Shane Bradley on Grab One and secrets to success

New Zealanders aren't usually ones to blow their own trumpet, so I'm making it my business to talk to some of our less-known industry leaders and gain insight into how they got to where they are today. First up is Grab One founder, Shane Bradley.

In case you've been living in a cave for the past year, Grab One - founded by 33 year old Shane Bradley - rose quickly to become New Zealand's #1 daily deal coupon site (65% market share), despite being third into the market and up against some deep-pocketed competitors including Trade Me, Mediaworks, and US-based Groupon and Living Social.

By all accounts the site is a run-away success, having recently sold $500,000 worth of coupons in a single day, and with a growth curve not seen on a kiwi web site this side of Trade Me. So, how did he do it? And more importantly, what lessons can be learned and applied by other up-and-coming Kiwi entrepreneurs?

Shane BradleyLike so many "overnight successes" Shane's rise to the top didn't actually happen over night. Shane's been chipping away on various web projects for 7 years - first with his gumtree-inspired classified site Finda (now a fully-fledged business directory, later sold to APN and then Yellow Pages Group) and more recently his online auction site Sella. His tendency to set lofty goals combined with a courageous willingness to change course quickly has created the foundation for where he is today. "Don't be afraid to make mistakes and change things as you go along. Set a goal and work backwards from there. Do whatever it takes."

Shane's eagerness to knock off something big probably has a lot to do with who he looks up to. When asked who his heroes are he's quick to rattle off the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Ernest Rutherford and Graeme Hart. Curiously absent from his list are the usual tech-inspired suspects such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Although not afraid to get is hands dirty (whilst on his OE in the UK, Shane setup a maintenance business and taught himself how to do all sorts of jobs including electrical, building and plumbing work) Shane is not a designer, doesn't know "a thing about coding" and doesn't even consider himself overly technical.

A numbers guy (his ability to pull specific dates, facts and figures was quickly apparent during our interview) with a passion for helping small businesses, it seems almost natural that he finds himself running Grab One and helping other business owners to be more successful. "When I was in the UK, no body came to me and told me how they could help my business, especially online. Lots of small business owners don't even know how to use the Internet. That might change with the next generation, but there are still big opportunities for the likes of Grab One to come in there and make a measurable difference. We treat businesses right. We're there to help merchants run their business better."

Grab One's strategy in the local market was to come in hard and fast. The site was built in just 4 weeks (probably less time than most people take to write a business plan) after Shane burst into the office one morning and ordered everyone to stop working on Sella and "starting working on this new thing". With a small team of just seven people, they churned out the site and kicked off with a (revolutionary at the time) $4 movie ticket deal that saw over 35,000 New Zealanders sign up to the site in the first day. "We pretty much knew we were number one from day dot, and since then we've become obsessed about tracking our competitors and making sure we hold our position. We track religiously, and we've held our market share as the market has grown. Every day I wake up and give a shit. It's our game to lose and we've only just begun." Another key factor to Grab One's explosive growth has been social networking, and in particular Facebook. "Four or five years ago, you or I might have shared something cool with two or three people by email. These days its much easier to share it with two or three hundred people via Facebook."

When quizzed on the threat of being gobbled up by offshore mega-businesses like Groupon and Living Social, Shane admits that, like most other #1 deal sites around the globe, to having been contacted by lots of them. "They kind of present deals in a take-it-or-leave-it kinda way, which didn't really work for us. This business isn't just a technology race, and will require solid person-to-person relationships with people on the ground. They're unlikely to have three sales people down in the likes of Tauranga and we're confident we're building long-lasting relationships with our merchants."

Biggest regrets? Not having entered the Australian market earlier. "If we'd setup the same thing over there as we did here, we'd literally be five time as big." This is a lesson often learned the hard way by Kiwi entrepreneurs, and not one that will be repeated by Bradley who plans to launch any future project on both sides of the Tasman at the same time. When asked about the lure of setting up a global company from the heart of Silicon Valley, Shane doesn't see the attraction or the need to be based there, preferring to stay loyal to the emerging technology scene in Auckland, New Zealand. "Auckland is fast becoming an attractive place to live for web and technology guys. Wellington has some great businesses such as Trade Me and Xero, but I'm noticing a slight gravitation toward Auckland. It was interesting that Peter Thiel spoke in Auckland, not Wellington recently."

Shane, now a father to two girls, has plenty to offer in the way of advice to those looking to follow in his footsteps. Having dropped out of both high school and a University MBA, he believes people should find what they love and what they're passionate about, and not be afraid to change their mind as they go along. He believes University is the right place for some people, but not others, and when it comes to his own girls, will support them in whatever path they take so long as "they love what they do and they do it well." "When I was a kid I used to help my parents in their own businesses with accounts, sale and purchase agreements, setting up their computers and the like. I loved it. It's important to give kids and young people the freedom to do what they want to do. Don't tell your 7 year old boy to play rugby if he's interested in sailing. Don't tell your 7 year old girl she has to play netball. I tried everything and started wanting to be an architect. Now I find I love building businesses not buildings."

When looking to partner with new people or make an investment, Shane believes people should spend "less time reading Techcrunch, less time talking and more time getting out there building a product. Create a plan and start executing it. Don't just come to the table with an idea that you think is worth a billion dollars." Clearly someone who values networks and deep relationships, Shane is also far more willing to work with people he's known for at least a few years, perhaps a hint young entrepreneurs should spend more time creating relationships for the long-term. "I get cold calls all the time, and about once a month I agree to hear a pitch just to remind myself why I don't want to do business that way. I prefer working with people I know and trust. People I know are at home working on their idea in the weekend rather than throwing together a presentation before hitting the mountain for a bit of skiing."

His long-standing relationship with media company APN (a 50% partner in Sella and Grab One - later increased to 75%) also bears a striking resemblance to these qualities, describing his relationship as "pretty damn cool" with an obvious appreciation of the personal connection he built with their senior management team, relationships Shane believes he would have been unlikely to cultivate had he partnered with a much bigger media company. "They were and are the perfect size. They've been with me every step of the way and I've learned a lot."

During my brief chat with Shane it was hard not to get swept up by his enthusiasm. He talks faster than anyone I've ever met and his iPad chimed at least 20 times with new emails. Having myself received a couple of emails from Shane before I'd even made it home, I'd be willing to bet he replied pretty damn fast too. And that really sums up the kind of person Shane Bradley is, a maturing businessman with deep experience but with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that belongs to a more naive 20-something fresh out of high school. It's a powerful combination, and one we'd all do well to keep an eye on in the future.

Know another Kiwi success story just waiting to be told? Get in touch.


posted by Dylan on 5 August 2011, 2:30 pm in , , ,