Samantha Wills

Episode (50) – Samantha Wills – How to create and grow your business globally


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Samantha Wills is the founder and creative director of her own self-titled jewelry company. Her jewelry was featured in ‘Sex and The City’, and most recently she was nominated for the 2016 Australian Of The Year Awards.

On today’s show,

Samantha shares how to start and develop your business on a global scale.
She also covers,
Her success didn’t come overnight; it took her 13 years
Her journey from selling her designs on Bondi Beach Market to global
marketplace with celebrities wearing her products
How she got her first $17,000 worth orders at Australian Fashion Week in 2004
The importance of having a business partner who compliments your skills set in business
Three things important when creating a brand: authenticity, finding your
voice that resonates with your consumer or follower and personalization
Finding your ‘why you do it’ is essential when building a brand
People don’t buy what you do; they buy ‘why you do it
Her brand is based on people who are passionate about it and the real story behind its creation
Why she decided to close her entire wholesale business except for department stores
How she uses her luxurious packaging to create special experience for her
customers
Her Life Changing Question is: ‘WHY?’
Everything in business and branding has to evolve continually
The background behind her ‘Samantha Wills Foundation’
What sometimes you need to ‘surrender and refocus’ in business and life.
One thing on her bucket list is to see the Northern Lights from a glass igloo

 

Tweets

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Want to create an international brand? Designer Samantha Wills shares how Click To Tweet Interested in creating and growing the business on a global scale? Listen to Samantha Wills Click To Tweet

 

Resources Mentioned in this show:

samanthawills.com
samanthawillsfoundation.org

 

Recommended Reading:

Transcription

We are celebrating today.  This is Episode No. 50 of the Life-Changing Questions podcast and boy, do we have a great episode for you.  Today we have on the show Samantha Wills.  Samantha has been tipped to become Australia’s biggest export since Vegemite by fashion writer Inez Mendoza.  Samantha is one of Australia’s most successful and inspiring names and most recently was nominated for the 2016 Australian Of The Year awards.  Samantha has a really inspiring story to share with us, where she explains how she’s gone from selling her designs at local Bondi Markets to now having the elite celebrities like Pink, Beyonce, Eva Mendes were in her products.  If you have a desire to create and grow a business on a global scale, you want to stay tuned for this rare interview with Samantha Wills.  Samantha, welcome to the show today.

 

If just one question could immediately transform the quality of your life or the results of your business, would you want to know what that question was?  Life and business strategist, Kevin Bees, interviews success masters to discover their life-changing questions.  Welcome to the Life-Changing Questions podcast.

 

KEVIN:

So, Samantha is a fantastic success story and you have gone from sharing your products in Bondi Markets to now be on the global stage with people like Sex and the City, Eva Mendes, even Pink and Beyonce wearing your products.  We would love to hear a little bit about your story.  How does someone go from creating a designing their own products to selling them on the local markets being on a global stage in the way that you are now?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, a lot of media interviews I do, people are like, ‘Oh, you are such an overnight success!’ and my response is, I say it took me 13 years to become an overnight success and I think that along the way we’ve gotten to where [0:01:37] making many, many mistakes.  So, I started the company when I was 21 years old and knew absolutely nothing about everything and was so naive [0:01:46] had be starting a business and was selling my products on the Bondi Beach Markets and on the nights that I wasn’t making jewellery, I was kind of cruising around Sydney in my old beat-up [0:01:58] handmade jewellery [0:02:02] kind of doing like party plan, you know, party’s on people’s dining tables and [0:02:07] startup phase and after about a year of doing that, a friend had a showroom [0:02:14] Australian Fashion Week in 2004 and they offered me the spot, was amazed to have [0:02:18] and offered me the spot about the size of a door  [0:02:22] five hundred dollars and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’, you know, five hundred dollars is like an entire week at the markets at the time and took the spot hoping to make one order back to cover the cost and [0:02:34] $17,000 worth of orders in a 4-day trade show.  And I had just turned 22 by this stage and you know, was the first time I really considered that this could be something greater than I could have even kind of dreamed about.  So really absolutely everything that I had added at that point.

