He’s been a familiar face on our television screens for more than 15 years but David Koch’s career spans much further back than that.

Regarded as one Australia’s foremost business and finance commentators, David is passionate about supporting small and start-up businesses.

A highly respected finance journalist of more than 25 years and a self-confessed finance nerd, the 60-year-old guru has worn many different hats throughout his stellar career, including successful businessman, radio personality, best selling author, keynote speaker, silver Logie nominee, family man, and all around nice guy!

But let’s go back to where it all began for this likeable larrikin.

“My wife Libby and I had just married and I was studying accounting at university part time while also working.

One of the students I met was married to the business editor at The Australian at the time. She and I paired up to work on a corporate strategy for a company takeover for one of the subject units and on the back of that, her husband offered me a cadetship in the business section of the newspaper. That’s how it all started, really.”

David’s love of business and natural talent for finance journalism saw him move quickly through the ranks and after just two short years honing his craft at The Australian, he re-located from his hometown of Adelaide to Melbourne, where he joined BRW Magazine soon after its launch in the early 1980s. At just 26 years of age, he launched Personal Investment Magazine, making him one of the founders of consumer finance journalism in Australia and the youngest editor in the Fairfax Media group.

“I’ve always thought a bit outside the square, I suppose,” says David.

“I launched the magazine before there was even any money sections in the newspapers. It was a real first.”

David went on to launch the magazine in New Zealand before buying a financial publishing company in London for Fairfax, all before reaching the ripe old age of 30.

“It was certainly unusual at the time to be so young; back then you had to be old and balding to be taken seriously, a bit like I am now,” he laughs.

“At the time I used to lie about my age – I was 30 for about four years before I actually was. Somehow you become legitimate when you turn 30.”

Best known for his light-hearted and entertaining delivery of what can often be a dry and confusing subject, David says making a positive difference in the day-to-day lives of everyday people is what drives him.

“I’ve always seen myself as a bit of an interpreter about money,” says David.

“Money is not that hard – a lot of it comes down to common sense, but the professionals dress it up in jargon and make it so complicated, it turns people off.

“When I was working on BRW as a young journo, I was always thinking how I could make a difference. All the other finance journos were older and most wrote for chief executives of major companies but I figured what was the point of informing a chief executive when they probably know more than I do… but if you can package up financial information in an easily understandable and entertaining way for an everyday person, you are making a much bigger difference.

“I think of it like this: I like driving nice cars but I have no interest in what goes on under the bonnet, it bores me witless. I trust someone else do that so I can enjoy the car, and I think it’s the same with people and their money. They want to know enough so they are not conned or made a fool out of, but they don’t want to be the accountant or financial planner because they have a life, they have kids, their own jobs and they just want to enjoy the benefits.”

Breaking away from the conventional, David based the format of Personal Investment Magazine on the likes of Cosmopolitan and Cleo in an effort to make finance news more relatable and interesting for the reader.

“I’ve always tried to present it in a way so it’s not only informative but a bit entertaining and quirky, to really break down the fear factor of money.”

“None of the photos had people in suits and ties – they were banned. We did zip outs and sealed sections and things people were used to in magazines. They were familiar with and it worked.”

It wasn’t until he was in his mid-40s that David made the jump to television, when after doing some finance segments on Channel 7 News he was asked to fill in as co-host on Sunrise for three months. That was 15 years ago.

“I absolutely love it,” says David.

“I always say Sunrise is a hobby that got out of control. It wasn’t something I planned but I have always been one to give new things a go when an opportunity presents itself.

“My father had a great saying that really stuck with all of us when we were growing up. He said, ‘Have enough confidence in yourself to give something a go, but if it doesn’t work out, have enough confidence in yourself to go and try something different’. I’ve always lived my life like that and tried to pass it on to my kids.”

When he’s not entertaining us with his tongue-in-cheek presenting style, the super fit father of four and grandfather of five also runs his own business with the help of his children, who he says are he and his wife Libby’s biggest achievement.

“It’s a real family business,” says David, “I have about 20-25 people working in it, including my wife Libby who is the director, my 31-year-old son who runs it and my daughters who work in it part time around their children.”

And just when you think David’s schedule couldn’t possibly get any busier, he also finds time to head the Port Adelaide AFL Club as its president as well as run a youth centre in Macquarie Fields. And that’s just the way he likes it.

“I love it all, I love trying to make a difference, I love building things, whether it’s footy club or youth centre. I love being involved in creating things and helping people.”

But at the centre of all the business is his beloved family, the glue that holds it all together and keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground.

“We are an incredibly close family, which brings Lib and I a lot of joy and a lot of love.”

Question time with David Koch

Think Business:
Why do so many small businesses fail within the first five years?

David: One of the main reasons is not keeping on top of the numbers. Not many people go into business because they like administration. They go into business because they like plumbing or selling cars or making cupcakes or being a florist, but not looking after the figures is what let’s us all down. We need to make sure we dedicate time to focus on cash flow and the nuts and bolts of invoicing and chasing money that’s outstanding. With packages such as MYOB and Zero, it’s so easy to keep track of your money on your dashboard or mobile phone.

The second big one is not having a business plan. A lot of people I talk to say, ‘I don’t need a business plan, it’s all in my head’. I always say, ‘What if you are hit by a bus and if it’s in your head, it’s not in the detail you need for your plan going forward and to be able to check back on?’. It’s too easy to forget things. Doing a business plan, monitoring it regularly and following the cash is imperative. The saying goes, ‘Profile is vanity, revenue is sanity and cash flow is king,’ and that is right and determines whether you are going to survive or not.

Think Business: How important is an online presence in business these days?

David: For most businesses, having an online presence is essential. If you don’t have a website, you are so far behind the eight ball because so many customers now will go to a website to verify a recommendation. If they are not impressed, they will go somewhere else.

An online presence that is mobile and able is essential.

In terms of social media, it’s all about engaging with the customer base to build a familiarity for them to get to know you and build trust. It’s an ongoing link between you and your customers. Using social media, in many industries, is now playing an increasingly important part. But always remember, the biggest asset of every small business is the owner. Yes, the customer is important and yes, staff are important, but the biggest asset is you, the owner. Customers want to know you – they want to know there is a living, breathing human being looking after their interests.

Also, it’s on you as the owner to continually recharge your batteries. You are the cultural dynamo within your organisation and you have to look after yourself and make sure you don’t get burnt out and you are still passionate, because all that shows to staff and customers. Make sure you are not shackled and hostage to your business, and that you are still enjoying it.

Think Business: What are the key things to remember for start-up businesses?

David: Try and build mentors. Try and be involved in accelerators/co-working spaces in your area, where you can build your business around like-minded people. It’s the loneliest thing in the world to start a business, so if you can be in an environment with other entrepreneurs and have access to mentors, that is the key in running a start-up.

I am passionate about start-ups and this new breed of digital entrepreneurs being developed here in Australia. The key is always to be in a program that can give you processes and direction with other likeminded people.

Think Business: What are the biggest lessons you have learned in business?

David: There are so many and I am still learning. That’s the thing, you have to keep learning and being inspired by people.

Number one is, always pay attention to cash flow; even really successful people can have cash flow problems.
Two, if you are going to try something new, have the confidence to give it a go but if you’re going to fail, fail fast and cheap.

Constantly re-engineer your business, think outside the square and don’t be afraid to try new things.

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