Hi Sam, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your venture?

My name is Sam Dickinson and I am currently studying marketing and management while running my two businesses. I am obsessive about good design. I love using design to communicate better by making things easier and more enjoyable, so that is where a lot of my passion goes.

I founded City Brief wanting to provide Adelaide a carefully curated and free city guide. Featuring small editorials, the guide is visually focused through strong design and high quality photography. The guide consists of 10 sections: coffee, food, drinks, fashion, services, goods, makers, events, culture & transport.  Currently, we are upgrading our website to a level where it can offer a comprehensive online directory of featured places and insightful local blogs. Every quarter, we print and distribute over 5,000 copies to over 90 distribution points across Adelaide – reaching over 15,000 readers an issue. Our first edition was released last March and we are looking to slowly expand next year.


“Unlike other city guides, we will never charge the places we feature. We want to be part of a movement that supports local small businesses.”


There are other city guides out there, what is unique about City Brief?

The modern city dweller or traveller lacks time and they want something that is simple, quick to read, yet insightful.  There wasn’t a city guide that used good design to achieve this. To me, this just didn’t make sense. City Brief focuses on providing simple and visually engaging information. Unlike other city guides, we will never charge the places we feature. We want to be a part of a movement that supports local small businesses.


“I give serious thought and consideration to every move we make as there is solid reasoning behind every expenditure. Every cent spent has been done to establish the brand in a strategic way. It is vital to spend on initiatives that maximise impact.”


What is City Brief’s business model?

We distribute our guide for free while covering our cost through full-page ads.  Our advertisers are partners in City Brief, without them working with us we wouldn’t be here. The print market is very competitive which is why we are focussed on adding value to our proposition through developing our digital platform.


What do you want to do once you have graduated?

I am 99% sure that I will be running my own venture. I do not find the need for the security of a salary. I like getting out of bed feeling happy, motivated and excited every day.


How did you come up with the idea for City Brief?

I have been shining shoes for over three years in Adelaide Arcade. Around a year ago, I was thinking that it would be cool if you can get off an airplane in a new city and pick up a little book that would show you the favourite spots of locals. This guide will help you not waste your money and time on things that are not worth it. City Brief needed to be simple, beautifully designed and easier to use than Googling coffee spots in Adelaide. From conceptualising the idea for City Briefto actually printing the first issue took about 5 months. My experience from my shoe shining business taught me that if you come up with a low risk concept that can fulfil a gap in the market then you should give it a go straight away. The day I thought of this idea I immediately took action to get things moving.


“There is no shame in changing the business model, it is expected of a start-up to be nimble and adaptive to the right situation.”

I know that people still appreciate and place high value on quality print as they want to pick up a nicely printed magazines or newspapers and read interesting content.  Financially, I did further research on how much to charge for advertising spots and worked out our breakeven point. We broke even in September and are already making profits with our summer and autumn issue.

What does the future hold for City Brief?

I want to go to slowly grow to other cities while keeping it on a lean business model. I am very cautious in terms of operating the guide in a way where our cost bases are kept low. I give serious thought and consideration to every move we make as there is solid reasoning behind every expenditure. Every cent was spent on establishing the brand in a strategic way. It is vital to spend on initiatives that maximise impact. However there are non-negotiable areas of expenditure, like print and stock quality, photography and design. You also need to save money in case another opportunity arises because you never know what is around the corner.

We are currently replicating this model in Hamburg, Germany with our first issue due in the spring of next year and we are also talking to potential clients in Melbourne and Sydney. The work it takes to expand your concept into another market is daunting but at the same time it is exciting and fun to see the concept thrive.


“People need to realistically plan everything on a realistic worst case scenario basis, not the idealistic worst case scenario where you can still get payed a wage. I mean the worst case scenario in terms of not being able to afford a cup of coffee for the sake of your company.”


How did you decide what market to expand to?

I spent time doing market research, talking to people in my network and talking with potential clients in these markets to best help identify what places are most suitable. Expansion on a national scale is easier than international expansion due to logistical problems that generally arise; However, we recently granted the license for City Brief to be launched internationally.

With international expansion, you have to take into consideration whether there is enough funds to employ someone to run your operation in a foreign country while making sure that you manage your personal schedule effectively – finding a model for expansion that fits our needs has been one of the more challenging aspects of the start up.

Can you tell us more about your shoe shining business?

I do shoe shining at lunchtime, 11.30AM to 2PM, from Monday to Friday. It is a great way to network and over time I have gained a lot of friends and customers. I get to meet directors, public relations personnel, marketing managers, and etc. All of the professionals who were crucial to City Brief were met through the network I gained from doing this shoe shining business.

