CEO of Ama­zo­nia Dwayne Martens

The jour­ney, rather than the des­ti­na­tion, is what mat­ters most for a young “su­per foods” en­tre­pre­neur

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS - STORY DEB­O­RAH LIGHT

Dwayne Martens could be a walk­ing ad­ver­tise­ment for what he sells. He’s lean and clear-eyed, his face un­lined. He also spouts an al­most evan­gel­i­cal knowl­edge and be­lief in the health food and sup­ple­ments that have made his com­pany a suc­cess in less than a decade. Martens drinks turmeric tea while he talks. His fash­ion­able fuzz is com­ple­mented with a re­cently ac­quired Bali tan and he’s turned out in a sharp-cut jacket, T-shirt, ca­sual pants and run­ners, a cor­po­rate en­sem­ble that seems in­creas­ingly favoured in the young en­tre­pre­neur ranks of which, of course, he’s one.

Martens is founder, ma­jor share­holder and CEO of Ama­zo­nia, de­scribed as a su­per foods com­pany that now sells over 40 prod­ucts via three brands at­tract­ing sales of over $1 mil­lion a month, here and over­seas. The ven­ture has at­tracted many plau­dits, in­clud­ing a re­cent Telstra busi­ness award, but it hasn’t been easy go­ing, he’ll tell you, in­clud­ing a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence that took a lot of front, not to men­tion shoe leather, to sur­vive.

Like most en­trepreneurs, Martens started small. Aged 22, he punted a $3000 in­her­i­tance to buy out a stock of freeze-dried ex­otic fruits from a mate. “The pack­ag­ing was still in Por­tuguese,” he shakes his head with the mem­ory. “There were all these ran­dom weird fruits and I had no real idea of what they were. I tried to sell them to cafes and they didn’t want them. So I was like, OK, how am I go­ing to get rid of them? I had to find some­thing to do with them and that’s why I opened a juice bar.”

Martens be­gan mak­ing fruit smooth­ies at mar­kets and mu­sic fes­ti­vals in Western Aus­tralia be­cause, truth was, he had no op­tion but to go out and flog the stuff him­self. That said, it was lib­er­at­ing. “It’s a beau­ti­ful thing when you’re in a small busi­ness. I was young, I had no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, I could just go for it.” Bet­ter still: “I got in the game. I started to do busi­ness. I started learn­ing and this busi­ness has taught me so much.”

As it hap­pened, one of the ex­otic fruits he was flog­ging was acai, a berry on the crest of a su­per food wave; a won­der fruit fea­tured on the likes of the Oprah Win­frey pro­gram. Full of an­tiox­i­dants, it was touted for anti-age­ing prop­er­ties, weight loss, en­ergy, sex drive and more. Be­fore long, Martens and his part­ner, friend Chris Nor­den, were rid­ing that wave.

“We went from zero to hero in a very short space of time,” Martens re­mem­bers. But there were plenty of others rid­ing the acai wave and, as it turned out, many weren’t sell­ing the real deal. “There were a lot of scams on the web. You opened these acai tablets and it doesn’t look like acai, not even the colour. They weren’t de­liv­er­ing what they promised. All the bad pub­lic­ity comes about so here we are hero and the next minute we are zero again.”

Slowly they re­built cred­i­bil­ity. “For us acai was do­ing re­ally well. We ac­tu­ally had a re­ally good prod­uct and I still think it’s one of our best.” Martens had tried it him­self, as you’d ex­pect. “At 22 I thought I was healthy. I’d been run­down, got a lit­tle bit of phlegm and I was con­stantly get­ting the flu, but I thought I was do­ing all right. I start tak­ing this prod­uct and it opens my eyes to a higher level of qual­ity liv­ing. I had more en­ergy and I didn’t get sick. It’s, oh wow! This is why I got so en­thu­si­as­tic. Health is a jour­ney of self-aware­ness and I wanted to share this.” That en­thu­si­asm was also fu­elled by the kick Martens was get­ting out of his new ven­ture. “I had pur­pose. I was pas­sion­ate as well. There were a num­ber of things com­ing to­gether.”

That happy bub­ble burst with the Bris­bane floods of 2011. Nearly $1 mil­lion of Ama­zo­nia’s stock was ru­ined – not that any­one knew it at the time. Pal­lets had been moved above the flood line so the team be­lieved their stock had been saved.

It was not to be. Without air con­di­tion­ing dur­ing the in­un­da­tion, the goods had turned ran­cid. “The prob­lem was, we sent it out to the mar­ket­place be­fore we re­alised.” Sud­denly, the com­pany’s hard-won cred­i­bil­ity was crip­pled. Nor did in­sur­ance make up for the losses, Martens says, be­cause it ap­plied only when a storm came from above. Then came an­other blow: their woes were com­pounded by the fore­clo­sure of one of their debtors, a large re­tail out­let. “These guys owed us a lot of money. We learned from that not to ex­tend credit and we got in­cred­i­bly strict on our ac­counts after that.” The Ama­zo­nia em­ploy­ees were let go.

