SIMON GRIFFITHS is that very interesting style of creative: the entrepreneur. His creativity stems from his ability to think outside the so-called square and find solutions where others find problems.
He is part of the team who developed not-for-profit bar, Shebeen. Exotic beers and wines are on Shebeen’s drink menu and profits from each drink sale support a development project in that drink’s country of origin. So clever; so simple!
When Slanted Mansion met Simon at his warehouse home and studio, his space was dotted with a number of very stylish pieces of furniture. He isn’t just a creative thinker, he’s quite creative with space too!
Simon moved to Australia from London with his family at the age of four, living in Perth, before moving to Melbourne at age 17. He returned to London for a small stint and has been in Australia and Melbourne in particular, for the last 12 years.
The idea behind Shebeen – taken from the South African meaning for the word, probation bar – came from a friend, Zanna McComish. The bar has a good feel and has been fitted out with the help of some of Melbourne’s better-known interior architects.
Simon works part-time at Shebeen.
“Shebeen is a part of the portfolio of bits and pieces I manage. I will drive the high level vision and operational side of the bar, including expansion opportunities.” Having spent time (admittedly brief) with Simon, Slanted Mansion thinks this makes perfect sense!
Simon studied engineering and economics at university. He says this study stream almost “beat out” his entrepreneurial side.
“The nature of the engineering and commerce faculties mean they funnel you into full time work; like that’s the pipeline and there’s no other option. It’s easy to get your blinkers on and have your focus changed. Entrepreneurship is often viewed as high-risk and a bit haphazard. I think people now understand entrepreneurial ventures can be managed in such a way as to minimise risk. For me, entrepreneurship is a skill set you develop, rather then something you have or don’t have. I think it’s more broadly accepted now than ten years ago.”
Time spent in the corporate world was revealing.
“I wasn’t super interested because I didn’t have the passion for what I was working on. I could see very quickly, if I continued down the corporate path for an extended period of time, I would be bored out of my brains.
“Knowing this I started to think about what other options were available to me. Long story short, I ended up in the developing world, in South Africa. The development agency model I was working for at that time was not the right fit for me. I started to think about how I could use the skill set I had built up at university to achieve positive outcomes with greater impact within the agency model I was working.
“To have the capacity to impact more people I realised there were some fundamental problems with the space I was working in.
“If I could figure out how to solve those problems, it would be game changing for a lot of people. So I asked myself how can we change this, how can we get more funding into the space, change the dynamic and the kind of people who engage with this type of project on a regular basis?”
Simon became curious as to why his friends didn’t share his passion.
“I guess I was curious as to why my friends didn’t care about something I was really passionate about, and from there, how I could change this attitude, or level of passion.
“The other problem I encountered was a gap between people who wanted to help, or to donate, but didn’t know where to put their money, or time. There was a group of people worried about administration fees and what percentage ended up in the organisation’s pocket and what ends up in the hands of the people for who it was intended.
“There is a lot of misinformation in the market, making it very hard for people to engage, or giving them an easy reason not to.
“I wanted to simplify that and make it easy for people to engage without having to do anything different to what they do on a regular basis.
“For me it just made so much sense that you could just take someone’s regular daily behavior and work with that to turn it into something positive.
“At the same time, it’s become popular to drink international beer at bars and having spent a lot of time in the developing world, I knew there were a lot of great beers that never make it into a bar in Australia. Yet we are trying to sell handicrafts and other goods from these countries that people don’t want and pay too much for.
“It doesn’t have to be like this because there is great quality product that we can work with, like beer.
“A lot of these ideas came together and combined, made Shebeen a really attractive proposition.
“I guess enough people told us that is wasn’t possible to make it work! We wanted to prove them wrong.”
To test the business, Simon and his business partners ran a pop up bar in Melboune’s CBD in 2010. They traded for just four days and overshot the revenue projections of the permanent venue by close to 100 per cent.
“We knew at that point the financial model made sense and people would buy our product. We just needed to craft an environment and experience for the venue that people would want to come back to over and over again.”
Shebeen is just one project Simon works on, another is the well named Who Gives A Crap. (Note: check this out, it’s fabulous!)
Simon has taught economics and finance at Melbourne University on the side. He also tutored while studying – at one point for up to 18 hours a week.
“At the moment I am tutoring four hours each week and canceling every second week! The thing is, once you let go of needing to have a constant flow of income, you learn how to not let the situation ruin your emotions. You start to find opportunities that previously you would not have been able to take up.
“Every time I am about to run out of money, my credit cards are worrying me, something happens. I have gotten to know a lot of people who look out for me and part of it is probably being really lucky!
Simon’s friendship circle tends to reflect his view on life.
“I guess it takes a certain type of personality to become an entrepreneur and inevitably you end up being drawn to people with a similar personality.
“Most of my friendship group is self-employed, and tend to be supportive because they can sympathise with the pressures of this lifestyle and environments.
“My family are really, really great. I guess they had seen me turn down bread and butter opportunities that they thought were quite exciting, but for me, didn’t seem to fit. It wasn’t until last year that they came clean and said, ‘To be honest, we don’t understand what you are thinking and how you make the decisions that you make, but, it seems to be working, so keep doing it.’
“There are probably only three days a year when I wake up and think, fuck; I just really don’t want to deal with the day. But that always passes within a few hours. I remember working full-time and that feeling was relatively consistent on a day-to-day basis. I guess I’m on the right track and the question is how to just make it stable moving forwards?”