In a slight twist to the normal vlog where I get to interview some of the best in startups, entrepreneurs, small businesses & large corporates… today I got interviewed by Startup Melbourne.
I look forward to helping and making an impact where I can.
Other Startup Melbourne Interviews
I feel like Kristen & I are cut from the same cloth. Hard worker, always looking out for the best interest of the startup community and someone who’s wanting to give back at all times.
We have a great working relationship but more importantly to me, I call him a mate.
Monika Tantau: We’re here today with Tobi Skovron, the creator of CreativeCubes, the newest co-working space to hit Cremorne. This place is awesome.
Tobi Skovron: Thank you.
Monika Tantau: So good. I love the hustle sign. Are you a hustler?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah. I think it’s optically it’s great, but the intention behind the hustle sign is to basically set a cadence for the action and activity within the building. In other words, we don’t want people coming in here and just kind of relaxing.
We want people actually out there hustling, not necessarily out in the bigger world, but out here every day. When they walk into the four walls, walk within the four walls, it’s time to hustle, it’s time to make business happen.
Monika Tantau: Make it happen.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, that’s where the hustle sign plays relevance.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, cool. Before we talk more about CreativeCubes, you spent the last eight and half years living in LA and Silicon Valley. I want to talk a bit about that, but let’s take it back even further. Where did you grow up?
Tobi Skovron: I grew up in Sydney, in Bondi.
Monika Tantau: Amazing.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah. I moved to Melbourne in 2003. My girlfriend at the time who’s now my wife and mother of my kids, she says, “Tobes, come to Melbourne for six months.” We were doing the Sydney Melbourne thing. “Come to Melbourne for six months. I’ll finish my degree.” I go to Sydney for six months. And then we’ll work out, one, if the relationship is viable, almost like a minimum viable product, and two, we’ll work out if we’re going to live in Sydney or Melbourne. The six months ended up being six years.
Monika Tantau: Wow.
Tobi Skovron: And then after that in 2009 we moved to Los Angeles.
Monika Tantau: Yeah?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah.
Monika Tantau: Awesome. Were your parents entrepreneurs?
Tobi Skovron: My dad was, yeah, insanely large entrepreneur.
Monika Tantau: Cool.
Tobi Skovron: Unfortunately he’s no longer with us.
Monika Tantau: Sorry to hear that.
Tobi Skovron: He passed away when I was a young kid. But I remember the stuff that was impressed on me as a kid was never verbal. It was when I’d walk out of my bedroom, my dad had all these accolades and awards that were like mounted on the wall.
So when I walked from my bedroom to the bathroom, you’re overwhelmed with the amount of success that he had from an entrepreneurial perspective that I guess indirectly the backwards and forwards, bathroom return shaped me. It really did. There’s no other way to describe where I’m at today. That’s just the way it was.
Monika Tantau: It’s a cool story. Did you know from that young age that you always wanted to …
Tobi Skovron: No.
Monika Tantau: No?
Tobi Skovron: No. In fact, I suppressed it for a long time because back in I guess the ’90s which seems like so long ago. Funny, I booked a flight for my daughter, side story, and I entered her date of birth of 2012.
Monika Tantau: Oh yeah, that like freaks me out.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, I think back in the ’90s like when I went to school, all my friends became lawyer or doctors. I tried to be a doctor. I studied podiatry of all things, and realised after three and a half years that it really wasn’t for me. The Eureka moment or the true realisation was when I moved to Melbourne and Sam, my wife, had said to me, “Tobes, we just need a patch of backyard on our balcony.”
Monika Tantau: Bang.
Tobi Skovron: The light went on and I almost had for almost 10 years an out-of-body experience where I just kind of was in awe of what I was doing, but I’d never been taught, I’d never been shown how, I’d never been educated to do all these things that I was doing. That’s when I realised that I’m now embracing that true of who I really, am and I’m an entrepreneur and I need to walk this path in life. Say 16, 17 years later we’re here [crosstalk 00:04:20] CreativeCubes.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, here we are. You’re talking about that, the patch of grass, that light bulb moment. So what happened next after you had that idea?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, again, it was an out-of-body experience. I developed the Pet Loo which is a reasonable success story. I think from an outsider looking in, it’s amazing success story.
Monika Tantau: Definitely.
Tobi Skovron: For me, I still am like on first base two ventures later. Pet Loo solved a huge problem for a lot of pets around the world. It’s kind of distributed in about 150 countries. The company that bought Pet Loo in 2013 is a world class organisation, PetSafe, and I had an amazing opportunity to spend some time working there post acquisition, and the people, some of the people, they’re still really, really good friends of mine today.
