Joe Andon migrated to Australia with his parents from Palestine when he was three year’s old. His first memory of living in Brisbane was trying to communicate with the other children in kindergarten, “When I got home I said to my mum ‘There is something wrong with the people here, they don’t understand what I am saying,’” he laughs.
Growing up, Andon wanted to emulate his dad who ran his own cabinet making business. To pursue this dream (and escape the confines of school) Andon had his first business idea at age fifteen. With his father as guarantor, Andon took out a lease on an office, from where he would run his marketing business ‘Invest Your Sense’. “I used to go to school in the morning, get my name written on the roll call and then go straight to the train station to go to my office,” he recalls.
As part of his new plan, Andon would door-knock local businesses, looking for work. He offered to design websites, create brochures and even conduct market research. Businesses were encouraged by his tenacity and Andon began to become busy. “My dad was supportive,” he says “But I also bothered them a lot, because at fifteen I couldn’t drive. So mum and dad were driving me around everywhere.”
It was this keen sense of business acumen that led Andon to create an invention that would change the course of his life forever.
Towards the end of high school, Andon would combine his love of art and design with his skills in computer programming and was one of the first people to build online order forms in Australia for consumers to have products delivered. While the idea is now commonplace, at that time is was only being rolled out on a small scale for simple products.
Andon was keen to test whether the online world was ready to order a larger scale product through his type of form. “Nothing big was getting done because freight companies couldn’t deliver anything heavy,” he explains. “So I decided to just try doing that for fun and randomly I thought, ‘What is a big product’ and trampolines just came to mind.”
Andon put the option online and very soon he was getting orders for trampolines to be delivered. There was only one problem – he didn’t have any trampolines. He approached a supplier, who was (at that time) the largest manufacturer of trampolines in Australia, to see if he could purchases 300 trampolines for resale. The company failed to take Andon seriously, and in the end the deal was not made. “This could have been a very different business,” Andon reflects. “We could have been a reseller for them but they missed out. Instead they created a competitor.”
Not to be disheartened, Andon began selling a generic design from overseas but he quickly saw a gap in the market for a product to be reinvented. A year later, his first “Vuly” design trampoline came onto the market. The design has abandoned the traditional coil springs and is simply assembled by snapping the parts together – no nuts or bolts required. It is complete with the world’s tallest safety net, a full-length door and a 150kg weight rating.
It seems the world was ready for a new trampoline. From selling his generic design in the first year, to selling his own design saw Andon’s revenue triple to create a turnover of $3 million a year. All this before Andon was nineteen. What followed was a whirlwind tour of demonstrating his product on the international toy circuit, in front of some of the biggest names in the business.
Now Vuly generates more than AUD $10 million in sales in North America, and more than AUD $25 million in Australia. At twenty-seven years old, Andon has not lost any of that tenacity which saw his fifteen year old self out door-knocking. He is set to launch another product that will change the way the world looks at swing-sets.
His says his biggest lesson has come from achieving success so quickly, “When you start a company and then it goes from $0-30 million in a few years, several things happen – especially when you are young,” he explains. “Firstly the older more experienced business people try and fool you into taking away a bit of your profit. So I am glad I survived those experiences and was wiser than a lot of that.”
Andon also says the challenge of running a company at his level required a state of cash flow and inventory that he did not have in the early years. “I guess my biggest highlight would be surviving a business so big and historically, not actually having any money.”
In advising other inventors, Andon warns about getting too caught up in your new idea at the risk of business sense. “Even some of the greatest inventions in the world really don’t make profit from the get go,” he says. “It is important to understand that inventions lose money, before they make money.”