Its now been more than a year since XPLCIT began trading and the highs and lows have been well documented. To mark the milestone I spoke to Shawn about the past and looking into the future, hoping to give fans some insight into how XPLCIT was born and a more personal take on the man behind the concept.
DB: What sort of child were you, were you just mini Shawn as we know now or someone completely different?
SG: I was a mischievous little bastard, running around with mums lipsticks and drawings on the walls…
DB: So the Shawn we know now then..
SG: Haha noooo.. I always kept to myself and amused myself one way or another. I always flew under the radar basically.
DB: So did you have a lot of friends that you were mischievous with, or were you a bit of a loner?
SG: It was a little bit hard with Mum and Dad being in and out of hospital a lot with my brother, so I didn’t get to be with friends that often. I was either at home with Mum or Dad or at my Grandparents a lot with everything going on. You could say… I wasn’t a loner… but I was with my sister and cousin and didn’t get a lot of time to go over to a friends house or have friends over.
DB: So, from the same time, what would your happiest childhood memory be?
SG: When Make a Wish Foundation paid for the entire family to go up to QLD, and we got to go to Movie World, Sea World and Water World. My brother was still quite sick so we couldn’t so a lot of things and I was quite young, but the whole family was together and we were happy at the time.
DB: When did you know that you were going to be different or do something different with your life, I’m not necessarily talking about going into business for yourself… but because you were a country kid.. when did you know that wasn’t going to be your life?
SG: It would have been when I was a teenager, when I was about 15 or 16, I was spending a lot of my weekends in Melbourne with friends and this made me realise that country life wasn’t for me. As much as I enjoyed living in the country town, I hated it just as much. Also living 20-30 minutes out of town I always had to rely on mum to come pick us up taking time out of her day, and i hated that especially if she had already been into town that day. Melbourne was the big wide world which introduced me to quite a few things.
DB: So was it Melbourne that gave you that realisation of wanting to be different or was it something else that happened that pushed you in a different direction?
SG: It’s a range of things. My upbringing wasn’t exactly easy. When crunch came to crunch with what my mum and I were going through (at that time), I knew that I didn’t want to be like my father but instead I had to be strong and independent and not rely on other people. Becoming the man of the house forced me to decide which way I was going to go.
DB: When did the idea of XPLCIT first come to you and how long did it take to form the concept together?
SG: XPLCIT comes from an old nickname of mine from (when I was) living in Bendigo, I had burlesque themed 21st birthday and the bar was called XPLCIT and my friends and I had jokes about it. (Later) when I moved to Sydney and I was getting introduced to different people and going to different events, people were telling me about their issues of having to get products from overseas, that there wasn’t a diverse range available in Sydney and that they would order things from Melbourne and when it arrived they’d discover it’d be the wrong size etc… So I started doing a little bit of research in 2016 and had an idea kind of put together around June/July but didn’t really go hard on it until October. Part of the reason I decided to go all in was I hated being the fix-it guy for every other business I had worked for. I was having some trouble with the place I was working with at the time. They were not coming to the party with what I wanted even though I was exceeding their expectations, they wouldn’t recognise my work and would just kept moving the goal posts. So I just got to the point where I’d had enough and wanted to go work for myself.
DB: You started the business in November so it didn’t actually take you that long to put it all together..
SG: No… I launched the website on November 28 having contacted suppliers a couple of months prior. I had a lot of help from friends that were around at the time, which I am grateful for, but what I launched was so small compared to what XPLCIT is now. I had a similar business model in mind but it has grown much bigger than I thought.
DB: When you mention previous places you worked at and that you were really good at your job, exceeding expectations but also being frustrated because the bar would constantly be set higher… You’re like that with yourself a lot..
SG: I am..
DB: So is that something you have always been like or has it come from working with people like that?
SG: It stems from a lot of things, my childhood, as well as working for other people. I have always had such high expectations for myself, wanting to prove that I can do something that is unreachable and I have imbedded that into myself probably a little bit too much……
DB: I want to go into that a little bit deeper in a second, but with the launch of XPLCIT, was it what you thought it would be? Because it really wasn’t a lot of time to get set up. It can take a year or years even, planning the start of a business. You did it in a few months.
SG: When I get an idea I am like a bull at a gate. Looking back at it now, the launch could have been done a lot better with more build up and more hype. I really just wanted to get it up and running, after putting so much time and money into it I wanted to start getting income from it. At the time I thought it launched well and that it was a good concept but soon I learnt to think more like a business man and more like a customer. What do I need (as a customer), what do I expect, what do I look at when it comes to the website etc. So I realised my original concept was not that good.
