Today we are joined by very special guest Jock Fairweather, entrepreneur and owner of Little Tokyo Two. LT2 was created to support and facilitate opportunities for Brisbane's aspiring entrepreneurs, dreamers, start-ups, freelancers and small businesses in a vibrant collaborative environment. In an extensive interview, today Jock tells us about how he started, hard lessons he's learned and advice for today's entrepreneurs.
Welcome Jock! You have a very interesting story. Tell us where you began.
I was born in Brisbane but when I was literally two days old my Mum took me to PNG (Papua New Guinea) where both my parents were working. Dad was a serial entrepreneur so there were times where we had money and other times were we were totally broke. For the first 8 years of my life we were borderline bankrupt.
I lived on a farm in Sagaria in a house with 8 native kids who slept on the floor with pillows. Aside from bikes and balls and one radio, we had literally nothing else, and we spent our days playing in waterfalls and playing chicken with crocodiles. This was one of the most interesting periods of my entire life. We then moved to Manila in another third world setting with millions of people crammed together.
After that I came back to Brisbane. I was always a smart kid but I never really cared. School would tell me I had to learn things but they wouldn't tell me why, and I didn’t get that. At the time I was right into computer games which I played professionally, and I was also heavily involved in rugby and water polo. I loved rugby, in my year four school book I said that I either wanted to be a professional rugby player for Australia, or design women's shoes. Perhaps a strange combination for the biggest, fittest, strongest guy, but my Mum had always instilled creativity in me, and I really loved shoes at the time.
When did you start getting a taste for business?
Unfortunately I broke my back playing rugby, and this meant I obviously couldn’t play sport but I also wasn’t able to play video games. This led me to start drawing shoes again, which didn’t bother me because I really enjoyed it. I applied for London Culture Fashion but it would be a while before I would know if I got in, so in the mean time I became a personal trainer.
I went through a stage of obsession (a key trait I still have today) with fitness. I had gone from 122 kilos to 89 kilos in 8 weeks from insane exercise, and I got addicted. Personal training became my first business which offered a really good learning curve and forced me to hustle or I would have no money. What annoyed me though, was people would come to my sessions but they wouldn’t apply anything I was teaching, and eight weeks later they’d quit saying ‘I couldn’t see any results’. So I gave up with those people.
I then found out I got into the first round of London Culture Fashion, but it was going to be 3 months until I knew for sure. Realising I needed some money I started doing some steel fixing for a friend of mine - this is like brick laying on steroids. It is the hardest manual labour there is. This really taught me a lot about myself and most importantly, it taught me about where I didn’t want to be. I am so scared of ever having to be a steel fixer again which motivates me to work so hard. It's horrible.
Anyway, London Culture Fashion called me on a Friday night to say I got in, and I left on the following Monday. Before the course started I did a summer internship at a factory to acquire as many skills as I could. My parents paid for the travel to get to London but I had to work to live, so while I was doing 12 hour uni days I was also working at Abercrombie and Fitch, and working in a factory on weekends. I knew I wanted to do my own shoe company since the first day when a lecturer said ‘if you want to be successful in shoes, you have to work for someone else’. That’s not what I wanted to do, so I set out to start my own.
I offered to work for free in the factory on the condition that they would make my first collection for free. I focused on getting good at technical skill, instead of just drawing like everybody else. I didn't want to just draw it, I wanted to understand it, and through this experimenting I was getting some good attention. When it became time to present there were three buyers, and I was marked at 98.5 per cent, the highest in their history, higher than Jimmy Choo and everyone else before me. All three buyers bought a part of my collection on the spot. That had never been done.
I literally packed all my shoes up and starting calling people, walking into stores and basically spamming people until they agreed to see me. I would hustle my way into meetings with important people, I just wouldn't stop. Something about me is that I bet everything on what I do. That’s key for starting a business, if you truly want to be successful you have to put everything in because you cannot afford to fail. When everything's on the line you don’t take no for an answer, and buyers can see how much you want it. That’s critical for success - the only reason I achieved what I did is because I was doing everything in my power to make it work and to make these shoes sell. As a result, in my first season I got into 25 stores and did large sales, another first in luxury shoe fashion history.
Sales can be nerve racking for first time entrepreneurs. What were you calling these people to say?
More often than not, you can’t get to the head honcho (the buyer in my case), so you just need to call up and blatantly say ‘I want to speak to (whoever you need)’. And if they say no, you need to say ‘okay how can I get into contact with them’ and just keep going until you get onto them. When you do get onto them, you need to be reactive - if they’re defensive, then you don’t want to be pushy and vice versa. Sometimes you will get totally rejected, but more often than not they will give into persistence.
The key thing is this - all you’re looking for is the next step. I wasn’t making the call to get them to sign a $10,000 contract. That call could let them know about the shoes, then the next call they’d know about a show, then the next could be a coffee. You work your way through the process until the time is right to get what you came for.
Have there ever been times that were so hard you wanted to give up? How did you overcome that?
After the first season I signed 75% of the company to a Swiss luxury conglomerate and spent two and a half years in Europe designing shoes. I made a close relationship with my factory in Italy, but then the Swiss brought in this really strict regiment to the production and quality control which totally put off the Italians who ended up pulling out. So three seasons in a row, after my record breaking season we went from 25 stores to just 5.
This gave me huge anxiety problems. I struggled to get out of bed. The amount of problems that came my way was disastrous. No matter how hard I worked, my dream was crumbling in front of my eyes. I didn't even want to look at my phone because I knew it would just be bad news. But it was my own fault, because I signed away my company to someone else to run, and they totally ruined it. I was powerless.