Monika Tantau: Awesome.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, Pet Loo was the first real Eureka I’m an entrepreneur, let’s go for this.
Monika Tantau: Cool. I wish we could have got like a demo in today.
Tobi Skovron: Oh, yeah.
Monika Tantau: Like a patch of grass and a dog showing the …
Tobi Skovron: Funnily enough we live in a house here in Melbourne and we don’t have a back … We have a backyard, but it’s a wood deck and then there’s a swimming pool. There’s no actual grass. So my wife’s like, “We need a Pet Loo,” I’m like, “We need a Pet Loo.”
Monika Tantau: We need a Pet Loo.
Tobi Skovron: Shit, I got to pay for retail. I don’t own the company anymore. So yeah.
Monika Tantau: Oh man. Cutting like …
Tobi Skovron: That’s it.
Monika Tantau: That’s it.
Tobi Skovron: I gave up those rights and privileges.
Monika Tantau: Supporting it, supporting it.
Tobi Skovron: Totally. And that’s, and it’s a pleasure to do so.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, awesome. Tell us a little bit about the growth of it.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah?
Monika Tantau: Yeah, when you, when you-
Tobi Skovron: It was painful, it really was.
Monika Tantau: Painful growth?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We grew really, really fast, and cash flow didn’t keep up. I was very fortunate in the early three, first three years of the business. I actually didn’t take a salary at all and I worked a second job and Sam worked a second job.
She actually worked at Pet Loo. My second job and her wage kind of kept us alive, which allowed us to build enough cash from sales into the business because it was really no overhead. Then in the third year we put on a general manager and put on a wholesales team and I went to the US. Wild story. Had about 300,000 Aussie dollars to invest in my US entity.
The day we decided to go the dollar was one for one, so it was a huge, huge leg up. The day I actually got there because you can’t just get there overnight, like literally you have to plan to take your business over there and it’s several months of planning, the day we decided to leave was one for one. The day we actually left and converted the dollar dived to 58 cents.
Monika Tantau: Oh no.
Tobi Skovron: So I was behind the black ball the whole time trying to catch up. We ate-
Monika Tantau: So how did you catch up?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, well, it was those early years that gave me enough of a runway to keep up, but in reality that still wasn’t enough. But in those early years I was fortunate enough to buy a house and put away some money into the mortgage.
Then over the next four, five years I basically drunk, not literally, but the business did, it drank all of that early success and all of that money that had come out to buy the house and all the rest of it. My mortgage grew to nearly $600,000.
Tobi Skovron: But it was a good growth because the business was ramping really nicely. In the end I didn’t have any investors. It was just me and Sam and when we sold the business, the business was debt-free, cash flow positive, and we owed no money to anyone. So the exit I didn’t have to pay any debts down or anything like that, which was …
Monika Tantau: What a story, yeah.
Tobi Skovron: It was the silver lining, but it was rough and rocky and we ate cereal for dinner. My wife actually, I catch her sometimes eating cereal every now and again after dinner.
Monika Tantau: I love that. That’s cool.
Tobi Skovron: I’m like, “Babe, we don’t have to do that anymore.” She’s like, “Yeah, but I …”
Monika Tantau: I just feel like cereal.
Tobi Skovron: No, no, and she’s like, “But you know, it just, it takes me.” Yeah, it’s very much still there.
Tobi Skovron: Zero to hero is very unrealistic. There’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes, and as an entrepreneur or as a founder or as someone who’s chasing their vision, you have to be all in. There is no shortcut. As someone that lives with their heart on their sleeve, I had no choice.
We pushed and made it a success, it was great story and I’m really proud of where it finished and I’m really proud of who’s running the ship there today. The guys at PetSafe are like world class, world renowned. So it’s all good.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, good piece of advice.
Monika Tantau: Then you co-founded Zingy pet?
Tobi Skovron: Mm-hmm.
Monika Tantau: In just 13 months you guys won the Silicon Badge 2015 Best Overall App and grew your community to over 23,000.
Tobi Skovron: 23,000.
Monika Tantau: Pet owners. How did you do that?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, that was a crazy wild ride. I had an amazing team. Schafer Stewart who’s still in Los Angeles, he and I weathered some really rough storms together, because you can’t just go from zero to hero without eating a lot of dirt. The team stayed focused. The leadership stayed focused. We grew. What the statistics that you don’t hear is we had 800 dog walkers on the platform, but we had 5700 apply.
