Australian entrepreneur Martin Martinez has recently unveiled Entrepreneur Card – a membership and rewards based programme dedicated to entrepreneurs and SMEs. Based on the US organisation Founders Card, the programme offers access to networking opportunities with well-established entrepreneurs and business leaders, as well as exclusive benefits and privileges from local brands in the travel, accommodation, lifestyle and dining industries, to name a few.
Martinez has been involved in 10 businesses throughout his career, including the Australian Poker League, which he founded and grew to a $50-million-a-year company in just three years, before selling it to WIN in 2009. But earlier this year, when Martinez was running six different companies, his wife asked him a favour. Expecting to give birth in June, she asked Martinez to spend less time being a super entrepreneur, and spend more time with the family.
“I stepped back from running those companies because I love my wife, and I was getting run down anyway. But stepping away completely wasn’t going to be easy, so my wife said ‘I’ll let you run one company, but make it a good one!” says Martinez.
At the time, Entrepreneur Card was already on his wishlist. What he noticed while he was running multiple companies was that there were various forms of support for early stage startups (the little guys) and large corporations (the big guys), but not for the middle guys. There were no services tailored to the needs of SMEs delivering between $1 million to $20 million of revenue every year.
“There are a lot of programmes helping startup founders get their businesses off the ground; and on the other end of the spectrum, big corporations are being looked after because of the volume of business they drive,” says Martinez.
“SMEs are a lost bunch. Nobody is servicing them, and that’s where Entrepreneur Card comes in.”
Entrepreneur Card aims to fill this gap in the market, so that SMEs can receive the same preferential rates brands offer to their corporate clients.
“We want to take care of our members’ travel arrangements – such as booking accommodation and business class trips at discounted corporate rates,” says Martinez.
“We’re also partnering with local companies including spas, gyms, wine clubs, airlines, car rentals and many more.”
Launching officially in March 2014, Martinez is in the process of building a robust schedule of events for members. But rather than hosting conferences and conventions, Entrepreneur Card will be offering social events.
“We just want them to have fun. We’re organising drive days with luxury car brands; and there will be recreational activities such as golfing, sailing, harbour cruises and even group trips to different locations across the country,” says Martinez.
The purpose of Entrepreneur Card is to emulate, for the most part, the successful US programme Founders Card, but tailor it to the Australian market. Martinez, who’s a member of the Founders Card approached the founder of the organisation Eric Khun earlier in the year, encouraging him to expand the programme into Australia. After learning that they weren’t ready to go global, Martinez decided to build an entirely separate Australian version of the programme.
Entrepreneur Card will be a ‘by invitation only’ programme, as Martinez wants to ensure “high quality, rather than quantity, of members; we’re foregoing growth for quality”. Potential members will be carefully vetted before the programme launches officially next year.
But what does quality mean in this context? Martinez stresses it’s not about being “pompous” or “arrogant”.
“Top brands don’t provide corporate rates to anybody, they want value customers. While we want to be accessible, we need to establish a policy,” he says.
“Also, we want to make sure, particularly for our networking events, that we don’t have the type of member that comes in just to pitch their business to every Tom and Harry in the room. We’re trying to be exclusive to some degree, and it’s going to be a balancing act on an on-going basis.
“But the underlying goal is to connect great entrepreneurs with each other and with great brands.”
The vetting process is three-pronged. At the moment, Martinez is processing applications made via www.entrepreneurcard.com.au. Assessment is based on type of company, annual revenue, and scope.
“Although the programme is targeted towards the individual not the company, the company is the backbone of the entrepreneur’s success,” says Martinez.
“At the moment, it’s a light application process where people share some personal information so we can add them to our database. When we launch officially, it will be more comprehensive. They will also be describing how they can add value to the community.”
He acknowledges that it will be hard to push people away if they’re putting in the effort, but the plan is to keep the ‘wantrepreneurs’ out “because they just talk the talk, and don’t walk the walk.”
“I’d rather have less customers that are happy, and will be members for a long time, if not for life, than have ‘wantrepreneurs’ come in and annoy the other members, who just cancel their membership,” says Martinez.
“I never like to bite the hand that feeds me. I rather have a long-term valuable member who really enjoys our events and offers.”
Martinez is also approaching entrepreneurs who he feels would add value to the community; and approved members will be able to invite others who won’t have to undergo the application process.
What about startups who could do with a benefit or two? Martinez says startup founders are usually putting every cent in their pockets into their business, and don’t get to reap the benefits of their success until later on.
“Whereas well-established SMEs have a little more time for themselves, and more money to spend on leisure activities. So the program is more suitable to that market,” says Martinez.
Interestingly, Entrepreneur Card is based on the ‘subscription as a service’ model. There’s a joining fee of $125 and a yearly fee of $495.
“We don’t collect any fees from any of our participating partners. We vet them just as much as we vet our members. The only expectation we have is for the partner is to put their best foot forward and bring in attractive offers to our members. We don’t need to get paid for that because it’s all about value,” says Martinez.
With such low costs, how will they make money? Martinez admits it’s a “million dollar question”. He stresses that Entrepreneur Card was driven by two main motivations: offering a service that Martinez himself eagerly wanted in Australia; and secondly, the programme is his way of giving back to the entrepreneurial community he so thrives in.
That’s not to say that money is irrelevant. Rather, Martinez is, first and foremost, focused on creating something exciting and worthwhile for his members.
“I’m looking at offering web and mobile applications for our members to not only see the benefits, but redeem them. I think there will be monetisation opportunities there. And once we’ve secured our partners, we feel that the costs will be quite manageable. It won’t require a huge amount of resources to run the business,” says Martinez.
We’re also going to offer travel concierge programmes, so there might be revenue opportunities there as well. With our corporates rates, which are much more attractive than internet discount rates, we might be able to have some margins there. But we haven’t really explored that yet.”
In typical ‘Martin Martinez’ fashion, Entrepreneur Card is entirely bootstrapped. When he believes in an idea, he puts his money where his mouth is.
“I prefer to invest my own money, and the reward is much greater that way. Besides, my motto has always been ‘if you see a successful model overseas, bring to Australia, and localise the product or service’. This minimises risk,” he says.
Martinez is aiming to have 2,500 members within one year, 5,000 to 10,000 within three years, and 20,000 to 25,000 members within five years.
The biggest challenge he foresees is managing perceptions.
“It’s going to be hard not to come across as arrogant. Perception is very important. But there are about 2 million SMEs in Australia, and we only expect a fraction of them to come on board. Hopefully with the members we do gain, they’ll be extremely satisfied with the privileges that are usually only available to high level network individuals or corporates,” he says.
In terms of marketing, Martinez will be advertising Entrepreneur Card on LinkedIn – the largest professional social network in the world, and one of easiest ways to reach entrepreneurs.
“LinkedIn is the right social media platform for us. While Facebook and Twitter are great platforms, they’re not necessarily suitable for finding the best customers, especially given that we’re looking at partnering with associations and groups such as Chamber of Commerce that have large databases of entrepreneurs. They could provide our products and services to their members as an extension of what they offer or in addition to what they offer,” says Martinez.
As an avid public speaker, Martinez also feels that opportunities will come for him to extend an offer and invitation to the right audience of entrepreneurs at conferences and other speaking events.
Throughout the vigorous process of building the programme (which is yet to be finished), Martinez says his greatest achievement has been creating a service where everybody wins.
“There are no losers. Members are going to be looked after. Our partners have nothing to lose, because there’s no cost to them. And I’m happy if everybody else is happy. It’s a triple win situation,” he adds.
Interested entrepreneurs can submit applications via www.entrepreneurcard.com.au.