How clarity and focus helped turn a two-man start-up into a major player in office furniture
When ambitious brothers Jason and Marc Levin started their online office furniture business JasonL when they were just in their 20s, they had to “beg, borrow and steal” to get the fledgling start-up off the ground.Now, a decade later, the company has well and truly found its feet. JasonL posted a turnover last year of $12 million and is on track this year to deliver an even greater turnover of $15 million. Some of the high-end customers they’ve worked with include David Jones, Nine Network, Dyson, Specialty Fashion Group, Channel Seven, Facebook and Spotify. Now boasting more than 40 staff, the company has two showrooms in Sydney, one in South Melbourne, and recently launched a fourth in Brisbane in Fortitude Valley – all in all, an Aussie success story.
However, the company’s trajectory hasn’t been without a few bumps. With Marc, 36, as Chief Financial Officer and Jason, 34, as CEO, the pair hit a roadblock two years ago. “Although by that point we’d hit a lot of goals, and were profitable, we had some issues we felt were holding us back from taking the business further,” says Marc. “In particular we had no framework of measuring accountability, we were struggling to keep everyone on the same page, and often my brother and I felt like we were doing everything alone.”
The brothers, who are based at the head office in Sydney’s Botany, eventually got to the point where they felt like they didn’t have enough hours in the day or energy to keep going forward. In urgent need of clarity, and after learning of the Entrepreneurial Operating System at an educational session with peer group Entrepreneurs' Organization, they engaged with Certified EOS Implementer Roger Vertannes, who guided them through a series of implementation sessions with their leadership team.
“It was a relief to finally get some real direction,” Marc admits. “In the past we had tried to follow various strategy models and methods, but had found it too difficult to follow, too involved and too overwhelming. However, the systems that Roger introduced were very easy-to-follow and produced immediate results. Before we had no measurable accountability, had meetings that went nowhere, and no real leadership team. Now we have a clear accountability framework, a strong management team of seven, impactful meetings and employ people for the correct reasons as opposed to just a ‘gut feeling.’ As a result our profits sales are now up 30 per cent year on year because our systems and beliefs are all now in alignment.”
Having previously worked in corporate recovery at PwC, Marc says one of the biggest changes for him personally was taking on a bigger role as an accountable leader. A major part of that was actually admitting that sometimes he didn’t know all the answers. “I think that’s one trap leaders fall into - pretending you know everything. Then you try and stumble along yourself and things don’t get resolved. Roger encouraged Jason and myself to be more transparent and vulnerable when necessary and to seek help from employees around us. Since we’ve been doing that it’s been hugely beneficial to the business."
Another benefit is that the sessions have helped the Levins in both their business and personal interactions with each other. “There’s no I work for you, or you work for me – we work together,” Marc says. “We now lean on each other’s strengths instead of focussing on our differences. He’s the ‘Visionary’ and I’m the ‘Integrator’ and that’s a good combination.”
The pair moved to Australia more than 20 years ago from South Africa after their family sold its office furniture business, Cecil Nurse, to conglomerate Bidvest. Cecil Nurse was founded in 1946, and is still trading as one of the country’s larger furniture retailers with at least 11 branches.
“Jason put himself through university selling things on eBay and saw an opportunity to sell office furniture online," says Marc. “When he launched, I came on board, even though our dad initially told us not to get involved in office furniture!"
The company now prides itself on doing full fit-outs within a week – something few competitors do – and have set themselves some lofty goals for the future. “We want to be a national business and the first port of call for Australia’s office furniture needs,” says Marc.
Our big hairy audacious goal would be to become the 'Ikea' of the office furniture industry. It’s a HUGE goal, however we now feel we have made some of the right decisions in pursuing that goal."