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Can play make millions? BOUNCE co-founder says yes, and here’s how

You have to know your customer and why they are coming, to read their love letters as well as the hate mail, but you can’t rely on the customer to tell you what they want because they might not have imagined what’s possible.

Founded in 2011 by Ant Morell, BOUNCE Inc. has become a revenue powerhouse, raking in $70 million annually. The company has achieved remarkable success with 20 locations in Australia. It also has numerous international venues.

Ant Morell recently had an interview with Dynamic Business. He talked about BOUNCE’s origins and his journey as a founder.

BOUNCE’s story began in 2012, sparked by co-founder Ant Morell’s vision during a US road trip. He saw kids bouncing off the walls in a room full of trampolines, and he saw more. He noticed a space for “action-adventure” that transcends age and skill levels. This is a place where anyone can unleash their inner daredevil. “We wanted to create a new offer,” Ant shared, “a place for freestyle playgrounds, adrenaline sports, and freeing spirits of all ages.”

During that time, YouTube was flooded with extreme sports content. However, everyday people had no safe and accessible way to experience the thrill. Ant saw circus performers, and kids embracing playground adventures, and envisioned a safe space for everyone to unleash their spirit. This vision materialised as BOUNCE, a playground of airbags, trampolines, and adrenaline-inducing features – a haven for “Free jumping.”

“The idea of a revolution in action-adventure sport inspired us. It shaped the entire experience with awesome staff, great music, and an inclusive atmosphere of freestyle fun.”

Back then, meetings happened in coffee shops, BOUNCE was just an idea, and even the name wasn’t set. But Ant knew he had a game-changer with his “free-jumping revolution.” With trampolines at the core, BOUNCE was the perfect fit. The pivotal moment came when they signed a lease for their first Melbourne space, setting an official launch date.

“That was the birth of BOUNCE,” Ant declared. “In many ways, it was the birth of a subculture. We now think of BOUNCE as a ‘movement’ as much as a business.”

Building a multi-million dollar playground

“I think if you’re a founder, there needs to be some of your own spirit and your personal beliefs in your brand and its essence.

But transforming a playful idea into a multi-million dollar business wasn’t easy. Ant stressed the need for a clear vision and brand values. This vision must be communicated across different locations.

“Looking back,” Ant said, “there are so many lessons. Starting with the basics needed to survive those first six months.”

Translating the BOUNCE experience across different places requires absolute clarity. It’s important to know what the brand is and isn’t, Ant notes. “How do we look, speak, act, and feel? How does that play out in every detail? From on-hold messages to complaint handling, to preschool playdates on a hot day, to Nitro Circus athletes with their film crew. Each business brews its own special sauce using various ingredient combinations. It’s similar to songs rearranging four chords and 11 notes.” 

Yet, clarity in what you stand for keeps things focused as you navigate growth challenges. Good storytelling is powerful,” Ant believes. “It keeps the focus and energises the vision. As a founder, your spirit and personal beliefs need to be woven into the brand’s essence. This needs to be captured in a way others can share and evolve.”

Ant’s key learning? “A business is a working ecosystem.” He views BOUNCE as a brand ecosystem. It is a collection of interconnected ideas, expressions, and experiences that work together harmoniously. “A thriving ecosystem is alive in the culture, customer experience, and products,” Ant explains. “It’s easy to identify, but difficult to get right. It requires constant evolution and is woven together by both tangible and intangible elements. And it’s owned by the brand community.”

Staying ahead of the curve

According to Ant, it’s not just about performing well; it’s about anticipating where the curve might lead.

“We prioritize listening to our customers and staff over watching the competition,” Ant emphasises. “Our brand, as a conceptual entity, has an intuitive understanding of how to respond to changing consumer dynamics. Healthy brand and culture attract great people,” Ant believes. “They bring fresh perspectives and see more angles. They also bring their own passion and imagination.”

Ant sees attracting great people as key to expanding possibilities. “If our brand can attract great people, they’ll bring their talents and best efforts to expanding possibilities for the business. They’ll inherently care about the brand because it attracted them in the first place. I see things through the lens of brand, culture, and customer experience. Keeping these areas healthy is extremely important to me.

Ant emphasizes the importance of strong connections in three areas: brand, culture, and customer experience. They view the world through this framework. It is crucial to understand customers by reading their feedback. This includes both love letters and hate mail. However, relying solely on customer input is limiting. This is because they may not envision what is possible.

“We try to look at the dynamics that are shaping the world that the customer is living in. When you know your brand and your customer well enough, you can see how these dynamics are going to shape what they will want well before they ask for it. You also have to be in tune with the range of forces that are shaping what happens in your category or for your customer. There is an invisible convergence of forces in our space. These forces revolve around popular culture, music, sport, social interaction, entertainment, fashion, and social media. If you’re not personally fascinated by all that, make sure someone in your business is.”

Advice to entrepreneurs

In my experience ‘who with’ is even more important than your ‘why’, and ‘what’ is a distant third.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Ant’s advice is a treasure trove of wisdom. He encourages focusing on building a brand, refining your skills, and prioritizing collaboration.

“Firstly, I think you find out pretty quickly if what you want to do is create a business or a brand. 

“There is such a rich combination of good, bad, terrifying, and wonderful things that come with the entrepreneurial life. If you’re feeling really called in that direction, go for it and you’ll know for sure if it’s for you. If it is you, you really have to know and refine your talents, skills, and quirks into a personal cocktail of magic. Know your weaknesses and blind spots and know and refine your winning formula. When you work for yourself, there are fewer safety nets. The performance review goes away, so if you mess up, you’ll know the consequences firsthand.” 

“Likewise, if you keep purifying your personal special source, it can keep refining what you are bringing into the world. So, master your contribution and bring in others who love what you are hopeless at. Not many people are doing anything significant truly on their own. So, knowing what’s missing from you is critical to getting people with those skills around you. I don’t have any catch phrase formulas, but I would say prioritise ‘who with’ above most other things. In my experience ‘who with’ is even more important than your ‘why’, and ‘what’ is a distant third. Another thing to cultivate is pattern recognition; when you look at businesses that are flying versus those that stagnate. If you don’t have that skill, find people who do and get them on your team.”

“Finally, one I need to get a lot better at: action — ‘Action’ in itself creates inspiration and momentum. Don’t wait for certainty, clarity or inspiration to come and fuel you – get started and it will fuel itself.”

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