For Josephmark’s Ben Johnston, creativity was in his DNA.
Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, the Style + Substance panellist Ben spent much of his time barefoot (literally) and fancy free; surfing and riding his bike with his artist parents allowing him the freedom “to run wild…to explore and find my bearings”
“My parents were both teachers who dabbled in art and when I came along they both changed their careers to be at home with me. They became live-at-home artists – my mum became quite an established papermaker and my dad did watercolour and sculpture,” he says.
“I had this crazy-creativity around me all the time.”
It was this fluid, non-traditional approach adopted by his parents in his formative years that gave him the direction he needed.
“I learnt many entrepreneurial lessons just by watching them, as they were both representing themselves and virtually running their own business and brands. From a very early age I saw how creativity could be commercialised and learnt that sometimes you need to take risks to get there,” he says.
After finishing school, he went on to study at university while working part time – but never graduated.
“I had two jobs and I was pretty terrible at both. The first was a dish pig for a restaurant on the Sunshine Coast and the second was a sales assistant for a surf store. In high school I always wanted to do the best that I could, then I sort of lost that motivation at university. It wasn’t until I started freelancing that I found that motivation again - and I couldn’t wait for another design challenge.”
It was in finding this new motivation that Ben and his buddy Josh Capelin co-founded Josephmark.
“We created it initially with the intention of having a workplace we enjoyed going to, and where we could create meaningful work that we were passionate about,” he says.
Over the next couple of years, the duo sharpened their focus, building Josephmark into an all-encompassing digital design studio.
Since then, Josephmark has gone on to be an Australian and global powerhouse, cultivating an impressive stable of clients including Spotify, Sony and realtime music hub We Are Hunted.
But it was their selection as the company commissioned to redesign the new MySpace in 2011 that really put Josephmark on the map.
“ We started working with a company called Specific Media in September 2011. Once Myspace was bought by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake, they sent out a global tender to five agencies, most of which were in the U.S. The Specific Media team wanted a design partner to help them reinvent Myspace from the ground up – to help them conceive and deliver a vision of what Myspace could be, now and into the future,” he says.
“We responded with a clear vision that wasn't in-line with what they initially asked for, but instead was what we felt they needed to do. Happily they agreed and after working side-by-side for 12 months, we revealed the new product that reset the public perception of what the site could be, and Myspace began to receive positive press for the first time in years,”
Before long and after the MySpace redesign prompted an influx of work in the States, Ben and his team had to set up shop in L.A – while also retaining a Brisbane base.
“The time difference between Australia and the West Coast suited us really well,” he says.
A typical day for him usually involves meetings, although they’re not your typical board-room get-togethers.
“They’re actually a lot of fun. And since the US is still online when it’s Australia’s weekend, I’m usually having conference calls from bed (sans shoes).”
And while Ben divides his time between the two cities, he still calls ‘Brissy’ home.
“We’re still such a young city and pretty nurturing in that you can try something and see how it goes – we’re open to failure,” he says.
“We probably don’t realise the power of Australian culture as much as we should; Aussies are hard workers and we have an ability to cut through a lot of crap. Over the last decade it’s been rad to be part of shaping Brisbane's creative community – we’re here because we want to be, we try a little harder because it’s that much harder to get great work here.”
And he says it’s keeping things exciting and his talented team that gets him through his day:
“As cheesy as it sounds, I do what I do for my team. They drive me more than I let on but I want to create opportunities for JM – for the 25 crazy cats I have the pleasure to work with day in, day out. That and obviously I enjoy what I do. It’s a continual exploration. Always exciting, never dull.”
1) What 3 bits of advice can you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
- Don’t be half arsed: you need to find out that what you’re getting into is what you really, really want to do. Because it’s bloody hard. And it’s a lot easier to run a successful business if you actually enjoy what you’re doing. Easier said than done, I know, but if other people can feel how passionate you are, then commercially, the money will follow. Also it’s going to take up your entire life, so again, that epic commitment will be more rewarding if there’s a higher purpose and passion for what you’re doing.
- If you’ve got a stable job right now, go and get as much line of credit as you possibly can. That’s probably the most practical tip because once you’re self-employed, you can kiss banks giving you anything goodbye. Unless you’re established, you won’t be getting any coin.
- Your team is your best asset. Surround yourself with like-minded people who inspire you to do better. Unfortunately in business people tend to put entrepreneurs and CEOs on pedestals but they’re just one part of the equation.
2) What’s currently your most played song on your playlist?
3) Where can we find you on a Friday night?
At The End in West End.
4) Where can we find you on a day off?
On my farm in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland moving manure, picking vegetables and knocking back a few beers.