 

KEVIN:

Yeah, wow!  What a success story in terms of doing that many orders.  That must have kept you pretty busy for a while.

 

 

SAMANTHA:

[0:02:55] did and the naive thing about it was, I was like, ‘Oh, delivery [0:02:59]’ 2 weeks, 2 weeks, 2 weeks’ and promised everyone a 2-week delivery and in the end I was like, ‘Oh, god, I actually have all these orders’ so you know, I had a full-time [0:03:06] job at the time.  I quit that the next day and was like, okay, I have the jewellery to start on now and anyone who walked through my apartment door had to hand make something or bead something or pack something, so it was a solid 2 weeks of no sleep.

 

KEVIN:

Yeah, wow!  And how do [0:03:23] from that $17,000 worth of orders [0:03:24] and now you are on the world stage.  As I mentioned, you have the global [0:03:30] wearing your products and services.  How did you even then go from that first $17,000 of orders to be where you are now?  I mean, that in itself is an even bigger journey?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, so when I kind of had that opportunity, I didn’t go to university and I didn’t study business at school, so I really was a true creative that had kind of this big dream and passion and to everything I had [0:03:51] and you had to create a brand and create this creative [0:03:56] of the business, but after doing it by myself for 3 years, had found myself in $80,000 credit card debt across 5 different credit cards, working 20 hours a day, got physically no more time that I could put in and at 25 years old, I knew how to build a brand, but I didn’t know how to run a business and was [0:04:12] thinking and sought out to find a business partner to sit across the financial side of the business, to allow me to focus purely on what I knew and through a series of different meetings and introductions, met my now business partner, Geoff Bainbridge, who is an Australian entrepreneur and he came on board.  I didn’t want any money from him.  I just wanted his business mind in my company.  He said ‘no’ to me about 7 times.  One day he said, ‘Okay, I’ll think about it’ and that very afternoon, I signed 30% equity over to him to advise across my business and that was 10 years ago and since he signed on, he took what I had essentially was this great business idea and brand, but this did not have a run [0:04:55] backend, so he kind of set all that up for me and we haven’t had a loss-making year since.  It’s definitely come a long way in many factors and so I guess that’s the business side of it, from Bondi Market to [0:05:07] global stage.  Along the way, there has obviously been different milestones that propelled the business from an Australian hobby, I guess, to a global brand.  You mentioned a lot of celebrity placements in there which, at the time, really put us on a global stage, to be able to affiliate with a brand like Sex and the City, you know, never before, never seen a fashion brand [0:05:33] all these brands that are mentioned in there [0:05:36] has also got Samantha Wills listed next to it.  So all these are little kind of milestones along the way, but  when we are dealing with international business, they kind of all accumulated with a consistency which [0:05:46].

 

KEVIN:

Yeah, excellent!  So what I’m hearing in that, I mean, one of the key things is, make sure that you have someone who compliments you.  If you have a skill in one area and you feel like you maybe don’t have everything [0:05:58] get a business partner and get someone who’s gonna support you with that.  And one of the other things I have heard, Samantha, is that, you explain really well that you know how to create a brand and you take the idea and make a brand.  What are some of the key ingredients that we need if we are trying to create a brand ourselves right now or make sure we stand at marketplace?  What will be some of the key pointers you can give us to do that?

 

SAMANTHA:

Well, I think the thing to recognize is that whether you have a product business or not, everyone is a brand; we are all personal brands, never more so than in this day and age, where [0:06:25] Instagram or social media present in some ways, so when I talked about branding, it’s an overused word, but it’s such an important [0:06:34] authenticity and finding your voice and how that resonates with your following.  Then also I think it’s about this personalization in this day and age [06:43] market is very much a female market and we are really aware that she doesn’t wanna be sold to, she wants to be part of the conversation, so finding ways, not only finding your voice, but finding ways that really resonates with your consumer or with your follower.  I think, there is a very famous Simon Sinek quote that ‘people don’t purchase what you do, they purchase why you do it’.  And I think finding your ‘why’ when you are building your brand is something so important to always go back to because the marketplace is saturated with product [0:07:13] people are gonna be brand loyal because its authenticity and this emotional connection rather than just your product.