Adelaide is a small place and I shine shoes in a major area in the business district where people get lunch. My clients have helped introduce me to key contacts that have helped me launch City Brief. While establishing City Brief, I have continued my shoe-shining business, which has further grown my network and business contacts.


How did you set up this shoe-shining business?

I saw a photo of people shoe-shining in New York and thought to myself, “Why do we not have one here?” I contacted Adelaide Arcade to get their approval to set up my spot there, went on Gumtree to buy some basic equipment and restored the equipment to set-up the shoe-shining business. Adelaide Arcade has been hugely supportive since day one. They replied to our initial email very quickly because they saw the shoe-shining business as something unique that could draw more people to the area. A lot of other businesses I initially contacted just ignored me.


Even when you give a, in my opinion, win-win proposal to a business or a person, most see this as something they cannot be bothered with. Someone once told me a fact I found out to be very true: out of the 20 people you contact only 1 of them is likely to give your concept a chance. You cannot take rejection and bad responses personally. Use these opportunities to get crucial feedback to improve your concept.


“If you come up with a low risk concept that can fulfil a gap in the market then give it a go straight away.”


From your experience so far, do you find it difficult to be an entrepreneur?

Most business concepts either do not materialise or take a really long time to fully to do so.  This process is quite disheartening and you need to be prepared for this. Starting your own business is very hard and challenges will present themselves from day one especially for those who start their ventures with a high cost base with zero turnover. New ventures do not survive for long with slow momentum and bootstrapping. Many people think that they can make money in the first 6 months and this is not going to happen (most of the time). People need to plan everything on a realistic worst-case scenario basis, not the idealistic worst-case scenario where you can still get payed a wage. I mean the worst-case scenario in terms of not being able to afford a cup of coffee for the sake of your company.


“The decision to go online will have a much wider implication on the business model than most people would realise.”


What advice do you have for young people who are interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial career?

Entrepreneurship is a legitimate career path. Do not underestimate people who want to become an entrepreneur or enjoy doing entrepreneurial activities. Your parents and teachers might advise you to do something else but if you are really passionate and interested in this career path give it a try and keep at it. Once you gather evidence that your concept can potentially work and it can turn out to be something special, I would suggest to work even harder on it! And if it does not work, then try something else instead.

Not all the projects you come across should focus on earning money. Some projects will have a huge positive impact on the community, whilst still assisting the growth of the brand. People tend to underestimate the non-monetary impact of some projects and end up only chasing money as they fail to see the big picture. A lot of big companies out there reach the billion dollar stage because they know how to leverage the great branding they possess.

When engaged with a project, a lot of entrepreneurs try to judge whether this project is worth their time and ultimately, get too concerned with what they can get out of it. When they cannot recognise that this project is more than for achieving monetary purposes they will most likely quit. Entrepreneurs need to figure out quickly which activities will benefit their venture and which activities  risk wasting  precious resources.


“People tend to underestimate the non-monetary impact of some projects and end up only chasing after money as they fail to see the big picture.”


What advantages do you believe young start-ups possess?

New star-ups can be very agile and adaptable and this is something big corporations do not possess. We can get customer feedback and quickly implement changes to add more value and adjust the business model to suit the market. There is no shame in changing the business model as it is expected of a start-up to be nimble and adapt to changing market conditions. However, rebranding for the sake of rebranding is not advisable. I see many big companies throwing away millions of dollars in rebranding efforts for the sake of being seen as ‘fresh’.


What happens in big organisations is their employees get detached from the reality of the market. Due to the hierarchical structure, people at the bottom cannot get the right message to those at the top and ‘Chinese whispers’ begin to occur. There is a lot of inefficiency in bigger companies when it comes to communication channels and getting the right message across.


What benefits does your business receive from networking?

With a business relationship you can transfer the relationship you possess to different businesses. When people know you personally, they will pay more attention to what you are doing and are more likely to open your email or return your call. Your email is more likely to get deleted when you contact big brands. The big brands set their email up in a way that your email will go straight to the spam folder. I even went to the extent of figuring out their email sequence and in order to get in touch with certain people within these big brands. Through networking, it is much easier for you to contact the right person you want to get touch with.


How important is it for an entrepreneur to take a break?

Personally, I need time off where I do not have to think about the business. This helps keep my mind fresh and allows my brain to see things from a different perspective.  Whether I use this break time to watch a movie, read the newspaper, interact with people or just enjoy life, I find it crucial in order to reset my mind.


Photo of Sam is creddited to the awesome team at Eco Caddy

To find out more about city Sam’s exciting venture, please visit City Brief facebook page.