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Linda Bergskas from Visionise with Kara Armstrong

Jun 11, 2020 | Female Founders, Founder, Hunter Central Coast, New South Wales, Newcastle, Podcasts

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Today you’re going to hear the story of Linda Bergskas and Visionise. Linda started Visionise, a full-service fashion branding service after she sold her own international fashion brand in search of a more balanced lifestyle. With such a successful career and a large network within the industry, Linda found herself constantly being asked for her expertise to help start and grow fashion brands.

Linda: In the beginning when I was a one woman show, there wasn’t any life, work balance. To be honest, it was 16, 18 hour days.

Adam: Hi, Welcome to Day One, the show for regional startups and the organisations that support them. 

Today’s episode was made in part with support from SingularityU Australia.

Join your local chapters and get involved in solving the world’s grand challenges. Learn more at welcometodayone.com/singularity

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I’m Adam Spencer and today I’m going to share with you the story of Visionise and it’s founder Linda Bergskas. Let’s go back to day one, where this story begins…

Linda: I grew up in a very remote little place where dad built our house, made my car, made the furniture, mum, made the clothes and we ate what we grew and hunted basically. So I just learned from mum how to make clothes and I’ve always made clothes. I’ve wanted to be a fashion designer more than anything as a child. But where I grew up, there was no such career. So I was also into art, did a lot of paintings and various types of art and ended up… Looked at what can I do with my creativity, decided to do graphic design as the most… I guess had the most hope of actually turning into a career, something that can make a living off.

Adam: So Linda completed her graphic design degree, and we’ll come back to that in a minute. But before we start to tell the Visionise story, we need to learn what comes before that. Before Visionise Linda had a fashion brand and a retail store front.

 Linda: I first started a retail store. I was sewing myself and buying some other brands. And then I realized that it’s too time-consuming. And also my passion was more in design rather than making, so I decided I needed some help with that. And I looked at a number of different places where I could do it. And I picked Bali because it’s close. And this sort of workmanship that they did there was aligned what I wanted to create. And I just went there and did a bit of research and met a lady that I ended up setting up the factory with, a local Balinese lady.

And then from there I set up a warehouse and a design studio and ended up with 200 retailers around the world on a wholesale basis.

Adam: So after 9 years Linda sold that business to spend some well deserved time to focus on being a mum to her 2 children, Linda wanted to start a new business, one that would eventually allow her to do what she loved while also balancing that with her family life. 

After Linda has taken a bit of time off to focus on family, she wanted to start another business, one that would help her maintain a healthy balance between work and family. While she had been taking a break, she was already being asked advice about how to start a fashion brand. 

Linda: I had already a lot of connections and I had all the resources and I looked at ways I could use that to move forward in a different way. And another reason was that I was always asked all the time from people that want to start a fashion brand or wanted to move factory. People always asking me for help, whether it was from the manufacturing side or whether it was from the brand side. So eventually I thought, well, I think the business is organically happening by itself. So it was just a natural flow from one business to another.

Adam: So how was Linda able to build a successful company that allows her business to service dozens of clients while also living a great lifestyle with her family?

Linda: In the beginning when I was a one woman show, there wasn’t any life, work balance. To be honest, it was 16, 18 hour days.

Adam: So how were those 16 and 18 hour days being spent?

Linda: First I did a lot of research on different platforms and different technology solutions that could improve the efficiency of our operations. So trialing a lot of them was quite time consuming and setting it all up and then realizing down the track that, “Oh, I didn’t really do everything I needed to do.” And also be able to get, also held back a bit budget wise in the beginning, so we would just go with what we could afford. But then as the business is growing and you need to grow your systems accordingly. But then gone into more sophisticated systems and I’ve taken platforms and just sort of molded it in to how we need it to work for our specific business type. And yeah, it’s a big investment, but that’s the only reason we can operate with such a large volume now.

Adam: With a very small team, Visionise are able to serve far more clients, and serve them well, and that’s because of the systems Linda and her team have built within their business.

