SDS35: Louisa Dahl, CEO and Founder of Interactive Minds
Simon Dell: I am lucky enough this week to be joined by Louisa Dahl, who is the Founder and CEO of an event organization called Interactive Minds. And I should read the blurb off LinkedIn just to save me some time, and it says Interactive Minds runs regular events and programs to keep digital marketers informed of the latest industry trends, change and opportunities. And that sentence doesn’t really give it half the justice that it deserves but welcome to the show, Louisa. How are you
Louisa Dahl: I’m fantastic, thank you for having me, and I’m glad I updated that blurb sometime in the last few years.
Simon Dell: Do you want to give us that 2-minute elevator pitch of what Interactive Minds does? Because I think for everybody out there, it has been running for over 10 years now, so it’s not like something you dreamed up last week; it’s quite a significant organization now.
Louisa Dahl: That’s right, yeah. So, I guess the bread and butter of what we do is we run events and programs for marketers to help them stay up to date in the fast-moving world of digital. So, we started off 10 years ago as you said and nowadays we run about 25 events a year across Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Newcastle. We’re also adding to I suppose our offering now, by doing mastermind programs and the like for members as well. So, expanding beyond the events these days.
Simon Dell: Cool. I guess my first question with all of this is: What on earth brought you to do events? Because for everybody… Everybody I know runs events kind of, you know, spends most of their time pulling their hair out or wanting to stab themselves. So, what brought you into that world?
Louisa Dahl: Happenstance, I would say. It wasn’t really the plan, although I have to admit that way back when I was at uni, I came up with the idea of running a party management business which never really got off the ground, but sometimes I wonder if there was something in that way back then.
Simon Dell: We’re going to have to talk about that. Talk to me party management: What sort of parties are we talking about here? Was it an excuse for you to try and get lots of people drunk? Was that where that was going?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, maybe. Maybe that was it. I was a uni student studying marketing and business, and these were early days of the internet back then. It wasn’t super easy to find venues or get information from providers about things. And I guess I saw the frustration in that and thought that perhaps I could compile some stuff and shortcut it. So, as I said, it never really got off the ground but it was an idea that I… I think I went far enough to register a business name and that was about it.
Simon Dell: Oh, wow, okay. How things could’ve changed drastically had that been a success.
Louisa Dahl: Exactly, that’s right, yes. But yeah, as life happens, a decade later, I came back to events, so there you go.
Simon Dell: Right. So, what was your — I ask everyone this — what was your first job? What was the first time that you did something and actually got paid for it, all those years ago?
Louisa Dahl: Well, the first time I’m probably willing to admit to, I think, would be my first proper job when I was 14. I started working at Franklins, if you remember that.
Simon Dell: No, what’s Franklins?
Louisa Dahl: As a checkout chick.
Simon Dell: Right, okay.
Louisa Dahl: Franklins, No Frills. It was a supermarket.
Simon Dell: Right, okay. And?
Louisa Dahl: So, it was a little bit short lived, that one, and I ended up moving on to Coles where I worked for most of my uni career, but Franklins got me the very first time.
Simon Dell: Whilst you’re on Coles there, I’m going to ask you this because we had a bit of an argument about this a couple of weeks ago on one of the other shows, what do you think about the whole little mini brand things? What’s your take on all that?
Louisa Dahl: Look, I personally have been trying to avoid them. I have three children and I thought I can get out of this one, so I had mostly got out of it which I’ve been pretty happy about. I think their timing of that campaign was obviously pretty rough. And look, I mean, I think there’s always improvements to be made on that type of thing. I’m not a big fan of all the supermarket campaigns that are run these days. I think they’re a little bit unnecessary and put a little bit of pressure on parents, really. So, yeah, avoid was my tactic for that one.
Simon Dell: Smart move, smart move. I normally sort of go through the sort of timeline of people’s careers and things, but if anybody looks on Louisa’s LinkedIn later on, there’s quite a few jobs in there. And that’s not to suggest you’re old in any way because I don’t — obviously, we don’t talk about people’s ages and things like that. You have done one or two things in your past, the early years of digital marketing in agency, and you’ve done it in government, things like that, how did you get into that?
Louisa Dahl: Well, as I said, I did marketing at university. In my last term, I decided to go and get a job. So, back then, I looked it up in the paper, and I cut it out — I actually still have that job listing somewhere, and I got a job at an internet company being a marketing assistant. So, that was really my first forte into practicing as a marketer. And the fact that I ended up in an internet startup was fortuitous because that’s a bit of a passion of mine as well. So, I started off doing a whole range of very early day digital marketing and I’m talking about, you know, search engine submissions, and newsgroups, and building websites with basic content on them to promote products, basically, and in fact worked in a very early day what you might call now a social media website, which is no longer around.
Simon Dell: What was that one?
