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Simon Hakim

Simon Hakim
​​CEO of Hunter on Founding a Creative Agency for Challenger Brands and Agents of Change.

At Marketing Trends we are discovering what drives Australia’s top marketers. Simon Hakim co-founded Hunter in 2010, with the idea of building a business model based on remote working, accessing the best talent no matter where they were in the world. In this interview, he tells us his story, from working in the mining and engineering industry, to founding a creative branding agency for entrepreneurs, challenger brands and agents of change.

Career & professional background

Simon, how did your career in marketing start?

I guess like most entrepreneurial minds, serendipity played a massive part in my marketing start. At twenty-one, I was your classic punk. Life was wasting away skateboarding, drinking, partying, doing odd jobs and pretty much nothing else. I had no future in sight.

Then, the father of a girl I was dating at the time strongly suggested I get my life sorted. His recommendation was to apply for an Electrical Design Draftsman Trainee position at a mining engineering company called MINENCO (part of giant CRA/Rio Tinto) where he worked.

I got the job. Cue working full-time for the next four years whilst studying at RMIT in the evenings. Whilst at MINENCO, they appointed a VP of Marketing. I had no idea what that was, so I set up a meeting with the new VP to find out more.

After the meeting, I quickly realised Engineering wasn’t for me, so I resigned and headed back to RMIT as a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) undergraduate. I fell in love with Marketing, unlike Engineering, everything clicked for me, and I found it incredibly easy to understand. Whilst I loved all aspects of Marketing, my passion was Advertising, which I pursued as my major.

As part of our course, the third year was supposed to be practical. So I applied for a job at Nettlefold Outdoor Advertising as a Marketing coordinator. It was there I got to learn more about the Advertising world, albeit from a media perspective.

If you hadn’t pursued a career in marketing, in which other industry do you think you might be?

At one point, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. Which in my head at that time meant moving to New York, but I was way too chicken to follow through with it.

Could you tell us about your role as CEO of Hunter?

Every day I wake up thinking how lucky I am. My title says CEO. Which for me reads Chief Entrepreneurial Officer. As co-founder, I’m responsible for setting the vision, developing the strategy, building and guiding the team and all the other typical things a CEO would do.

Added to that, I’m also the new business development person and strategic planner for our clients. All of these roles align, as we’re only interested in working with clients who have bigger strategic business problems that need to be solved.

What type of impact has COVID- 19 had on your industry?

When we started Hunter back in 2010, the idea from the get-go was to build a business model based on remote working, accessing the best talent no matter where they were in the world. Matt Gibbins, my co-founder, is based in New Zealand and I’m based in Australia, so we’ve been working effectively this way for over 10 years.

Naturally during this time, we’ve learned a thing or two, so when COVID and lockdowns hit, we were in a good position to take advantage of the so-called new way of working. Unlike other companies in our industry who have struggled with this paradigm shift, the last couple of years have all been about growth for us.

What is the most exciting trend or innovation happening in your field in terms of growth?

I think the growth in all things plant-based, non-alcohol and low-alcohol is super interesting. The challenge for brands however, is how they differentiate themselves in a cluttered market environment and stand for something tangible that the public can fall in love with.

As a marketer, what do you believe is the biggest challenge facing your industry in the future?

I think the growing geo-political uncertainty on this side of the world is pretty scary. It’s creating a deepening business and economic divide, and cultural tension like never seen before, and it doesn’t seem to be easing any time soon. Whether we like it or not, this has a major impact on every facet of business. And I have little faith or belief in our politicians when it comes to solving the problems. It’s going to take a coming together of social values and purpose that lives beyond the political sphere.

Simon during his mining days on-site at Weipa

Tools, recommendations & sources of inspiration

What does a typical day look like for you? How do you structure your week?

Haha. I’m pretty regimented. I like to plan out my days and weeks in advance. But also allow plenty of flexibility in my calendar. A typical day starts with our team stand-ups. Monday’s, we set a theme for our weekly Spotify playlist (this can be fun and stressful at the same time).

I rarely will put back-to-back meetings or calls into my day as I need lots of time for deep thinking, which unfortunately is not the case for many people in my position. Each day I have one coffee, so it’s got to be really good. And finally I need to be physically active, so I schedule a ride on my bike for at least an hour, five-days a week. That’s either on the trainer using Zwift or on the physical road.

What brands do you take inspiration from?

I’ve always been obsessed with Apple for a huge number of reasons. But more because they have this amazing ability to simplify the complicated and make everything seamless at every touch point.

From a positioning standpoint, I love Volvo. Volvo = Safety. Back in 1959, they invented the three-point seat belt and gifted it to the world. Action speaks louder than words, and it’s a real pity we don’t see more of this from bigger companies who are in positions to make a difference for humanity.

I only discovered Patagonia about five years ago. But since then, I’ve tried to read and watch as much as I can about their company. Yvon Chouinard’s business model was unique from the get-go and it is only now that businesses are realising that you don’t need to follow the typical management business administration rule book to build something really valuable.

My other passion is cycling. And like all the brands mentioned above, Rapha has taken all this and turned what was deemed to be a rather staid category on its head. Simon Mottram’s passion for cycling comes through every aspect of the business, and as you probably know, Rapha are often held up as one of the best when it comes to branding.

Software and tools recommendations: what is the one software you can’t work without and why?

It’s probably more like five.

  • Pipedrive - for CRM. It helps me sort out my life and makes sure I track absolutely everything.
  • Slack - for everyday communications with our team and clients
  • Miro - for everyday creative and strategic collaboration with team and clients
  • Google Drive - for file storage and sharing (although I personally prefer Dropbox)
  • Google Meet - for all remote meetings etc. Things have come a long way from the days of using Skype as our main comms channel!

What are three resources you would recommend for anyone working in your field?

This is a tricky question. As mentioned earlier, I came from the world of Engineering. The industry was built around problem solving and collaboration. It was also about continuous learning and being open to varying perspectives.

Looking back, I’ve taken this thinking to our industry and as such have continuously questioned the way we do things. In order to do that you need to get your head out of your industry and look to other fields for inspiration.

For instance, I’m reading a book called The Great CEO Within: How to build a category-killing company from the ground up by Matt Mochary. It’s for tech startup CEOs and walks you through the entrepreneurial journey starting at day one on the job.

If you see anything best-practice or industry benchmark related then I suggest keeping the hell away from it. If you truly want to be a leader in your industry, then stop looking at what everyone else is doing and find new ground.

The beauty about having an entrepreneurial-mindset is it allows you to keep iterating or pivoting and dare I say it, take risks and make mistakes, which I believe is all part of the learning process… and what’s not to like about that?