Welcome to episode 1, ground zero of the #AmplifyYourBusiness with Matt Hanham podcast.
First guest is Justin bourn, who is the founder and director of Blank Canvas Studios, one of Australia’s leaders in the productions of 3D visualisation images for architectural, interior design and property marketing. Find out how he took the leap from a safe engineering career path to starting his own creative studio (without any professional training in the field), uncover what helped him find success as a young entrepreneur, and the one thing Justin believes can help you amplify your business.
Full transcript is below!
Matt Hanham: Hey guys, it’s Matt Hanham here and welcome to the Amplify Your Business podcast. Alright, here we are. This is the first podcast, I think, of a podcast that hasn’t quite been named, but I think we”re calling it Amplify Your Business. So yeah, we’re almost there. Look, my first guest … this is Matt Hanham here from Team Visible and with my first guest on this podcast which has been sort of rushed into fruition, is Justin Bourn from Blank Canvas. So welcome Justin.
Justin Bourn: Thank you. Rushed is an understatement.
Matt Hanham: Getting it done. I don’t care about the planning, it just has to happen.
Justin Bourn: That’s right.
Matt Hanham: So here we are.
Justin Bourn: I only got the questions ten minutes ago.
Matt Hanham: Look, you’re lucky you have questions.
Justin Bourn: That’s it.
Matt Hanham: A lot of people’s podcasts don’t have any questions.
Justin Bourn: That’s true.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, okay. So listen. We’ve got Justin here from Blank Canvas. Now, let’s just start off with who are you and what do you do Justin?
Justin Bourn: Who am I? So yeah, my name’s Justin Bourn and I am founder and director of Blank Canvas, which is a CGI creative company. So we produce architectural renders for property, predominantly around Australia.
Matt Hanham: Right. So let’s have that in plain English.
Justin Bourn: We make pretty pictures. In other words. Artist impressions is the easiest way to explain it.
Matt Hanham: So basically you create the impressions mainly of buildings that are yet to be built, of what an apartment looks like, the interior, the exterior. Your team generates them with computer and with software effectively?
Justin Bourn: Yeah, you could say that’s a more simple way of explaining it, yeah.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, let’s just break it down. Some people know what CGI is, some people don’t. But I think it helps to break it down.
Justin Bourn: It is one of those hard things you know, when you introduce people … what do you do? And it’s just like, I make pretty pictures, you know?
Matt Hanham: You make pretty pictures, okay. I think it’s a little bit more than that.
Justin Bourn: It is a little bit more than that. But it’s a little bit hard to explain sometimes.
Matt Hanham: Okay. Alright, well let’s make this a little bit easier then. So, what’s something about you that your family and friends might know, but someone that’s not involved in your business might know a little bit about.
Justin Bourn: I saw this one before and something that popped into my head was actually, so recently I got married, which was fun, I guess. And one of the things that came up in some of the speeches which was funny, which never really clicked that, was something that people don’t know about me. But this one came up at the wedding which I think was pretty good and a lot of people say I’m surprised, is I’m actually a black belt in Tai Kwon Do and fought internationally once upon a time.
Matt Hanham: So what’s that, like Tasmania or like-
Justin Bourn: No, in Taiwan once actually. Not Tasmania, not across the ocean there. So yeah, that’s something I don’t really talk about.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, well I didn’t know that.
Justin Bourn: There you go.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, cool. So do you still train at all?
Justin Bourn: No, not really.
Matt Hanham: Not at all?
Justin Bourn: I thought about doing it, it would be good, but yeah no.
Matt Hanham: And how did you go in Taiwan?
Justin Bourn: I think I got a bronze.
Matt Hanham: Wow.
Justin Bourn: Bronze. Yeah, but it’s nothing.
Matt Hanham: So I would assume there’s an awful lot of discipline that you get from martial arts. My small touch on martial arts has shown me that there’s some incredible discipline and stuff there. So what did that do for you? You think that helped shape you as a person?
