5 Minutes with Athan Didaskalou, July

Athan Didaskalou created a suitcase that design-savvy consumers would actually want to carry and launched his business with co-founder Richard Li. Here, he reveals his favourite places to shop, the business idea he wishes he came up with and his best travel tips. 

This isn’t the first business you’ve run. What did you learn from launching coffee subscription business Three Thousand Thieves?

There’s an old Japanese saying that sums up my learning in business well: “Raise the sail with your stronger hand”. It means move forward with what you’re strongest in – don’t try and do it all. Understanding this and realising that working with smart, brilliant people who complement your skills is the only way to free yourself to do the work you do well and progress your brand and company to reach new heights.

Why do you think there has been a rise in direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands and what do you need to do to run one successfully?

Even in Australia, which is still at an early adoption stage for D2C brands, people are increasingly seeking higher-quality, longer-lasting products at a fraction of the traditional price point.

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Over the next few years, we’re going to see a lot more Aussie D2C brands launch and continue to build the education story around the benefits. To be a leader in the D2C space, you need to be laser-focused on your customer and talk to them directly, understand how to differentiate in service offerings from the big incumbents and carve out an unparalleled brand experience. 

What are some of your favourite places to shop and why?

Gewürzhaus is a spice store in Carlton that I absolutely love to visit and where I probably spend way too much money. They’ve done a great job to create a retail store all around the experience of smell and inspiration. You can easily see how this business could have been a great online store but, instead, they’ve focused on creating a magical in-store moment (which means you end up buying more than you need!). 

Skincare brand Aesop is always an amazing experience and it seems every time I walk into a store, I learn something new about their team members and their individuality. I’m a big fan and very inspired by their commitment to the design and customer process.

What is the one business idea that you wish you had come up with?

I wish I had invented Coca-Cola. One product, universally loved, a global icon.

What is one of the scariest decisions you’ve had to make in your business?

The scariest decisions are only scary when you don’t know what will happen. My first time in retail selling a high-end product where submitting and paying for a large high-value order from our manufacturing partners meant there was a lot of capital tied up before we had even received the product. It was scary at the time, but once it landed and we got the momentum, doing large orders actually became exciting. 

What are some of your best tips for business travel?

Moisturise your face. Sounds silly, but since I’d been given the tip, I haven’t looked back. It really does keep you fresh on the plane and you skip the groggy feeling you get when doing day trips. 

Spend half the flight on your feet. Just because you’re given a seat, doesn’t mean you have to sit there the whole time. I get out of my seat as much as I can, walk around, then hang out back with the staff. Not only does it keep you feeling normal on long haul flights, you also meet some interesting people.

Always carry extra power. You’d be surprised how easy you can chew through your battery on a flight. I always feel a little stressed when I’m low on power when I land somewhere, as I rely on my phone to get everything done. A powerbank that’s always full and ready to go keeps me stress-free.

What e-commerce trends are you most interested in?

I love the blending of e-commerce with physical retail and making it feel like magic for the customer, when a system knows your orders and you can treat a retail presence around experiences and do all of the same things you can do online in the store. For example, coming into the store, and shipping it to your customer’s home for free. Consumers don’t see brands as offline and online – they experience things in their totality and expect the brand to meet and exceed their expectations regardless of the channel.

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