Being a young entrepreneur can be exciting and a bit intimidating, and Amy Thompson’s business journey is no exception.
Starting out Monkey Business Catering at a young age, and having worked in different roles and different locations, Amy’s entrepreneurial feat is a testament of how young business leaders can learn to balance their enthusiasm and flexibility against knowledge or lack thereof, to then come out with a really positive result in business and the community as a whole.
Watch this episode as Joshna speaks with Amy Thompson as she shares her insights about young entrepreneurial leadership, the challenges she faced as a young business leader and tips on how to conquer them.
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Full Interview Script
Joshna: Thank you for taking a few minutes out with us to watch Momentum Talks. I'm Joshna Daya, Co-Founder and Director of Your Business Momentum. Today we have Amy Thompson from Monkey Business Catering with us, welcome Amy.
Amy: So lovely to be here.
Joshna: It's wonderful to have you with us today. And I'm really looking forward to you sharing your insights with our audience today, Amy. So again, thank you for being here.
Amy: Oh, you're so welcome. It's going to be fun.
Joshna: So before we get started, I thought I would give you a quick introduction to Amy. Amy is the owner and manager of Monkey Business Catering. She started Monkey Business Catering at the age of 24 and with business partners, it wasn't too much of a surprise as she was raised on a large-scale farming operation where family, food and business were an ever present combination.
So Amy loves food, people and that sense of community that happens when both come together. Today, five years on Monkey Business catering is thriving. They specialise in corporate catering and look after a host of clients including banks, nonprofits, schools, churches, industrial and all types of businesses in between.
They were honored to receive the Heritage Bank Excellent Business of the Year in 2018. So that's very impressive Amy, so thank you again for joining us.
So Amy, I'll kick off with the first question. You started your career working for other people in cafes and restaurants and five-star hotels. And today your own and manager of a successful business, Monkey Business catering, so I'd love to find out more about your journey, Amy?
Amy: I think everyone's journey is all little steps along the way and learning to end up where you end up. So for me, I started out in high school not having a clue what I wanted to do. And unfortunately for me, I was extremely academic. So the obvious push and pathway was always towards medicine and maths and all of that kind of thing.
But it wasn't where my heart was. So I was working as a junior in a cafe and I figured, you know what, I was pretty good at talking to people and looking after them. So why not focus on something where I could really enjoy rather than a stream or a path in life that while would bring an excellent money wouldn't be something that long-term I could thrive in.
And so from that point, really, I've worked all around the world really in different locations and different hospitality outlets. I had a lot of fun when I was working for hotels, but they tend to be in very isolated locations I was working at. So eventually my parents said come back to Toowoomba, which is an inland city in Australia. We've got about 160,000 people here in town, and I was just ready to come home.
My family has always engaged in small businesses, different types, varieties, and with my skill set, it was one of those moments where we went okay, how can we use my skills and transfer that into a business opportunity that would work within the Toowoomba market? Also can bring in some of the other family members skills as well.
So that was the point where we embarked on corporate catering, which is something that unless you're in the corporate space and eating the food you probably don't hear as much about, but it's whenever there's a meeting, whenever there's an event, so those events as well or we go along and we do the food, the service, trying to hire that kind of stuff, which is very exciting. It's pulled together all of my experience from hotels, cafes and restaurants to get to this point.
Joshna: Beautiful. It sounds like, Amy, it's just been a journey that's evolved for you over time and I can just see with the passion and the expression and have the joy that it brings for you.
Amy: Absolutely, and it's really about looking after the community. People are at the heart of what we do
Joshna: Beautiful! So Amy, when you decided to establish Monkey Business Catering as a young entrepreneur, what were some of the challenges you experienced?
Amy: I think the biggest challenge was I had no idea what I was doing. And I will say, consider that the greatest blessing in the whole experience. Because sometimes it's best to know as little as possible about the challenges that you're going to face. Otherwise you will choose not to proceed on the path that's placed before your feet.
So that first challenge of going, okay, I'm not quite sure even how to register an ABN or how to set things up and accounting software and all of the practical things that no one teaches you about setting up and running a business. I should have as a side note, my Bachelor is Major in Hotel Management, but it's a business degree. All of those small practical things, I overcame them because at this support networks that we're involved in. My parents being longtime business owners, being members of the Chamber of Commerce locally, and asking so many questions, I'm sure I drove people mad.
The other main challenge, I would say would be my age. And I think that that links into the first point of knowing little when you go into a challenge, but being 24, and yes, having worked in different roles, and different locations, and all of those kind of things. It's still an age where you have to balance your enthusiasm and flexibility against knowledge or lack thereof, to then come out with a really positive result. And that one, it was just so important, always that I was asking those questions and then I was being humble enough to go, you know, actually, I don't know this. I've got no clue how to resolve this issue, but this is the issue and help me, would you help me? And once again, people really came to the fore with that one and just the community that made it possible to overcome any of those smaller things that were popping up. In the first I'd say two years were the hardest. And after that we gained momentum and it became easier.
Joshna: Thanks for sharing that. I guess some of the big things I pull out of that is being the new territory for you, you really just relying on the support from people around you. And asking for help and asking lots of questions to be able to get the help rather than just trying to flounder and do it all on your own.
Amy: A huge thing in the last three years has all been around mental health, which is becoming a bit of a catchphrase. So let me just make it really practical in the sense that with business owners, you're taking a gamble. You're basically throwing your lot in on a risk. You might win the lottery, you might lose everything.