DB: That’s good. Some people never figure that out. A lot of businesses fail because they buy for themselves and not their customer. They don’t even know who their customer is and they don’t do any market research. So the fact that you figured that out so quickly is testament to XPLCIT still being here and growing so quickly.
SG: Possibly yeah. At the start I was probably a bit naive… that’s probably the wrong word, but I didn’t really listen to what other people were saying. I’d say ‘no no Ive done that, Ive tried this’, or I’d listen but not take it on board…
DB: That can sometimes be a good thing though…
SG: Yes and no.. When I started to listen and understand a few things from the bigger picture point of view made me realise quite a few things as well.
DB: What was the very first product you bought for the store?
SG: It would have been the harnesses, because that was my main focus. The very first would have been a black Bulldog Harness. When I got the Neon Green in I absolutely loved it, and that’s when I knew I wanted to make it a collection.
DB: How long did it take to sell your first product?
SG: Not that long actually. I was already selling little things to friends but the first sale from someone I had never heard of was from someone in QLD and it was a big sale for me at the time. Even though I had already done similar sized sales to people I knew, this one told me that I was doing something right.
DB: At this time, even a little bit before this, you had ‘friends’ that were saying you wouldn’t succeed , that you were wasting your time and that it wouldn’t happen. I know that was and still is a driving force for you when things get tough, but what did it feel like when you’re working your arse off and these friends people aren’t wishing you success.
SG: Umm.. It made me feel like shit really. It was hard to comprehend because if they were starting a business I’d be there to help them, so I got my back up a little and thought fuck you. So while it pissed me off, it gave me more incentive, more motivation and more ambition, to keep pushing to succeed and prove them wrong. I don’t care what its going to take but Im going to do it.
DB: Did it make you fall flat for a bit before picking yourself up or did it give you that fire straight away?
SG: It would pretty much fire me up straight away. I wasn’t going to sit there and let them say those things to me.. It made me think that just because they had not succeeded at something in life why should I sit there and listen to the negative things when I was trying to do something positive. I guess there was probably a little bit of a flat but certainly nothing like weeks.
DB: Do we want to put some names on the record?
SG: Haha no.. they know who they are.
DB: So how do you turn that around.. How does it work in your head to make you go harder when things are against you? Is it a natural instinct you’ve had since you were a kid?
SG: A little bit yeah, but mostly just because I hate failure. I hate failing in front of people. I have failed in life with a few things, a bucket load of things.. Nobody is perfect. But when I have an ambition and drive and it’s my idea and my concept… and remembering that I don’t want to go back working for someone else and you are investing your own dollars…. Its all well and good for someone to say it wont work, but when it’s your own money, you’re own time and your own baby, its self motivating.
DB: So what we see now with XPLCIT is obviously completely different to when it first started. Back then did you have the concept of competing in a more niche part of the market and kind of rejecting the mainstream, or did it evolve and become more of a see where it goes?
SG: I’ve always wanted to be a niche type of business because there is no point opening up another store the same as Joe Blow right next door. Because where is the difference then… Keeping in mind I can’t be so different though because people wont go there as they’re not used to it. I have always wanted to steer XPLCIT in that direction, but in doing so I’ve had to enter the market on a soft level and build the business up and grow with the customers. If businesses don’t change… take the children’s toy industry for example. If they still had the same toys now as when I was a kid they’d be out of business. Some of them are because they didn’t adapt or change. Its the same in this industry. People get bored of the same thing over and over again. They want new things to try but they don’t want to go out on their own and do it. They want someone to say or a company to say ‘this is how you do it, this is what you’re doing, this is what you’re looking for’ and go from there.
DB: I have always been fascinated with these company’s and brands that go out and create their own market, not that you are creating you’re own market but rather one that people don’t know much about in Australia. Because no-one else is doing it, or doing it well anyway…
SG: I don’t think that they’re not doing it in Australia. People are out there that know what they want but they are just too afraid to ask. There are some businesses out there doing great things, but I am more… my concept from day dot was to be in your face, so instead of being a fetish store or sex store behind the black curtain, I wanted to be bold, bright and energetic. I wanted it to be so people weren’t afraid to walk into the store or open the website at work, even though its probably restricted haha. It’s that type concept that I have always wanted. Making people or rather helping people talk about it.
DB: That’s actually your personality anyway. You’re upfront, you don’t hide, you don’t sugarcoat anything so this is really just an extension of yourself. You’re just trying to have a casual conversation about 25 inch dildos..
SG: Haha.. I guess you could say that. If you go back 10 years I wouldn’t have been caught dead talking about this stuff. I was an extrovert but an introvert as well. But now its part of life. Its something we shouldn’t be ashamed of and it’s something we shouldn’t be judged for, we shouldn’t have to be worried about walking out of a sex store with a bag full of whatever. Everyone is worried about walking in and being seen by the next person. It’s just sex, everybody does it, you don’t know what your parents were doing or using at the time.
