As a Brit, I found it easy to get distracted talking to Matt Gardan about his time at Innocent Drinks.
The brand is huge in Europe, and very well loved. Partly thanks to its quirky packaging and label stories – the fresh fruit drink famously grew out of a van at a London Jazz festival in 1999 when the founders put up a big sign asking people if they thought they should give up their jobs to make smoothies – the answer was yes. Since then, the company has grown to smoothie sales everywhere around Europe.
Matt joined in the early days and was introduced to the fast growing start-up life very quickly when he launched the brand in France.
He’s extremely passionate about user experience and design but found himself thrown into pretty much every aspect of the business.
“We were on this crazy ride, and I just strapped myself in and worked it out as we were flung through the loops and spins of it all.
“We started out as 3 employees squatting in Starbucks because we needed free wifi. But once we got through those crazy early growth days, I got to focus on the marketing communications side of things. I loved it.”
He explained it was the dream job of his career, describing working for the company as a similar feeling to dating a supermodel, “expecting her to wake up one day and call an end to it.”
Innocent, starting as drinks but quickly expanding it’s successful well-loved product line
“After 5 years, I moved back to Australia with my family, to take a job at Westpac”
The adjustment from start-up to corporate was a rude one:
“I’d never worked in a big corporate before, and when the chance to come back and start at Westpac came up, I felt it was worth doing, having a name like Westpac on my CV would open up so many doors at a whole new level.”
He kicked off his time at the banking giant as the Brand and Design Director, and it was a frustrating adjustment at first “They were surprised when I went to talk to people in the web team, wildly different to those Innocent days, where we were all thrown together”
A couple of projects later, Matt moved into to the customer experience team: “It was in my DNA”, he explained “here was a team who were as focussed on the real customers as we’d been back at innocent”
During that time, he worked on the new banking platform and the iPad & mobile apps, “Westpac were the first to create an IPad app built specifically for a touch interface, it was one of those incredible projects you come across very rarely at a corporate, I was very lucky to be involved with it” he explains.
Along the way, Matt continued to do additional projects on the side and founded his company Digital Native enabling him to freelance and work with smaller more “creative” clients
While speaking, it became apparent that the chance to have a more free-flowing creative focus drives Matt. His message for others to embrace their creativity, in whatever form it takes. In the end, that flexibility won out, seeing him leave Westpac to focus on his agency:
“There’s a perception that people aren’t creative, but we are all inherently creative. Just by walking out the front door you become creative – you just need to trust that soft little voice in your head
“What terrifies most people about leaving a job is it forces them to be creative. You manage to find a client, and then you’ve no choice but to find solutions to their problems. That’s massively creative! It could be an accounting solution, a database solution, a marketing solution or a product solution, but all those solutions are in their own way creative”
In the early days of starting Digital Native, Matt also worked with other established agencies on some larger digital projects and things began to build from there.
Although he left Westpac in 2012, they became one of his most important clients in 2014 when Digital Native started providing social content for the brand. He’s since grown the company to five employees, but unlike many founders we speak to, he has no desire for grand expansion plans – instead focusing on doing the things he loves.
“A lot of people go off to do big things and create big companies. Success to me is having the time to pick the kids up on a Friday afternoon, and the opportunity to travel around the world several times a year
“The more zero’s on your balance sheet, the more problems. You start out doing something you love, then suddenly you’ve got 25 staff and you’re in the management business. 2 years later you’ve got 150 staff and you’re an accountant focused on an IPO.
For me, that’s not being creative. I’m so grateful for the freedom and flexibility I have now, it’s a lifestyle I want to maintain.”