Linda: So we design and manage and produce for about 60 brands. 60 plus brands, 63 I think it was when I counted yesterday.

Adam: And setting up those systems and workflows was a critical part of Linda’s business plan long before she started to bring on team members to help. Having the right systems and technology in place has allowed Linda to scale Visionise.

Linda: That was one of the key things behind this business model was that I wanted to set it up in a way where we could streamline the process so much that we could keep on taking on more and more work without it physically being equally as much work. So it’s to do with technology and our systems for how we manage the process. So we had a way that eliminates error, eliminate communication, a way that there’s a lot of automation in our systems in a way that we can communicate very efficiently with our offshore partners. So the actual day to day task and then what often can be a time consuming task, we’ve removed a lot of those. So that we try to maximize what we call billable hours so that… time is crucial and that’s something I spent a lot of time creating systems to save time and over time is very well worth it.

Adam: Linda’s graphic design degree comes back in to play now, helping her brand her new business. So Linda has setup the business, business plan done, systems in place. Branding, website done.

Linda: I created my own website ordering marketing material. We have never paid for any major marketing campaigns or anything like that. I’ve just done it all myself. And from that it’s just, yeah, word of mouth and traffic that we get on our website.  

Adam: But what was Visionise? How was it helping and who was it helping. We’ll get to who in a minute, but first what was Visionise offering, what was its product/service? 

Linda: It started off, the main offering was first to help with offshore manufacturing and set up brands with offshore manufacturing. But then the design services, which I did already offer, that became more and more a main part of the business as well. A lot more than I expected.

And I guess I just found that by starting out with that, there’d be already had a trust and relationship going on. So then I found that my clients also wanted me to design that was the one we need to do their branding. They also wanted me to do their website and I just ended up doing everything in the end, their budgets, their marketing, everything. So it just sort of was an organic thing that it kept on adding to the services.

Adam: Linda was in a great position having run her previous fashion business for 9 years or so, and the contacts and relationships she had built over those years helped her transition into her new business. 

Linda: I often had people, with my first business there were always people asking me for help, but there was just as I had been sitting down and actually starting to create this business plan. I launched messenger on my new phone and suddenly all these new messages came up and one of them was from a fan of my previous fashion brand. I didn’t know this person, she was up in Byron Bay and she just said she was a fan of my brand and asking if I could help her with starting a fashion label and production in Bali. And I responded saying, “How funny you ask because I’m actually just in the process of making a business, helping with exactly that.”

And then she responds back saying, “Thanks for responding back six or seven years later. But anyway, now that you have, let’s do it.” So something had happened with my messages that I hadn’t seen. I think it was messages from people that weren’t my friends. They were in a different place and I hadn’t seen them and they come a few years later. And yeah, that was the first one.

Adam: So where are we now? As we heard previously, Linda was a one woman show setting up her new business and getting things off the ground. Her existing network was really advantageous in kicking the business into gear and a big part of her business plan was building systems into the business from day one to be able to leverage her time and serve more customers effectively. But systems and workflows only get you so far and you only have a certain number of hours in your day. Meet Linda’s not so secret weapon. 

Kara helps Linda in the day to day operations of Visionise and helping move the business into the future. Right now, one of the many projects they are working on is refining the website user experience.

Linda: On the agenda for this year too on the website, try and simplify it a little bit because it is a little bit overwhelming. There’s so much information there. And that was what I was trying to do in the beginning when I was trying to map it all out. And like you said, put it into buckets, but there are so many buckets. And then we looked at which… can we take one of the map but we can’t. Because we actually… all of those, all the areas within our business are actually really busy. And we are adding to them now.

But it also just goes to show I guess the naivety of someone’s trying to… because it’s very, very, very common for anyone. They don’t even have design experience to be like, “Well I’ve got an idea and I don’t want to create it.” Right? So they go online and they Google manufacturer Bali manufacture China and then they send pictures to someone and someone makes something, and either takes the money or actually makes it, who knows? But it’s very, very common and easily accessible now to make your own brand. But what people don’t understand is how complex this business sounds.