Justin Bourn: Look I was a very shy kid. And around the neighbourhood there was a bunch of kids that were all growing up around the same time and I kind of got into a bit of an altercation with a couple of them and I think naturally I’m competitive as well so I didn’t really like that. I’ve realised I’m a control freak in the last year or so. And I think out of being vulnerable and not being able to control that situation, I really had to do something about it. So yeah, I went and tried out Tai Kwon Do when I was I think 10 or 11 and did it for about five or six years as a junior instructor as well. So I was teaching kids two days a week after school. I had no way of getting to the dojo or the gym you could say. And I had to ride my bike there every Tuesday and Thursday.
Matt Hanham: Past all the danger.
Justin Bourn: Past all the danger. Nah danger was well gone by that point. And so I think the determination, discipline and things was good for me through those years and helped me a lot. I think moreso self-confidence was one of the biggest takeaways from doing martial arts.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, right.
Justin Bourn: Yeah.
Matt Hanham: So how did you get into business? What happened? What did you do before this?
Justin Bourn: So I guess my story, I’m not that old. I was, you know we’re here in Perth, WA and when I was graduating high school, Perth was going through a big mining boom. And so all the talk of the town was mining and big money can be made in that industry. In short, I was good at tech graphics, thought I can do this. Got a traineeship at an engineering company. Realised that as a draughtsman, realised draughtsmen were the broom sweepers of the engineering world and was like, nope fuck this. And decided to work my way up. Then I was poached by a startup engineering company. Actually two engineers were founding it three years prior to starting my business. And it was a risky opportunity but I loved the idea of being able to make my own. I was always frustrated in the corporate engineering companies. Very restricted. People just bums on seats, just wanted to do their job and that kind of really annoyed me. And so that was a great opportunity. And then I helped grow a team there under the leadership of those two guys and it was good. I learned a lot. And I always had a passion for 3-D ever since I was younger. I was actually going to study 3-D instead of engineering, but went down the engineering path.
Matt Hanham: Safer?
Justin Bourn: Yeah, it was safer at the time particularly. And it was just funny how I ended up being drawn back to the 3-D anyway. And so I self-taught myself. I tried to get it going as a business inside the previous company that I was with. That didn’t really come to fruition. And started to get some interest in my work and yeah, started Blank Canvas. And three years on we’re now a team of nine.
Matt Hanham: Yeah.
Justin Bourn: So yeah, that’s a bit of a condensed version.
Matt Hanham: Incredible. So how do you, I mean how did you really make that step? Like what were you, I mean obviously it sounds like you were feeling some frustration. But at what point were you ready to leap, and how did that sort of eventuate?
Justin Bourn: I’ve had a couple of these conversations lately, actually in that transition point I guess. For me it’s funny, you know we listen to influences and a few other people and about giving value and just doing shit. And actually what started off Blank Canvas was I did a piece of work for free. So I like sharing that because there are other people out there who talk about doing that to get ahead. And I did a piece of work for free. And through that I guess I was then connected with other people.
So I did it for a developer who was like if we win this project then I’ll give you more work. Now I’d recommend against that type of stuff sometimes – when you’re getting paid to do work, don’t do the whole we’ll give you more work – but back then I had nothing to lose only to gain. So I did it, I was introduced to the architects, the architects liked what I did, then they got me to quote on other work and then I started to build a bit of momentum.
And so I was working my day job because I still had the responsibilities there and I didn’t want to hurt that company. I spent much of when I went home, working all night doing this work that I was starting to get. It was kind of like this point of I had to pick one or the other. So I was in a good position that I could either continue and focus on the engineering and/or I could continue on the 3-D. And just prior to that was happening, I guess you could say I could jump on that I’m a uni dropout. But I tried to go to uni to pursue engineering because I never actually went to university, not a qualified engineer even though everyone thought I was. And so I went to go down that path and realised I just didn’t like it and then built momentum in the 3-D. And just got to this I had to pick one or the other.
And that decision was extremely tough because it was risky. I didn’t have any savings. Nothing. But I remember having a conversation with my granddad at the time. So my family’s all in business as well. And he just goes to me, how old are you? And at the time I was only 24. And I was making this decision. And he goes, how old are you? And I go 24. And he’s like, fuck off, like you could fail and you’ve got all your years to rebuild. Like what have you got to lose? You’ve just got nothing to lose. And that really struck and particularly as they’re quite reserved grandparents as well. He recently sold his business. And that was one of those turning points for me where I was just like, it’s so true. And then I think, this is sometimes that synchronisation aspect.
