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Success in a smile: the young Queenslanders who grew a $10m business in under two years

In the space of 21 months, business partners Nik Mirkovic and Alex Tomic have transformed their DIY teeth whitening product into a multi-million dollar ecommerce business with a global customer base.

The success of HiSmile, which launched in December 2014, is attention-grabbing for a number of reasons. For one, success was achieved in the absence of investors, off the back of $20k in start-up capital. Moreover, the brand has grown without traditional marketing. Then there’s the fact that high school is still a recent memory for the Queensland natives.

Dynamic Business spoke to Nik, aged 21, about his partnership with family friend Alex, 22; the strategies and principles that led them to finally reach the $10 million milestone in May; and how they intend to reach their goal of turning over an additional $40 million in the next 18 months.

A global movement  

“Alex and I saw a massive gap in the oral hygiene market. In our view, the existing brands and companies were ignoring 15 to 24 year olds – simply put, the products available were overpriced and not readily accessible. We wanted to change all that by offering a DIY teeth whitening product that was accessible, convenient, easy to use and gets results. More importantly, rather than simply selling a product, Alex and I wanted to create a global movement and create the sort of experience that leads to loyal customers. Six months into studying a Bachelor of Commerce, Alex left university to start HiSmile with me.

“Unlike many in the industry, we’re promoting a lifestyle and seeking to inspire people internationally. Sure, we consider our product and marketing to be unique, but they can both be copied and replicated. What remains unique, at the end of the day, is our company culture, our mindset and our motivations: positivity and culture are at the heart of HiSmile and we seek to spread our message and values globally through all our actions.

“Our favourite aspect of the business is interacting with our team daily. Everyone here at HiSmile HQ is extremely positive and for us it really puts a smile on our faces knowing that everyone truly loves to be a part of the team. The culture is something we take great pride in and is what we believe is the difference between a good business and a great one.”

Influencer-led marketing

“We saw the massive potential in marketing HiSmile on social media. We channeled our marketing budget into influencer-led campaigns through Instagram due to its popularity with our target market. Influencer marketing has been around forever: It’s what brands like Nike and Adidas have used to entertain customers and build brand loyalty. Seeing Cristiano Ronaldo running with his Nike football boots is the same as having a social media influencer using our product. It’s about marketing where the attention of your target market is and for us that’s all across social media. In terms of getting the right fit for our brand, we look for influencers that inspire our target market and have a positive vibe.”

 The advantage of youth

“The challenges Alex and I have faced along the way have shaped HiSmile into the company it is at the moment. Some might consider our age an obstacle to success, but it’s been one of our biggest advantages. Being in our early twenties has allowed us to really connect with our target market, and understand what they’re looking for and what is relevant to them.  This understanding is essentially what HiSmile is built on. Alex and I definitely feel that if we were further on in our years, the experience would have played out a little differently as we wouldn’t have the first-hand knowledge of belonging to our target market.”

A different dynamic

“Alex and I have a different dynamic to most business partnerships. Whereas people generally look to trade on different skills, our strengths are almost identical. This has been to our advantage as it means we can always rely on each other when making decisions. In fact, the similarities in our mindsets is what drove us into business together and why we’d wanted to get into business for a long time. We’re both EQ driven and extremely adaptable, and neither of us lets our ego get in the way. This is definitely the key to our success to date, as it can become tricky if you are too set in your ways with ideas.

“In terms of day to day work, one minute we’re involved in HR, the next it’s marketing, then it’s working on distribution. We both stress the importance of being involved across all aspects of the business, as it will allow us to ensure that the correct infrastructure is in place for growth.”

Watching the market

“Our growth strategy involves embracing change. Adapting to the market and also constantly looking to innovate based on what we feel our customers want and need. We’re really looking at pushing out more content on social media, understanding what the HiSmilers want to see and continuing to deliver on all fronts. Our belief is that the market decides whether products are good or not. By analysing the oral hygiene market as we grow, we’re ensuring we are on the correct path and continue to grow. In addition to establishing offices on the Gold Coast, we want to establish offices in Sydney, London, New York and Hong Kong.

“In terms of why teeth whitening products resonate with our target market, I think it’s down to the fact that a smile is the first thing someone notices and unlike any of the other features on your face, a smile can actually make someone else’s day.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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