esstee media


editing and publishing

The weather forecast was for another perfect autumn day in Brisbane.

The heat of the summer had made way for cooler nights, less humidity making

sleep easier. It’s close to 4:30 a.m. on the second Saturday in April, 2003, and

Phillip Di Bella has just dragged himself out of bed.


He splashes water on his face, pulls the covers over the bed in the converted

office he’s using as a bedroom and walks down the rickety staircase into the

warehouse. He’s surrounded by the remnants of the week’s roasting and packing,

but the van is already loaded; he’d made sure of that before collapsing into bed the

 night before. He looks around him, at his office, his workplace and his home, the

place where he spends most of his time when he’s not seeing customers. Not the most salubrious place in the world, he acknowledges to himself grabbing the chain of the massive roller door, but it will do for the moment.


Ten minutes later, he pulls up in front of an old power station in New Farm Abandoned due to rising costs in the 1970s, the Powerhouse has been reborn as a cultural centre and venue for Brisbane’s performing artists, and is home, every second and fourth Saturday of the month, to Jan Power’s popular Farmers’ Markets. At this early hour the place is already a hive of activity. Farmers and artisans, bakers and butchers and an eclectic assortment of

traders follow well-practised set-up procedures to transform the footpath snaking between New Farm Park and the massive concrete structure into a food lover’s paradise.


Phillip sets up his mobile coffee cart next to a baker’s stall. The aroma of freshly baked bread from his neighbour’s baskets gets the juices running in his mouth. He quickens his pace, laying out the tools of his trade, making sure everything he needs is close to hand. Soon the aroma of roasted coffee beans will be swirling through the air, mingling with all the other smells that entice and delight the locals and visitors who flock to the market. There is banter between the old hands, cries of good morning, a sudden burst of laughter. Phillip’s neighbour nods, but then turns to the task at hand. Although personally invited by Jan Power to be part of the market, Phillip is still the new boy on the block, largely ignored by the regulars, intent as they are on their own endeavours to set-up.


Jan Power is a Brisbane icon, highly respected for her entrepreneurial pursuits and a well-known and oft quoted media favourite. To have a personal invitation from Jan was not only flattering, but an enormous opportunity. The Farmers’ Markets are not what Phillip defines as core business; he sees his future as a roaster and a wholesaler, and his primary market as the owners of cafes and restaurants. The Farmers’ Markets are unashamedly retail, but they represent a golden opportunity to get close to the people Phillip knows will be the lifeblood of his company if he can convince them to become loyal supporters of the Di Bella Brand. These are the people who will ensure his ultimate success; they are the customers of his customers, the people who frequent the cafes and restaurants for a quality caffeine fix.


This is Phillip’s fifth time at the markets. The first four occasions had been lean affairs and it would have been easy for him to conclude he was wasting his time. Perhaps someone without less single-minded focus may have already pulled out. But Phillip was determined to make the most of this opportunity.


It is only just light, the sun still yet to show itself above the trees and buildings flanking the marketplace. Even in the gloom the gold, black and white Di Bella Coffee logo looks polished and alive. Next door, Phillip can see the baker moving between several customers; the baker’s wife materialises from the rear of their stall and is immediately in the fray. Against a lightening sky, a trickle of people move from one vendor to the next. Phillip is ready, only the beans wait to be ground to ensure absolute freshness. How long, he wonders, will it be before the first caffeine fix is sought out by one of the early birds?


People walk past, their eyes watching the ground, or looking ahead to seek out their favourite stall for the delights they are keen to share with family and friends over the weekend. Phillip waits patiently, but no one stops. Slowly, the sun climbs in the morning sky with the promise of it being much hotter than the bureau had predicted. By 9 am only twelve people have stopped to order a coffee; by midday, as the market heads towards a close, Phillip Di Bella has sold a total of fifty-four cappuccinos, twenty-one lattes and four short blacks – a disappointing result, perhaps.


Phillip Di Bella packs up his cart and goes looking for Jan Power. When he sees her, she is engaged in an animated discussion with a number of stall-holders clearly unhappy about something. Two of the men are competing with each other to gain Power’s attention. Each one gesticulates dramatically with hands and arms, loudly talking over one another. Phillip turns and walks back to his cart. He is smiling to himself. By his guess, the disappointed stall-holders will be keeping Jan Power occupied for a while so he may as well head back to home and the warehouse, he would send her an e-mail to thank her and tell her how pleased he is.


This had been his best day so far. The numbers were disappointing, to a point, but they were almost half again on the previous Saturday. More importantly, the people who had stopped to try his coffee had given him some market intelligence, which was priceless.


The ones who stopped were clearly passionate about their coffee. He had recognised some as repeat customers. They had complimented him on the quality of his roast and wanted to know who his supplier was. Proudly, he’d told them he roasted and blended his own. The discerning coffee drinkers were impressed and had asked if he would be back. Without hesitation, Phillip assured them he would be.


I tell this story because I believe it contains most of the clues necessary to gain a better insight into what we mean by entrepreneurial intelligence. It begins with the most fundamental of business principles: to place the customer at the very heart, at the very core of a venture. This is a principle that we will constantly return to as our story unfolds, in ways which will hopefully enlighten and provide guidance.


Do a bit of digging, however, and it becomes clear that all successful entrepreneurs share several other common traits. Their commitment is obvious, so is a preparedness to work hard. But commitment and hard work aren’t scarce commodities or attributes. At some point, most people will show commitment above and beyond the norm, and preparedness to work hard is not lacking in most of us.


So what is it that these people, including Phillip Di Bella, have been blessed with that others haven’t? More to the point, what do they attribute their success to?


