Jess Munday is the co-founder of Custom Neon, a globally dispersed manufacturer and retailer of custom-designed LED lights and signs. After starting the business with a $500 investment whilst on maternity leave, Jess and her husband Jake have turned Custom Neon in to a true global market leader. Boasting landmark sales growth and offices spread across three continents, Custom Neon is poised to continue growing at an exponential rate.
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Thank you for joining us, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Jess Munday: I’m the co-founder of Custom Neon, a Geelong-based manufacturer and retailer of custom-designed LED neon lights and signs. Like many other entrepreneurs, my business journey has been an unpredictable one, having started Custom Neon whilst on maternity leave. My husband (fellow co-founder Jake) and I had struggled to find an affordable and trustworthy supplier to create a custom-designed neon sign for our son’s bedroom, something which caused us to identify a gap in the market and birthed the idea for Custom Neon.
Using a $500 initial investment, we started a small Instagram page that was focused around hiring out neon signs for events. We quickly found ourselves inundated with inquiries for additional designs, eventually leading to the creation of the Custom Neon website and online design tool – which allows users to quickly and easily create their own neon signage. Prior to starting Custom Neon, I worked in the HR and Recruitment industry, utilising my Human Resource Management Bachelors degree from the University of South Australia.
To get us started, Can you tell our readers what does your company solve differently in the crowded marketplace? Give an example or share a story.
Jess Munday: Custom Neon’s innovative custom design tool allows for users to make unique neon signage by typing in their own text, choosing the ideal font, and picking from a wide range of colours. In addition, our team of neon designers are on hand to transform logos and other imagery into signage. Users are able to upload their own image to receive a free quote and mock-up.
Prior to our entry into the market, custom neon signage was extremely difficult to source for retail consumers. In addition, many providers struggled with the delivery of effective customer service, something that we pride ourselves on at Custom Neon.
While your company is growing, what are some of the challenges you face? Hiring? Tech development? Raising capital? Branding? Tell us more about the journey.
Jess Munday: Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge we’ve faced since starting business in 2018. As a relatively young business, we were just getting our feet off the ground when the pandemic heavily impacted demand for event signage, our largest profit driver at the time. Guiding a growing business to a point of maturation whilst also navigating the uncertainty of a global pandemic has been a difficult struggle, however, it has ultimately served us well by forcing us to evolve our business strategies and fast track growth during a period when others were taking a cautious approach.
We’ve grown at a rapid rate since the start of the pandemic, hiring employees in multiple continents and dramatically expanding our manufacturing capabilities and marketing chops. I saw the pandemic as a great opportunity to reach consumers digitally, something which led to us overhauling our digital marketing efforts and focusing heavily on our SEO. This recalibration, as well as the significant investment we made into hiring new team members and expanding budgets across the board, led to landmark growth and a 123% increase in profits from 2020 to 2021. Growing at such a rapid rate meant that we quickly needed to evolve to meet the demands of the markets that we were expanding into, a reality that led to a complete branding overhaul in late 2021 that involved a logo redesign, colour palette change, and the creation of our first, professionally produced, video advertising campaign. Fitting all these changes and their associated challenges into a short timeframe has provided me with a crash course on growing a business at a rapid rate, an invaluable asset when looking forward to the future
Everyone has a different story, what influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur, what would you have done differently?
Jess Munday: My husband Jake has been a massive influence on my entrepreneurial journey, serving not only as my partner at Custom Neon but also as my entrepreneurial inspiration. Jake’s entrepreneurial spirit and experience developing e-commerce businesses has been an extremely valuable asset throughout the growth of Custom Neon. Having a partner to share the highs and lows of business with definitely makes the entire process smoother and Jake has been a great motivator for me since the very beginning of Custom Neon.
I really struggle to think of things that I would’ve done differently. Sure, there are plenty of small business mistakes that we’ve made over the years but (as cliché as this sounds) they all seem almost irrelevant when looking at the position that we’re in now. These mistakes all served as great learning opportunities that only strengthened our business in the long run!
Now for the main focus of this interview: what qualities or characteristics do women entrepreneurs have that make them great leaders? Please share some examples.