That following week, the directors of that company were looking at things. They weren’t doing so good, there was a little bit of drop in work and they were considering making someone redundant. And out of the team, we were quite a young one, there was only one team member who had a family. And I don’t tell this story to make myself feel self-righteous because what followed afterwards was quite the opposite, but they were talking of getting rid of him and I had already been going with all this decision and I was like, you know what, look, rather than getting rid of him, I’m going to go off and do this thing. And that kind of pushed that decision as well. You know, it’s not right for me if I’m having this decision and that’s pretty much it. And then I just went guns blazing and had to make it work.
Matt Hanham: Awesome. So like one of my questions was going to be, sort of what helped did you receive? And it sounds like you had a really great conversation with a grandparent. Because I think a lot of people do struggle sometimes with the generation or a couple of generations before them in that they can have a very, not negative, but very conservative mindset at times and that they do struggle to sort of manage and deal with their families. So I guess it sounds like you had this experience where you had a relatively conservative grandparent, but he, he or she, he was still telling you to get on with it and go do it, you’re so young. So that’s pretty amazing. But what other help did you receive? It sounds like you sort of really created a pretty amazing situation. You gave some value first. But what help did you get when you got started?
Justin Bourn: So help, look when I look back, I think it was just I was extremely lucky to have a mentor in 3-D. So in the skill, the craft that I was trying to perfect and trying to sell, I was lucky enough to find a mentor. It was a digital one, they were based out of Indonesia and I bugged this guy like crazy for nearly a good 12 months to 2 years straight on improving my craft. And I think that was one of the keys of really helping me have the confidence to go out in business. But in saying that as well, in terms of if I look back, I wouldn’t say help per say, but I’d say experience.
Experience helped me as well. If I was just to go from like learning my craft and going to the business world, I think I would have failed. Because I had the exposure from working in the company of which was considered a startup at the time because that company was only three or four when I joined and swelled to 12 or 13. And I was there in that transition and in that period. So I think I learnt a lot from that in understanding how to deal with people and contracts and invoicing and scope changes and things of that nature, which are paramount when starting the business, particularly in a creative space.
And so in terms of direct help, I had a mentor in my creative field, which at the time I didn’t value as much, and then I think just the experience I had prior to that in the field that I was heading. And look, it’s cliché, but I did have my friends and family. So my now wife who was my fiance was going to support me no matter what, even if we messed up. You know, I was lucky she was in a well-paying job so if I didn’t have any income, I guess there were safety nets in some aspects, but they weren’t that solid. So I guess they were, you could consider them the help that I had. Always very supportive family as well.
Matt Hanham: Sounds like a solid base. But at the same time, I think it’s pretty, you know it’s the old cliché thing, but it can be a very lonely road. And even though you’ve got that great support around you, I’m sure and I think we’ve probably had this conversation in the past where the experience of the people around you is great, but you’re still sort of doing it out there on your own. And so much of it is on your shoulders. And I think sometimes moreso because all these people are supporting you and they have this expectation then that you’re going to succeed because they believe in you. But then that’s a new element to put on your shoulders and sort of push forward.
Justin Bourn: It’s true. Yeah, I think touching on the loneliness, you have that support of family you could say, but in some respects, I was alone … my parents both run a business, my granddad run a business. They understand a little bit. But it’s still different I think. And when you’re running a completely different business, there is a sense of loneliness when you first start out. And now I’m grateful that I have a really good network and I surrounded myself with really good people who are in a similar space. But only 12 months, not even, and when I first started out I definitely didn’t have that. And it was just sheer persistence and determination, like I gotta make this work that you kind of have to break through. Don’t get me wrong, there were shit days as well and working out of home for the first few months was hard and you would procrastinate, still do and all these other things. But when you’ve got to get money through the door, you just kinda gotta go and do it.
Matt Hanham: I’m glad you brought up money. Because that was my next question. Because how, you got a team of nine now, so I mean, can you, happy to sort of share what type of revenue you’re looking at or what your targets are for the year?