We as an organisation actually called the applicants, trained them, educated them, kitted them out, really were very heavy on the process, but … Process? We’re in Australia. We were very heavy on the process, but we had tens of thousands of walks and every single one of those walks were five-star rated.
Monika Tantau: Like quality walks.
Tobi Skovron: Everything was five star.
Monika Tantau: That’s awesome.
Tobi Skovron: There was a lot of attention to detail. It wasn’t an easy business to run. It required a lot of capital and a lot of trust for people to, “Hey, yeah, I want to use your product, so I’d love you to walk my dog,” but then on the flip side of it, “I’ve got to give you my credit card details, I’ve got to give you my key to my house and I’m going to give my prized possession which my dog,” they’re three massive barriers which we overcame very successfully.
Monika Tantau: How did you overcome those barriers then?
Tobi Skovron: We weren’t a tech company. We were a pet company. That was a massive point of difference for other players in the space who were just tech entrepreneurs. They’re awesome, and I’ve got some amazing friends that are tech entrepreneurs.
But we came from the pet side. So instantaneously the credit based on my history being in the pet space for 10 years, or more than that, 12 years before, in addition to having PetSafe as a brand in support as a stakeholder in the company, we’re able to earn that credibility pretty quickly.
And then with execution, because the idea is great, but it’s all about the execution, the execution validated our position in the market and our customers were coming back somewhere between three and five times a week which was amazing.
Monika Tantau: Wow.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, it was amazing.
Monika Tantau: That’s awesome. Cool. Let’s talk a little bit about CreativeCubes. Why did you decide to build a co-working space?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, so part of the entrepreneurial journey I guess for some of your audience this would absolutely resonate and for some that are just sort of unsure if they want to jump in on a startup or leave the world of comfort to the dirt road, on that journey which I’ve been on for last sort of like 15 odd years, it’s very lonely. Don’t get me wrong. I have a beautiful wife, I have beautiful kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, amazing people around me. But none of them on a real basis really understood because they weren’t in the entrepreneurial journey themselves.
So I felt very lonely. I felt like the bigger world didn’t really understand the challenges that I was facing. We can joke about eating cereal or we can joke about not having enough money or this and the other, but I was really lonely on the journey.
Tobi Skovron: I actually moved into a co-working space in Los Angeles for a couple of reasons, but one of the main reasons was that the people even though I was running a pet business and I’m an entrepreneur in the pet space, the guy next to me was a tech. He was in the tech world. The girl next to me was running her PR agency. The person after that was running a digital marketing business. And all of them were going through the same struggles. So together we’d go for lunch or we’d go for breakfast or we would stay late at work and, “Hey, you want to grab a bite to eat,” come back and keep working.
Those conversations helped all of us together grow, and I think from the mathematical position one on one there was greater than two, meeting with all these people, like-minded people going through the same struggles. Being able to relate this person got through this with this person. Maybe this person can help you. It’s all happening under one roof.
Tobi Skovron: So for me early on in the journey none of these co-working spaces existed. After Zingy was finished I went down the family, I called up Andy who is my business partner here are CreativeCubes and I said, “Mate, let’s do this.”
Tobi Skovron: CreativeCubes is very much sort of like snippets of two, three, four dozen different co-working spaces that I experienced as a consumer in the United States in addition to our own flair of flavours such as MJ back here on the wall, the hustle side.
Monika Tantau: Oh yeah. Love it.
Tobi Skovron: Our own DNA is impregnated into these four walls. I started this to support. I really did. I’ve come back. I’ve come back to Australia. I recognise that we have some incredible talent here. I understand the barriers to entry as an entrepreneur. I understand the barriers to entry as a startup, the founders. I’ve got an idea. I don’t know if it’ll work. I get all of that.
So what I’ve done here is built out 1,500 square meters which has a capacity of 350 memberships or seats, whether it’s a hot desk, a dedicated space, or a private office for 2 to 10 people, it’s all about support, it’s all about community as the North Star, and we’ve got some incredible members that are coming through building that are craving this environment. And it’s here. I think it’s quite unique as well.
I think co-working on the broader scale exists, but I don’t think it exists to this level and it definitely doesn’t exist to the level of interest and detail that we are hyper focused on as a company.
Monika Tantau: And just talking a bit about the members that you have, of like already meeting so many cool people here today and everyone’s working on really cool things. When did you guys start? It was only like …
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, so this is … What’s today, Wednesday? So this is of trade it’s day 13.
