David Fazio, founder of mate explains:
For most people, the phrase Good-day Mate is as Australian as a kangaroo. But David Fazio has taken the word mate and turned it into a brand that is conquering Australia.
Having dropped out of school, David started work at 14 as an apprentice cabinet maker. By 18, he was a fully trained cabinet maker and might have stayed doing just that, and opening his own cabinet-making business, if he hadn’t slipped a disc in his lower back playing football. It took him around a year to recover, and even then, hi back was in no state to return to cabinet making.
He talked to a friend who worked for a telecom company, asking for an introduction, saying, “I can bullshit my way through to doing what you are.” It proved accurate. During his time there, David came across a distant relative. This relative was a non-exec of a firm he was pitching to. Jonathan pitched right back to him the idea of starting a business together.
During this time, NBN (the national broadband network) was pushing nationwide, and everyone in Australia had to change providers. The Internet Service Provider market was about to boom. David talked to his twin brother, Mark, a retail marketing manager, used to the consumer side.
He told Mark how he wanted the business to be, and Mark came up with the name mate, all based on David’s underlying principle that you need to treat customers like you would a mate. David says it sounds simple, but it is the perfect brand with a lot of good brand association. The three set up mate.
They took out loans, re-mortgaged the family home, determined to get the business off the ground. It worked.
In the first three years, mate grew to have a 30 million Australian dollar revenue. They offer NBN, ADSL, and mobile plans and are talking about a future where they extend into entertainment and energy.
I asked David if there had been shaky moments on the journey, and he said absolutely. Funding is always a problem. In their industry, margins are incredibly tight. He told me that when I spoke to him, they had an opportunity to buy more channels, which would cost another 10-20k. But, he says, you just have to back yourself.
They have also had to concentrate on hiring heavy and putting off investment in automation to ensure delivery to their customers.
Mate is one busines that has thrived during COVID. In the first eight weeks, their sales doubled on a daily/monthly basis and are still up 30% pre-pandemic.
David told me that this is because of more homes needing the internet due to home working, people having time to research the right deal, and also through having Australian support and customers unable to get through to competitors for weeks. They did not spend anything more on marketing
A Team of Mates
Like David, many of their staff at mate have been injured in some way and have had to re-train. Their customer services manager, for example, was left with no cartilage in his knees at 35, struggling in pain to keep his own business going for wife and kids through painkillers. He is now on a decent salary and can look after himself and is no longer in pain.
They have only ever had two people leave. The challenge has been to source good people to keep pace with their growth. They find people through recommendations through the existing staff. For David, finding the right people means looking for trust first and foremost. They must have some degree of computer literacy.
After that, he looks for people who will make good members of the team who will be committed. He is not bothered by any lack of schooling. It is all about attitude. His sales manager was a hairdresser, and his general manager was packing shelves in woollies before coming to work there.
They look for people who are hungry for work and will grab the opportunity. David says it comes down to him knowing they will take care of things because they give a shit. People ask him why he overpays, but he would question how much is too much for eleven hours a day and ensure his customers are happy. He doesn’t see it as paying too much, only over the market rate. To him, it is entirely worth it.
David says that often people joining means that their other halves can give up work. That means he gets 100% of their focus. He knows he couldn’t manage what he does if his wife didn’t take care of the house and kids.
By the chain of involvement with people already within the organization, they promote a family atmosphere. Family is one of mate’s company values, along with authenticity, inclusion, and simplicity. They have space for children to come to work and play, and it is their own Aunt who cooks everyone’s lunch. They also provide a gym with a sparring cage. They take background music seriously, playing zen music in the bathrooms and jazz in the downstairs areas. They aim to look after their team and, in return, talk about the great culture and delivery of the team members. They throw family parties twice a year with water slides for the kids and people bringing their parents and in-laws.
Every single day, each person has to go round and say good morning to everyone else on the team. This now means they have to start up to 20 minutes early. But to mate, it is part of their culture.
David is justifiably proud of what they have achieved when he looks at his team and what they have achieved. Mate is a sizeable provider in Australia now. But more than that, it is being able to change lives by their culture, working with people you like.
The secrets of exceptional Customer Service:
David always had an itch to start his own business. Much as he loved his first boss in cabinet making, David still thought that he could do better in treating the customers. To him, customer service comes down to treating people how you want to be treated yourself—and always remembering that they don’t have to buy from you.
Telecoms is not a sector known for its customer service, and I was intrigued from the moment I read that they had won awards that included this area. When I contacted them, their reputation was entirely born out; outstandingly straightforward and efficient, and a pleasure to deal with.
Their business statement is, “Choose a provider you trust like a mate.” They pride themselves on having down to earth and easy to follow conversations with customers and being just plain nice to deal with. This attitude is highly disruptive in an industry devoid of trust, where people dread being locked into deals they don’t understand. Mate aims to win customers and then deliver on promises.
Mate is a Sydney based company and believe that being on-shore is vital to customer service. David says he is not criticizing other companies. Still, for their sector, where everything is very new, people are very often confused and frustrated by the lack of clarity from offshore service people.
David explained that one of his old bosses taught him something vital in business. He was told that to do well, you need to be either cheaper, better, or different from the others. He asked himself when planning his business, which he could do. He knew it wasn’t pricing; he was doing the same thing as other companies, but could he do it better? Absolutely. So that is where the focus went from the start, and they still work that way.
They started by asking themselves what was the worst thing for customers in customer service, especially in their industry. The answer lay in the wait times to speak to someone in the service department. The first thing mate introduced was a rule that all calls must be answered within a minute. On the odd occasion, when this isn’t achieved, they have an auto-switch back to the switchboard, and the caller is asked if they want to be called back as soon as someone is free or have an option to book a call at a convenient time.
The next significant point of differential was not to lock customers into contracts. David reckons it should be a no-brainer. If people like the service, they will stay, and if they don’t, they should never be forced to. He views this as another way of backing himself.
When he trains, David uses the following story. He reminds people what a big part of our lives the internet is now. “Imagine,” David says, “coming home, tired after a long day and your partner is having a crisis, the kids are driving her crazy because they can’t use their X boxes, there I no wifi. All that guy wants to do is switch off, and instead, he has to ring up the internet company. No wonder he is upset”.
First and foremost, team members at mate learn sympathy. They accept that their customers can be tired and angry and remind themselves no customers, no job. Instead, they aim to kill abusive customers with kindness. They do a lot of training on how to calm customers down, reminding people that none of the abuse is personal. If they didn’t, by chance, answer that call, that person would be just as abusive to whoever answered. David also points out that they are not curing cancer; it is just providing internet in the long run.
At mate, they work at understanding their customers, remembering no customers, means no business. In the end, David says, it comes down to common sense and passion.
You might enjoy reading about another Sydney based entrepreneur, James Schramko of Superfast Business.