The Business Wilderness podcast hosted special guest Franz Madlener. Franz is a life-long entrepreneur with significant experience & knowledge in early-stage startups, brand & concept augmentation and developing companies at the tipping point of market penetration and success. He also has a wealth of insight into turning ideas into profitable and sustainable business models, either from the ground up, or in a turn-around situation.


Many entrepreneurs have a trait in common, the desire to build something of their own. For Franz, this occurred at the raw age of 14 where he found out that the vending boxes at the footy were thrown out after the game. So he managed to, through a contact, get access to these thrown out vending boxes and fill them up with ice-creams and snacks to sell to beach-goers in the summer. Along the way, he noticed that having people do the selling for you is even better.

After this, he managed to navigate his way through a couple of industries such as music and clothing, before settling on surf wear. This began his first retail venture, Ocean Blue at the age of 21. The passion with which he approached this business allowed him to convince landlords, manufacturers and to get on-board and support his dream. This is in stark contrast to what many would think of a young entrepreneur throwing themselves willingly into the grasp of other businesses.

Challenges Encountered

Mr Madlener learnt his biggest lesson here about being able to grow things at the right pace. Ocean Blue grew too quickly. Stores were opened, employee numbers increased and growth reached a point where it got out of hand and required an injection of cash, something he was unprepared for. Therefore, in his mind, if he couldn’t fund it himself, he would have to sell it and he did.

A major lesson learnt is that sustaining a business is much more difficult to starting and establishing one. This is due to the distinctly abstract nature of business growth, which is different for each organisation. The difficult thing is that the question of when to grow and at what rate can often only be answered in hindsight.

Franz talks about how in this case, naivety and lack of experience are an advantage, as your sole focus is to wake up every morning and put your heart and soul into growing the company. Taking any opportunities that arise along the way. His advice is to back yourself when it comes to decisions of company growth, you know your business best and know what is best for it.

This doesn’t mean not taking advice in the process from mentors or being flexible, however it is important that you are on-top of your business and in-charge of the direction it is heading in. Understand that it is never a straight line from start to finish, however the more you can stay on the direct path that you have set, the better.

An awesome example he mentions is that of the space shuttle that went to the moon. Their start and finish was well-established but they were on course for only 8% of the time. The remaining 92% they had to adapt to the circumstances confronting them.

Countering Self-Doubt

Mr Madlener mentions that he is grateful that is openly spoken about in modern times. Previously, there was no room for this kind of discussion. Furthermore, he explains why it is important that this is discussed and that is due to the simple fact that if you understand that you’re not alone in your struggle, it makes it easier to overcome.

This is especially the case with the image of entrepreneurs portrayed through the internet and on social media platforms like Instagram. He advises here to filter through the noise the internet throws at you and to utilise it’s powers to help solve some of the problems your business encounters.

The misleading discussion behind the ‘overnight success’ or ‘immediate fame’  has also been a large contributor to the increasing levels of self-doubt among entrepreneurs, especially young ones. This illusion did not exist 20-30 years ago, because it was well-understood that hardwork was the only key to success.

There is also the misconception of what it means to be an entrepreneur and how it is defined. He mentions that there really is no definition, it is ‘whatever you believe it to be’. It is more about the journey you define and not the meaning you read from a dictionary.

Managing Employees

The question of how best to manage employees often pops up. Franz has an interesting, yet enlightening method of addressing employment. He begins with the fact that employees do not work for you as a business owner, but rather work for the business. It is much better when everybody is on the same page on working towards what is best for the business.

Another piece of advice he gives, is that you shouldn’t ask an employee to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When employees see you leading from the front, together you can work towards building something really powerful.


Mr Madlener has realised that he is being asked the question of how best to navigate a startup alot in recent times. He brings this down to two things:

1. Entitlement of startups to investor money

2. Entitlement of investors to startup success by the mere fact of investing

He speaks of perception being a large contributing factor to many of the problems seen in the startup scene.

He describes business like a wave and you trying to surf it. If you paddle too early when you see it, by the time it comes you’ll tire out. If you wait for it to be perfect before paddling to catch it, you’ll miss it. But if you time it so that you start paddling and hit the wave when it’s just right, that’s when you’ll have the best chance of cathing the wave.

Timing is crucial for any business and understanding where you sit in an industry and believing that you are able to survive and thrive is crucial to sustainability. To help with this, he stresses the importance of having a mentor who is not afraid to tell you what’s wrong with your business and how it can be improved.

We thank Mr Franz Madlener for his wealth of insight into building sustainable business models.

You can find him on:


Listen to the full podcast below: