You know that feeling you get when you listen to someone truly compelling, exciting, a little bit hilarious, and a little bit quirky? Well I got that the first time I heard Dr Amantha Imber at the BRW Most Innovative Companies List Event in Melbourne recently.
As luck would have it, four weeks later I found myself sitting face-to-face with Amantha in her office at The Hub in Melbourne, post a massive WIN: Inventium cleaned up the BRW Client Choice Awards for Best Management Consultancy in Australia. We chatted about all the important things. Musical theatre, Kevin Spacey, chocolate mousse and innovation.
How did you start the journey to create Inventium?
After doing a life sentence at uni studying Psychology for 7 years, I contracted for consultancies. This was really dull and boring. I finished my PhD and landed a job in advertising as a consumer psychologist. I pursued this for several years and found it interesting, but ethically very challenging. At the end of 2006, I said to my boss I need to leave, gave three months’ notice and thought, surely I can work out what I want to do in that time. I yearned to get back to my organisational psychology roots, help people and do something that was meaningful. After interviewing with ten different companies, I couldn’t find a cultural fit or a company where I respected the IP.
Plan B was to do my own thing, as friends were on me to start my own business. Being 28 at the time, my block was the usual adage for women: not smart enough or experienced.
I had enough saved up in the bank to live for 6 months without getting any clients. I had a very supportive partner (same partner now) with no mortgage or kids. It felt like a risk-free time to do it. From day one, advertising clients had blind faith that I could do it as I’ve always been very passionate about innovation. A lot of innovation consultants at that time spoke fluff and rubbish. It was their opinion with no evidence behind it. I was still knee deep in academia with lots of research behind me. Science-based innovation was the positioning from day one. It still is to this day.
Funny, I work in advertising and I just handed in my notice this week (!) with 3 months of savings to live on. What advice would you give to women sitting on the edge of making a decision like yours?
Awesome! I have a pragmatic side and another side that says “go out and bloody do it!” Really helps if you have savings that act as a buffer. I never actually tapped into my savings. So if it all goes belly up, you have something to fall back on.
Also make sure you are bringing something new and useful to the world. Don’t go out and be another plumber or leadership consultant. Have a think about what you can bring to your target market and have a compelling reason.
Innovation – what does it mean? Do you think there will be a rise in people wanting to get in this space? Was there competition when you first started?
It was a buzz word when I started six years ago. Quite simply, it means change that adds value. I’ve grown 50% year on year for the last 4 years organically, purely by word of mouth.
There are a surprising amount of competitors and solo consultants claiming to be experts. A year after I started my business, a consultancy in Sydney closed down and this led to a lot of one-man shops opening up and doing their own thing.
Who inspires you and who do you follow?
From a geeky research perspective, Teresa Amabile. I pray to the God of Kevin Spacey.
At this point I ask Amantha:Did you know he was here for the tennis in January? “NO! Oh no, (head in hands) I can’t believe I missed him! I did not know he was here for the Tennis Open.” Amantha and I then have a great chat about all things Kevin Spacey and I feel really bad for rubbing it in. Really bad. So we continue on to Seth Godin.
Massive, massive fan of Seth Godin. He is one of the most brilliant thinkers in this world and so amazing at packaging up his thoughts in a way that is digestible to most people. I am blown away by his generosity. He’s a big deal in marketing and entrepreneurship. I was looking to get testimonials for my book “The Creativity Formula” (to help sell it). I was aiming low, going to clients in Australia only. My partner Shannon said “write down the 10 people you totally admire and I will get their email addresses and contact them”. Seth was one of the top 10. I wrote to him, he wrote back in 48 hours with a testimonial for the book. Really touched by that. Left a huge impression on me.
Someone else who I think is really awesome is Tim Minchin. Just so clever, if I wasn’t doing this I would be a triple threat and be in musical theatre. I play a number of instruments – not crazily well, I used to be a singer. Had an album and a record deal ages ago (Samantha without the S). Back in the PhD days. I went on a side career as a singer, songwriter, and artist – got a record deal with Road Runner but didn’t pursue it as it meant I would’ve had to give up psychology. Little bit musical – learnt tap dancing. But can’t dance.
Stephen Sondheim is my favourite composer. My favourite musical theatre is “The Book of Mormon”.
What do you do in your downtime?
If I could spend all my downtime in musical theatre – that would be heaven. But unfortunately there is not enough time. I try to keep fit, prioritise going to the gym – at least four times a week. Movies. Love a good movie. Love a good HBO or ShowTime. Addicted to: Dexter, Revenge, Smash and Survivor. Couldn’t do the physical challenges though, I would be the person they vote off. I’d lose the challenges.
I tell Amantha that she is really likeable and I can’t see how that would happen to which she replied: “They may like me but they may say ‘you keep losing the challenges to the other tribe, I’m sorry Amantha but you have to be voted out’. Plus I am arachnophobic.”
What’s on the horizon for 2013?
Last year we started working with BRW – the Most Innovative Companies List. It’ll be a regular thing on the calendar. A lot of Inventium’s work is determined by client projects. Client innovation audit tool is the focus. Using a benchmark when clients first start so we can be precise with our recommendations. We then use a cut down version of this for BRW. It helps companies that are struggling with what they should be focusing on.
Oh and I’m getting married this year! [crowd applauds and cheers, well I do anyway].
Pumpkin, fetta, rocket salad. Could live off chocolate mousse for the rest of my life if I didn’t get sick. Love a good café. Fress in Caulfield and Mr Brightside – Caulfield South, best cafés ever.
“Very boring when it comes to food, I like what I like. I like yoghurt. “
Challenges faced as a company?
Biggest challenge is finding the right people to work at Inventium. Trying to find a trainer\presenter that is authentic. I find that authenticity tends to get knocked out of people in the corporate world and it can be hard to get that back. I get approached by people who love the company, but don’t have an appreciation for science. Amazing people are in the team, so the benchmark is set really high. It’s a challenge to recruit fast enough to cope with the demand.
Looking for a new Inventiologist?
Over 100 applications so far. After the resume screen, the candidate does a one minute video about something they are passionate about. If they are unable to engage us for one minute they won’t be able to engage a client for a day. We are all at full capacity in terms of the team’s work.
What gaps in the market you would like to target client-wise?
There are a couple of companies in the states and UK doing great work. Over a six week period recently, I was getting approached by people from all over the world who wanted to understand if they could license what Inventium are doing. So much potential in Australia, why don’t we try to be amazingly awesome and impactful here? That’s the focus for the moment.
We want to work with companies that want to make the world better.
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