Justin Bourn: Yeah, sure. So this year we’ll be targeting one and a half mil revenue. My first project was on the value of ten grand three years ago. And I’ve had no outside investment. No investors.
Matt Hanham: My next question.
Justin Bourn: Yeah. So nothing.
Matt Hanham: So how do you do that? Like how do you start a business and grow at that level without investment?
Justin Bourn: So it’s not trying to live the high life I guess. Like all the money goes back into the company. And there’s pros and cons of that scenario as well. The first year we didn’t make a lot of money. I hit my target but we didn’t make a lot of money. The second year, same thing again. And this year will probably be the same. It’s trying to play that long game. Trying to play that long game. It’s hard to say that in the moment, but you gotta try and play that long game. And I always try to invest forward as well. And people are really important in that element, too. And I think as well is knowing when to push your prices up every so often. And not work for free.
Our fees tripled over the first twelve to eighteen months. Once we got a bit more confident and respected what we did a bit more. I remember my first price hike was like, no one’s gonna pay this for this, you know. And that’s all self-talk. No one’s gonna pay this for this. And behold, people start paying for it, then you up it again and people start paying it. And but others don’t, but you weed out, they’re the people you don’t want to be dealing with anyway. So to answer your question I think it’s just a matter of continually refining and perfecting your craft. Looking at charging what is probably what should be charged at, and what the market is charging as well. And then just taking that money and putting it back into the business if you’re fully self-funded.
Matt Hanham: So I think from what you’re saying is, because I see this quite heavily in the startup community. People come up with a bit of an idea, they do a little bit of work and they’re like I need capital, I need capital. And I’ve been involved in a lot of that. And for most people, or most businesses, they don’t need capital. It’s not actually the next step. So I basically think I’m right in saying you just deployed a lot of patience and effectively just used a lot of the working capital gradually building up and believing and reinvesting the profits you’re making in the business to allow yourself to retain 100% control and ownership without having to sort of be advanced sums of money from people. And I think certainly in the industry you’re looking at and many like it, people don’t need it. People don’t need that. So it sounds like the approach has given you a lot of control, but I’m sure it’s given you a lot of patience and dedication at times.
Justin Bourn: Definitely and the funny thing is it never actually crossed my mind to get investment or whatever it may be. Only now at the three-year mark it’s something that we would ever consider. And there’s a great thing I think about Tony Robbins talks about resourcefulness. Everyone complains I need more money, I need more time, or to be honest I forget the third one. But in the moment you end up finding a way to make it happen. If you need more projects, you go out and you make calls and you e-mail people. Or you need more help to get the work done, you find people to do it and get it done and sometimes you have to sacrifice some margin there or something, but it’s playing it, yeah, patience for that longer game. And you will find a way to make it work, I think if you believe in what you’re doing.
Matt Hanham: Awesome. So listen, I’ve got like hundreds of questions that I want to ask you and talk about. I’m really stuck.
Justin Bourn: We might have to have an Episode 2.
Matt Hanham: I think we might have to have Episode 2 which might have to be a lot longer because I’m being told, hey you already reaching these time markers, but I guess one thing I wanted you to get or I wanted to get into you because you’re in the CGI space which is very interesting to me. We both have similar, we’ve had chats about where we think media’s going, etc. and one thing I really wanted to touch on was VR and get your thoughts being sort of not attached to it, but in an industry, in a space very close to it and where do you think things are going with VR and what does that look like for your business and how does that impact all of us going forward?
Justin Bourn: Yeah, so I’ve had a few of these conversations. I have my opinions on VR and everyone will. The short, it’s coming. It’s definitely coming and it will be here. Lately,in only the last couple of months, we’re getting more and more interest in it. We do actually produce VR, virtual reality for walking through apartments and buildings and things like that. And we’ve been doing kind of a stepping stone of 360 panoramas. They’re not really classed as VR, for most people they are, but they’re really just static images, 360 images that you can put a headset on.
