Matt Billington is very familiar with The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme, participating in the scheme for 3 consecutive years across 2015, 2016, and 2017. Matt had great success with his YES company OLelei which created almond milk-based alternatives such as yogurt and ice cream. OLelei placed 3rd and YES Nationals in 2015, 2nd in 2016, and finally in 2017 took out YES Company of the Year.
We caught up with Matt recently to chat about his unusual (yet very successful) experience in the programme and to find out what he's up to these days.
You had a very successful and quite unique experience through your 3 years in YES. Tell us a bit about that.
I was convinced to join the Young Enterprise Scheme in 2015 as the team was developing a mobile app, which I was brought on to code. However, very quickly we pivoted and ended up launching OLelei. It started as just an almond milk-based yogurt, however very quickly we were approached and supported by some of New Zealand’s top entrepreneurs who wanted to help us scale this to a larger offering of a range of products.
Throughout the full three years, we were lucky enough to meet and connect with some incredible people who I am still connected with and in some cases work with today.
It was very unique to be in the Scheme for 3 years and making Nationals each time. It often seemed like we were “ahead of the pack” however, we felt more pressure than ever as we felt like the underdog, needing to innovate greatly in order to show the progress that would justify winning.
What was the biggest business and/or life lesson you learnt from your experience in YES?
I think there were two:
If you could give any piece of advice to teenage you back at the beginning of your YES journey what would it be and why?
Stop talking. I spoke way too much and had a massive head. I thought I was the bee’s knees and often overlooked advice given to me by people that had been in my shoes. I thought I could do no wrong. If I was to restart now, I would spend every moment listening and questioning those around me to learn as much as I can.
If you were a current YES student in 2020 what would your product or service be?
I think I would stay in the F&B (Food and Beverage) industry. As we have seen over the last couple of years, technology is incredibly fragile and there is so much constant innovation, that you need to be at the top of your game 24/7. While this is interesting and enjoyable, the F&B industry feels much more stable to me and something that I can do with a lot more passion and love. Taking time to perfect something before bringing to market, and then wrapping it around an incredible marketing campaign(s) feels much more exciting to me than building out technology that will likely be outdated in 12-24 months.
What have you been doing since you finished school that has led to where you are now?
When I left high school, I was lucky enough to join an education startup, Unfiltered, where I ended up as the Chief Customer Officer within 6 months. It was a great experience and I value all the learning and experience I got from it.
Now, I am running my own freelancing business, working with small-medium businesses around New Zealand and Australia on a range of things; digital and social marketing, technology, systems and automation, funding and capital raising and more. I am doing a little bit of everything!
Your latest venture is Convo, which is pitched as ‘The only email you need before your morning coffee’. Tell us more about Convo.
Convo was a brainchild out of a conversation over a beer with a good mate of mine. We were sick of seeing such depressing and boring news that often covered the same topics every day. We wanted to provide an avenue where anyone interested in business, tech, and other major industry updates were able to go to get valuable knowledge, tips, and resources.
Convo was launched right out of New Zealand lockdown. How has it been launching a new venture during a global crisis?
It has been interesting. We have seen some great growth in the business. Since Convo is free, the barrier to entry is quite low and since the target is young professionals/leaders, we are seeing a massive uptake as people use this period of the “unknowing” to grow and self-develop.
We haven’t had too much friction, other than juggling time with our actual day-jobs. We (Gyles Foster, Dylan Rogan (YES Alumni) and myself), all run our own businesses on the side, so we’re incredibly busy and this is more of a passion project for us - although it’s quickly becoming much more than that.
News, the media, and journalism has been an interesting topic in 2020. What made you want to launch a news platform?
We were sick of seeing boring, same-old-same-old topics in the news. We were also sick of only ever seeing depressing or upsetting news making the headlines. I can’t remember the last time I saw a headline in a major news outlet that was positive or celebratory.
Being a young person in a corporate environment, I knew it was important to stay up to date with relevant information and news (especially in my chosen field of operation) and this was more of a way for the three of us to stay up to date with things, whilst educating and entertaining others in the process.
It was more of a project for us, that we thought, “huh, we can probably share this with others”
How does Convo differ to other news media outlets?
We don’t have an online platform where we upload news. We deliver an email that can be read in 5 minutes, direct to inbox at 6:45am. The idea is that we are giving you news that you can chat about at the Watercooler or Coffee Machine in the morning at the office and feel confident that you know your stuff.
We also don’t do paid promotions. We work with Partners to share content that is relevant, and value-based. You will never see one of those Wish ads on our emails or platforms.
What has been your favourite story and the craziest story that Convo has covered so far?
There are so many to name. We used to do Random Facts on a Thursday (I think) and there were some crazy facts in there.
I can’t think of my favourite - I’ll come back to you.