The manufacturing is more complex than that. There’s so many pieces to the puzzle and we explain it in layman’s sense. We explain it nice and a little bit wrapped up, but it’s very complex and it’s very hard. And just because you’ve done it for even years, you’ve manufactured for years, you’re going to still run into those same problems that may have happened five years ago that you thought you’d maybe fixed. So it is the reason why it sounds complex is because it is complex.

The biggest mistake that startups do is that they put all their energy into designing and they care about the product so much, but then they forget about-

Kara: Who they are selling it to.

Linda: -who they’re selling it to. That’s right. And they haven’t done enough market research. And like for us, we’ve been lucky with their marketing with us only because I have a long history in the industry. But for someone who’s like been an account and decided to be a fashion designer is a bit different. And then they have these beautiful product and they’re launching to nobody because no one knows about them. That’s the biggest problem.

Kara: And then they kind of come back to us and they’re like, “Oh well we can’t sell.” And it’s like…

Linda: And so this is another reason why we never keep adding to services. Because then we find that’s also now becoming our responsibility that they need to sell the product that has been created for them. So now implementing into the first stage of the project, they have to have marketing meetings with our marketing person and then we help them with doing their marketing plan and prepare, make sure everything is done in the right order, that the site is crawled by Google in time, that they’ve got X amount of followers by the time they launch, and all these things. Because if we don’t help them with all these steps they end up with a product with no customers.

Kara: And then we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot and we’re just joining the mass produced that’s just.

Linda: Exactly. And they don’t budget, they come to us like say, “Oh, I going to start a fashion business and I’ve got $5,000.” I mean like, “No.” So then we have to do the budgets as well and show them how much… we do have very detailed budget so they know the net profit base and sell through scenarios and the overlap based on how many ceases per year. And it’s quite… people don’t understand the cashflow and the raw landed costs, mark ups, all of this is just they don’t want to know about it. They choose not to know about it-

Do all of that. So we actually don’t let anyone go to sampling before they’ve approved the budget.

They just come just with some rough sketches, “I want to have a brand”, and then we’d take care of the rest.

Pretty much startups generally come with unrealistic expectations to everything and often very needy. But so we have been trying very hard to set the expectations right from the beginning. We have got quite a filtration process now. They have to fill out quite an extensive Inquiry in order for us to even talk to them. And from that inquiry they have to answer questions that will straight away help us determine, is this worthwhile or not? And then we are very honest with them upfront about how much money everything’s going to cost, and the risk, and the complexity and everything.

We sometimes have had people come here thinking they’ve got the best idea in the world, and that fly in or whatever. And then I have them leaving in tears because I just ruined their dream. But I’d rather them know upfront how much they’re going to be out for financially and all the work, and all the risks that’s associated, rather than us just saying, “Let’s take these customers, see how far we can get it.” And then they’re going to come and scream at us down the track.

Kara: What’s so important, and what’s really hard, I guess, in any scenario with customers paying customers is that if you aren’t successful, we aren’t successful, the factory is not successful. We by no means don’t want you to be successful. We’re not looking to just take your money because there’s no point in that for us. So to give you an idea, we’ll maybe get 15 to 20 inquiry a week and convert maybe two of those, two to three of those.

Linda: Well, I guess in the way that if they feel the actual brief, that’s a pretty serious they go… because even when I showed…

Kara: No, no. I am going to show you. They can still write on that inquiry, “What’s your budget?” And they write two grand.

Linda: But what I mean is that a lead is to someone coming to the website in the first place. The second step for them to go to the appropriate page fill out quite an extensive brief that asks about budgets and detailed stuff about, it prompts like a mini business plan basically. That is still considered a serious lead. Although there’s people on there that have are absolutely off the track, but they’ve gone through the extent of filling out an extensive brief. But still this is a lead that’s gone to the second stage of the process.

Because most people have attention span of two seconds on a website for them to actually go on that page and fill it out. And a lot of questions.

