DJ’s advice for succeeding in business is to “trust your instincts, then work your ass off.” This is advice he seems to have taken himself as both of his business ventures since university have been a success.
DJ and his co-founders came through the Melbourne Accelerator Program in 2013 where they built their first company and a hardware device – Palette – through crowdfunding.
Palette’s aim was to digitise colour and capitalise on the fact that most paint sales were happening offline, which seemed odd in a such a digital age. Cube, Palette’s hardware device, was designed to scan and sample colours all over the world. It’s now used in 66 countries.
From this venture, DJ wanted to go further in transforming the paint industry. The co-founders had been disappointed by the lack of uptake from paint retailers in using Cube, and found their reluctance to use technology frustrating.
They took the idea for Tint – their own direct-to-consumer paint company – to Palette’s board and decided to create the brand from there.
Tint allows customers to capture any colour in any environment, view it live on their walls using AR in the app, and then order online.
We spoke to DJ further about his paint-tech entrepreneurial journey, their response to the coronavirus pandemic, the benefits of having co-founders and much more.
Can you tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur so far, starting with the launch of your first company – Pallette – in 2013? How did it all begin for you?
My first company Palette was born out of a University project. My co-founders and I came through the Melbourne Accelerator Program in 2013, where we were able to build on the project to create Palette.
Palette’s aim is to digitise colour and enable users to measure, match, visualise, and be inspired by colour everywhere. To achieve this, we created our first hardware device called the swatchmate.
We crowdfunded and raised $1M to develop our initial hardware.
Palette has to date sold more than 50,000 colour sampling devices in 66 countries around the world. Each month through Palette devices, we collect over 100,000+ data points relating to colours scanned around the globe. This allows us to see colour trends in real time as they emerge, and to identify colour preferences based on locations as well as seasonal changes.
The technology that drives Palette is leveraged by other brands, and we’ve been fortunate to supply our technology to companies such as Disney and Apple.
With the experience that we’ve gained recently through the launch of Tint, we’ll also be able to assist companies in a similar position to disrupt other industries through technology.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business, or was it something that you fell into?
I always wanted to build something I was proud of, and at least in my case that meant starting a business to create the opportunities to work on something great. Now I get to work with an amazing team who multiply the “coolness” of what I get to work on and that motivates me even more. It’s hard for me to imagine getting that same buzz working for someone else, so I guess I’ve made myself unemployable!
You launched Tint just a few months ago. How has the business been impacted by COVID-19 and how have you dealt with these changes in order to survive/thrive?
The environment around COVID-19 is evolving rapidly. Lots of retail stores have ceased operating or are preemptively closing to maintain the best social distancing practices. As a purely online retailer we are still able to fulfil orders and support our customers with their needs.
As Australians are spending more time indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, they’re turning to DIY home renovations and tapping into creative and economical ways to make their immediate environments more enjoyable.
We’ve seen sales surge tenfold since social distancing measures were introduced, and our direct-to-consumer model means consumers are able to stay at home, receive their online order via contactless delivery, and safely makeover their space, as our paints are vegan and 99% VOC free, meaning they’re low odour and it’s safe to stay indoors while the paint dries.
A huge part of being able to support our customers at this time is our supply chain. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle for online retailers. For now, we’re able to dispatch our goods via courier and offer contactless delivery. For businesses looking to transition online, it’s key to really think through the logistics of fulfilment, as they can actually be quite intricate and distribution is often challenging. The logistics of supply will also include packaging, order management, tracking parcels and how you share delivery communications with your customer. It can be hard to turn these aspects of a business on overnight, so it’s worth making preparations in advance.
Where did the idea for Tint come from?
After years of collecting colour data with Palette, we realised there was a huge opportunity to transform the paint industry, because only 1% of global paint sales are online.
After we released a world-first piece of tech that lets you walk up to a colour and record it instantly, we had made choosing colour a hell of a lot easier. But we noticed a big barrier in the way of what should be a smooth process: customers still had to go to a store to buy their paint – pretty inconvenient for this day and age, right?
As a tech-first company, we wanted to make the process even simpler and move it all online.
We initially took our technology to incumbents in the paint industry, but were frustrated when they were reluctant to move their paint sales online for fear of disrupting their existing businesses.
So we took our idea to our board and decided to create our own direct to consumer paint brand – which became Tint.
We see a clear path forward to create a better experience for home renovations, professional painters, architects, interior designers and specifiers. By focusing on the customer, we’ve been able to redesign virtually every step in how people shop for paint. Through Tint, we are able to take the pain out of paint and transform it into a happy, joyful and fun experience.
We launched Tint in December 2019, with our first range of 70 curated colours including our launch collaboration with Pantone. Tint’s curated range of 70 colours was selected after analysing over 1 million colours captured by Palette users from around the world, giving us an unprecedented insight into global colour trends.
We’re on track to capture $2M in sales this year as people increasingly look for an online alternative to visiting stores and responding to the great experience they’re having with Tint.
How much have you managed to raise for Tint?
We’ve raised $3M in funding to date. Our most recent round of $1M closed at the end of 2019 and helped us to establish Tint.
We’ve continually been supported by existing investors as we’ve expanded the vision and potential for the business, and added amazing new strategic investors to support the business at each stage.
The business is now well positioned to expand broadly with Tint and our technology solutions business with Palette.
What are the pros and cons of co-founding, in your opinion?
Having collaborators by your side in the trenches from day one is invaluable and almost universally leads to better outcomes. It’s very hard for any one person to have the right set of skills needed to crack a new opportunity, or to persevere through the many challenges that you’ll face along the way.
How do you see the near future panning out for Tint?
The market response to Tint has really validated our assumptions that a compelling online-only offer can deliver an amazing customer experience that is years ahead of the messy process of buying paint the old way. It’s also been really invigorating to see the way our customers are using our products to transform their spaces and bring colour and a little joy into their homes through this time.
Painting is one of the savviest ways to improve your space, so we look forward to being part of the transformation of Australian homes through premium, sustainable paint and a seamless customer experience.
And it’s long-term plan?
We’ve got an amazing pipeline of projects and collaborations for Tint underway, and we’re moving forward with our plans to provide same-day paint delivery across Australia and expand on our product offering. The opportunity here is to grow Tint into a “household name” for customers who don’t want to leave their house.
Finally, what have your experiences so far taught you about founding successful businesses?
Trust your instincts, then work your ass off.