good question. It's something we continually have to battle because like you say we're essentially a Netflix but on a much, much smaller scale. For that we are competing with companies like that and it does make things hard, but it's all about trying to just jam your way into the marketplace and making sure that people know you exist. I mean once people know you exist, that's half the battle.
That's why Amy who's in charge of my marketing, she keeps telling me, "You've got to say Beernuts Productions every time you get an opportunity because you've just got to make sure that everybody knows you exist." Then sure enough they start hearing you enough and will start trickling their way over to the website. It's just about trying to stick your head up above everybody else. That's all you can do really, absolutely.
Adam Zuchetti: There's something I want to ask you about people. Everyone talks about having the right team, the right people in place. I mean you have sort of said it yourself, but from the point of view that you're casting actors, you must have a little experience in trying to pick out those people who are going to be prima donnas, or going to be very self-promoting, things like that which are not necessarily the traits that you want as an employee or as a contractor. Can you give some advice to our listeners on how to actually weed out those kind of less desirable characteristics and traits in people?
gough: Well again I thing actually again being blind has actually helped me in a way because I spend a lifetime listening to people. So I pick up on things like tone and inflexion and all that sort of stuff which again helps me when I'm directing actors and writing scripts as well. I think it also does help me in the casting process with actors because always make sure when an actor comes in for an audition, my auditions are very different to how auditions are usually done in that I sit them down. I have a two, three minute chat with them to sort of get a feel for the kind of person that they are. Then I run them through the script a couple of times, and then they're on their way.
My auditions usually take about 20 minutes whereas a normal film audition would usually take two or three minutes because they usually just have to do a paragraph, then they're in and out. The reason I do that is for the exact reason that you just said. I need to make sure because we don't have a lot of money, I don't have a lot of time to rehearse with them. I don't have a lot of time to waste in regards to if they are going to be prima donnas or whatever. I haven't got time for any of that kind of nonsense because we just don't have the money to waste.
So I need to make sure I get a good feel for the person, make sure that yes this is going to be somebody that I can work with and this is somebody who is acting in a professional manner and so I can go forward with this person. That's equally important to me as the actual performance in the audition is getting a feel for the person as well. So I always make sure, you know I ask them a couple of just general questions. How are you? How's your day been? All that sort of stuff and if you really listen to someone you can get a really quick idea on the kind of person that they are. You are right. That is something that is so important, is to make sure that you do have the right people around you.
Adam Zuchetti: Speaking of people, a lot of people particularly in the creative industries are really protective of their work and they don't want I suppose as they say it, sell out to commercial interests. As a business owner you've obviously got bills to pay. You've got staff to pay. You've got to support yourself, put food on the table. Have you ever really thought of taking on commercial projects or corporate projects as a means of bringing in that extra revenue?
gough: Yes and no. I have been approached by a few people have asked me to do videos and stuff for them and it's not something that I would say no to necessarily, but we're busy with our own stuff and my work comes first obviously. It's not something that I go out and seek because like I say we are busy with our own projects. I have had a lot of emails from people asking could you fund this project and can you fund that project. Again, we've got enough trouble funding our own work. I do empathise with them because I know what they're going through, but essentially we've got enough money to make our own stuff and that's pretty much it.
If someone does approach us to make a project and they've got full funding and all that sort of stuff, we obviously consider it but it's not something that we go out and actively search. In regards to like you say the commercial aspect of it and selling out and all that sort of stuff, I mean I think it's really important when you're starting up a business like a film business for example is that you do stay true to what you're good at and true to yourself. Our projects that we make most of them are comedy based and they're a little bit unusual and quirky in nature, so we probably don't fit into a cookie cutter mould ourselves really. I'm not sure if you understand what I'm trying to get at, but I think it's really important that you stay true to yourself and the work that you do. You know what I mean?
Adam Zuchetti: Yeah, what about government support. Given that there is a lot of support there for the Australian film industry, is that something that you benefit from?
gough: No, no it is not. Again, sort of going on from the previous answer, we don't sort of fit into any sort of mould. I have applied for lots of grants and all that kind of stuff, but because we do things so differently in regards to funding our own projects and distributing our own projects and having no third party involvement and being an online business, that's not really what they want. They want more your old traditional sort of ways of making films and that's just not what we do so I haven't applied for any funding for a long, long time now because we just kept getting rejected.
