For Brian Smith, it was his resolute determination to overcome adversity that was the driving force behind the success of the internationally iconic brand UGG. In 1978, on the day he graduated as a chartered accountant, the young Aussie surfer quit his profession and, with $500 in start-up money, headed to the shores of California in search of an innovative venture.

As Brian tells it, “After ten years of study, I pretty much quit the same day
I graduated because I never really liked accounting. I wanted to look for something entrepreneurial and it struck me that most of the successful companies at the time were coming out of California. So I went to the US to try to find out what the next big thing would be, and I did.”

UGG’s challenging baby steps

During the infancy stages of UGG, Brian outlines that there were two big challenges to breaking into the American market: finding traction in the marketplace, and creating an authentic brand image for UGG. In the first year of sales, only twenty-eight pairs of boots were sold, totalling just US$1,000. “It struck me that I was sending the wrong image to my target market, and my target market was surfers,” Brian says. “So I immediately switched gears, and I began running ads with young professional surfers that all the kids knew. When I started running those ads, sales went up something like US$300,000 overnight. And it was because I had finally figured out that the essence of the advertisement is to bring your reader into the photograph.”

This ability as an entrepreneur to pivot and adapt has been absolutely critical for Brian in such a continually evolving marketing landscape, particularly in contemporary times. “These days, when you have clicks and people buying online, it’s very hard to keep personal relationships with customers,” Brian shares. “When I speak at events I highlight how important it is to reach out to your customers. Even though the medium has changed, the principles of selling and customer loyalty are still strong.”

Brain Smith, Founder of Ugg

Brian Smith, Founder of UGG

Mentoring young entrepreneurs to overcome adversity

As an innovative business speaker and mentor, Brian’s passion for inspiring young and aspiring entrepreneurs is palpable. The key message Brian wishes to spread through his talks to executives and business people is the importance of learning how to overcome adversity. “Your biggest disappointments will nearly always become your greatest blessings,” he says. “My advice is to try and figure out exactly what it is you can do better than anyone else in the world, and then do it.”

Your biggest disappointments will nearly always become your greatest blessings

In his book, The Birth of a Brand, Brian describes the relevant stages every company, brand, and business must go through on its journey to becoming a successful enterprise. He states, “You can’t give birth to adults and what that means is that every business, every single company, started with someone conceiving an idea and then taking the first action. For UGG, the first action was me buying six pairs of samples.”

On his experiences as an entrepreneurial speaker, Brian notes “it’s a continuing reward” and he passionately describes the positive responses from those who have gained something valuable from his talks and his book. That’s the crux of what drives him. He shares one particular analogy that he finds resonates with almost everybody: “The quickest way for a tadpole to become a frog is to live everyday happily as a tadpole. The keyword is happily because life just plods on as normal and all you can do every day is your best. As long as you don’t give up and you keep trying, then one day you’re going to look back and go — ‘I’m a frog!’”

The World Marketing & Sales Forum

Now based in the US, Brian is returning to Australia for the World Marketing
& Sales Forum in November this year, where he looks forward to sharing his rags-to-riches story: “When I left Australia, boots were being sold at the end of aisles in petrol stations — that’s how cheap sheepskin boots were at that time. And to turn the company into one of the most sought-after billion-dollar brands in the world is one a hell of a marketing story. That’s what I want to talk about, how to build a fantastic international brand.”

Brian Smith will be speaking at the World Marketing & Sales Forum, which runs from 8–9 November 2016.

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