Richard Branson, the very flamboyant British entrepreneur, demonstrates an insatiable appetite for starting new ventures. Since setting up Virgin Records in 1972, Branson has gone on to build dozens of different businesses, including airlines, publishing houses, credit cards, trains, holiday ventures and megastores. He even launched the first galactic adventure for paying customers. He has enjoyed many successes, but he has also suffered a number of well-publicised failures. His work ethic is beyond question; far from being daunted by the workload, he thrives on it. Without doubt, Branson looks at business in his own unique way. “Business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” So, perhaps entrepreneurial success for Branson is perseverance with a healthy dose of fun.


Australia’s Gerry Harvey, co-owner of Harvey Norman, is no shirker, and his commitment cannot be doubted. “I went to the brink many times,” he is quoted as saying in his own inimitable way. “A couple of times I thought: I’m gone … this is it. But then you would just keep working. I think if you’re close to the brink … just make sure that you work twice as hard and put twice as much effort into everything and … you should come through.”


Twice as much effort, is that the secret to Gerry Harvey’s formula for success? Clearly it touches on a number of the man’s key strengths, but does it amount to his complete mantra? We doubt it.


Steve Jobs once wrapped up Apple’s success in this simple statement: “I think we’re having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we’re always trying to do better.” Like Branson and Harvey, Jobs wasn’t frightened of hard work, because to him work was fun. Sure there is a large measure of commitment in trying to do better, but again, is trying harder the secret formula? Or was his point more about being customer-centric, by placing customers at the heart of the business? Was that his formula for success?


Apple has become one of the world’s most powerful brands, consistently ranking in the global top three. Ironically it was a golfing entrepreneur, Greg Norman, who suggested that his success was about the brand. He argued that “our success is a direct result of knowing how to market a brand and having the right people representing the brand.”


No argument there from the brand strategists, but again, we question whether this is his complete formula for success.


John Ilhan, the founder of Crazy Johns who tragically passed away at 42, argued that his success was in the numbers: “It’s a very tough market. So unless you do a really good job, you buy the right products from the manufacturers, you service the customer, they keep coming back, they bring their friends in, it’s all about the numbers, numbers, numbers.” Ilhan also talked about customer service and sound purchasing practices, but at the end of the day was Ilhan’s success about volume, or something else?


Phillip Di Bella’s formula for entrepreneurial success connects with each of the touch-points I have already described, but then it adds an intriguing dimension. Phillip holds a bachelor degree and has been appointed an adjunct professor in entrepreneurship at Griffith University. He is very proud of both achievements, but Phillip is probably the furthest thing from an academic that you will ever find.


He is largely self-taught and has a voracious appetite for knowledge. He consumes books on business philosophy, leadership and trust, books about self-achievers, successful men and women in all walks of life. He reads them, takes from them what he believes adds value to his own needs and then discards them. Time is always the enemy, and to satisfy his appetite he has taken to audio-books in a big way. I gave him a hard-back copy of Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson as a must read, and he quipped back, “do you have the audio book?”


Regardless of the medium, Phillip Di Bella is a voracious consumer of ideas and better ways to kick goals. He acknowledges the people who have mentored and guided him, and the ideas that inspire him. He has never arrogantly assumed that he has all the answers. But he has a natural talent for lining up all the ducks in a row so they make sense.


Some of the most successful formulas in the world have been discovered by accident. One element accidently mixed with another creates an explosion, and dynamite is discovered. Biologists introduce three cells to each other on a petri dish, a shallow cylindrical dish used for experiments, and nothing happens. A fourth cell is introduced, and suddenly the first cell teams up with the second and third and together they begin eating the fourth, and a powerful medical discovery is made. Without the fourth, the first three have a function, but it is not enough to create a new function. Introduce the final part to the formula and the dynamic becomes a world beater. The formula for intelligent entrepreneurship works the same way.


Imagine if you will a Venn diagram that lays out for you the formula for entrepreneurial success. The simplicity of a Venn diagram as a series of interconnecting circles on the same plane works well for this purpose. Each circle represents a key part of the formula, while the overlaps connect the parts to each other and reinforce the connectivity between all the parts.


In our Venn diagram there are three fundamental parts of the Entrepreneurial Intelligence Formula, three things all successful entrepreneurs appear to demonstrate consistently. The three parts can be summarised easily with three simple words: Vision, Passion and Brand.


Vision is the foundation on which every great entrepreneur will build their success. Not some warm and fuzzy vision statement that you often see on the walls of self-important and self-obsessed corporations, talking about integrity, honesty and the American way. What we’re talking about is the ability of an individual to define a purpose, a goal, a personal agenda, or even a legacy that they want to achieve, and then be able to share that vision with others so that it grows. In its simplest, purest form, vision refers to a future place that every successful entrepreneur can see clearly in their head. This vision must be powerful enough to arouse and sustain the entrepreneur’s motivation and to drive the actions necessary for it to become a reality.


When Phillip Di Bella accepted Jan Power’s invitation to sell coffee at the Farmers’ Markets he was deliberately stepping away from his primary customers, but he was not forsaking the vision he had spelled out for himself. Key to that vision was a customer experience that he could control, one which was not driven by the vagaries and discounting mentality of the mass retail sector. For that reason there were no supermarkets or convenience stores in Phillip’s vision, and there still aren’t. Phillip’s focus was to build a strategy around opportunities for the most discerning consumers to experience, to delight in, and then to share what Phillip describes as “the ultimate coffee experience”.


In the beginning, the only way he was prepared to guarantee that experience was through the best quality restaurants and the most fashionable and trendsetting cafes, the owners of which were also entrepreneurs, men and women who were equally concerned about the satisfaction of their customers’ experience.