We just go ahead and we just do our own thing in our own way and I think that's better in a way. We don't have to answer to anybody so we can make the projects that we want to make, how we want to make them and we don't have anybody over our shoulder saying, "You must have this." Or, "You can't do that," or anything of that nature. We can do exactly what we want. We're truly independent and can do what we want, how we want, when we want which is really cool you know?
Adam Zuchetti: Okay. Consumers now a day's are obviously getting more used to paying for content. We've got things like Netflix subscription services. Even the Financial Review now has a subscription model so it's definitely there, or it's coming along now, but when you started in 2006 it must have been a very different environment.
gough: Absolutely, absolutely. I often say to Simon my right-hand man, "You know 15 years ago I wouldn't be able to be doing what I'm doing now. I wouldn't have been able to do that 15 years ago because the technology just didn't exist to download a couple of gig movie files you know from the internet and to be able to purchase something like that." I am very lucky in regards to the time that I live because you know as I say, 15 years ago this business model just plain wouldn't be conceivable because there wasn't the technology there. I am very lucky in regards to that sort of aspect of it absolutely.
Adam Zuchetti: But do you find there's still some resistance out there to paying for things that people think oh well I can get movies and things for free on commercial TV, things like that? Do you still face that kind of resistance?
gough: Well not really because what we do is a non-commercial TV. If you want a Beernuts Production film there's only way to get it so in regards to that no, no. We haven't faced anything of that nature because there's nowhere else where you can purchase our material. It's on the website, or nowhere at all so we don't have competition in regards to that aspect of it.
Adam Zuchetti: What's the longer term aim for Beernuts Productions? Are you looking to sort of become like the Australian comedy version of Netflix? Are you looking to produce something like The Castle, a really iconic Australian film?
gough: We are that and more. We want to make as many film projects as we possibly, humanly can so we've got another one that we're doing in two weeks time which is called, "The Environment, The Real Truth" which is a mockumentary all about the environment, sort of taking a piece out of the scientists and the conservationists, and park rangers and sceptics and all that sort of stuff. It's always the right thing to do to make sure if you're going to give somebody a whack, you've got to give everybody a whack. That's the next project we are doing. It will be about a 25 minute mockumentary and then from there we just want to keep on doing what we're doing and make as many films and entertaining as many people as we human possibly can. That's why obviously we encourage everyone to hit up beernutsproductions.com and just get themselves entertained by our brand of nonsense.
Adam Zuchetti: So does that make you the kind of comedic version of Michael Moore?
gough: Oh, might be, might be. I do like his work actually. I think he's very good, but the last couple we've done ... The last film we actually released was a mockumentary about the war on drugs. I think to get fixated, a style of filmmaking and then ram it into the ground. I've got a couple of mockumentaries now which have been really fun to do. Yeah, that's the direction we're going at the moment, but there's tonnes of other stuff up there as well. We've done comedy interviews sort of like chat shows sort of stuff and then with those, "The Advertising Meeting" which is a proper scripted short film and "Small Mercies" which is a bit more dramatic in nature. So there's tonnes of different styles and all that sort of stuff up there on the website that people can download. Obviously free trailers and all that so people can get a feel for each project to see what they want to watch.
Adam Zuchetti: Well gough, finish us off on a lighter note. You're a former stand-up comedian: what's your best one-liner?
gough: Oh actually I went to the supermarket the other day and I got one egg and one tomato. So I got up to the girl behind the checkout. She said, "You're a single aren't you." I said, "How could you tell?" She said, "Because you're ugly."
Adam Zuchetti: [Laughs] That's horrible.
gough: I just wanted to tell you. Hopefully the material on the website is a little bit better. So you know, people, like I say, people can hit up beernutsproductions.com and get themselves suitably entertained.
Adam Zuchetti: All right, thanks so much for joining us gough.
gough:: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate your time Adam.