Louisa Dahl: It was called Rememory.com, and it was a place for people to go and share their memories.
Simon Dell: Right, okay.
Louisa Dahl: This is back in ’99, so well before social media became a thing and it was an uphill struggle. It was very difficult.
Simon Dell: Right in the middle of that dot-com boom, wasn’t it?
Louisa Dahl: Yes. Right before the crash.
Simon Dell: Yes. So, how did you find it? I mean, obviously… I mean, not so much how did you find it, but when you look back on it now and you think about the difference in the way that digital is now, is there anything that’s still… And I’ve asked this to a couple of people before, but is there anything still that you think is valuable for people to do that perhaps people were doing back then?
Louisa Dahl: I think the techniques have changed quite a lot but yet some of the basic concepts are still the same. I mean, I still say that about my degree, really. The marketing principles that you learn, and even customer service that I learned when I was at Coles, I don’t want to undervalue that. That was an amazing contribution to my career, albeit it was just a part-time mini job. But I think those things still very much hold true, and I really value the very hands-on experience and the way I started my career that way, and being able to hands-on do all the tactics and do all the newsgroup posts.
And I don’t know if anyone done newsgroups before, but that was very tedious, long work to post things on newsgroups and hope that someone saw it. So, yeah. I mean, definitely, that stuff’s not around anymore but there’s still a lot of trial and error, there’s still a lot of different things to consider. So, while still lots have changed, sometimes some of it hasn’t as well.
Simon Dell: Have you always sort of been entrepreneurial? Do you consider yourself that?
Louisa Dahl: Yes. Yes, these days, I do. I guess it wasn’t something that I ever really thought about. Having said that, I just told you I started the business fellows at uni so maybe. I guess being exposed to the startup as well early on when I was working there definitely gave me some insights and I think fuelled that passion of mine. And over my time, I have created kind of three businesses that I actually traded. I think three, maybe four. So, yeah, I’ve definitely dabbled in a few different things over the years.
Simon Dell: I guess back in those days, when you were looking at starting a party business at university, it wasn’t so much — That kind of startup, starting a business wasn’t as fashionable and trendy as it is today, really, was it?
Louisa Dahl: No way, exactly. There was a lot less support. In fact, I don’t think there was really any community around startups or entrepreneurs back then. That’s definitely a much more recent thing. I think, you know, even in the last — or even five years ago, I don’t think it was as big and as supportive as it is now by any means.
Simon Dell: Do you think that I’m going off a bit on a tangent here, but do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing? And I suspect you’re going to say a good thing, but my question around that is: Do you think the whole startup ecosystem now sort of delivers a level of false hope in terms of someone with an idea?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. Look, I would definitely agree with that. I think there’s a lot of support out there but that it can be mistaken for thinking that it’s easy and that it’s going to be an easy ride. And I don’t think anyone, myself included, can ever anticipate what’s involved in starting a business and running it. It’s always a lot harder than what you expect, and as we know, takes a lot more time and a lot more money, so yeah. Look, I mean, I think people think that you have an idea and that’s enough. And I’ve spoken to many, many people who have ideas and I just can’t see how that’s going to work.
I’m definitely no expert in picking winners necessarily, but at the same time, I think you need something unique and you need a way to bring it to life that makes sense. And I don’t think a lot of startups have necessarily gone far enough to make that value there.
Simon Dell: It’s funny. I see exactly the same thing, but I also see two other things, which is people that have been running a particular startup for a long time or have been involved in startups for a long time just seemed to have gotten nowhere. Like, the revenue is not there, the value proposition isn’t there, but somehow they’re still chugging along and you just kind of wonder, “When are they going to realize that they’re either not cut out for it or it’s not the right idea?”
So, I kind of see a lot of that, but I also see a lot of big businesses where I see CEOs and managers and everything that have been in business for 10-20 years and I go, “I can’t believe this is still running” for various different reasons. So, I guess it kind of, across the spectrum from big businesses down the startups, that some people you look at and just go, “How the hell is this business still going?”
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, definitely. And you know, I’m the first to admit that it’s no easy ride. I mean, I’m 10 years into Interactive Minds and I would say that I’m probably more passionate than ever about what’s ahead right now. But I’ve definitely had stages throughout where I go, “Why am I doing this? This is just ridiculous.” And particularly, we’ll probably talk about this, but Interactive Minds very much started as a side project for me and turning that into a full-time job is actually a really tough thing as well. So yeah, there’s a lot involved in that, and I think I’m still so early in the journey.