 

KEVIN:

Hmmm… really valid point, so people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  Now I am guessing given the period of time that you have been doing what you are doing, you told us about $80,000 of debt, the 20 hours per day, you have had a very strong ‘why’ to pull you for all of that because many other people may have quit at that point.  So [0:07:36] is too hard.  So what’s your ‘why’ behind this, Samantha?

 

SAMANTHA:

When I first started my ‘why’, very much wanna start with wanna create a brand that people will want to be a part of and I probably didn’t even know what that actually meant at the time.  In 2004, not all brands had website, back in that time, so I know the brands that I loved, that I wanted to know more about.  I would research day and night to try and find behind the scene stuff or more things from the designer and I was like, if I saw that passionately about brand at 21 years old, I wanted to create a brand that people had that same passion for.  [0:08:12] the big part of our brand has been made very honestly telling our story and going from Bondi market to where we are today and all the hurdles that have happened along the way and I think we don’t dispel this glamorized success story of this overnight success which people like the reality of it and they relate to that realness and I think that been the key for us in our brands following [0:08:38]

 

KEVIN:

Yeah, wonderful description.  So it’s not easy to be an overnight success.  It takes time, it takes energy, it takes effort and it takes persistence and it really takes for you to be honest and authentic on that journey.  Now we know where you are now, I mean,  on the schedule, what do you have plan for the future?  Where is the business and the brand going in the coming 5 or 10 years?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yes, when we launched the brand, we very much became a business-based owner wholesale business, so at our wholesale peak, we probably were stocking about 300 stores globally plus the private stores and then our own online store.  As the time that we are living in, retail is changing a lot.  Not only the boldest thing that I think we have done in the business from a financial and commercial perspective, but also where we are going as a brand and as business is, we actually made the decision last year to shut our entire wholesale business except for outer part stores and it was really scary concept when we first [0:09:32] but what we saw is that we really wanted this direct relationship with our consumer and we wanted to stop behaving like an online [0:09:43] rather than a brand that had a retail outlet paying out digital ecommerce platform.  So now that we [0:09:50] only 2 month, but we shutdown probably 10 million dollars at retail of orders, so it was quite a scary [0:10:00] to make that decision, but I think its something that we’re looking to moving forward and changing our behaviours to behave like industry standard retail rather than a brand that has a retail outlet.

 

KEVIN:

Okay, so you shutdown these orders, where are people gonna buy your products now?  [0:10:16] directing them online?  Is that where you want to pick up the work?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yes. So it will be samanthawills.com, which is our digital platform and then we still have our contact areas in David Jones and still on the iconic, which is an online retailer.  So David Jones remains our only [0:10:32] presence and we shutdown all other [0:10:36]?

 

KEVIN:

Yeah, wow!  Okay, this was a particularly bold strategic move, but it sounds like a very exciting one for the future where things can grow.

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, definitely.  It just forces you to think differently and forces you to be the best in industry at delivering a retail experience whereas before we were behaving like a brand that just had a side retail sector, so it’s definitely made us behave and look differently and we are seeing the results already, so its definitely been scary, but it’s looking like it’s gonna be worth it.

 

KEVIN:

Good!  And you mentioned the word ‘experience’.  I just want to thresh out the word ‘experience’ because I don’t own one of your products myself, I don’t know if I have the complexion to carry it off, I was thinking the facial hair kind of would ruin a little bit, I think, but you said the experience.  Now what I recognize is the way that you deliver your products.  The girls in the office that I work in, they really love to receive your products [0:11:27] because of just the packaging.  Tell us a little bit about the packaging and what you’ve done there to create an experience.

