Michael Clark, Crisp Solutions Founder and Lemon Wedge owner, is guided by these business philosophies: make the world better, don’t take no for an answer and never give up. His deep awareness of both the good and the bad forces in life drive him every day. The positive is a never-ending inspiration and the negative elements are a powerful teacher where strength and experience can be found. Thus, out of the opportunities and the challenges his environment and life posed before him, Michael has emerged as a formidable businessman.
The Younger Years
Born and raised in the suburbs of Melbourne, Michael was a happy, determined and capable kid. He loved all sports and was particularly obsessed with basketball. “I loved people, making friends and doing fun things with them. I was always hardworking on weekends, doing jobs for family and friends to earn some pocket money, such as washing cars, gardening, mowing lawns, or working at our family business, filling bags with mulch or rocks for sale to customers,” Michael described. Alongside these affirmative attributes in his early years, he was also battling some undesirable surroundings.
In the space of about two years in the early 90’s recession, the family business failed and the family went bankrupt, with the bank taking the family home as a result. His Dad then left, placing his mother in a very difficult financial situation with two young children, no home, a low-income job and no financial support. “We were literally left with nothing financially – zero. There was a lot of intense emotional, sad and scary times. Mum did everything she could to keep a roof over our heads and single-handedly got us through this tough time.” Living every day in an environment where money was scarce and was seemingly the cause of all the world’s problems burnt many lessons into Michael’s mind. As a 12-year-old, he made a lifelong commitment to himself to do everything in his power to make the world better for himself and everyone he cared about.
In addition to the family complications, there were also rough times in school which were not ideal. Fortunately, again his mother was there to guide him through this uncertain scenario. “She was instrumental in keeping me at school and not going completely down the wrong path – as much as I tried,” Michael intimated. The school environment was not helping, with kids that were doing the worst things deemed as the cool ones. “It was a pretty rough school environment and I was getting in a lot of trouble. There was zero incentive to do the right thing or study hard. Anyone with ambition or academic success was brutally cut down and bullied,” as Michael puts it.
“Amongst all the craziness, I did still manage to stay focused on working hard and earning money. I had jobs every weekend and after school. I worked as much as I could to earn money and save up for things. I was always living by my own high moral and ethical code, but in reality, I was in a lot of high-risk situations. Without realising it, I was in a huge struggle not to become a product of my environment,” he related.
The Turning Point
The major turning point in his life was when he took a TAFE course in Business Marketing. “I met with a guidance counsellor who presented a TAFE course that was called an Advanced Diploma in Business Marketing, and I had just enough marks to get into it. Like many 18-year-olds, I had no idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I also had no idea what Business Marketing was, but when the counsellor told me it could be applied to any industry, a light bulb went off. If I took this course, I could defer a big part of the decision about what I wanted to do, which sounded perfect. That conversation with the counsellor had put me on the path to where I am today,” he narrated.
Attending the course each day presented a whole new environment for him. Michael recalled, “I met people that were loving life. They were a different kind of cool for completely different reasons than what I had been exposed in my earlier school. They were getting good marks in the course. They were ambitious, positive, outgoing, and hardworking. These kids had different family units and were into sports, things I had never tried before, like wakeboarding and snowboarding. It was truly a foreign concept to me. I loved it and immersed myself in all of it. I started to get good marks and enjoyed learning everything about marketing.”
At the TAFE course, Michael met some role models that ushered him to a positive journey in his life. He became close mates with his classmate Richie, who welcomed him into his family. Richie’s dad, Robyn Bray, became his inspiration and one of his mentors. “He was a successful entrepreneur, and his lifestyle engaged me completely. He was killing it in business, and he still had time to hang out with us and go wakeboarding or snowboarding a few times a week. Lucky for me he shared his experiences with me, with nothing being off-limits. I remember sitting in his office at his home for hours on end and asking thousands of questions to which he sat there and gave me time and energy in answering every single one of them.” That got Michael inspired with all the lessons that he found invaluable.
After some success in the TAFE course and some difficult negotiation with the University, Michael managed to get himself into a Business Marketing Degree course at Swinburne University, Hawthorn. In his 3rd year of study, they had an assignment on product management, which could have been just another random assignment. But, in fact, it turned out to be a pivotal moment. At that time, he was doing the standard part-time job in retail on days off and weekends. In the hope of landing a marketing position in the company’s head office, he started studying the business model and the customers’ behaviours and came up with different product ideas. The 3rd year university assignment was the perfect opportunity to put his ideas to the test. The research from the assignment reinforced Michael’s thoughts on how well the product ideas would work if he could get the product developed and ready for market.
The Deal of a Lifetime
From here, the real entrepreneurial journey began. Michael recalls hitting so many seemingly game-ending brick walls. But after two years of not taking no for an answer and applying many creative tactics, he had a product that was ready for market. The product was great for the stores, great for the customers and, with the right business model behind it, had an upside for Michael, too. After presenting the idea to the owners and directors of the national retailer, the long and tough negotiations began. Imagine the 22-year-old University student at the table with three experienced successful businessmen. The odds were not in his favour. When Michael walked out of the retailer’s national head office with a signed contract in his hand, he had achieved an awesome win-win deal for the retailer and his brand-new business. So long as he kept his end of the deal, he had secured a revenue stream for his business for a time period longer than he had been alive. “Can you imagine how I felt when I left that meeting? I sat down in my very average car, in a suit that I borrowed from my sister’s boyfriend, coming from a challenging upbringing, looking at a contract in my hand with signatures on it and a deal to last longer than the years I had lived on this earth. It’s safe to say there were a few tears. I will never forget this moment.”
