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Our Customer Experience team - 'Being Real'

Another interesting question posed by The Australian – everyone is looking for the get quick rich scheme – and the reality is that there are none – unless you don’t mind a bit of hard work… here is my response to the question “How to make money online?”.

This century is all about transparency and authenticity – people want to know that you are real. But having a great product that appeals to people and will get them talking is where real success lies. I have always asked myself the question – ‘who really gives a damn?’ We might think it is the best idea ever, but really we need to get over ourselves, a bit. Sometimes when people share with me their ‘fantastic’ business ideas – the first question I ask is ‘why?’ Why are you doing this? It might be your passion but are there other people who agree – more importantly are there millions of them?

Don’t be fooled into thinking RedBalloon was an overnight success – it was two months and 4 days after the site launched in 2001 before we made our first sale! In almost ten years we have taken that number to over 1.1million experiences sold. Hard work, dedication and expelling the word failure from your vocabulary is key.

One of the biggest difficulties in running an online company is trying to connect with a customer who you will never have a true face-to-face relationship with. We try to combat this by ensuring each and every opportunity we have to engage with a customer – whether that be by phone, email or the physical delivery of an experience – ends in a great memory. In the early days a woman called me saying she was just about to purchase online with us – but she wanted to know if we where ‘real’. I answered “well you are talking to the CEO”. She responded but how do I know that, you could just as easily be the janitor (the reality was that I was the janitor too – I wore most hats in those early years). In that moment I knew that I had to build trust for my fledgling online business – I had to let people know that there was real people behind the brand. Hence with every opportunity we attend trade shows, conferences and seminars. We get out from behind the website and eye ball our customers. I personally find myself speaking at many events – this is all part of the plan to make sure people can really know us… so we are real to people…. (and it is one of the reasons for being a blogger)

Step number one in making money online is to be real, be yourself and be accessible. (Most of the promotional photo’s you see on the RedBalloon website are either of team members or were taken by team members). The next step to making money is about having a clear sense of purpose – and let people know what you stand for.

In the case of RedBalloon, it was about identifying our key audiences by considering “who would want to buy experiences” and “what sort of people want to make a difference in the lives of others”? I quickly came to the conclusion that RedBalloon would appeal to both the corporate and consumer world. Mums and dads, brother and sisters as well as businesses who put budgets aside for rewarding and recognising the efforts of their employees.

Yes, we are a business, and a key objective for a business is to make a profit. We make no secret of that. But some recent research from Travis Carter and Thomas Gilovich* really cemented that we’re on the right track with what we are do here at RedBalloon – to change gifting in Australia and NZ forever with meaningful experiences, because we believe that the most important gift is the gift of shared experience. The research showed that it’s not wealth that causes happiness, but what and how money is used that contributes to our sense of well being. The more aligned a purchase is to ‘shared experience’, the greater the sense of happiness. This deepens relationships. Interesting that the research tells us that we adjust our memories over time to ‘edit’ the bits we did not like about the experience – and we only remember the good bits – whilst the luster of a material gift will continue to fade over time.

Another critical ingredient to being profitable is not to waste money. When I started the business at home I used second hand computers, shared resources and did almost everything myself (except cut code). Whilst it might not have been the most professional or best return on my time – it meant that every dollar earned was invested in growth – rather than administration – and that we made a nominal profit from day one which could be reinvested. (RedBalloon is completely self funded) My philosophy has not changed. You do need to spend money to grow (no-one has saved themselves into growth), but the reality is that most business growth comes through building unbreakable customer relationships. And to get unbreakable customer relationships you need people who are completely committed and passionate about what they do. So a dollar invested in your people is worth far more than splashing money around on expensive bill board advertising. Advertising has a place – but it is to remind people of the relationship that they have with your brand… not to create a relationship. It takes people to do that.

So to make money online is very much about knowing what you stand for and sharing the story – having a fabulous team who share a deep commitment to a sense of purpose. The purpose simply cannot be ‘to make money’ – making money is to business what breathing is to life – it is essential, but I didn’t wake up this morning just to breath. I remember years ago when I worked in a professional services firm and the partner said something to the effect of “work harder make me more money and one day you could be here too”. Very uninspiring. If you are in business just to make money then the road is likely to be far harder, than being in business to do something to make the world a better place.
In summary

  1. Be real
  2. Sense of purpose
  3. Invest in people

* Carter, Travis J and Gilovich, Thomas, Enjoyment of experiences and possessions

Reader Interactions


  1. Well said Naomi! In my experience, your three key points 1) Be real; 2) Sense of purpose; & 3) Invest in people; all apply as equally offline as they do online.

    The right people in the right environment are everything to a creating a successful business.

  2. This is really inspiring, both in terms of your thinking, and in terms of your achievements, not least of which is the 1.1 million experiences that RedBalloon has sold. Congratulations on the success and thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this article Naomi, it was a great read with the encouragement and hope that growing your own business is possible – if you’ve got the values right. I couldn’t agree more with Tristan, very noteworthy points.

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