The beauty of business: Having an impact, both on and offline

Dale Hardiman is one half of Dowel Jones, which he founded alongside Adam Lynch in 2013. Together they created an Australian design brand that produces simple, durable and beautiful furniture, lighting and accessories. We spoke to Dale about the highs and lows of his and Adam’s business journey as a part of our beautiful business campaign.

Adam and I met when we were still at university – we both came to Melbourne to study furniture design. I was interested in sculptural work and Adam was interested in making, and Dowel Jones represents the meeting point of who we are collaboratively.

We’ve been really lucky. We started the company in our third year of university and by the time we graduated we were working full time for Dowel Jones, and have been full time for the past four years.

We graduated during an interesting time in the growth of Australian contemporary design. In our generation of graduates from Australian design schools, we’ve seen a large number of creative practitioners really finding success not just in designing, but also in running small businesses. From our perspective, this wasn’t the case for previous generations – we came through university not really knowing many other contemporary designers that had succeeded in running a small design and manufacturing business at our age (we were 23 and 21 years old). We were able to make a living from our design practice full time, which I think in the pre-digital age was much more difficult.

The importance of the digital atmosphere for design brands

The internet and social channels creating digital visibility have changed the design business. For Dowel Jones, we went from being a small design business working in the northern suburbs of Melbourne to being incredibly visible globally very quickly.

Once we understood how important the digital space was, we started to produce for that space. It allowed us to understand our audience, and how people were viewing our work and responding to it.

But we needed to go digital in other ways too. Prior to Xero we had a very rudimentary receipt system and documentation. We knew we needed some accounting software when we started seeing Adam’s van just full of pieces of paper. At any one given stage there were  hundreds of pieces of paper and that was kind of our “accounting software”. So I guess it was one time when a big gust of wind blew a piece of paper from the van into the street that we said, “We’re going to need some accounting software!”

Building a business that suits your strengths

While we love design, neither Adam or I went into this with formal business qualifications. We gained all of our experience through the day-to-day running of Dowel Jones. Our formal education was in design, and that’s what we want the brand’s focus to be on.

Xero has allowed us to focus on being designers primarily, instead of business people. This means we can create the jobs that we want, instead of being spending considerable time on the business side of things. Features like the data visualisation is really helpful, particularly for seeing our cash flow. As designers we are really visual people, and knowing that we can go to our dashboard and see an up-to-date graph of “X” amount of dollars in the business makes us feel in control of our cash flow. Now when we go through and reconcile, everything is stored online and accessible anywhere in the world.

Instead we can spend our time enjoying Dowel Jones and seeing the impact our brand is having. There was one particular moment last November when we realised it was more than something that lived online. It was at our sample sale, the largest we’d ever hosted. We opened at 10 o’clock in the morning, and there was already a line out the front of the building. We really didn’t expect that. To see so many people line up to try and own one our products was incredible. I spoke with a lot of the people as they came through, and I could see that people really appreciated our brand. It wasn’t just a matter of people clicking “like” on our social media, it was real people who were engaging with what we are doing.

I sit in an office most days and sometimes it’s not until you experience that face-to-face moment that you really get a true sense of people connecting with what you’re creating.