Our CEO Mitchell Ross was recently interviewed on Koori Radio’s Breakky Show where he spoke about the challenges of starting the business.
Mitchell also discussed how the business has evolved through its partnership with COS, our recent contract with KPMG, and also provided some advice for anyone looking to get launch a business.
Listen to the audio above or read the full transcript below.
Grant: We’re joined by Mitchell Ross now. Firstly, good morning Mitchell! Thank you for joining us. You are the CEO of Muru Office Supplies. I guess, firstly, explain your company, what does it do. What is that all about?
Mitchell: Sure. Well, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. Fun fact, I actually hosted a show on Koori Radio years ago.
Grant: No way!
Mitchell: Yes, back when it (the station) was at Marrickville before it moved here.
Grant: Oh, my goodness!
Mitchell: Called the Aftermath. It was a hip-hop show on Wednesday nights for a couple of hours.
Mitchell: Yeah, It just brings back some memories, actually, coming in here. So, thanks.
Muru Office Supplies, the name sort of lets you on a little bit, but we provide workplace supplies for corporate and government customers. Anything from paper, pens, through to furniture, technology accessories or even toilet paper. Anything that a business needs in their four walls, we provide nationally.
Grant: Nice! It must be, obviously, a big company. Were there any struggles starting it, particularly as an Indigenous man?
Mitchell: Yeah, definitely! There’s a common misconception out there in the market that Indigenous businesses maybe aren’t as capable or have the same capabilities as mainstream businesses. Those were some challenges that we faced early on when I started the business.
I started it back in 2012 and that was really because I saw an emergence of the Supplier Diversity sector, so corporate and government buyers wanting to engage with Indigenous businesses. I started selling ink cartridges and there were a lot of challenges because we really didn’t have any capability in distributing those products and also, because as I mentioned companies feeling like you don’t have that capability, or you can’t provide that service.
That’s changed a lot over the years and after about 18 months into our business, we formed a partnership with a large Australian company in that space. They have distribution capabilities all around Australia, so that’s Complete Office Supplies or COS. They’ve helped us grow our business from me getting couriers to deliver ink cartridges to now providing for some of the biggest companies in Australia, providing all supplies.
We’ve had other challenges. Obviously, building that capability wasn’t easy. It took a while to form that partnership with the right company and grow to the point where we are now.
Other things that we’ve faced along the way, like importing products overseas in US dollars, when the dollar changes that messes up the price that you’re selling to customers and you have to have uncomfortable conversations.
So, there are a lot of challenges along the way. But, I think, the sector has changed a lot over the years and a lot of those problems that I faced early on because of procurement policies and the way that the markets changed, businesses are more open to engaging with Aboriginal businesses. Large companies and government are doing a much better job than they were six years ago.
Grant: What does make the company, apart from the name and yourself being Aboriginal, what makes it Aboriginal?
Mitchell: There are a few different opinions about when you use the term Indigenous business. I think, more so, it’s a business run by an Indigenous person. That’s how I think about it. But sometimes, we get caught up and people just label it Indigenous business. We are certified with an organization called Supply Nation. They categorize an Indigenous business as something that’s 50% or more owned by an Indigenous person and controlled by an Indigenous person. I own 51% of the business and control and run the business.
So, that fits the terminology and criteria of it. But, it’s just me being an Indigenous man running a business. We want to be remembered as a business, a great business, not necessarily just labelled as being an Indigenous business. We like to compete against mainstream companies and be known for doing great service and providing great products.
Kalkani: Now going back to what you were saying earlier, getting involved with big companies, you’ve just signed a big deal with KPMG. So, congratulations on that, first of all. But, why do you think it’s so important for companies or big companies like KPMG to get involved with Indigenous businesses?
Mitchell: There are a few reasons. Thank you very much. Yes, it’s one of our biggest contracts and we have won another larger one since then, so it’s been a great 6-12 months for us.