Monika Tantau: Wow, crazy.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, but it’s been a long time coming.
Monika Tantau: You guys have a pitch night coming up?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah so, like we’ve got amazing … There’s some amazing companies that exist as membership, but there’s amazing companies that are in the ecosystem or the Melbourne and tech and startup ecosystem such as StartupVIC and MYOB which I think you’ve spoken to today that just want to support, that just want to help.
Tobi Skovron: The pitch night was a dinner that I went to with Georgia and Kristen was there from MYOB. I said, “I’d love to be able to give away some space,” understanding that we have serious overhead here and the spaces, there’s no shortcuts being taken in developing the space, “but I’d love to be able to support 8, 10, 12, 20 entrepreneurs,” and Kristen was like, “I’ll buy the seats. I’ll buy.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Let’s do this. Let’s run a pitch night and MYOB will pay for worthy entrepreneurs to have a space at CreativeCubes for 12 months.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s amazing.”
Monika Tantau: It’s awesome.
Tobi Skovron: So we’re going to give away mentoring and support as well as space, and then obviously the networking here is really, really high integrity. The three of us have put some pretty spectacular there. We’ve had north of 30 odd applicants. Unfortunately we only have seats for eight.
At least from the competition side of things, like those companies could always take up membership, and we’d do our part to help them out as best we could. But yeah, it’s really exciting, October 4 here upstairs in our event space.
Monika Tantau: Awesome.
Tobi Skovron: And we should see some pretty good talent.
Monika Tantau: And who’s on the panel for that?
Tobi Skovron: We have some pretty good talent. We unfortunately just lost Rachael Neumann due to a conflict, not …. A calendar conflict. She’s actually in Queensland on vacation and she didn’t realize. She committed to it and then she’s like, “I didn’t realize it was a school holidays.” That’s okay, but Rachael is an amazing tech entrepreneur. I’ve been following her for years. Or not years, probably a year on Twitter, and she’s now based in Melbourne which is incredible.
Monika Tantau: Cool, yeah.
Tobi Skovron: She was going to be on the panel. Georgia, Kristen, myself, and then we have Skye. Skye is the managing director of Mkt. Incredible PR firm out of Santa … I was going to say out of Santa Monica. Out of St Kilda, very different.
Monika Tantau: We’re in Australia now.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, yeah, I know. I keep doing that a little bit. Funny story. I was at dinner with two American friends. We’re starting another venture together which we could talk about another time, but we’re sitting there at dinner and we’re talking and I’m like American twang starts happening. We’re in Windsor, just to keep it real with everyone here. We’re in Windsor, and this girl comes to the … She goes, “Hey, can I help you?” I was like, “She’s got a strange accent. Where are you from?”
Monika Tantau: Oh no. Really?
Tobi Skovron: She as like, “I’m from here.” I was like, “Oh wow, wait, wait, okay. Sorry,” completely, I completely because I was talking with these two people who are from Los Angeles, and there’s some Australian, I’m not Australian, where are you …
Monika Tantau: That’s awesome.
Tobi Skovron: I space out a little bit sometimes. I mean, I’m …
Monika Tantau: She was just like, “What? What?”
Tobi Skovron: I do.
Monika Tantau: Dude. You’re in Windsor now.
Tobi Skovron: I don’t know where we’re at but …
Monika Tantau: Well, I reckon let’s talk a little bit about the future. What’s on the horizon for CreativeCubes?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, so what we’re doing here, is we’re validating our MVP, our Minimum Viable Product for those that are tech enthusiasts. Our vision is to have somewhere close to 20 locations across the country. Once you become a member of one, you become member of all. So for members that are in Melbourne that are travelling to Sydney …
Monika Tantau: That’s awesome.
Tobi Skovron: They can get their fob card, they can swipe into Sydney, they open their computer, they’re automatically connected to the network because they’re connected here in Melbourne.
Monika Tantau: That’s really cool.
Tobi Skovron: And so they can ultimately have an office wherever they are. I spent the last week in Sydney scouting some properties and looking for some stuff. We’ve got a second location coming in Hawthorn here in Victoria in the near, probably middle of Feb, early March I’d say. Just got to get through that ugly time of year for some which is the Christmas, New Year, Australia Day, everything drops dead.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, all that.