In my space, my opinion of it is varying because it’s just being mindful of the gimmick. Like someone will jump on the hype of the gimmick and it doesn’t necessarily have a practical application yet, particularly in apartment space where we operate in property. Sometimes it’s not ideal to show off the shoe boxes that do get offered to the market. Unfortunately there are shoe boxes out there.
Matt Hanham: Just to clarify, a shoe box, for someone that doesn’t know what’s going on here, is basically like a one bedroom apartment.
Justin Bourn: Yeah
Matt Hanham: Like someone’s building in a cheap product building, which is not a particularly amazing looking apartment with amazing city views.
Justin Bourn: Correct.
Matt Hanham: It’s something that doesn’t look great when you take a photo.
Justin Bourn: One bedroom, one bathroom apartment or studio. Pretty stock standard, not like … they have to exist but they’re nothing flash. Yes. One of them, shoe box. And so then you don’t want to highlight that. So there are advantages and disadvantages. Not only that, VR is still a single user experience. So you put a headset on in a room and no one else can really see what’s going on. You can see it on a screen, but it’s still not. It’s almost a tad anti-social.
Matt Hanham: Well, but on that. To jump in. And I’m sure you’ve got more to say. And I forget the product … I think it might be called Next VR. And I think they’re having an exclusive deal with the NBA at this point. You can effectively buy a seat, like a court-side seat in the stadium. And technically you could virtually sit with say three mates and all watch and consume the same game over time. So I agree with your point that a lot of it is single user, but I also see a lot of opportunities for it to be multi. I guess it just needs to be built.
Justin Bourn: It just needs to be built and I guess I’m talking from our space.
Matt Hanham: Your space, okay.
Justin Bourn: Which is the property space. It’s definitely going to be there in the, I guess, other areas of sports, even travel, they’re talking about it in travel. But you know, you will be able to experience. To be honest, I don’t see why in the next five to ten years, like they’ll have a drone hovering around the NBA game and you’ll put a headset on and you’ll experience like all the players will have a 360 degree camera attached to their head so small it doesn’t interrupt the game and you get to experience the game as Lebron. And you’ll pay five to ten grand to put a headset on as if you’re Lebron playing the game.
Matt Hanham: I’m excited.
Justin Bourn: And that will be there. The tech technically already exists to be honest. It’s just making it happen. And so in that space, I agree. There will be social, Facebook obviously investing a lot in it. But in our space, it’s still very anti-social. It’s hard to experience and a lot of our competitors forget, I think the practicality of it, so you have to bring it back to well, like as a service company how can this actually yield the results of what our clients require? As opposed to this is just cool, it costs a lot of money, you need to have it just because everyone else is having it is not really how we like to go about it. So we’re still testing and investigating, but we’re getting a lot more interest in VR. And like as I said, it’s going to be here either way. We’re just not going like, it’s the be all and end all. It’s just another piece of content or another media form to what we already have.
Matt Hanham: Yeah, okay. It’s pretty exciting. I mean I know you certainly have a niche and you’ve stuck to a niche and VR has touched that, but as it does I guess to expand a lot further and I think that will be, it sounds like that’s your big opportunity slash challenge at the same time is to try and work out how to make that experience really pop. And certainly in your niche. It’s really cool. I like to hear your thoughts about it because obviously you’re in there every day creating this type of digital media.
Justin Bourn: It does offer a really great experience. I think as the tech gets up there it will … and it’s still in its infancy really. It’s cool, but it’s still got a lot of potential to go even further.
Matt Hanham: Do you think that’s a big challenge? I mean has that been one of your biggest challenges, the technology in the business? Or would you say one of your biggest challenges has been sort of away from innovation and tech?
Justin Bourn: To be honest, innovation is not really a challenge of ours. If anything the biggest obstacle and challenge in our business as a full creative is talent. It’s finding the people who are great at what they do. Even though we’re so global these days, it’s still, particularly in Perth, in our little sleepy town, it’s extremely difficult to find the people that we need. There are hundreds out there, but it’s finding talent is our number one challenge. And I would say innovation is just behind that. Yeah, we don’t see that as a massive challenge, maybe a small one. The only difference in innovation is maybe differentiating us from our competitors and how we utilise the software and tech that’s available. Because we don’t develop it. It’s already out there. It’s how we use it and apply it, practicality, to the market is actually the differentiating, is our challenge moving forward. Because kind of like we used to akin a lot of what we do to web design if anyone’s familiar with web design and that process, our work is very similar. And you know with Square Space and a few other things and like in the web design space that will happen to our industry as well, AI, outsourcing, all these other things will come. So they are our challenges, I guess moving forward in what we do as a business.