Simon Dell: We’ll come back to the early days of Interactive Minds a bit later. I want to touch base on one of the other things in your career, with Skimp. Can you explain it? Because I read that, I went, “Oh, actually, that doesn’t sound like a particularly bad idea.” So, explain to me what Skimp was because this was back in 2009, was it? Yes.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, that’s right, exactly. So, I came up with this bright idea of a startup. I already had Interactive Minds at that point but I thought I needed something else and came up with this idea of Skimp. I think at the time I was building a house around then and I was buying white goods and furniture, and I felt very frustrated that the price on the product in the store could always be negotiated and you never really knew if you were getting a good deal or not. And then I heard of organizations like Union Shopper, and I don’t even know if they’re still around, actually. I assume they are, but Union Shopper was available to people in unions like teachers and police officers and things like that. And they basically provided a service where you could tell them what product you wanted and they went and negotiated for you and got access to commercial rates on those products.
And I thought, “Oh, imagine if I could do that but put it online and open it to everyone?” So, that you effectively get some kind of benefit through bulk flow, not of an individual product but by getting a good-sized community together, and then use the commercial divisions to actually provide us with that direct pricing. So, that was the concept there. I had arrangements with a lot of commercial divisions of companies like JB Hi-Fi, and RT Edwards, and a bunch of others. And I had a website built that enabled people to come on and tell me the product they wanted, and then we would source the best price for that product from multiple suppliers and go back to them.
So, that was the concept there. On the client side to get the customers, I partnered with organizations like National Seniors and membership groups to try and get the bulk that we needed and ran that business for about two years, which was a very hard slump.
Simon Dell: What took you out of that?
Louisa Dahl: Well, changes to the industry, primarily. And also, we were limited by technology. I mean, whilst that sounds really easy with the process I just described, there was a piece where it had to go offline. We went plugged into all of the supplier’s databases, so this wasn’t a real-time price that we could get. It meant that we could get a price within 24 hours but there was still a bit of manual in there, at least from the supplier’s side of things. And yeah, it was tough. We wanted to go to that next stage but we also didn’t necessarily have the volume to warrant it, to warrant the further development.
And then the industry really had a lot of trauma going through it, I would say. Several retailers went out of business in 2012 and a few of them came back to me and said, “Oh, we can’t do what we’ve been doing anymore.” So, we either needed to do it a different way and make you a supplier, effectively a retailer which I didn’t want to be. And yeah, I had to make the tough decision then to either keep going or not. It was self-funded all the way along.
Simon Dell: At what point did you go, “That’s it. I don’t want to do this.” Was there kind of like one single moment, light bulb moment that you just went…
Louisa Dahl: I think there was a week where I lost two providers that I had currently been using and a third one that I was talking to went out of business and I just went — I think that was Wales Sight and Sound went out of business or something like that. And I’ve been negotiating with them at the time and I just went, “Oh, this is crazy.” I’m just beating my head against a wall, not to mention at that point I had a one year old and a three year old. So yeah, I kind of just went, “What am I doing this for? This is crazy.”
Simon Dell: Yeah, that’s tough. That’s really tough, what did you put, like almost three years into it there, didn’t you?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, nearly three years, yeah. I mean, hey, everyone needs a failed startup so that’s how I look at it these days.
Simon Dell: What’s the one big lesson out of that that you look back on and that you’re thankful for learning it?
Louisa Dahl: That’s a good question, actually. I think just the process as a whole. I mean, I actually built that business pretty much by myself. So, I was doing the supplier side, I was doing marketing, I was briefing website devving, I was managing glitches in the systems and any little manual bits in there. I did have one person helping me part-time, but I think there’s — I tried to do that off the smell of an oily rag, which is a bit of a lesson and just probably taking on too much at the end of the day and that some things can’t necessarily be an easy fix either. I think we still have the same problem in that particular industry. But you know, things are changing. Appliances Online is around and I think they’ve made a big dent in the industry as well.
Simon Dell: Yeah, and Kogan and people like that.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, exactly. There’s definitely new ways to go about it now, too.
Simon Dell: And now, Amazon, of course, as well with you know.
Louisa Dahl: Exactly, that’s right.
Simon Dell: Eventually start there reaching to the Australian market in that case, in that space.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah.
Simon Dell: Yeah. I mean, I think everybody — You’re absolutely right. Everybody needs a failed startup in their life. It’s better to at least get to the end on your deathbed and sit there and go, “Well, at least I had a go” as opposed to sitting there regretting all of those things.
Louisa Dahl: Exactly. And you know, when I actually did decide to close it down and I did it, it took about three days I think from me making the decision to actually having it down. The relief was huge, like it had been a big stress. So yeah, I think that enabled me to move forward with other parts of my life, and yeah, no regrets.
Simon Dell: Okay, good. What’s been the secret of your success of Interactive Minds? Because I mean, I’ve been to a few events pretty earlier in the day, in its lifecycle. And as I’d said earlier on, there’s a lot of people that try and do events. There’s a lot of people that try and do business events, and networking events, and educational things, and generally most of them fail or certainly never get to the point where they’re running across four or five different cities with 25 events throughout the year. What’s been the secret for that success over the last ten years?
