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Entrepreneur Tim Doyle on business pivots and opportunities

Marketer and entrepreneur Tim Doyle of Koala and Pilot fame shares his thoughts on how Sydney businesses can cut through the noise at this uncertain time.

Entrepreneur Tim Doyle
Entrepreneur Tim Doyle

If there’s been one obvious trend in business to occur in this pandemic, it’s the rapid take up of technologies that were once seen as niche. Things predicted to take years to have mainstream adoption have taken off in a few months due to changing customer needs. Tele-health services have become a necessity. QR codes are no longer foreign but broadly used in hospitality and retail to check-in customers. And ordering off digital menus is no longer gimmicky but safer and convenient.

For businesses dealing with broad uncertainty, knowing whether to lean in to embrace these trends and permanently shift your business offering can be overwhelming. There’s no real roadmap for what we’re experiencing.

“Staying focused right now is difficult because there is a lot of noise,” says Sydney entrepreneur and marketer Tim Doyle.

He shared his perspectives and learnings through 2 events at Reboot, our new free webinar series. The program is focused on increasing digital skills for small businesses and creatives. It’s designed for retail and hospitality owners, startup entrepreneurs, creatives, artists, and professional service businesses.

Tim is one of the most renowned marketing minds in Australia. For someone who is only 30, he has an impressive CV. Tim joined Koala on 21 November 2016 in a strategy role – at a time when the business was 12 months old and already doing $2m a month. In March 2018 Tim was moved into the head of marketing, which he held for 10 months to January 2019. During this period the business grew from $35m to $56m a year – an increase of $21m during his time at Koala. In 2019 Tim launched Pilot, an online direct-to-consumer healthcare platform for men. The startup recently raised $8m in funding.

Tim also happens to be a City of Sydney local, living in Redfern and working from an office in Haymarket.

We asked him for some of his thoughts on business pivots, digital marketing, and operating in an atmosphere of uncertainty, in the lead up to his Reboot events.

Reboot is for a broad range of businesses. Do you think there's anything all business owners in Australia are facing right now? No matter what scale or delivery of product or service?

Tim Doyle: The uncertainty, right? Having to try and build systems and models that are able to be responsive to what might be a drastically different landscape in a month's time. The challenges are drastically different if you are like running a fashion retailer versus a healthcare company. I talk to you know, 50 different business owners in the course of a month just purely because of my network. It seems like everyone is being like, "Well, what are we doing a month in advance? And how do we build systems that are able to respond quickly?" "How do we build stock systems?" "What's the role of technology in building systems? Or how do we integrate technology that allows us to access more sales channels?” Those challenges seem to be reasonably universal.

Tim Doyle at BART Jnr in Redfern. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney
Tim Doyle at BART Jnr in Redfern. Photo: Chris Southwood / City of Sydney

How do you stay focused and motivated when things are so uncertain?

Tim Doyle: At the start of the pandemic a lot of people were saying, "Oh, you know this is the global financial crisis of our generation and all these great businesses were built during that crisis.” So this is our chance to, like in a time of upheaval, to really shake up a model and come up with something new. I just didn't feel like we were moving fast enough on capturing that. But I think actually slowing down and thinking about the situation as it evolves and building things that will like be flexible in the short-term, but be valuable in the long-term has been the real like focus point for us. We try to like keep looking at things with the perspective of: "Okay is this opportunistic, or is this genuinely creating value in our business over the long term?" We are trying to commit to those things that were value-creating. For instance, with Pilot we decided not to chase the new Medicare rebates for telehealth that came about during the pandemic. We could have changed our structure a little bit to do it, but we were like, “Well, is this really going to last or is this like a temporary thing? We decided to deliver value to our customers that we know will last. Then if the situation changes and we believe it's permanent, the business can react to that.

In the first webinar you’ll look at business pivots and being responsive to opportunities. Before the pandemic, how often would you formally review your business model at Pilot?

Tim Doyle: We use a framework here called Objective Key Results or OKRs as a way of setting goals for the business and we review them quarterly. We've moved to more like a monthly cycle now in a world where the changes are a bit more drastic.