DB: So what if somebody wanted to have a butt plug in when they were driving from Melbourne to Sydney.. you wouldn’t judge them for that.
SG: Exactly, no.. wait are you telling me you have one in right now?..
DB: I don’t want to be judged.. …
DB: So do you have an idea or a concept of where you want to be in 1 year or 5 years?
SG: I do, but because it’s grown and evolved so quickly from a year ago, I am already exceeding some of what I thought for the future. So being that’s all happened so quickly, without saying too much, its going to be very exciting but also I do need to look at it again because I am ahead of the plan in so many ways.
DB: I want to talk about the shop being vandalised and you losing the site back in May 2017, which has been talked about a lot, but taking into consideration what we have spoken about today, it must have gut wrenching. I mean it was such a moment of success for you and to see it fall down like a deck of cards.
SG: It was. I wasn’t expecting to have a pop up store on Crown St for Mardi Gras as the business had only been around for a few months so I was just so over the moon that the business was doing so well and looked around for shop and found one finally. I thought, shit, I haven’t even been open for 12 months… I had a smile from ear to ear that nobody was going to break.. And then it all came crashing down very quickly and it wasn’t that I ran out of money or that the business wasn’t doing very well….
DB: So that would have made it even harder because its not something that you did or something that you are responsible for..
SG: That’s correct. It was one of those things… I couldn’t believe that some bastard could do something like that. I just couldn’t believe it. I did everything in my power to stay there. I offered them more money to stay there because the guy that rented it to me made me believe that he was the owner which turned out he wasn’t. He was a tenant and the lease had expired a week after I moved in and he was $6.5K in arrears which I offered to pay to the real estate when I found out who they were. The next 2.5 weeks from that moment was a nightmare. I couldn’t leave the store someone had to be there at all times just in case they did break in. One day I bought some cameras and that was probably one of the better decisions of my life because once they were set up I saw a lot of shit happening.
DB: Names of these people or they know who they are?
SG: Yes they know. If it wasn’t for my friends….. they helped a lot. Even if it was just coming around and seeing how I was or stayed while I went out and about and did my personal things. They kept my spirits up as much as they could.
DB: Have there been things other than that? I know there have been other times that were quite stressful..
SG: You could say that ahah
DB: Have there been other times when you struggled to keep your passion or drive alive, or have you ever come close to throwing it all in? Because I know we have talked about this before.. times when nothing had been going right.
SG: Yes, one of the things that happened fairly early on, 29th December, I got broken into. I was meant to be out and about, not home, so it was a set up I believe. The cops didn’t find anything and it cost me a lot of money. But where I was living it didn’t feel like home and it didn’t feel safe and when I was there I just wasn’t me. I’d try and work but couldn’t, and kept waking up in middle of night. I told myself not to let it get to me but it did. That was really hard, but again mates around me helped pulled me through. Having the shop and being on top of the world, and then having it all pulled out from under me was the toughest. I had everything going the way I wanted and I was exceeding my expectations on all levels. It was a fuck you to the people who said I wasn’t going to succeed.. And then in the blink of an eye I was homeless living off friends couches. Mates were saying I could stay there but I felt like I was a burden on them half the time. My personal effects were in the boot of my car and scattered everywhere, stock was all different places and on top of that I was looking for a place to live, a shop and trying to run a business. To get orders out and speak to customers with (my usual) full passion at this time was really tough. I was worn out, I was tired and I was defeated.. I nearly chucked it all in, fuck this I am done. If this is what it is I don’t want it. And then something popped into my mind saying don’t quit…. you have come this far. Yeah you have lost an amount of dollars but if you quit now you are just a quitter. And thats not me. I am not a quitter. So I pushed through and I am glad I did.
DB: How has running a business affected your personal life and what sacrifices have you had to make? I’m going to put a time limit on this of one minute haha..
SG: It has sacrificed my personal life. I knew it would and that it is going to. When you jump into business for yourself you know its going to be like that, but I didn’t expect that it would overtake things this much in the beginning so I am still trying to balance it out. Mates would come around and tell me to put the computer down etc.. but at the end of the day it’s all well and good to say that or to say to take a break, go out or take a holiday, but at the end of the day if I don’t do it who is. There’s always things to do, product research and keeping the website up to date for example. It’s a lot more work than I originally thought but would I change it? No … but with my social life there are some things I do have to do differently.
DB: Are there any specific examples you can think of? Things that you have hated giving up?