Louisa Dahl: Probably perseverance would be a big one. But also, I mentioned, in the early days, it wasn’t a full-time job, and I actually think it’s really difficult to run events like what I do as a full-time job because there’s not the money on it, and that’s something that I think a lot of people — People still talk to me these days and say, “I want to start events. I want them to be profitable.” And it’s like, “Well, good luck. That’s not really how events work. It’s a very hard slog.” And sometimes, I think why I got into a business that every month — you know, now we have several events where we have to get bums on seats. That’s a continual marketing hard slog where you never really get much leeway. You can’t get ahead of it too far but it’s still hard work in some cities for us. So, I think having the staying power has definitely helped us. And definitely, in Brisbane, we were really the first company to run events for the digital space particularly for marketers, so that definitely gave us an in that we’ve been able to maintain. And yeah, sticking around, being there and having consistent, good quality of speakers and processes definitely helped us as well.
Simon Dell: The brand itself I think has come on from a sort of objective third-party point of view. I think over the time… And this is the thing I think with events as well, is that over time, when people — the more and more people that have been to them and experienced them, the brand itself becomes a bit more robust, if for want of a better word, it kind of has a bit more of a reputation, that kind of thing. And I think with any event, trying to get that in day one or even in the first year, second year, it’s hard to do, but after 10 years, everybody knows the events.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, definitely, that helps. And as I said, I think it’s about quality as well. It’s just trying to maintain our quality and being clear on what we’re bringing the audiences as well, so knowing our customers really well. And I feel that in the last probably two to three years, I’ve done a lot more in that space. I feel like I know our customers now better than I ever have before, which is great because it means that we’re able to be more meaningful as well.
Simon Dell: Who is a typical Interactive Mind customer? What are you looking for, if anyone is out there listening to this?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. So, really, it’s someone working in marketing. So, they’ve been in marketing usually at least a year or two right up to the experienced marketer. So, we very much aim to enhance someone’s existing knowledge. We’re not doing 101 sessions but to help people grow beyond that. So, they’re marketing, typically they’re working for a brand. And they can be small, medium, or large-sized businesses. That doesn’t worry us from that perspective.
We always try and cover a range of speakers that can speak to both the big brands and the small brands so that we cover that off. We also get a lot of agencies coming along and we get a lot of traders, consultants, and other players in the industry as well. But from our core perspective, we’re really targeting that marketing role.
Simon Dell: Of all the marketing that you do for yourself, what’s the one channel that you think works the best for you?
Louisa Dahl: If I knew that answer, it would be easy, wouldn’t it? I think this changes fairly regularly, to be honest. I think right now, I think LinkedIn is a bit of a secret weapon at the moment, actually. I’m loving the responses and feedback on LinkedIn, their engagement I think is great but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a huge marketing channel for us. I suppose it’s one off that we use. We still try heaps of things, particularly in some of our cities where we haven’t been as long and we’re trying to reach more people.
Brisbane, for me, I think grew quite easily because I had the existing networks, and that made a really big difference. In cities where I personally don’t always have that level of network, it’s a slower drive which is somewhat frustrating, but we’re still just trying to reach people who are marketers in whatever channel that they’re using.
Simon Dell: If you were going to launch into a new city, you’re not in Perth yet, are you?
Louisa Dahl: No, not yet.
Simon Dell: No? If you were going to launch into Perth tomorrow, what will be the first thing you would do?
Louisa Dahl: So, the way we grow now is by putting on a chapter director in each city. So, that is someone who is working in the industry, ideally well-connected, and capable, and has a good understanding of I suppose marketing as a whole and in particular digital. So, they’re capable of finding people who can share insights around certain things. So, the first thing for me to do is to find a chapter director. I’ve been really lucky that in many cities, people have come to me. In fact, they might’ve been people from Brisbane who have moved and said, “Hey, there’s nothing like this around. Can we start Interactive Minds?” And we’re now set up in a way to enable that. So, we’ve got the systems and processes in place to support people in different cities running it. So, yeah, definitely, the first step would be to find that right person who can anchor it in that city for us.
Simon Dell: Is that the sort of advice that you would give to other businesses that were trying to do the same sort of thing, moving to new territories?
Louisa Dahl: I think it’s really hard to run a territory from outside that territory. So, we launched into Melbourne as our first city, and for several years, we were basically flying in for events. It not only adds a whole level of cost for what I’ve already explained is quite a slim profit business, but it doesn’t enable that local relationship. No matter how hard you try, it’s just not possible to develop them in a fly in fly out kind of setup. So, yeah. Look, I think our learning has been to try and get people on the ground that can support it and use their networks as well to grow it locally.
Simon Dell: Anything you’ve done in the past 10 years that you now look back and go, “Well, that was a waste of money and we shouldn’t have done it.”
