After a long career as a corporate marketer with companies such as IBM, KPMG, Ansett and Apple, she started her first business in 1996, and then RedBalloon in 2001. With just an idea and persistence http://redballoon.com.au is considered an Australian internet success story.
Naomi has received many accolades as a business leader including: Winning the national 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry Category and previously winning the 2008 national Telstra Business Women’s Award – Innovation, and for the last three years has been named one of Australia’s best bosses by BRW in the Best Places to Work list. As well as receiving a 97% employee engagement score from Hewitt & Assoc.
She featured in the Secret Millionaire Australia TV series and became an ‘undercover’ volunteer. As a CEO, mother, author, blogger http://naomisimson.com/ and a truly passionate individual Naomi continues to innovate and create new ways to do business.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Passionate, Engaging, Determined.
What is your life motto? If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? RedBalloon was not an overnight success! It seems like yesterday that I launched RedBalloon (during the dot com crash, no-one can accuse me of not having an optimistic outlook) and waited (and waited) for two months and four days to sell our first experience.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I didn’t stop. After the kids were in bed I stuffed envelopes, sent out vouchers. I walked around the city with red balloons tied to my case to try and get people to notice me. I remember in the early days I was so tired, I’d worked every evening and that night, after the kids were in bed, I wanted to relax and watch a new program that was on television. I had settled down when my husband walked in (an accountant) and asked if I knew how much money I was losing.so I turned off the TV and got back into it. I can’t count the hours – it was all-consuming – that’s what a business is for an entrepreneur.
Describe how difficult the business really is? I am passionate about my business so it has never ever been difficult. I saw challenges as opportunities to learn. I am innately curious about everything so I think that’s why I never saw anything as ‘difficult’ – just another opportunity to learn.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Working at Ansett, I watched teams go unrecognised and vowed I would do something different. That was a big lesson learnt as it set me on the path to RedBallooon. Also, I have learnt about the power of language. It’s never a mistake, just an opportunity to learn! People ask me why I’m so open, so frank about the mistakes along the way. It’s because of our values – our second value is ‘Generosity: Here for others – generous with our time, information and listening’. This has always held me in great stead – sharing openly what we learned. Believing that if I help others – one day all that assistance will come back in bucket loads.
I will often ask my team ‘what is the worst thing that could happen to me in public… what is the most embarrassing? How would I handle it?’ The reality is that stuff does happen – but how we deal with it: promptly, professionally and personally will make the difference.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? To always ask Why? Because it makes you really clear about why you do what you do… and then no one is able to slow you down.
In your mind, is formal training essential? I had formal training and a corporate career before RedBalloon. But Richard Branson didn’t. However, I think you need to invest in the right people to build the team that will grow a business – and that’s where employing people who are better trained, with more experience than you, is a great idea!
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I personally have not had a mentor – but I do have lots of trusted advisors and other entrepreneurs who I turn to for advice.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Read, be curious, ask questions. Surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you. Find out what you are passionate about.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? My stubbornness – I wanted to prove all the nay sayers wrong. Plus I had sunk $25,000 of our family savings into the business!
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? No, you make your own luck and pick your timing. Like my motto: “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
A BIG Thank You to Philipa Lowe.