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Naomi Simson Red Balloon

07 March 2011

\"We have seen no drop with the recession. I wonder if we're like lipstick, one of those splurge things where people say: 'we're not going overseas this year so we'll do something special here'.\"

Naomi Simson says with conviction she is on track. She wants her online experiential gifting site – RedBalloon – to be \"one of the top 20 brands in Australia by 2010\".

You don't do that without a very, very firm belief in yourself, your vision and your capabilities.

\"I am by nature a business conservative. I want to know: 'where's the income coming from; what's the business model?'

\"But I admit I'm driven by ego. You have to have a certain amount of gumption to say: 'I can do something. I can do something different. I can do something that has never been done before.' \"

That ego must then remain very robust if you are to continue succeeding and make the 'I' a 'we': inspiring others to get onboard, to share in the purpose and in the drive.

\"You can't be a myopic hobbyist and expect a business to work. ...Success has taken a lot of eating humble pie and I am a good delegator. I know what my strengths are and what should be left to others.

\"You have to listen to customers, consumers, clients, staff. We have a very low staff turnover and high demand to work here – there were 400 applicants for a recent position we advertised and we now work with about 900 suppliers. It can't be done in a vacuum,\" finishes Simson with an audible intake of breath.

We are in RedBalloon's real-time offices and Simson has, at short notice, slotted me into a busy schedule. Up on the main wall of the open plan space is a screen numbering off every experience sold since the company began and showing the mounting head-count icon for what has been sold today. We stand and watch as another and then another icon pops into the top row.

During the Christmas period when staff arrived at work the screen would already be full. RedBalloon was selling more than 2000 experiences a day, Simson says.

\"We're on track to ship 175,000 activities this financial year, and turnover $23 million. We have seen no drop with the recession. I wonder if we're like lipstick, one of those splurge things where people say: 'we're not going overseas this year so we'll do something special here'.\"

Simson is a woman who believes in keeping the lines of communication open, in getting the message out there. There's the self-published book charting her journey (I'll have what she's having – the experience of creating a pleasurable business), the up-to-date press kits, the easy access to the founder, the strategy of entering and winning business and related awards to build and grow credibility and achieve third party endorsement for the brands. And, most importantly, there's the ongoing contact with customers, customer needs, and suppliers.

\"I left corporate life to begin my own business when my first child was one. I wanted more flexibility in my lifestyle. I began as a freelance marketing consultant and had no experience with the internet. In fact, you could have told me Google was a search engine or a portal. I wouldn't have known.\"

Simson began to see a niche. Firstly, she was tired of having her carefully thought through strategies cherry picked and implemented piecemeal, leading to \"a lack of significant breakthrough\" for her clients in their marketing.

Simson wanted to test her theory: \"that marketing is a journey not a destination or an activity, but an ongoing commitment to communication and listening and producing products people want\".

And then there was the internet and the hype surrounding it.

Simson put one and two and $25,000 together to get RedBalloon. They launched in October 2001, three weeks after 9/11 and just as the dotcom bubble burst. (It makes a great anecdote.) And they are now on the 7th version of the website.

\"RedBalloon is the place where people can go, find an experience from as little as $19, purchase a voucher and give the experience to someone to create a powerful story. I am very anti-stuff and for creating memories.

\"What we offer means you as a customer can be assured the price is competitive and we have the back-up to make sure your experience is the best possible.\"

Simson's restless need to innovate has seen her move into a new venture – one that works in real time. The website gives customers the ability to plan trips and book in real time.

It is early days but Simson is excited at the potential. She is also developing experiences for people in regional areas: packed boxes posted to you in which there are all the necessities for say, a romantic dinner.

\"I can get off track and when that happens I go back to the company values statement and remind myself what it is I am doing and why: it's about giving experiences and changing the way Australians and New Zealanders think about and execute gifting.\"

Key Achievements

The Telstra Business Women's award for innovation. I am proud on behalf of the team to be acknowledged for innovation.

Building a brand that people can and do count on.

Things I have learned

For a business to succeed it is about time and relationships and reputation.

Greed is not exciting.

There have been some instances where I have thought, 'I should have got on top of that faster', but overall it's the strength of the long-term strategies that have put us where we are.

I am a controlled risk taker. I know I can count on myself to deliver what I say.

When I go off at a tangent I read our values document and remind myself what I am doing and why.

Personal Passions

Being a mother, having a close and happy family.

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