Louisa Dahl: Not specifically. I guess all the businesses I’ve run have been self-funded. So, I’ve never had heaps of money to burn. I’ve always been quite conscious with how I spent it. So, no, there’s nothing that I would kind of regret from that perspective. I think I put a lot of thought into the big spends that we do have, and there’s always optimizations and learnings I would say. Probably some of our web costs that we’ve had over the years have exceeded what I would’ve liked them to be, and some systems and things like that would be the other one but nothing really jumps out.
Simon Dell: Looking at it from a more objective point of view from you and not thinking about Interactive Minds here, when you listen to all the speakers and learn all the stuff that you learn from putting on your events, is there a particular channel of marketing, of digital marketing, that you hear people talk about every time that say the businesses should get right? And I know it’s not a one size fits all for all businesses, but is there something that you think all businesses should be doing as a basic 101 digital marketing?
Louisa Dahl: Look, how long is a piece of string, really? But I mean, I guess I would say the answer for me to that is that if you don’t have your website right, then everything else is a waste of time. You know, I guess this is something when I was consulting, and having agencies, working in agencies, that was always the first step because what’s the point of sending traffic to a website if it’s not converting or adding value to the visitor? So, making sure that you kind of focus on that to start off with I think is really important.
Simon Dell: I totally agree. A lot of people that I’ve spoken to say — A lot of digital marketers still talk about the value of email marketing. They think that that’s a channel that is often neglected by businesses because they feel that people don’t open emails anymore but that it still delivers better return than social and all those other pay-per-click and everything else. What would be your thoughts on that?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, I agree. I guess that answers the question that you asked me before, really, in terms of what channel we use consistently and email would be it. Running events on a frequent basis, we do send quite a lot of emails. And look, I think we would love to be better at sending those, and what I mean is more targeted, give people more options, things like that. If anything, the systems and process restrict that which is always, I think, for every organization wants to get their data working better for them. So, that’s definitely one of our wish list items as well.
But yeah, email is really important. And I think as well, don’t underestimate the value. When we think of email as marketers, we think of bulk emails. But when I’m in a fix and I really need numbers for something, it’s personal emails that get me there. So, that’s how I get extra people to events, extra interest in things that we’re running. I’ll sit there and I’ll send out 50 one-to-one emails if I need to, and they are much more likely to convert than me sending to a big database.
Simon Dell: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Often, we talk on this podcast about the ability to sell and that a lot of marketers should be able to sell as well, and those that have learned early on… And you mentioned early on about the customer service in Coles. And I think as 14-year-old, standing on a checkout, talking to customers is a valuable learning experience because you have to talk of people of different walks, and different ages, and all those kind of things.
Louisa Dahl: And by the time I was 17, I was running the frontend. So, I had 10 registers under me and I was the one that dealt with all the problems. So, refunds, or something didn’t scan at the right price, or whatever it is, that elevated that experience further.
Simon Dell: And what people think are very minor learning experiences back then are massive opportunities for you to understand how people think and understand how you can turn what is a negative experience into a positive experience and all those kind of things. So, it’s all that sales, customer service thing that I think then, as you say now, you lean on when it comes to pushing extra numbers.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I really value that time that I had at Coles. I never would’ve appreciated it back then. I mean, I was between 15 and 19 or 20 I worked there.
Simon Dell: Thinking about running party events, yeah.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. I was leading the fun life going out after working a 10-hour shift, that kind of stuff. But I think that experience that I got then has really set a baseline customer service for us and for my expectations, the people that I work with as well. I like to pride ourselves on strong customer service, making sure people are happy, and just ingraining that in the organization and that’s been really important. But I think something you touched on regarding sales as well is equally as important. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of marketers aren’t getting exposure to the sales area. I was quite fortunate when I worked in agency side that I was doing — I moved into kind of strategic advising, and part of that is really being part of the sale process. So, I was doing pictures, I was able to kind of define the solution and then go in and present it and take it through to a sale. That became part of the job that I was doing both at Patts Digital when I worked there and then in my own agency.
And I think that has… Once you’ve got that sales experience, it just opens up what you can actually do. And I think a lot of marketers, unfortunately, aren’t getting that exposure, and I would really encourage anyone to try and get it no matter what job you’re in now. If you can actually talk to people and convince them to buy something, then you’re just miles ahead.
Simon Dell: Yeah, I’ve looked back on startups and failed startups that I’ve known or been associated with. And you know, two years in and I sort of go, they might have something like 10 or 20 customers on board and I go, “How are you not out on the street, knocking on the doors eight hours a day trying to sell to more customers?” Certainly in the retail space.
Louisa Dahl: Definitely. And you know what? Don’t be mistaken that I love sales either because I think that’s a common myth that you have to really love it to do it. I think for me, it’s just a way of life now. You have to be able to do it. Whereas I’ve worked with people over the years too afraid to make a phone call. And not even a sales phone call, just a follow-up phone call to get information. And I think we need to be able to do these basic things to be efficient in what we’re doing.