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, so the packaging you will be referring to is we’ve changed over to new packaging.  So the one that you are referring to would be our hand-carved wooden boxes, so we had this, what I thought was a genius idea back in 2008, we met a supplier who did hand carving out of India.  And he gifted me this beautiful hand carved wooden box and I was like, wow, this is incredible.  Imagine if every piece of Samantha Wills jewellery came in a hand carved wooden box and I presented the idea to my business partner and he’s like, ‘that is the most ridiculous idea, like we are gonna have to sea freight these things from India, the jewellery is getting air freighted in from China’ [0:12:10] so we went ahead and had triple sales within the first season that we introduced them and what it really did was provide these kind of unknowing gift we purchase, so the value to the consumer was like nothing else that was in the market in our category and that really put us on the map to have these kind of signature packaging that, you know, [0:12:34] contact us out the state, so she is like [0:12:36] wanted to purchase your boxes, and i was like, oh, no, no, it comes with a piece of jewellery inside, in our jewellery business, so there is a lot of hype around them.  So we did that for 9 years and as I explained before moving to a retailing model, [0:12:54] just got too much to behave in the way that we wanted to with efficiency so we’ve changed our packaging now to something just as luxurious, but a lot more easy to manage which is a leather pouch which has got [0:13:06] start monogramming them, so packaging, so anyone that’s in branding  knows, is just as important as the product.  Might often take longer to develop than the product, but I have seen the experience to consumer starts long before the product is in their hand.  It stops and they stop thinking about your brand, what are they thinking about it, how they’re interacting with it, whether it will be online or in store.  So by the time they get the product in their hand, they’ve probably had 20 [0:13:30] brand already, so by the time the packaging gets [0:13:33] needs to be something special.

 

KEVIN:

Yes and it certainly really is.  It certainly one of the things [0:13:38] when I’ve looked at your products and [0:13:41] experience.  So what I’d love to hear from you, one of the reasons we have this podcast show is, Samantha, we love to understand about the thinking that people have and the quality of the questions that they ask themselves.  So we would love to hear from you, if there was one question that you have asked yourself that’s had a positive impact on your life.  What would that question be?

 

SAMANTHA:

I think it goes back to what I was saying before about the ‘why’ and I always ask ‘why’?  I have applied that in business decisions I have made, I have applied that you know, whether it be ‘why am I feeling this way’, ‘why did I react that way’, you know, kind of really analysing about the ‘why’, I think creates a much more clearer answer and a much more [0:14:18] answer to get to the bottom of things.  So I have been using that for many years and as I grow as a person in this business [0:14:28] it definitely brings me the answers I need, but with a different, I guess more calm and clarity around it.

 

KEVIN:

Do you have an example of how that question’s really had a major impact on your life because I know we can ask that question ‘why’ day in and day out about some general living things.  Is there a time when you really asked that question and it has made a major impact on your life?

 

SAMANTHA:

I think probably the biggest business mistake that I have ever made in our company when I was [0:14:54] 2008-2009 and we were getting a heap of celebrity placement out of the state which then brought with it a heap of retail enquiries from the US.  So we were getting people calling up, placing me huge orders without us even showing them the samples, so we’ll opportunistically sending products from Australia to America and it kind of got to the point where like, ok, someone [0:15:16] over there and really guides where this brand looks like from a global level because when we roll out to Europe and Asia, then it is going to be like, what does your brand look like in Australia?  They are going to be asking what does your brand look like in the USA.  So my business partner was like, hey, why don’t you go over there and [0:15:33] yourself in the market and really [0:15:36] what your brands look like?  so I was in my late 20s at the time and came over here and was just completely romanced by everything that was New York just as some have lived outside of Australia and just as some have been able to do so with a somewhat disposable income.  So I kind of came over here, very romanced with it all and seeing what global brands were doing over here.  I think when you are creating a brand, it’s very much the market dictates what [0:16:02] so you can have all the aspiration you want to have this beautiful luxury brand and then it’s the consumers buying a hundred dollar product and that’s your main average selling price, then you essentially are a hundred dollar brand, if that makes sense.  So we were having great success around a hundred to hundred and twenty dollar price point.  I came to New York, it was like, no, I want this [0:16:24] higher than where the entry price point is, so I was romanced by all these beautiful heritage brands in New York and had the money to start buying into [0:16:35] all these beautiful world class brands and what I essentially try to do is turn the brand within one season from being bohemian and statement [0:16:46] relative language of our, we started on a Bondi market table and these kind of underdog story to be something that was very polished and very minimal and lets drop the Bondi market story because that’s not very glamorous, so let’s stop talking about this underdog story because [0:17:04] sound very successful and I really lost all the authenticity trying to create something that really wasn’t true to who we were and we were coming off a very, very successful [0:17:15] and retailers incidentally brought into the product, but it didn’t sell through because it wasn’t [0:17:19] brand for us.  I think [017:21] became unengaged because I wasn’t being authenticate in my digital communications and [0:17:28] my team was facing me because I kind of tried to trick the brand in one season to become something that we just weren’t and I think when you have a brand that you have so modestly named after yourself, you are very responsible for so many people’s livelihoods and responsible for the brand language and you know, I found myself having to sit there and ask myself ‘why I had firstly done this’ and secondly ‘why I started this brand in the first place’.  And it was a real wakeup call to not only financially, but just like why I had gone down this path so aggressively and so quickly and the outcomes took me about 2 years to turn it all around.  So it definitely it could have gone either way, but luckily we got through, but I had to fix it first and foremost by asking myself ‘why’.

