At 19, while still a student at Bond Uni, Nick Pearce jumped into the deep end and started Blackboard Coffee, calling his opening day, as an official entrepreneur, ‘F*cking scary!’ StartUp Creative caught up with Nick to chat about all things business.
So how many businesses are you running these days Nick?
Griffith St Larder, Larder Burleigh Waters, Blackboard Coffee & Blackboard Coffee Roasters.
Age when you started?
I opened Blackboard 5 days after my 19th birthday.
Why did you open a coffee shop?
Hah, I asked myself the same question for about the first 6 months! There was just a wide, gaping hole screaming out for someone to do something better on the GC: real coffee, made by real farmers, served by real people. I had the skills to make coffee, and the rest I worked out along the way… and still am! I have a genuine love for being hospitable, so for me, doing that on a daily basis is a dream job.
What has been the key to your success?
I love what I do. I’ve also a strong support network of family and friends.
And surviving failure. Naturally at 19 you think you know everything, but you learn that you don’t, and you can’t always do it on your own. Treat failure as a learning tool - adapt quickly and then move forward. Success is a funny concept because in my eyes it is always just at arms length… as a team, we are constantly chipping away at what ‘success’ looks like on a customer by customer basis. You feel great when you get that hand written note or email saying your team transformed someone’s day through a hospitality experience. That’s the real success.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Just getting started - taking that initial plunge, particularly at 19, was fucking scary! There is no other way to put it. On opening day I felt completely vulnerable. I don’t think I slept for 2 days. Then I realised that the worst-case-scenario really wasn’t that bad, as long as you’re comfortable failing admirably! I also realised that with the right approach, resources, team and execution, my business was this amazing journey that I never would’ve had without starting.
Do you have a mentor? If so, what do you look for in a mentor?
You could say I have many different kinds of mentor. I don’t look for that ‘perfect person’, but I choose to remain open to information and things that make sense to me. I actively surround myself with positive people who care for others, and disengage with those who don’t. Different thoughts, approaches and ideas resonate with you at different times, and it’s all about finding that catalyst to spark your enjoyment and purpose. My catalyst at the moment is my running trainer! Running is really making me approach things differently and reducing the irrelevant white noise.
I heard a story about you in a Bond lecture: you quit your business degree to start your business. Is that story true?
Quit is a strong word! I’m on an extended sabbatical. Haha! I’m not a big fan of quitting, or that ‘you don’t need Uni to be a success’ thing. Whether your education is through Uni coursework or a work-place, both can provide resources for you to execute your plan. I’ve one subject remaining to complete my Bachelor of Business. I hate homework but I love studying and being exposed to new information or ways of looking at things. It’s good exercise for your brain. But I do tend to disengage with things that don’t hold my attention, and I devote all my time to the things that do, and this is reflected in my grades versus my life.
Blackboard used to be 1/3 of the size it is now. How did you know when the right time to expand was?
My goal has always been to make people happy: customers, staff, suppliers. We had taken Blackboard to it’s attainable happiness in the space we were in, and to make our customers and team happier, we needed more space. What I didn’t realise was that it would be like starting the business over again, but with bigger challenges.
Where do you find inspiration?
In anything that’s made with care, attention, precision, craft or just has a really nice story. When we opened, I was too focussed on taking the approach of ‘those guys do this the best, so we must do it like them.’ Now we try to look for inspiration through innovation, trialling, and throwing ideas to our team to see what comes back. Originality is essential if you want to push the boundaries.
What’s the hardest thing about being in business?
Executing a balance between personal wants or ideas in terms of direction, and on-the-ground-reality of what the business really needs on a daily basis.
What do you look for when hiring for your team?
People with a magnetic personality and a zest for life. A passion for progression but most importantly, they should enjoy making people happy consistently, with care.
How do you find running 4 businesses? Do you sleep?
Haha, I love sleep! Sleeping would be in my top, favourite activities. I need a good nights rest and tend to go to bed at grand-dad hours, like at 8 or 9. You have to learn to trust people, or you will never sleep with a small business.
What’s it like juggling your personal and business life? I bet your partner has to be super supportive!
Soph is a legend and I love her to death. We’ve been together for 3 years, and in that time I have definitely tested her patience! I’m literally the worst at saying ‘I’ll only be half an hour!’ and I’ll end up taking hours, half a day, or forgetting completely that she’s waiting for me in the car!
In terms of balance… we have an amazing team now, including my business partner Marc. The team allows us to work on exciting ventures and to take time to recharge our batteries to have more energy to give.
Can you tell us about a time when things didn’t go to plan and how you overcame it?
Haha! Which time would you like to know about? A pivotal moment was just over 18 months ago. I was struggling with hospitality fatigue. I felt I was going at a hundred k’s an hour but getting nowhere and having a hard time executing what I felt our standards needed to be. That might seem petty, but to anyone that’s been there, you feel like there is no way out except to quit or sell. Quitting isn’t my thing, so I decided to look for a head chef to help deal with my growing frustrations. Everything changed through an Instagram conversation with Marc Kinvig, a chef in New Zealand. He’s now my business partner. We hit it off instantly, and he understood our potential as a team. He helped reignite that passion I was missing. We make a great team, and often a chaotic one because we get excited about ideas or direction.
What are your top 5 tips for young people starting out?
1. You need purpose: Ask yourself WHY.
2. Become mates with failure and accept it will happen.
3. Start small, or test your idea on everyone.
4. Get feedback.
5. It’s not about you - it’s about your customer.