I worked with someone a few years ago who I’d ask them to find out some information, and three days later they were still waiting for a reply email and I was like, “Why didn’t you just call them?” Those basic things I think we need to just remind ourselves to practice.
Simon Dell: Yeah, absolutely. Looking back on the events that you’ve done in the last 10 years, and I’m really going to put you on the spot here now, who has been your favourite speaker in the last 10 years?
Louisa Dahl: That’s not actually so bad because…
Simon Dell: You wait ’till I ask you who is the worst speaker. No, I don’t.
Louisa Dahl: That might be harder. Actually, I’ve got a bad habit now because, I mean, I guess we run at least 10 events a year. That’s what we started off with, 10 a year. We’ve dropped down to eight because we do a full-day conference now. So, each city would run between… Nowadays, they run between six and eight events each year in each city and generally we have three or four speakers at each. So, all up, there’s a lot of speakers to consider, but probably one of the most fun for me to get on board, to market, and to kind of say ‘I did’ was I brought the Head of Innovation from LEGO Labs out to Australia to speak a couple of years ago. That was amazing because not only was he a lovely guy and awesome to deal with, but I go to promote that we had LEGO speaking in the event, which was pretty cool as well.
Simon Dell: That must’ve sold out pretty quickly.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. It sold out and we got media around it. It was good fun and something that we don’t always get access to. So yeah, I was really, really proud of that one.
Simon Dell: How did you get him?
Louisa Dahl: I can’t give away all my secrets!
Simon Dell: Give us a rough idea.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. Look, I find people that speak and that seem to do a good job and get good feedback and then I contact them. That’s pretty much what it is.
Simon Dell: That’s all we need to know.
Louisa Dahl: And I used LinkedIn a lot.
Simon Dell: LEGO is one of my, when I always write down my sort of top three, top five brands, LEGO is always in that list just because it’s such an enduring brand that hasn’t really… Well, it has evolved with the times but it hasn’t lost its core kind of beliefs and those kind of things. It’s had a rough ride over the years, but still number one brand for me, one of the top, number one brands.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, definitely, there’s a lot to admire and their story is really inspiring as well, I think, in terms of what they’ve ridden through and come out off, and all the products they’ve got out these days is amazing.
Simon Dell: When you heard him talk, what was it about him that made him your number one speaker? Was it the content? Was it the way he worked? For other people who are out there who want to do talks, who want to do speaking, what are things that people could learn from those kind of speakers?
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, good question. And look, I often write articles around this, actually, in terms of things that presentations should include and what we can learn from them. That talk in particular I think was a combination of the brand he worked for, the role that he was in, which was basically testing out marketing for LEGO back then. So, yeah, it was just a really interesting role, and he had an interesting take on it, and he could share some of their test and learn methodologies and practices as well.
So, I think that was a couple of years ago, talking about failing, and testing to fail, and all the rest of it. It was quite a timely topic as well. In terms of my tips for presenting, actually, I wanted to say I presented something this week, actually. I did a presentation and you know, I expected to have to spend a few hours putting it together and thinking about what I was going to say and potentially practicing it. And I expected that I might meet some people there, but what I didn’t expect was the awesome value that I would gain from actually doing that presentation. And I think this is something I’d like to highlight because I’m always encouraging people to speak. I think it not only establishes them and their thought leadership but it’s a good thing to be part of. And what I got out of this process was I got to review the work that I was talking about and look back on something, which I think is something we don’t do often enough. So, I was able to be proud of the work I’d done, and also see opportunities that I could still leverage, or what I could do differently next time, and putting a presentation together is a great way to have that retrospect in there. But as well as that then, I got to meet some really interesting people when I spoke and I actually really enjoy presenting and sharing some of my stories. So, there’s a lot that I got out of it. Back to your original question of what should the presentation include, you know, I think that storytelling element is really important. I know that the more you practice the presentation, the more comfortable you’re going to be doing it so I think that practice piece is really important. And my advice is really just to share, share openly. I know some brands and individuals are really cautious about what they give and what information they can share, but in my opinion, if you’ve got to be guarded in a 20-minute conversational presentation, then someone’s not going to be able to take that and replicate the business. And I think you’ve got to appreciate that in the more openly you can share some behind the scenes stuff, the more valuable it is to everyone in the room.
Simon Dell: If you had the option to pick whatever speakers you could from around the world, who would you put on stage?
Louisa Dahl: Good question. I’d like Gary V and Seth Godin to come out.
Simon Dell: He’s coming out soon, isn’t he? Gary V? Are you going?
Louisa Dahl: I know. I know. No, not this time. I did go last time. I’ve got a conflict this time but…
Simon Dell: I’ve got to say, I…
Louisa Dahl: Look, I don’t really value that type of event.