Matt Hanham: Yeah. Okay. Cool. So a lot of people listening to this will be in a business, but they’ll be in a business that’s sort of aspiring to be the size of your business, or growing their business up. What’s the one thing that you think you could impart on them that you think would help them? If they did something right now, what’s the one thing that could amplify their business?
Justin Bourn: The one thing …
Matt Hanham: For 2017.
Justin Bourn: For 2017. Big question because I’ve learned so much over the last three years in starting this business and there are so many things I could talk about. I think, one of my biggest turning points was … look, they do talk about it, but I would say self-awareness is probably the number one biggest thing.
Matt Hanham: So how do I do self-awareness today? What would you say? How would I start to investigate self-awareness?
Justin Bourn: Put me on the spot. Look, actually I had this catch up with one of my staff members and I think one of the biggest things that anyone could do. If you’re starting a business, you’re just starting out or you’re doing anything for self-awareness or whatever it is, find someone who’s been there, done that. Find them at all costs and bug them or try to work for them as well. If you’ve got an idea, go work for the people or for a company in that space. That would actually be my number one thing. Finding a mentor or someone who is good or better at what they do than you, and just hang around them. And if you can’t find them, then go to your fucking YouTube, go to podcasts, go to everything because there’s a lot of information out there, and absorb and just like, just take in, take in, take in. That would be my number one thing.
Matt Hanham: Awesome.
Justin Bourn: That would be it.
Matt Hanham: Great advice. I love it. I think we’ve talked before, but we both have examples of that. Where we’ve gone and just given ourselves, handed over some labour for free or whatever we needed to do to go find a way to add some value to someone that could potentially mentor you. Often you can’t just go, hey mate, hey do you want to just mentor me please?
Justin Bourn: You touched on a good point there. Yeah, you have to add value somewhere to that relationship of whatever it may be. And like I said, if you can’t find someone, then what you trade off is time, which is, and your attention to other forms. But if you do happen to find, or if you know of people, then you have to offer up some value to make it worthwhile for the other person.
Matt Hanham: Awesome. Well look, like I say, 20 more questions that I want to ask you. So absolutely, definitely, I want to lock you into doing this again.
Justin Bourn: Yeah, yeah.
Matt Hanham: But for now we’re gonna wrap this up. Look if people want to know more about you, where can they find you? What profiles are you on? What’s Blank Canvas on about? Where do I find out more?
Justin Bourn: So we’re pretty big on Instagram. So you have to find Blank Canvas on Instagram @blankcanvas.studios. Also our website is blankcanvas.studio. Myself, you can follow me on my Instagram @jtbzo.
Matt Hanham: @Jtbzo.
Justin Bourn: Yep. And that’s probably the best locations at the moment. And I think we have Facebook for Instagram as well. So. Yeah.
Matt Hanham: Awesome. Well, thanks very much for being an early guest of this brand new podcast that we’ve launched, Amplify Your Business.
Justin Bourn: No, thanks for having me. Yeah. I know for the first one this will be interesting.
Matt Hanham: It’s been brilliant, you’ve been a good guest. Smooth talker. Smooth operator. No look, thank you very much for joining us and it’s been a blast, but we’ll definitely come back.
Justin Bourn: My pleasure.
Matt Hanham: I’ve got a lot to talk about. A lot to ask you, and yeah. So that’ll be it. Thanks very much.
Justin Bourn: Thanks man, appreciate it. Cheers.
Matt Hanham: See you next time.
Justin Bourn: Will do.
Matt Hanham: Hey guys, it’s Matt here, and thanks so much for listing to the Amplify Your Business podcast. It means the world to me that you’ve listened all the way through and I’d love it if you could share it with your friends. If you want to.