I decided to leave and I came back to Brisbane to clear my mind. I didn’t quit, I just had to go because I was dying. I started playing golf and took a break from work, talking with 10 of my close friends. This led to the spontaneous birth of Little Tokyo Two.
I'll say this - If you want to do freelance work that’s cool, you can make money and be happy. But if you want to do something massive and really make an impact, it is so hard. Think of the hardest thing you’ve ever done and multiply it by whatever you want. Business is not easy.
Why did you want to start your own business?
I wanted the freedom and flexibility with my own decision making. Still today, if I am typing in excel, I don’t feel like I’m achieving. I need to be out doing things, and other companies wouldn’t let me do that. I want to be in control of my own fate and create my own luck.
The flip side is that you have no excuses. If my business isn’t working, it’s my fault.
Tell us about Little Tokyo Two.
It started when I returned from Europe and was playing golf, and my friends were always too busy with their work to play. I didn’t understand why, so I asked and they said the typical things; 'I don’t have anyone giving me guidance, I get distracted working at home, I get lonely, all my service is spread out, there’s nobody to bounce ideas off, nobody to help solve problems' etc. So I thought 'I’ll buy a house for all of us and I’ll be your personal BDM' (business development manager), taking what I had learned in fashion and helping them with whatever they needed to start and grow businesses.
Fast forward to today, we’ve been running for 17 months. We’ve grown from my 10 buddies to over 500 people, and we currently run two sites, we have the tender to run the State Library of Queensland business studio and we’ve signed off on three more sites for this year. One of those is in Springfield and is backed by the Springfield Land Corporation and some other really great partnerships. This will act like an ideas lab and a communal marketplace to experiment with what works for the future of Springfield and if they work, we will roll it out across the rest of the Little Tokyo Twos. The second is The Capital in Queen Street which is four 700 square meter levels with a rooftop in the middle of the city. The third is a secret! (for now).
How does Jock Fairweather define success?
Now that’s a tough question for me! I am constantly moving the ‘goal posts’ in my life and I never hit the targets I aim to. The only way I could truly be ‘successful’ is if I take a third world country or city, and turn it into a first world country / city. That is my ultimate goal.
There are two things that do make me really really happy, that I never had before. One is when I walk into a Little Tokyo Two and it’s full and buzzing. The other thing that makes me insanely happy is my team’s happiness and my team’s individual success. We run a really interesting model - we scale at the speed at which we find co-founders. So for example Isaac runs events for the whole group, but it’s his own space. Andrew does marketing communications for the whole group, and it’s his own space. Our team members run their own silos within the company.
My job becomes facilitating their happiness and their opportunities, and also where they want to go themselves. Being able to see the growth in them make me seriously happy, and I can define success based on them, which I’ve never realised until now.
Your relentless passion and motivation combined with a rockstar team - would you say that is the main contributor to your success?
Absolutely. Every successful company has someone who is an insane visionary that can make things happen, paired with a team that can make implement and pick up the pieces that are left behind. That’s exactly how we roll.
It’s so important to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and then hire people that have the skills you don’t. I tried running Little Tokyo myself for a few months, it was a disaster!
If you could travel back to the first day of your business, what would you tell yourself?
First of all, go into every conversation you ever have, with open, accepting arms, and try to provide value to that other person first. Karma is real in business, and by providing value to someone else without asking for anything in return creates trust, and trust is what business is based on.
Secondly, the other message I have for young people is this. If you’re a university student in Brisbane, I pretty much know, that you have a family that can provide you with shelter and food. So why the **** are you sitting at university doing that, when you could be doing something that could mean everything in the world to you or someone else, and even if you completely mess it up, you have the two key elements that are required for life that will be there sitting for you. What the hell are you so scared of? People should do things that matter.
On a more personal level, what would you tell your 20 year old self?
I would tell myself that mental and physical health is incredibly important. When I was younger I would do ridiculous exercise myself, I would drink a lot and I would be stressed from long hours at work. Those three things really deplete your serotonin, and that’s what really screwed me up. I am scarred forever as a result of what happened to me in London.
As much as it’s about working hard and striving for success, there is nothing more important than your own health. If you’re bed ridden for weeks or you even suffer from a life long issue because you worked too hard, that is way worse than just having a few days off to rest your mind and come back strong. Not relaxing damages both your health and your productivity.
My position on work-life balance is to intertwine the two. First of all I sleep 8 hours a night and do gym every second day, no matter what. For those other 16 hours every day I am doing things, and that doesn’t mean I am at a computer the whole time, but I’ve structured my life so the people I hang out with share my passions. We might be golfing and relaxing, but still discussing important things. This means we can rest and learn at the same time.
Who inspires you?
First of all my Mum. Everyone thinks their Mum is the best Mum on earth, but you don’t know about hectic women until you meet my Mum! My close friend Jordan Duffy is another huge inspiration for me. That dude has been through more than anything ever. He is the most amazing 21 year old I know. Overcoming cancer, serious health issues, endless obstacles but still achieving so much. The third is my team. I love those guys like nothing else, they are like my family. I believe the first nine people you hire need to be hired as co founders, so you need to be really careful with who you hire. They will make or break you. Little Tokyo is successful because of the people I’ve hired.
Favourite business book?
I actually don’t like most of them, but there’s one I do love called ‘The Art of Creative Thinking’ by Rod Judkins.
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What an interesting and valuable story! This article is riddled with serious golden nuggets for entrepreneurs. Keep up with Jock on his website and subscribe to his in-depth newsletter to stay in the loop with what's going on in Brisbane! Don't forget you can join the Exceptions for free here to get exclusive updates on stories just like this and much, much more.