But I think it's really important to know in those spaces, especially when you're starting out that you're not alone, there's other people who've done it. Nothing that happens to isn't common to what's happening to a lot of other people, and really engaging with community and not letting this anxiety or this sense of isolation really, you know, sink you under. You've got all those you got people just reach out, engage, and you can do it.
Joshna: Totally relate to what you're saying there Amy and it certainly is something that we see a lot of in business, you know, we've got people that putting their hearts and souls on the line and you just put everything into your business. And I think the message I'm hearing is, you're not alone out there. They are just going through exactly the same thing and some going through even bigger stuff. So there are people around you and surround yourself with people that can help.
Amy: And you'll be so surprised. I know that I was just incredibly surprised when I was mentioning things and people go, "oh that happened to me or oh you should talk to this person", that was them six months ago. And those first two years while they were working and hard and cash flow issues and dealing with a lean startup. It just made all the difference, I'm so glad!
Joshna: Amy, I'm keen to know, from everything that you have learned what might be those two or three lessons, that really sort of came through those early years for you?
Amy: I'm going to talk about that question from the perspective of a young entrepreneur starting up. I know the answer would be different if you're establish but I could talk to 24 year old Amy, I would say, make sure that you still have one day off a week where you don't talk about business, you don't think about business, you just put it aside and go, that's my sanity day. And at the same time, not to give up the things in your life that keep you solid and stable.
So if that is a soccer team, if that's going to church regularly, if that's having lunch with your mother, like, just do those things because even if the business doesn't work, you'll have that. That's the main point for me.
The second thing I would say is, take the leap. Don't be restrained by your fear. Take the opportunities in front of you short, do your business plan, work through your budget, do everything logically, but at the same time, take a risk, because they're the ones that pay off. They're the ones that you learn from most. And they are the most exciting ones.
Joshna: You feel some really, really sound tips there me. So, you know, if I were to ask you, what would you do differently? You had to start all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Amy: I'd take bigger risks, actually. And I would probably have hired people faster and sooner too. So, obviously, labor is the biggest expense in any business. And for us setting up because we had the lean startup and you know, obviously primarily labor in the business. It was a long time before I even, you know, said oh ok look, yes, we've got one casual but now we need two and then we need three and then what about a part timer and all the way along.
And it's been all how are we going to afford that. And I think with staffing to and managing growth, you've got to have the stuff in place before you can actually have the growth. And so that would be the main thing on getting help and hiring people.
Joshna: I guess to your point, Amy, often as business owners, we try and do it the other way around. Make sure we've got enough income there before we even look to get someone else on board. And often that becomes a capacity issue really quickly and so the timing of that would be quite critical.
Amy: And that moment too, that's the moment where you're so exhausted that you can't even deal with your growth, because in doing the extra hours to cover the gap, and that's take the risk sooner. And if that means you know, you're in a lean startup and you go "Okay, I will eat frozen vegetables for two months to pay for this then eat those frozen vegetables and be less stressed and you'll be happier.
Joshna: So we probably touched a little bit on this Amy but I'm keen to get a few of your a few more of your insights. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs out there who are looking to grow a successful business?
Amy: Do your planning, start with your planning and do it well. And while yes, I would have left in and done more risky things at the beginning. I think that if you have a solid plan, and if you get other people to reach your business plan, if it's in that form, you've got to not only know what you're doing, but to create this community around you where it can pull you through.
So in my toolkit of people like counselors for the business, we've got accountant, we've got a lawyer. My mother, Christina, who's one of my business partners, serves as the financial advisor and the long-term strategist.
And you also need a creative person, whether that's you or somebody else in your business who can do the inspiration of "Oh look, we've got to try this", "This is exciting", and if you can pull up all of those people together, and yes, if you can pay them, that's wonderful. But if you can't then work that into your plan of how you're going to do that going forward. And once again, the Chamber of Commerce has been great for that in that there's people there who, sure, it may just be a half an hour coffee meeting. This is advice I'd give you and it's just really low key and off hand. But those people will inspire you to keep going and get up and you know, do your three and do your 4 and then we're currently in your 5 and you'll go from there.
Joshna: Beautiful. So Amy if I can just probably pull some key points out of what you just said there. I heard you say, the planning part is really important. So take the time to have a clear plan.
The other thing I heard you say there any words surrounding yourself with the right people with the right skills because it gives you that sense of community to lean on, but also people that can give you the advice that you don't actually have for yourself and having them as a sounding board as well.
Amy: As a side note, the advice that you get that you like the least is the most important.
Joshna: It's so true, isn't it? Because often when what we like the least is what we have to do.
Amy: Exactly, and if that means that your accountant says you've got a check the council regulations for designing for this building and they might not let you do what you want with it, then you check before you're investing 40 plus grand in whatever the venture is.
So, if you don't like the idea, that's the one that you really need to hash through and work out and that kind of thing.
Joshna: Okay, beautiful. Amy, thank you for joining me on this short interview.
For our listeners out there. If you do need to speak with Amy, feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can jump onto their website, monkeybusiness.catering.
Please also take a few minutes now to subscribe to Momentum Talks. This will make sure that you get momentum talks every time we interview someone like Amy that can add value to your business.
So until next time, all the very best and once again, thank you Amy.
Amy: So welcome.