 

KEVIN:

Huh!  Okay.  Very important.  So then you stopped and asked yourself ‘why’ and that allowed you to take decisions you need to put it back on the track that you already wanted it to be on.

SAMANTHA:

Yes, I think everything in business and branding is always continually got to be evolving.  It doesn’t mean you have to say the same all the time, but you evolve it, the brand language and I think I just took the brand.  It wasn’t an evolution, it was a completely different road and it was very inauthentic, so I had to cut back and ask myself ‘why’?

 

KEVIN:

Great!  So actually it comes back to the very key thing you said earlier, we’ve got to keep on the authenticity in building a brand and we really got to know our ‘why’ and stick to our ‘why’ and stick to our story.  And regarding that, you mentioned about being a business owner, being responsible for other people’s livelihood, I know there is something else that you do in addition to the business.  I really wanted to ask a little bit more about that and that’s the Samantha Wills foundation.  So could you tell us a little bit more about what you do there?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, sure!  So with the Samantha Wills foundation, I was doing a lot of corporate and public speaking, mainly to young entrepreneurs and when I say young entrepreneurs, I mean young in the journey, not necessarily young in age.  And I was finding that they were very graciously lining up after I was speaking, to ask questions and trying to get through everyone that had lined up, was only allowing 30 seconds or so with each person.  And firstly, they were all pretty much asking the same or similar questions.  And secondly I felt like I owe them a much longer and more in-depth replies and 30 seconds I was able to give them.  So [0:19:40] to start a digital portal that I could kind of answer these questions or how people ask questions on Instagram and I come back with a more [0:19:49] and more considered response,  and it was also to inspire by, you know, when I was starting out at 21 or 22 and had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  It can feel so isolating in those early startup days, especially if you are so [0:20:04] like I was, you haven’t studied business, so you don’t even know how that side of the business works, I think providing this portal that, when I look back at myself then, if I had a portal that I could have logged into at 3 a.m. to know that I’m not alone [0:20:16] other people’s stories and to search and get some advice, that would have been life saving to me, so it’s in two main parts, so Samantha’s journal, which is kind of my very boring honest writing, somethings that I have experienced over the last 13 years [0:20:33] personal advice, so you know, I have on this basic things like how to do a press release, so you know, just things that people were asking me and then second part of it is spotlight on women to amazing things, so [0:20:47] inspired section, where we do [0:20:50] on young entrepreneurs, the only prerequisite is that it can’t just be the success story [0:20:56] what had been your biggest hurdles, what gives you anxiety, what [0:20:59] shower at night and really sharing those vulnerabilities because they feel like when you share those, that’s where you have the ability to empower others.  There’s no just telling this fluff success story because that just intimidates people and no one can really relate to that.  So it’s about sharing vulnerabilities and we found that to be really empowering.

