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Grow A Small Business Podcast

May 24, 2020

In this episode, I interview David Wise, a Co-founder, and Director at SFM Environmental Solutions Pty Ltd, a professional forestry business that provides forest management and consultancy services to a range of clients in Australia and New Zealand. David and his 2 partners started SFM back in 2001 when he was only 25. They were having a beer at the Uni bar and they decided to start a business instead of getting real jobs. With financial support from friends and family, and almost 20 years later, they have a team of 25 full-time employees, and 100 sub-contractors, and an annual turnover of $20 Million (projected to reach $30 Million in 2020). 

The company has two offices in Tasmania, one in Queensland and another in New Zealand. Two years after starting SFM, the three launched a risky but innovative subsidiary business called Hydrowood, a wholly-owned subsidiary of SFM that salvages Tasmanian specialty timbers standing underwater for decades in man-made hydro-lakes and creates timber products for bespoke joinery, furniture, and high-end architectural applications. They have one customer on the mainland that buys 95% of that unique product. The state government provided a $250,000 grant to test the Hydrowood idea and the Australian government a further $5 Million to take the venture to reality. 

The founders guard recruiting carefully with a no dick head policy and put their culture first (Hire smart, like-minded people as you can train them). David believes the hardest thing in growing a small business is, “Have the courage to do it, get financial management under control, and make sure you have something people wanna buy. The advice he would give himself on day one is, “Work hard, don’t give up, and focus. Don’t diversify, Specify” It’s going to be a super insightful episode you won’t wanna miss as David shares some of his business ownership wisdom.

This Cast Covers:

  • Starting SFM and coming up with the innovative idea for HydroWood.
  • Pulling old trees out of dams and lakes to process them.
  • Bootstrapping and growing the business organically for the last 20 years to reach $20 Million in annual turnover with a projected $30 Million turnover in 2020.
  • From 3 full-time employees to 25 full-time employees and 100 sub-contractors.
  • The business ownership success in being able to pay yourself and hire a team.
  • Getting funding from the government, the three Fs, and holding stock.
  • The fun and excitement of innovating and doing something that no one has done and made it work.
  • Becoming a leading brand in the architecture/wood space, surviving through the global financial crisis, and doing well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Some of the most stressful points they had when they were starting HydroWood.
  • Adopting some patience and learning not to micromanage people.
  • The importance and challenges of keeping on top of logistics and financial management.
  • Focusing on culture when hiring people and how it helps new hires fit into the company.
  • Learning about discipline and decision making from taking a lot of aviation-related professional development.
  • Taking a company directorship course and the valuable learnings of holding a chairmanship role.
  • Growing your business by surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you.
  • The power of focusing on one thing that you’re good at. 

Additional Resources:

Music from "Cold Funk" by Kevin MacLeod ( License: CC BY (