“Who wants me to order bubble tea?”
It’s 9:30PM on a Thursday and the entire AKU team have our regular weekly meeting in our studio, a humble 5 by 5 meter square room in a 70 room warehouse shared with artists, graphic designers and architects. It’s equipped with the bare essentials - a couch, working communal table, TV, drinks, snacks and most importantly 9 AKU team members finding any nook to settle in for the evening. A corner is stockpiled with boxes on boxes of products and samples and a once green plant wilts sadly on the window sill. It’s hard to fathom international academies and teams, professional clubs, large centre and athlete partnerships being forged in this very studio, but that very room has seen us go from a small Melbourne operation to working regularly with clubs internationally.
The bubble tea was feverishly offered by Mel, our customer service liaison. Every email and social media message directed to AKU is reviewed and answered by Mel, usually with some sort of bubble tea in hand, typing a response with her other. I’m pretty sure she’s memorised the entire menu and price list at Gong Cha and I know for a fact that she has an internal ranking system of every bubble tea store in Melbourne. Our limited release BOBA FC kit was inspired by her. Boba aside, Mel builds an amazing rapport with our customers and in some parts, is the virtual face of AKU to our customers. She first joined the team by unofficially helping out on odd jobs on goodwill, doing deliveries, upselling streetwear at her social futsal games and as her responsibilities and tasks grew, I remember asking the senior members of her team “Ummm, I think we need start paying Mel” and from there, she’s been an ingrained part of the team.
Usually parked next to Mel sits Nina, AKU’s head of Finance and Operations and one of the members of our founding team. Nina usually cuts a quiet figure in the team, says little and only contributes when necessary. Her role managing finance and operations is broad, resulting in little time for the other parts of AKU. She has oversight, tracks, manages and hands over all designs to our manufacturers and ensures we collect and pay everything on time, essentially the cog that makes everything we do possible. Most of my fights at AKU are with Nina, for the sole reasons that she manages our the money.
“Hey, how about we all go out for a steak after dinner on the account?”. “No”
“Can we please fly premium economy to Thailand?”. “No”
Frustrating as it is to admit, without her oversight, the brand would have been broke a long long time ago, but through her guidance, we have made sound business decisions and investments leading to our growth, despite me having to pay for my own steak.
As the meeting progresses, giving the marketing and content plan updates is Teresa. She updates the team on our new brand guidelines, the content plan and requirements for the coming months and how we’re tracking against our 2020 marketing strategy. Seeing the seriousness and articulateness in her delivery cracks me up, as her update is juxtaposed by her personality, with a quirky sense of humour and often found hiding behind the walls of the office after hours waiting to scare the shit out of the unlucky person who went to the bathroom. Nevertheless, managing AKU’s marketing and content plan for the year is no easy feat but her greatest strength is just getting things done and delivering against action items (random strength, I know). Be on the look out for our marketing campaigns over the year on all our socials.
Sitting next to Teresa is long time friend and AKU’s newest team member Fiona. She’s so new she’s yet to have keys to the office and still has to call someone out to the parking lot to let her in (which reminds me that I really need to get her a swipe pass and a key). Fiona is an interim member of the AKU team but she’s doing such an amazing job that I’ve slowly and subtly hinted on numerous occasions that I want her to stay. Her life in the corporate world entails her managing marketing at renowned companies in Australia and with the convenience of her being close friends with Teresa and Nina, I reached out to her to help us build our marketing strategy for 2020. To be fair, any strategy would be an upgrade on our 2019 strategy of me going into our content library every second day, picking an image and adding a generic caption. She has been able to understand our 2020 business strategy and targets and build an amazing and clear marketing strategy to support it. Getting to this point took some time and I have never felt more humbled about my lack of knowledge of marketing than when Fiona laughed to the point of tears at my suggestion of doing a “Terrace House Style” weekly team VLOG. I’ve since learnt to entrust the entire plan to her.
As we mark International Women's Day where we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, in a male dominant sportswear industry, AKU’s success and foundations have been built on the diversity of the team itself, and the critical thinking, decision making and perspective of both genders combined, and I can't imagine where we'd be without them.
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