Not everybody would have left a steady corporate job to go work at their brother’s startup at the height of the global financial crisis, but for Marc Levin, the time seemed right.
Levin, along with his younger brother Jason, runs Jason L, a company providing other startups and small to medium businesses with office furniture. The business was born in 2009 when Jason finished university and struggled to find work as a consultant. As their father in the furniture business, Jason went to work with him in a sales role. Having put himself through university by buying various items and then selling them on eBay, he decided to use this experience to start his own website. His brother Marc decided to join.
“My dad owned a business for most of his life, so my interest was always more towards business and the commercial side. After five years or so at PwC, I got an itch to do something else…I wanted to take on more of an entrepreneurial style of business, and at the time the opportunity was right,” Levin explains.
Having borrowed money to get the website up and running, the brothers didn’t have the funding to purchase their own stock in the early days and operated online only. However, the brothers soon saw that customer demand was growing and decided to begin purchasing their own stock and open a showroom.
Levin says they simply listened to what customers wanted. “When you’re an SMB or startup, you don’t say no to sales. At the time, if anyone wanted something, we would just tell them to come in and have a chat, and as the business progressed and we listened to the customers, it lended itself more and more to a service-oriented office furniture solution.”
As well as the showroom, Jason L has now introduced a project management service, which provides SMBs with a complete office fit out.
Jason L was named one of Australia’s fastest growing businesses on the BRW Fast 100 list last year, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. If he could go back and do anything differently, Levin says he would be more wary when it came to marketing the business.
“We wasted a lot of money through the years in trying to market ourselves. We probably spent about $30,000 on a radio campaign that we feel we had no return on. If we had to do it over, I don’t think we’d try all the different things, but just focus on online.”
The business also found itself behind when Google changed its ranking algorithm, leading the brothers to rebrand the business to create a more sophisticated and professional brand image, allowing them to market the business offline in more traditional ways.
Working with his brother can also present some challenges.
“Every time we’re out being social or at the dinner table it tends to be like a board meeting, or a meeting that just happens to include our wives or our parents; it’s hard to switch off from work when it’s a family business,” Levin says.
Of course, there are some advantages, too. “My brother and I are very different so we handle different parts of the business. He manages sales, marketing, and the online side, while I’m much more financial and operations driven. The joke we always make is that he sells the product and I make sure he doesn’t give it away for free.”