Companies like KPMG, there are a few reasons, a lot of them have corporate social responsibilities and they want to be seen as giving back and supporting people with diverse backgrounds, not just Aboriginal people. That’s not just through business but through a lot of other areas like employment and things like that. So obviously, it’s part of their broader social responsibility to do business. But, there’s also a business case.
If you’re organisation and you want customers from all different diverse backgrounds, it makes sense that you engage with businesses or suppliers from diverse backgrounds and you employ people from diverse backgrounds because it creates a sense of, if you’re supporting our people we want to do business with you. Say if it’s a bank or a retail business, we feel more comfortable doing business with them as an Aboriginal person if they’re actually supporting our people through business. So, it does make sense and makes it more attractive to work for those organizations. As an employee, you feel proud to work there because of the work that they do. So, there is a full flow on effect. It’s not just about, “Oh, we want to do it because it’s in our policy.” There is actually a business case for these organizations to do it.
Grant: As you said you started it back in 2012. That’s been nearly six years if not more that you’ve been going and obviously, going from strength to strength, the number of different deals and stuff like that. I know that the Breakky Show has a bunch of young listeners who would be looking to get out into the workforce and may very well want to start their own companies. Have you got any tips for, firstly, starting a company, having the perseverance to kick through those struggles that you were mentioning earlier in and really make it big like you have?
Mitchell: Yeah, surround yourself with people that have been there and done that or supportive people. I’ve had a lot of people mentor me. I’ve had many of my peers who also run businesses that are successful as well. We all started in similar situations. We’ve all obviously been there to provide advice and support to each other, mentored by people that have blazed a trail before me and other Indigenous business people. And people in corporations as well, who really want to support and champion Indigenous business.
Get yourself out there. Meet as many people as you can and find people that are really there to support you. The other thing would be to be open to adapt and change and stay true to your values. It’s important to us.
We give a percentage of all our profits back to community projects and that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something I’ve brought into the business. I think if that’s something that’s important to them as Aboriginal people, then they should stick to that and try to bring their values into the business.
Grant: If anyone at home or at their office or even on their way to work needs a new computer or even some toilet paper for their office, they can go to the website: muruoffice.com.au or call 1300 88 22 44. Thank you so much for joining us this morning!
Kalkani: Thank you!
Mitchell: No worries.
Grant: Congratulations and good luck with future endeavours that you’ll be going and getting better.
Mitchell: Thanks. If I could just say one more thing. A passion project and a side project of mine, I actually created the KO app for the Koori Knockout a couple of years ago. So, just keep an eye out when the knockout comes around. Make sure you download the app and support our mob.
Kalkani: What’s the KO app?
Mitchell: It’s a mobile app for Android and iPhone that shows live scores and news of the Koori Knockout
Grant: Keep up to date wherever you are.
Kalkani: Just rolling off of that. You should do KO dating app.
Grant: Shut up! You’re so stupid, I swear.
Kalkani: You’d save a lot of drama.
Mitchell: We have to have profile lessons to set up your profile.
Grant: Kalkani can give the lessons. She knows exactly what it goes into a profile.
Kalkani: Can you do player profiles and then next to them, married, single. That would save a lot of drama.
Grant: Green light, orange light, red light.
Kalkani: Exactly! What’s the orange light for?
Grant: Like, complicated. If you want to get involved, the chick on the side might come and say something sort of situation.
Kalkani: At your own risk.
Grant: Yes, enter your own risk. That’s exactly right.
Mitchell: We’re always open for it. We love feedback and we’re always open to new ideas. I’m not sure, I’d have to workshop that one.
Grant: Maybe the two of you can have a bit of a collab and have a chat about it.
Mitchell: We thought about, somehow, an Airbnb style thing into the app too, when it’s in different communities. Have you got a room available?
Grant: I’m having bad thoughts already, but that’s just me, I think.
Kalkani: That’s an orange light that one.
Grant: We’ll definitely have to get you on later on when the knockouts around it and we can chat about that as well. But, thank you so much for joining us this morning and enjoy the rest of your day.
Mitchell: Thanks very much, guys!