SG: Just the social life being cut back to bare bones really. In a way it can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the way you look at it. I don’t give my friends enough time for the time they give me. I get a lot of support from friends and I try to spend time with them but a couple of people have made comments in the past saying when we spend time together they feel like they are taking me away from my work. In a way yes they are, but also I can’t work 24/7. Its not healthy. I was going to bed, passing out because I was so exhausted from trying to get things done,
DB: Its what you’ve got to do to survive sometimes. There are those weeks and months where it is just non-stop and the work just needs to get done.
SG: It’s not easy. Anyone who has started their own business knows how much time and effort is involved.
DB: It’s important to be able to recognise those times where you don’t have to work 24/7, the times where you can work less. And that can be hard to identify.
SG: Because if I am at home I’m thinking ‘why am I wasting 3 hours watching tv I may as well be doing something’. But sometimes you just need that time to shut off otherwise you’re just going around in circles.
DB: So how do you recharge?
SG: I sleep.
DB: There has to be little tricks you have. Like for me I couldn’t start my day without my coffee sitting in my garden in the sun. It helped set me up for the day and give me a refresh from the day before.
SG: For me its driving even if it is for work to drop something off. When I am driving it’s just me and the road. One of the things people don’t understand is how important it is just getting out of the house. Music is also a big part, every day I have it playing. And cleaning as weird as that sounds.
DB: So for those people out there, whether they have their own business or not, what advice would you give them if they are feeling burnt out or have lost their drive and passion.
SG: Take a step back. Work out what used to drive you and why. Think about the initial ambition or drive that you used to have and why you may have lost it because sometimes it is the simplest reason. We are sometimes so bogged down trying to please everyone else, which we never can do, and sometimes we complicate things way too much. I’m still learning…. I can give great advice but don’t take it back sometimes. We sometimes need to remember our original vision or build on that and create an extended vision to reinvigorate us. .
DB: Winston Churchill once said, and I cant figure out if I like it or not actually, but he said “success is made up of many failures” … Do you agree with that, that failure is not a bad thing?
SG: Definitely, failure is not a bad thing. Many inventors and many of the things we use today never got it right the first time. They would have failed and failed before they got it right and we as humans fail daily. But its what you do with that failure that counts and working out what to do better next time. You have to figure out what went wrong, how it went wrong and why it went wrong. Build on it, work on it and move forward.
DB: That surprises me because you are so hard on yourself when you fail.
SG: I am, but that goes back to my childhood and letting people down. I don’t like to let people down and was very sensitive to it growing up. Now sometimes I am too hard on myself, but that’s how I get back to where I was going.
DB: I think when you are failing over and over at the same thing, that’s when failure becomes a bad thing.
SG: Yes exactly, its not learning from your mistakes and not listening to feedback or criticism that makes it a bad thing.
DB: This year there have been a lot of highlights like going over to Mister B’s headquarters was a big thing for you I know. Anything else?
SG: There has been quite a few highlights actually. Getting recognised from suppliers that the business is growing, doing well and not a joke was a big one. Going over to Mister B and meeting the team in person was mind blowing. Getting the shop, the new website and weekend delivery which was an industry first was a big thing.. Plus there are a lot of things that people don’t see like Google saying XPLCIT is the fastest growing BDSM or Fetish site in 10 years. The new car, the Xplcit mobile that we are in right now…. I guess people can see that though.. I signed my very first exclusive contract for the colour orange as well, seeing the data on certain things as well like the amount of time people are spending on the website hitting it’s highest levels.
DB: For people out there, young or old, they have an idea and they want to take that next step, what advice would you give them? Perhaps they have already done their research – small chance of success moderate chance of failure. Just go for it or make sure you have your plan and go over and over it?
SG: I wouldn’t say go over and over it because I know that I didn’t. You don’t want to sit back and not go for it because you don’t want to be thinking down the track what if. Not everyone has the courage to leave their full time job to start up their own business though, and not everybody wants to fork out a shitload of money for something that might not succeed. Other people will have the same idea, however, but not all will have the courage to do it. If you have the idea go for it. I was shit scared and it took me a month tell my mum I had left my job and was working in my own business.
DB: So what are the plans for 2018? I know there are some big plans in the pipeline but don’t give away too much..
SG: Well there are plans. I wouldn’t say they are big plans..
DB: I would say they are big plans.
SG: A store obviously, that’s a given. It’s time to get serious and deliver. There are more events to attend and the focus will be localised and more community based, as we want to really be apart of that. And I really want to solidify XPLCIT being recognised for being a different type of business that’s not afraid to stand up and say hey you’re into leather, good on you. Everything we do will follow our vision of growing with our customers and the customers growing with us.