 

KEVIN:

Very empowering and so if you’re listening and you want to get some inspiration from that, you want to be involved in that, you can check that out at samanthawillsfoundation.org.  And Samantha, one of the things I would love to ask you about is, habits and rituals that we have.  We know that habits and rituals that you have now will create your success in the future, so what are some of the habits and rituals that you had over the years to allow you to arrive where you are now?

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve had, I don’t know if I’m very good actually at habits and rituals but I kind of like dive in and then if I lose interest in something, I just move on.  When I continued with my business, my father was like, ‘oh, we thought this would just be another fashion’ [0:21:52] I think he was quite shocked that I actually stuck with it, but I think that the thing that I would say, I guess it’s a form of habit, but its resilience and I think kind of resilience and surrender and refocus.  What I mean by that is, kind of like if the door doesn’t open, like don’t keep being on the same door, find out around it, build a window, or kind of looking at ways around things rather than going straight [0:22:18] it was a failure.  I think that’s something I have done throughout my career is, I have been told a lot of no’s and I surrender to that, now I’m gonna find another way around.

 

KEVIN:

I love that.  Surrender and refocus.  I haven’t heard it described that way before.  So almost let go of your attachment to that thing that you are pushing forward and just find another way.  Find a window rather than a door.  I think that’s a really great analogy.

 

SAMANTHA:

And I think that surrender is usually affiliating with giving up, but I think there’s real power in surrendering in many areas of life.  Surrendering again [0:22:51] not kind of getting so worked up about it, but yeah, looking for another way.

 

KEVIN:

Great!  So surrender, refocus.  If you can’t through the door, get through the window.  If you can’t get through the window, just get a sledge hammer and bash the wall down, you’ll find your way in [0:23:05]

 

SAMANTHA:

Exactly.

 

Kevin:

I wonder if you tell us as well regarding your bucket list.  We’ve had the world’s No. 1 bucket list expert on this show and I would love to know if there’s something on your bucket list that you have been so proud to have accomplished or there’s something on your list that you still really want to go and do?

 

SAMANTHA:

I think the thing that I really want to go and do, I’m very lucky that I travel a lot for work and then I found myself not travelling a lot, just for pleasure.  So I really would like to do a trip to say, the northern lights, but staying in a glass igloo.  And I have arranged to do this for many years now.  I don’t know why I haven’t, but that’s definitely the travel to do being an experience on my bucket list.

 

 

KEVIN:

I’d love to do that.  That will be an amazing thing to experience.  And from the inside of a glass igloo as well.

 

SAMANTHA:

Right.

 

KEVIN:

That sounds particularly cool.

 

SAMANTHA:

Yeah [0:23:53]

 

KEVIN:

Alright.  Send us some pictures we would love to see that.  I think that was to go on my bucket list, it’s not on there, but I think it really needs to be on there.

 

SAMANTHA:

Perfect.

 

KEVIN:

One final question for you.  If there was one book that you would recommend that our listeners should read, what would that book be?

 

SAMANTHA:

The book, I think was one of the very first books I read when I was studying my business and I have applied through many areas of my life and it’s one that everyone probably knows of ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie.  And I think it’s obviously about relationships and how to get people to your way of thinking in a way, but people kind of use it as a social tool, but I’m like it’s business is people and business is relationships and I think I apply it so much in not only how I interact with my team, but longstanding relationships I’ve had in business all come back to things that I have learnt through that book.  So I read that nearly goodness, 20 years ago now and it’s something that I reference at least 3 times a week, so it’s probably been the most powerful in my journey.

 

KEVIN:

I love that book too, so ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie. Check that out on the page notes and all other information will be there if you are listening to connect with Samantha.  Samantha, we really enjoyed having your time today.  You have been absolutely fantastic.  Such great insights and wisdom.  We really appreciate your time and your energy.  Thank you so much.

 

SAMANTHA:

My pleasure.  Thank you.

 

Thanks so much for listening to the life-changing questions podcast with your host, Kevin Bees.  We’ll catch you next time.

 

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