Jess Munday: All of the ones that make male entrepreneurs great leaders! A great leader is a great leader and I think that the best leaders are able to draw on characteristics that are often associated with both genders. Humility, integrity, passion, compassion and empathy are the defining characteristics of great leaders, regardless of gender.
Outside of those mentioned above, the ability to draw on the support of the team that you’ve built around you is a vital characteristic that I’d like to draw attention towards. Having the expert insight and diversity of opinion that a strong team brings to the table is absolutely vital for the success of any business. The best leaders are able to take a step back and trust their team to tackle facets of the business that they might not have full expertise in, something that can be extremely difficult for entrepreneurs to do at the best of times. It’s important to not let pride get in the way and view seeking support as a sign of weakness, instead, view your business as a well oiled machine that requires multiple parts (team members) to run at peak efficiency.
Another vital characteristic that I see in a lot of great leaders is the ability to stick to their guns without listening to outside noise. This characteristic is particularly relevant to my journey and the way in which we banked on our product to success by increasing budgets and ramping up hiring efforts at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many other businesses were resting on their laurels or taking a wait and see approach. The courage to take a leap of faith is often what separates great entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack!
What are some of the biggest challenges you still see women face while conducting business, compared to their male counterparts? What would you like to see change, and how would you make it happen?
Jess Munday: Despite strides being made towards equality, I still believe that many women face unconscious bias in the workplace. The gender pay gap remains less than ideal, something that I’d love to see change over the coming years through the elevation of more women to notable positions within major companies. I would also like to see more general acceptance of ambitious women in the business world. Far too often are ambitious women branded ‘difficult’ or ‘problematic’ in the workplace, compared to equally driven male counterparts to might be seen to be ‘on the grind’.
With all of your experience as a business leader, what is the most important thing you can tell fellow entrepreneurs that you’d like to share with aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Jess Munday: I would tell aspiring female entrepreneurs to never feel as if they don’t belong. There’s no market or industry that women shouldn’t be a part of, regardless of their age or background. Having the motivation to start your own business, the willingness to put in hard work, and ability to present a truly unique offering to the market, is all that’s required to set yourself apart in the business world. Sure, having the right connections and a solid financial backing might fast track the process or provide easier access to certain markets, however, factors like these pale in comparison to the simple concept of having a good idea and the drive to deliver it to your target audience.
What do you plan on tackling during 2022? Share your goals and battles you expect to face.
Jess Munday: 2022 is definitely poised to be another massive year of growth for myself and Custom Neon as a whole. Topping the success we saw in 2021 is going to be hard to achieve, however, I’m really excited about the steps we’re looking to take and the plans we’ve already put into motion to ensure that this is our best year yet. I’m also really excited about the ways that Custom Neon can give back in 2022, both to our local community in Geelong and on an international scale. We’re privileged to be in a position to pay it forward to charities and initiatives that are near and dear us, such as Rivers Gift and the Offspring Projects (which work to eliminate SIDS and human trafficking).
In addition, we’re looking to level up our marketing efforts again in 2022, with a particular focus on video productions in order to illustrate the unique and eye-catching nature of our neon products. We expect to see some revitalisation in the events industry throughout the second half of 2022, as the pandemic hopefully begins to subside and events resume at a normal cadence. However, if the events of the last two years have taught me anything it’s that uncertainty lurks just around the corner and I fully expect to have to shift plans to accommodate for sudden developments.
How do you keep learning? Podcast? Books? Audiobooks? Videos? Share some of your greatest sources of inspiration? Share an impactful story.
Jess Munday: As I’ve previously mentioned, my husband is a massive source of inspiration and motivation in my life. His infectious entrepreneurial spirit is always rubbing off on me and encouraging me to push to learn all there is to know about our business and related subjects. I’m an avid podcast listener and try to read at least a book a month (although sometimes I might fall behind!) I also like to talk to friends about what’s inspiring them at the time and use those conversations as a launching pad to introduce myself to new and exciting concepts.
I’m sure our readers will be very thankful for the insights you have shared. Where can our readers follow up with you?
Jess Munday: You can find our website at http://customneon.com.au/, our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/customneon and Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/customneon/.
Additionally, you can reach me directly through my LinkedIn page at https://au.linkedin.com/in/jessica-munday-0385048b.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jess Munday for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jess Munday or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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