Kara: We have a lot of dreamers who fill out the manufacturing brief.

And then from our conversion rate from our inquiry, if you have to look at the stats, it doesn’t look great, but that’s because if we were converting 15 brands a week, then I mean, then that’s not even sustainable. That’s kind of not on brand for us. That’s just the amount of people I guess who have nice ideas.

Linda: Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing like webinars and things like that is something that’s kind of bulked up that once we’ve created it is not cost us nothing to keep me going. And that’s something we could sell to all those people that aren’t quite ready yet.

And it saves us answering the same question 20 times a day because they can go and listen to that webinar. So then the next step is after they fill out the brief, they get an email and then they can have a free, what is it?

Ten minute consult with Kara, and then if they want to have more serious like really detailed questions about budgets and how much does this all going to cost, et cetera, they can have a paid half an hour with me, a video or in house, or that can have a design feasibility meeting with our head designer for an hour before they commit to the whole service.

Kara: Because we don’t want to take anyone on who’s not prepared basically.

Oh, and just for them it’s almost cruel to have someone pay a whole bunch of money and then if they’re not fully, fully, fully, fully prepared, like I send them their final kind of a service agreement and everything and before I do that I will email them and say, “Do you have any questions at all before we do this? Are you sure you’re on top of this?” It’s not just a sales pitch where at the end it’s, ” And how do you feel about that?” It’s very consciously taking on clients. I think that that’s an important word, consciously for these brands.

Linda: And a lot of the time too they come here and feel a little bit crossed that they didn’t realize how complex and how much it was going to cost, et cetera, and they get a bit upset. But then they come back a year later.

Adam: Both Kara and Linda are big supporters of sustainability within the fashion industry and it’s a foundational value that Visionise is built on. 

Linda: So growing up in nature and being a vegetarian all my life and growing up in a family that’s very involved in environmental protection. And so for me, being in fashion and knowing the impact that fashion has negative impact that the fashion industry has on the environment is really concerning. And so my focus is to help our industry to leave less of a footprint. And also to help small businesses have the same opportunity as large businesses to work with world-class professional manufacturers. Have the same access to resources as the big companies.

Kara: It’s really important to us about how our factories run on the sustainable side, yes. But then also how the employees are actually treated, what they’re aware of when it comes to their rights and how many hours they work, do they get maternity leave? All of those types of things which are often looked over. It’s very important to us to stay on top of that. And it’s something that we check in with our factories very often about. And we also prompt our clients to ask those questions, and we like being asked those questions, and we want to ask those questions.

And we think that it’s important to always speak up when it does come to manufacturing in an area that you may have never been, to go. And especially if you’re starting out as a brand to go and see the factory and make a relationship. Because even though this person, maybe really far away, it’s important to regardless have a relationship with them because you are going to be business partners. And that’s something that we try and educate our clients on a fair bit and promote.

Adam: Thank you for listening to the story of Visionise with Linda Bergskas & Kara Armstrong. I hope you enjoyed it. Everything that was mentioned in the episode today is on the show notes page on welcometodayone.com.           

If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to the podcast and rating the show at ratedayone.com.

And thank you to our supporters on Patreon. Supporters like Murray Hurps and SingularityU Australia, I invite you to help us continue to tell these stories and supporting Australian Startups by pledging your support on Patreon. You can do that by going to welcometodayone.com/patreon.

Thank you for giving this episode of Welcome to Day One your attention. This story was created by me, Adam Spencer.

Interviews conducted by me, Adam Spencer.

A big thank you to Linda & Kara for being involved.

The script was written by me, Adam Spencer.

Music by Lee Rosevere, full attribution on our website welcometodayone.com.

This episode was produced by me, Adam Spencer and edited by Natalie Holland.

Stay healthy, help when you can and don’t give up.

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A big thank you to Linda Bergskas & Kara Armstrong for taking the time to sit down with me for an interview.

Music Credits

Music by Lee Rosevere.

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