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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Ben Cohn, Co-Founder and CEO of TAXIBOX, on infusing fun and creativity into your brand, lessons on building a high performance culture, and coping with anxiety.
Ben co-founded TAXIBOX, Australia’s leading mobile storage company, in 2010.
He is also the co-founder of Calcumate, a proprietary online storage calculator initially developed for TAXIBOX that has since become the most in-demand storage calculator available to self-storage and moving providers worldwide.
In the last three years alone, TAXIBOX has successfully doubled the business and significantly grown its leadership team.
Ben was born in South Africa and moved to Israel with his family in the 1990s, before settling in Australia, where he completed a Bachelor of Commerce in Commercial Law and Finance from the University of Sydney.
In this episode we talk about:
- How TAXIBOX has purposefully built a brand personality around fun and creativity
- Weaving this brand into the culture of the organisation
- But also where some of those cultural efforts have gone too far, and
- His personal struggles with anxiety and how he manages it on a daily basis
Connecting with Ben Cohn
You can connect with Ben via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
- Inner Chief Podcast Episode 209 – Jennifer Holland (“today’s no is tomorrow’s yes”)
“I know that even in stressful periods, if you stop for a second to breathe, you’ll realise that it's never as bad or as urgent as you think it is at the time.”
On early career lessons
- At the age of 21, 22, I was staying in these nice five-star hotels, but I was getting really lonely. I had this realisation that wealth doesn't make you happy. Wealth is sharing an experience with loved ones, with people around you where you're actually having fun. That would really make you happy.
On infusing creativity in his business
- We've got such unbelievable creativity around innovation. We've got a mountain of tech improvements that are really the protective mode around the business that makes it very hard to compete with us. We're running a fleet now of 10,000 TAXIBOXes across the country and I don't wish it upon my worst enemy to run this business without infrastructure the way it's been built. It had to be built from the ground up because there was nothing off the shelf for it.
- There were some very good decisions made early on around TAXIBOX as a brand that have been very strong ingredients. So you’ve got the name TAXIBOX and the vision was yellow, black, white checkers, which is super iconic. And the fact that TAXIBOXes are on the streets, that's some really powerful stuff.
- Then there's how you manicure that and how you become really connected with the brand. For us, that started lending itself to a lot of fun in creating the brand and risks that we took. But there's no way that a company that's more established would do some of those risky things because that could be perceived as the wrong thing to do.
- Our whole brand is littered with surprises along the way that delight the customer and build on that brand experience. As an example, when you get a quote, there'll be a little Mario character that just jumps around. No-one's saying you need to click it, but about 15% of customers do.
- As you get older as a business or more mature, you start taking less creative risks. But for me, I’ve probably infused a lot of my personality into the business as that’s the way I wanted my business to be.
On brand building versus marketing
- When you’re building a brand, you're not going to see an immediate return on your dollar. We've seen the dividends of that payoff as the brand matures and gets more well-known. But equally, I need to figure out how far I'm willing to push the envelope.
- Ultimately, our customers are storing their valuables with us so they're really connected to their goods. It might be stuff that's not worth a lot of money, but it might have a lot of sentimental value. So they want to store it in a place where they can trust the company that's behind the scenes. They might be storing for 10 years and they want to know that company's going to be around in 10 years. And they want to know that the stuff is just not going to be sold off one day because the company's gone under. So you've really got to trust the company that you're using for storage.
- Creating a brand has a huge impact on your ability to get more margin long-term. When people shop, they're looking for value, but they're also looking for an emotional connection. And so building a brand massively helps in the decision for someone to want to use that service.
- We've also realised that creativity in marketing allows you to not have to spend so much money on marketing because you're doing creative things. Someone actually said to me that advertising is the price you pay for being boring in business. So when you spend money on marketing dollars, that's the price that you are paying as a result of not building your brand. And that's a really powerful message I think generally for people that are going out and setting up their own business.
- You've really got to tailor the messaging there to understand who your target market is. Also, your brand identity is limited to what you’ve done in the past, so it'd be very hard for our competitors in the traditional storage space to flex themselves the way TAXIBOX has flexed itself because we are the disruptor and doing things differently. Whereas they are ingrained in a more traditional model and it comes across as disingenuine if they try and reinvent themselves the way TAXIBOX has.
On building a strong organisational culture
- The general comment I have around culture is that it's less about the spoken words and more about the actions that are around us that really highlight what the culture of the business is.
- The culture's been nourished and created by a high level of authenticity in the brand and the way we are. And one of our core values is to have an open environment of no politics and being transparent, but coming up with solutions for things. And so the culture's really anchored in that. What it's meant is that our business culture is expressed in unbelievably creative ways that I just would've never expected for our team to do.
- But there has been a negative story of culture that happened recently that made me stop as a leader and think about what I've done to contribute to it. What was so unbelievable for me is that in this staff meeting, we doubled the bonus that we're giving out based on customer reviews. That there cost more than the cool trams we bought for $1,000 each for the office to make it more fun and create a certain environment for our team. But the feedback from staff was about why we were splashing our money around. That really hurt.
- So there's some pain around culture because you want to create a great environment for your team, but then sometimes it goes a bit too far. And people expect certain things and other things happened that are not what you would imagine.
On coping with anxiety
- From a mental health perspective, I'd had panic attacks in the early years of my life when I was 16, 17. And that really went away for a large part of my life. But there's times when you stand up in front of a team and everyone's looking at you and you're the leader of the business. And that pressure of you being up in that environment and people looking at you as a role model and having to be strong and bulletproof adds to that layer of stress.
- Plus there's a million things going on in our lives. So we're carrying millions of dollars of debt or we're having personal challenges in our relationships and we are having issues with our kids. And we've had an argument with our best friend. And then we're building a house and the builder's just gone under. Just by the way, these are all things that have actually happened and are happening.
- I've had situations where I deal with paralysing panic attacks and that is extremely scary. It’s one of the scariest things that's ever happened to me in my life. There can be a total loss of control, which for a lot of CEOs is a very confronting thing.
- But the way I've learned to handle it, and this has really helped me massively, is I don't look at anxiety as the enemy. If anything, I lean right into it. So when I feel anxiety coming on, I just jump and hug it. I lean right into it and I stop. And I say to myself, “Why? What is going on?” It's your body telling you something that you should really be listening to. You're pushing it a bit too hard or you're doing something that you shouldn't be doing.
- So be curious to understand what it is that's going on for you right now that's triggering that anxiety and don't run away from it. It's actually an opportunity for you to improve. I found that the more I tried to shut it down, the more it reared its head.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- There's one thing that someone didn't tell us at the start of business, is that if you are running a business for an extended period of time, you will go through moments where you really, really hate your business and you think it's the worst business in the world. And you will go through moments where you are about to lose everything. And those are very stressful experiences. I guarantee that. But the message on that is just to keep going. In the world of a CEO, you'll be burnt out a hundred times but you'll keep going.
- What happens is when shit is hitting the fan, the natural inclination is you go down a death spiral and you stop sleeping. And you start panicking and you think that the decision needs to be made now otherwise the world will implode. But if you stop for a second to breathe, give yourself time, it turns out that it's never as bad and never as urgent as you think it is at the time.
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