Tobi Skovron: As a business owner I hate that time of year, but it forces you to take time out which I’m grateful for. Yeah, I think close to we’ll have over the next several years I think you’ll see CreativeCubes hopefully in your local neighbourhood. But one thing I definitely, one thing that we as a company are very focused on is the experience. I think what we’ve got going on here in Cremorne is world-class.
Monika Tantau: For sure.
Tobi Skovron: I don’t want to get to building 20 and go was really good in Cremorne but it’s kind of [inaudible 00:21:40] and gotten weaker. We are of the opinion that if we can’t replicate to 20 and hold the integrity and hold the real, we’re cool we’re doing 10, we’re cool we’re doing 5 so long as the experience is the best. Our value proposition is we’re a six-star hotel, not a five-star, we’re a six-star hotel at a three-star price point and really the only difference between us and a hotel is you don’t sleep here. That said, you’re in startup world.
Monika Tantau: You’ll have people sleeping here.
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, there’s a good chance people under the desk sleeping in the wee hours of the morning, trying to just cramming it up.
Monika Tantau: It’s like a combination and …
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, I don’t know if we want to go that path, but …
Monika Tantau: You’re like, “Shut up.”
Tobi Skovron: No, no, like in Santa Monica, there’s, it’s …
Monika Tantau: It happened?
Tobi Skovron: Yeah, oh yeah.
Monika Tantau: Oh wow.
Tobi Skovron: Oh yeah, yeah.
Monika Tantau: Cool.
Tobi Skovron: I don’t know if we have that hustle here. I definitely want to encourage it. I don’t want to encourage people to-
Monika Tantau: Yeah, hence the hustle.
Tobi Skovron: I don’t want to encourage people sleeping in the property, but if you did-
Monika Tantau: Not going to say no-
Tobi Skovron: … we have a shower, we have a kitchen. Like it’s all here for you.
Monika Tantau: That’s awesome.
Tobi Skovron: I don’t, don’t, don’t sleep.
Monika Tantau: Don’t do that.
Tobi Skovron: But definitely come bring your game and hustle your pants off if you need to.
Monika Tantau: Cool. Well, congratulations on all of that.
Tobi Skovron: Thank you.
Monika Tantau: It’s good to have you back in Australia.
Tobi Skovron: It’s good to be here.
Monika Tantau: You’re already making an awesome positive impact on the Australian startup ecosystem. To finish off we’re going to do something, mix it up a little bit. I’m going to give you a crazy idea that exists, all right, and you’re going to have to like pitch it in 30 seconds. Up for the challenge?
Tobi Skovron: I don’t have a choice.
Monika Tantau: No, you don’t. So you’re going to do it anyway.
Tobi Skovron: I was born in Australia of course.
Monika Tantau: Yeah, yeah exactly. All right. This one is part of … It’s like going to disrupt Pet Loo, it’s like your idea. All right, so it’s like a bag that you tie around your dog, and just like does its business in the bag, and then like once it’s done its business it just like falls off. So it’s like a little nappy.
Tobi Skovron: Horrible idea, but …
Tobi Skovron: Want me to sell it to you?
Monika Tantau: Yeah, you’re going to sell it.
Tobi Skovron: Okay. When I sell I’m really focused on features and benefits. The bag, it has to be degradable, has to be eco-friendly. I mean this bag is the best damn bag you could possibly ever buy. You’d even want to put your groceries in it, that’s how awesome this bag is.
Monika Tantau: Wow.
Tobi Skovron: So the features are the-
Monika Tantau: Groceries and a bit of both like yeah, cool, whatever.
Tobi Skovron: Well it’s going to end up being the other way anyway. Once the groceries go through-
Monika Tantau: Totally true.
Tobi Skovron: It has to come out the other side. Then the clip, let me tell you, the clip, it’s not a regular clip. You can actually put it in like clip your hair up as well, it really doubles down, like we’re having an incredible sales-
Monika Tantau: Oh the detail in everything.
Tobi Skovron: In the beauty industry, like you think people are really crazy for this in the pet space. But the beauty world’s going bananas for this as well.
We’re actually thinking about bringing out a bag for humans with the clip. I’m really struggling guys.
Monika Tantau: No, that was awesome.
Tobi Skovron: No, I’m really struggling.
Monika Tantau: That was perfect. You sold it. Like I want to … I don’t even have a pet and I want one, and I want the clip too.
Tobi Skovron: Me too. I don’t even have hair, I need the clip for my hair as well.
Monika Tantau: Thank you very much for coming in Tobi.
Tobi Skovron: Thank you. All right.