Simon Dell: To be honest with you, I kind of — I was a very anti-Gary V person, and then all of a sudden I’ve become a very pro-Gary V person, and now I’m back to the anti-Gary V person. It’s not because — The trouble I have with Gary V is he’s just so consistently the same message over and over again.
Louisa Dahl: And he produces it a lot. There’s a lot of it out there. So, you don’t know how new it’s going to be.
Simon Dell: Yeah, no. I’ve listened to a couple of his keynote speeches and honestly, word for word, some of them are almost identical and I’m going, uh… And I appreciate it. People can’t be different all the time but you know, it’s how many times do you want to speak about your wine business, Gary? You know? Anyway, sorry, that’s…
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, there is saturation out there, I think. But still, hey, I wouldn’t say no to get him but…
Simon Dell: Absolutely.
Louisa Dahl: And I think he should start doing events like mine rather than the events that he does. Because really, everyone knows that those events are going to be 90% rubbish and 10% Gary, and that’s I think not where I would want to align my reputation.
Simon Dell: Yeah, that’s a good point. Okay, last three questions. When you look at other brands out there, what are your favourite brands, things like you buy frequently, enjoy, and sort of try and live up to? Those kind of things, and that’s in any category, not just events.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. Look, I know you ask these questions and I’ve been having a bit of a think about it. The only brand that I am consistently diehard for is Apple, which I don’t even understand.
Simon Dell: You don’t understand why you’re diehard for it or you don’t understand the brand?
Louisa Dahl: Well, a bit of both. As a marketer, I look at Apple and I go, “Yeah, you’ve got an awesome brand.” And obviously, it’s one of the most valued brands in the world. But as a customer of Apple, I still get emails from them trying to sell me something less than what I’ve already got from them. And I think you should know, especially given it’s a technology product, you should know every computer, iPhone, watch, ear pods, whatever product I’ve got, you know because it’s all linked to my account and yet you’re trying… You don’t have it together from a marketing perspective.
They’re not trying to upsell me properly. They’re not recognizing the products I’ve got. So I think from a marketing perspective, there’s a lot they still need to work on. So, yeah. I’m a bit confused about why I do love them so much when I can see these massive flaws in how they communicate with me as well. But I would say aside from Apple, there are probably no other brands that I feel really strongly aligned to right now.
Simon Dell: I know we’ve spoken about it a couple of times, but how do you feel about Coles now generally as a brand, from your experience in the past? Do you still shop there or you’re a Woolworths person?
Louisa Dahl: Look, I was a diehard Coles person for ages. I could not go to any other supermarket because I knew the layout so well. Like, every supermarket was kind of the same. So, probably for a decade after I finished at Coles I would only ever shop at Coles. I do shop online at Coles now but I am surrounded by two Woolworths that are closer so now I do a bit of both. It depends how I’m shopping as to where I go.
Simon Dell: Supermarket traitor.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. It took me a while, actually, it really did. Now, I can do either. I’ve gone…
Simon Dell: You’ve not gone to ALDI yet, though?
Louisa Dahl: No, not regularly.
Simon Dell: No. I can’t cope with it. It just freaks me out. I go, “These look like the things that I buy but they’re not the things that I buy!”
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, exactly. I think the fact that the supermarkets have white labelled so many products, or not white labelled, but self-branded, that actually really made it hard to switch as well. That definitely was a challenge initially. I was like, “I’ll have to think about it too much in Woollies, whereas in Kohl’s, I know exactly what I’m getting. So, yes. Now, I’m ambidextrous though from a supermarket perspective.
Simon Dell: Actually, I’m going to add a follow-up question to add favourite brand. Are there pieces of software that you use in your business, or people that — You know, just things that you’ve seen that you go, “Actually, that’s a cool piece of software,” or something that you’re sort of reliant on that you use every day from a software perspective.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. Look, I’d say there’s probably heaps. LastPass is something that I love.
Simon Dell: Yeah, absolutely.
Louisa Dahl: So, that’s one that you don’t necessarily give credit to but it’s in the background all the time.
Simon Dell: Good point.
Louisa Dahl: I’m like Asana for task management. We use a bit of Canva, a bit of Photoshop still in there.
Simon Dell: Do you know what? I don’t understand. I don’t get Canva, no. And it’s not because I’m a graphic designer, because I’m not a graphic designer. I’ve done brands. I’ve worked with a lot of graphic — I’ve had an agency that did the branding and creative and things like that. I just don’t get Canva’s — I just don’t get its attraction. I’ve tried so many times to use it, and it’s not that it’s hard to use, but I’m just — Maybe it’s just me. I have the same issue with Dropbox as well but that’s another — I think it —
Louisa Dahl: Yeah. I do love Dropbox, actually, but I think Canva is…
Simon Dell: I think a lot of people would like to see Dropbox taken out the back and shot, but that’s another matter. But anyway, go on, sorry. Canva? Yeah, go on.