In the Reboot workshop though we will be talking more about market sizing, growth trajectory mapping and then difficulty and friction evaluation. Basically how much opportunity is there for a role for technology to play in changing a specific industry? How big is the opportunity? And then how quickly can we get to a point of like margin and scale?

Is everything technology focused? How is this approach adaptable across the range of different businesses and industries that might attend the webinar?

Tim Doyle: I think technology is a catch-all term for change in an industry. So it’s not necessarily about whether you build software.

It's more thinking as consumer habits change, and usually as technology is one of the key drivers of that change, how do I adapt to that?

For instance digital ordering in cafes and restaurants is a really good example. Increased food delivery is another one that is changing service businesses. Another pivot that is happening is in online education and online content based sales models. In ecommerce there are changes towards subscriptions and subscription models as opposed to one-off transactions. All these are macro trends that are happening. Businesses should consider what does that trend mean for my industry? How do I then test in to that trend to see whether or not it can be something that can benefit us? Then how do I then reshape my business model to take advantage of whatever change there might be as a result? Your second workshop is about digital marketing.

For those who might be inexperienced in this area or dabbled a bit but never in paid advertising activity, what would be your advice?

Tim Doyle: I think there is a whole industry and world made out of making this stuff sound complicated. I mean Facebook's greatest success as a business is to make advertising accessible for small businesses. The tools are so simple. But what I see a lot of small business owners doing is getting wound up in the complexity and having been sold this big vision about really complex structures and complex accounts and complex creative. The reality is 80% of the value is just getting out there and trying things. Maybe for example, just making some really simple video, doing a cheap filming on your phone, getting your story out there and putting $50 bucks behind it on Facebook. You probably will learn more doing that then you will in 3 months talking to a series of agencies or finding a freelancer to do it for you.

The Jon Loomer website is great for tips on getting started in Facebook advertising. Do you have any other recommendations of platforms for digital marketing that are freely available and that you'd recommend?

Tim Doyle: There's a lot. Online education in that space has gotten so good so quickly that you don't even have to pay for things. There's enough information out there to get you started for free and then the best way to learn is by doing. Facebook Blueprint has actually gotten really good. That’s Facebook's off-the-shelf, how to use us, course. It’s great and it's free. Google has the analytics masterclasses as well which are fantastic and will give you a great feel for what's going on in your business online really quickly.

What do you think is overhyped in the digital marketing space or overpriced?

Tim Doyle: When you are starting out the temptation is to do search engine marketing via Google AdWords. It's quite simple to access. But it's so expensive. It's so efficiently priced that you will always be up against the version of yourself who has the highest margin. If you're not that person you'll get eaten alive. The other mistake is that people go for really sexy hyped channels. Like everyone's talking about Tik Tok, and it's growing, but it doesn't convert customers. It's not relevant to someone just starting out. The channels that have worked historically for a lot of people continue to be the best channels to start out in. Facebook and Instagram are still probably the power channels for most businesses just starting out.

If you had one piece of advice for Sydney small business owners right now, what would it be?

Tim Doyle: Hard to distil but ok! One of my mates runs a fashion store on Crown Street in Surry Hills, and he's been at it for like 9 or 10 years. I was reflecting on his experience today. He was entirely retail for a long time and had no idea about ecommerce. He took the plunge maybe 3 or 4 years ago and his early efforts were super primitive and basic and didn't work very well. But slowly over time he picked up the skills, built his Shopify store out, and incremented really slowly. Now I think e-commerce is 70% or 80% of his business.

My takeout was: you don't have to be an expert. Shopify plus Facebook ads plus Canva templates may be enough to get you going. It's never been easier to reach your customers online. The bar for entry is lower than it's ever been.

A lot of people just see this scary world of technology. But I look at my friend’s experience and it probably was scary the first 6 months, but the tools got better and he got better.

You don't have to be a software developer or designer or like the world's greatest ad buyer. You just have to be present and have a crack.

Reboot webinar series upcoming events

Tim Doyle shared his widsom at our Reboot webinar series for small business. The next round of Reboot talks kicks off in May 2021.

Published 29 September 2020, updated 29 February 2024