Balloon goes up for business Shark

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Naomi Simson sets an example for anyone with a strong passion for a new concept to launch their own business – even if that might mean walking around with red helium balloons tied to their briefcase.

Simson threw all of her savings into an idea that, with its early setbacks, took time to attract customers.

It took passion, patience, hard work and an open mind, as well as keeping a sense of humour, for her to find success.

She said her first website was basic with a red background and black writing and that the only key terms a Google search could detect from the homepage were the words ‘skip intro’.

So in the initial months, Simson found herself with no money and no customers.

The now nationally renowned entrepreneur and founder of the online company Red Balloon, also known for her role as a resident shark on the television show Shark Tank, recounted her journey to other businesswomen at the Casey-Cardinia women’s business lunch on Friday 26 August.

“I realised I had the opportunity to create intimate moments in people’s lives,” Simson said.

“But it took a long time to get customers on board. I used to tie red balloons to my briefcase with the website URL on it, hoping someone would see it. Hope doesn’t work as a business strategy.

“It was the longest two months and three days of my life. I was so excited when I had my first order – a stress buster massage for $99 – because someone believed in me.”

Soon Simson was faced with the decision to employ a manager, a recruiter and employees who could help her fulfil the company’s customer promise.

She emphasised the importance of employee engagement.

“The hardest thing for me was to let go. Initially, I did everything. I even used to blow up the balloons,” she laughed.

“But I knew I couldn’t do everything.

“Disengaged employees cost about $17 billion a year in lost productivity. Remember that 85 per cent of engaged employees will stay with you.

“The scary part is that 23 per cent of your disengaged employees – who are most likely bad mouthing you – are planning to spend their whole career with you. I say set them free. Let them go work for the competition.”

Simson likened running a small business to a rowing crew racing a boat.

The leader may be the smallest, but is the only one who can see the rhythm of the river to set the strategy.

Everyone else trusts the leader implicitly. They have to do the exact same thing to be truly aligned and only that makes them unstoppable.

Red Balloon sold 300 experience gifts in its first year, then began selling 300 gifts a month and continued to grow each year.

“There’s so much more to business success than just the idea. It’s about passion and energy; what drives you to persist every day,” Simson said.

“Passion can get confused with money, but real passion is something that you feel when you wake up in the morning – it annoys all your friends and family because it’s all you ever talk about.”

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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