Start Up Problems
With a contract in hand, Michael had to execute the operations to bring the business to life. Often, starting a business has some difficulties. Michael had to contend with those who were dissuading him to pursue his plans, telling him it was a crazy notion. Another major consideration was the capital. In the beginning, with no money, no access to finance and no knowledge of where to get it, he had to work things out creatively to get his ideas off the ground. It was a huge risk, and so much hard work was already put into his ideas. He could have given up, but he realised the potential of his business far outweighed the risks involved.
“My whole life, I dealt with being told ‘no’ and being around negative people. So, I pushed through it and did not give up. Financially, I attempted to borrow money from banks, my family and family friends. The majority said no, and the options on the table were not favourable, as I did not think it fair to give up a large portion of the business. In the end, I made it happen by bootstrapping everything and structuring the initial deal so that I could effectively make it happen with no money down,” Michael revealed.
His first business transaction was still vivid in his mind. To make both ends meet, Michael worked out a deal with the retailer and the supplier to get him through the financial challenges. He settled with the retailer to have a suitable minimum order per store that would give him enough gross profit to cover the cost of his expenses. “I negotiated shorter payment terms on this initial order of 14 days from delivery,” he said. With regards to the supplier, he bargained for a smaller minimum order quantity for the first order and a 90-day payment term from the date of delivery. “Effectively, this made the business cash flow positive from two weeks after delivering the first order,” he added.
From these beginnings, Michael then pushed forward, determined to make the most of the opportunities now in front of him. He has been involved in many exciting businesses, ideas and partnerships. At present, he has two enterprises where he is active in the operations and management of the business – Crisp Solutions and Lemon Wedge. These are in addition to property businesses in the UK and Australia where he doesn’t involve himself on a daily basis.
As he grew his businesses, he has had to hurdle more stumbling blocks. Cash flow was a constant challenge, particularly with some unproductive transactions and unforeseen circumstances. Plus, of course, he had to build a solid team to make his ideas happen. Moreover, he needed access to knowledge and systems to execute his ideas.
Good thing that he got a little help from certain areas. One of these is EO Melbourne. “I am a believer that you are the average of the five people you hang out with most. EO gives unlimited access to improve that average. I love learning from experts and others that are successful. EO gives me great opportunity to learn in this way. To me, experiences are among the most important parts of life. Mexico and India University have provided life-changing experiences that I will keep forever,” he quipped.
He also honed his skills of running a business effectively through audiobooks, books, podcasts, thought leaders, mentors, and experts. “Richards Branson’s book Losing My Virginity was a massive influence. And his attitude of making anything happen, regardless of the circumstances, was a big player in my early career,” according to Michael.
When he had people already working for him, Michael learned the importance of open communication. He imparts to his team his big visions and goals, along with clear expectations. They have Daily and Weekly Huddles, Weekly Wassups and Monthly Mirrors. He listens to his people and provides a platform where everyone is heard equally and recognised.
With their company vision of “Make the world better”, Michael offers his team an environment that can make their world better, both in their personal lives and careers. “Everyone knows what it is: Make the world better. It’s a simple and fun motto. It applies to all suppliers, partners, team members, and customers. It is ingrained in our daily routines and habits. We make it a huge part of our recruitment. We do what we can to make sure that anyone who wants to be part of the team has the right mindset and knows what they are getting themselves into. We then keep it a big part of the day-to-day culture through daily processes, reminders and things like gratitude journals.”
From his experiences and the knowledge taught to him by those who were ahead of him in the game, Michael formulated pertinent qualities of an entrepreneur that others may also find helpful. For him, it is important to “Find out what people or businesses want. Give them more of this than anyone else does, and you win. Learn how to learn. Get as many skills as you can, as they will all come in handy one way or another, often when you least expect it. Learn about marketing, finance, mindfulness, focus, communication, and life balance.”
When it comes to life balance, Michael loves being a dad to his two kids and “the best partner in the world” to their mum. He also finds time for his other interests, such as sports, training, snowboarding, socialising, travelling, and learning. “It never stops. I will be learning until my last breath,” he uttered.
Michael looks back and relishes the things he has done as an entrepreneur. He happily named his achievements as, “Living every day, creating products, building businesses that run without me, and changing people’s lives.” Then, with eyes set on the future, he has grand plans for the rest of his entrepreneurial journey. “I am aiming for five businesses to run with the little requirement on my time. I would expect to be turning over anywhere from 20 to 100 million dollars across those businesses.”
To those who intend to take the entrepreneurial road, he has this to say, “Spend time improving who you are as a person, as well as your knowledge base so that you can continually improve your levels of happiness, and the same for those around you and your businesses.” And if he could go back in time and convey some words of wisdom to his younger self, this is what he would tell the novice Michael, “You can do it, bro. Don’t lose too much of your energy to the stress about it not working out. Keep learning, and surround yourself with others that are winning and achieving more than what you are, to make your world even better.”