Louisa Dahl: I think Canva is handy when you’re trying to create some — even graphic templates that multiple people can edit. So, for us, it’s quite handy. We can create a template and then share it with all of our chapter directors, for example, and use it across different cities and events that we’re doing. So, in that kind of context, they don’t need Photoshop then, they don’t need any design capability, they can use Canva. So yeah, and you know, look I’ve occasionally used it if I’m doing an invite for something, and I just want a quick and easy approach, and I don’t really want to get into Photoshop at the time, I can see some use for it but I still go to Photoshop a lot.
Simon Dell: Maybe I’m just using it wrong, which could easily be the problem.
Louisa Dahl: You don’t need it. You don’t need it.
Simon Dell: Yeah, absolutely.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, so…
Simon Dell: So, anything else, any other software other than that? What’s your go-to for email? What do you send out your email through?
Louisa Dahl: Well, I use Apple Mail, actually.
Simon Dell: What about the bulk emails? Because I just got one from you literally five minutes after we started talking.
Louisa Dahl: Did you?
Simon Dell: Yes.
Louisa Dahl: There you go. I didn’t even do that. That’s crazy. We’re using MailChimp, actually, which is really just because it kind of works with the system that we’re using as well, so it’s integrated with that. Yeah, look, I think at the moment we have a lot of wish list items for email so there’s a lot we would like to be doing better in that space and that’s definitely one of our projects on the cards.
Simon Dell: What do you use to compartmentalize your customer base, so you know that people are in Sydney or people are in Brisbane? Or are you doing that?
Louisa Dahl: Well, we actually have separate databases at the moment. So, just how the system works, that’s how it’s set up, but that’s not ideally though as we expand into other things hence why it’s on the cards as a project at the moment.
Simon Dell: Second to last question: What’s next for Interactive Minds? I mean, you’ve been doing this for 10 years. Do you see an eventual exit or do you just sort of say, “I’m taking Interactive Minds to the grave.”
Louisa Dahl: Neither at the moment.
Simon Dell: “Or waiting till the three kids grow up and then I’ll hand it over to them,” it’s like a family business?
Louisa Dahl: No. Look, I don’t really have massive plans long-term as to whether I’m going to be in it or out of it. I would like it to continue running successfully. I’m very excited about some of the stuff that we’ve got going on. In the last three years, I’ve done quite an extended business course. I’ve now got a business coach. I feel it’s been really reinvigorated in terms of our plans and what we’re doing. I wrote a book last year as well, which has really helped me to kind of understand my business, and my audience, and where I want to be so that’s been really helpful. And we’ve just launched a new product this year which is a marketing mastermind group called The Circle for marketers. And in terms of what next, we’ve got more products on the way. So, events are not the be all and end all. We want to really be the success partner for marketers. We want to be their go-to when they need to stay up to date, when they need to up skill, when they need to connect with other marketers. So yeah, I’m excited about what we’ve got in the works.
Simon Dell: Fantastic. So, very last question: How do people get in contact with you if they want to ask you a question?
Louisa Dahl: I’m pretty easy to find. If you looked up Louisa Dahl, you would find my website. I’m available at email@example.com, so I’m pretty open to people emailing me and you can find me, Louisa Dahl, on pretty much all social media.
Simon Dell: Especially LinkedIn because you use LinkedIn a lot.
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, all those types work.
Simon Dell: Oh, you a big Twitter fan?
Louisa Dahl: We have been for our events. Definitely, I think from an event perspective, Twitter has a role to play but we have noticed it’s decreasing particularly this year in terms of engagement and that we’re much more likely to get event information shared on Instagram or LinkedIn now.
Simon Dell: Oh, really? Yeah, I find… I mean…
Louisa Dahl: Big shift.
Simon Dell: Yeah. Twitter’s the Wild West of social media.
Louisa Dahl: There’s a lot out there. There’s a lot of content on Twitter, and I think obviously they haven’t nailed it. They’re not growing, so that’s always a bit of a problem.
Simon Dell: The channel for outrage is Twitter. If you want to find someone who is outraged about something or anything, they’ll be on Twitter somewhere.
Louisa Dahl: That’s true, exactly.
Simon Dell: I find that journalists that consistently use Twitter as a sample of what the common man is thinking is just the world’s laziest journalism but…
Louisa Dahl: Yeah, it’s not really representative, isn’t it?
Simon Dell: No. Anyway, I digress. Thank you very, very much for being on the show today. It’s been very, very interesting. I cannot recommend enough to people that if they are in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, or Newcastle, that they get their asses along to an Interactive Minds event and check out everything else that Louisa is doing online. So, once again, thank you very much for being on the show today.
Louisa Dahl: Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.