“Here I’d been think­ing, ‘This is too easy.’ Hon­estly, back in the day I was too cocky for my own good. Now I thought, ‘This is it; it’s the end.’ ” On the brink of in­sol­vency, Martens ral­lied. “I put on some sneak­ers and went on the road and vis­ited as many of my cus­tomers as I could. I rang them. I ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to them and that, for me and Chris, was a big thing. We said, we’re so sorry, this is what hap­pened and peo­ple un­der­stood. They gave us a break.”

On what he learned from the dis­as­ter Martens re­flects: “The big­gest les­son was that it’s not about the busi­ness, it’s about the jour­ney. I had en­joyed the whole jour­ney to that point. I wouldn’t have done any­thing dif­fer­ent. Don’t get me wrong, I have goals and I need to set them. But what it taught me was to have a good time do­ing it; that I can’t be too fo­cused on the goals and for­get about the fun.”

Both Martens and Nor­den, who is a mi­nor­ity share­holder in com­pany, are self­taught in busi­ness. They learned by do­ing, says Martens. “I’ve been the ac­coun­tant, the de­liv­ery boy, the sales­per­son, the PR per­son and I’ve built my­self up. I’m not per­fect. The essence is open-mind­ed­ness to ac­cept opin­ions and ad­vice and the wis­dom to un­der­stand what is the right ad­vice, then the de­ci­sive­ness to act on that ad­vice.” Out­side pro­fes­sion­als play a big part, says Martens: “What I know is how to find peo­ple that know.” The pair also closely mon­i­tor ef­fec­tive­ness among their 30 or so staff. “The peo­ple are the brains trust of the busi­ness, they’re ev­ery­thing, but we have to be re­al­is­tic. This busi­ness is grow­ing and we need peo­ple per­form­ing. Ev­ery hu­man re­source is an in­vest­ment and we need a re­turn on in­vest­ment.”

De­spite the com­pany’s fast growth, Martens says there’s been no need to date for any out­side cap­i­tal. Trade and debtor fi­nance – where ac­counts re­ceiv­able act as col­lat­eral with the com­pany’s banks – keeps the busi­ness tick­ing over. They’ve be­come care­ful about spread­ing their ex­po­sure to cus­tomers, al­low­ing no one out­let to get above 25%, so as to lessen risk of an­other ma­jor de­fault by a debtor.

A univer­sity dropout, Martens had stud­ied health science, labour­ing to sup­port him­self on the way through. With his par­ents, he’d left their pig farm in South Africa, com­ing to Aus­tralia when Martens was 13. They man­aged a car­a­van park in re­gional Western Aus­tralia and Martens re­mem­bers his mum’s Tup­per­ware par­ties; she was the en­tre­pre­neur. As an out­sider, Martens got a hard time at school, but it wasn’t that bad, he shrugs: “It was just kids be­ing kids. It was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent so­cial sit­u­a­tion and I had to fit in again. I had to adapt. I go through my lone­li­ness and I go through my friend­ships. Some­times us en­trepreneurs get lonely, es­pe­cially peo­ple who put too much em­pha­sis on work. What hap­pens then is you’ve got noth­ing else. I love busi­ness and I’m go­ing to put a lot of en­ergy into it. But I’m proud that I’ve got in­cred­i­ble bal­ance. I’ve got a lot of close friends who don’t view me by how much money I make. I’ve got my health,” he says, grin­ning. “And I need that be­cause I’m in the health food busi­ness.”

Just on what he does with the money he now makes, Martens has just bought “a re­ally beau­ti­ful apart­ment” at Bondi Beach, a lifestyle he says he loves. “What money pro­vides for me is free­dom. What money has done is al­lowed me to say, Dwayne, do what you love, be­cause sur­vival is not as much of an is­sue any more.” Seek­ing that bal­ance each day, he’ll swim, or watch a sun­set, do yoga. What he doesn’t do is get trashed. “I don’t need to drink. I’m not say­ing never’s never, I just freakin’ want to be on top of the game and feel great.”

What ad­vice would Dwayne Martens have for a younger Dwayne Martens, just start­ing out, young and naive? He thinks for a bit. “Just don’t get too caught up in it; that you have to make this work. Keep that open mind. When you hold onto some­thing too tightly, you don’t get it in the end be­cause it’s too much of a big deal.”

“I’ve got a lot of friends who don’t view me by how much I make”

Self-taught ... Martens has been the busi­ness’s ac­coun­tant, de­liv­ery boy and sales­per­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.