Jon has side-stepped venture capital, and raised a significant funding from his customers. He hopes to take the company public in Australia once the company gets to about $50 million in revenue.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Were were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Jon Ellis: I grew up in a small town in Australia on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. It’s got a population of about 40,000 people. My father is a mechanic and has owned his own business for many years. My mother is a teacher.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do for education?
Jon Ellis: I went to high school there and then I left school at the end of year 12, which is when you’re ready to go to university. I was tempted to leave school at year 10 and get an apprenticeship. I went and worked with my cousin who had an engineering workshop because I wanted to become a boiler maker. I worked with him over the summer break intending to leave school and then start my apprenticeship.
However, he pointed out to me that I wasn’t very good as a boiler maker. He ended up putting me in his office to help him get his certification to became an aircraft builder. That involved lots and lots of paperwork and documentation. I’m quite good at that. He suggested that I go back to school because I was reasonably good at writing. I went back to school and finished my high school education. I took a year off and worked for a bank. When I was there, I got my passion for marketing. I put myself through a marketing degree and worked full-time until I was at the age of 21. I left to travel to Melbourne.
Sramana Mitra: What year does that bring us up to?
Jon Ellis: That was 2001. I’m 36 now.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of a company were you working for?
Jon Ellis: I got my marketing degree and I came to Melbourne and worked for a law firm as a business analyst. My job was to look at the market for legal requirements in construction projects, and prepare documents to try and help the law firm win that business. It was lots and lots of writing. I didn’t particularly enjoy the job, but I did really enjoy the property industry and the construction industry.
After two years at the law firm, I decided that enough was enough and I started looking for a role at either a construction company or a property development company. I was very fortunate to get a role as a Marketing Manager of a company called Mirvac, which is a publicly-listed property developer in Australia. I worked there for a few years under a man named Kevin. There was a lot of great people at Mirvac. It was a fantastic place to learn. However, after about two years, I realised that I probably wasn’t a very good employee but I really had a good eye for marketing.
I left Mirvac in spectacular fashion. I had Kevin pounding his fist on the desk one day telling me that I worked for him. I decided to inform him that I no longer work for him.
Sramana Mitra: You have a penchant for drama.
Jon Ellis: It was really drama-filled. I didn’t believe, ethically, in the direction that he wanted to take on a certain project. I said I wouldn’t do it. He said, “Yes, you will.” The security guard escorted me off the premises. That was my journey at Mirvac. I then started as a freelance marketing consultant. That, very quickly, grew to owning an ad agency that had 24 employees.