There’s something in the water in New Zealand. Something that’s producing a fleet of young entrepreneurs willing and able to take on the world. Jorgen Ellis is such a specimen.
At the age of 18, Jorgen dropped out of university to found a company on a whim with $310 in his pocket. Jorgen’s now 21 and that company is now a million dollar empire.
“The key to going from an idea to a company is sales; the day customers begin buying your product or service is when it changes from an idea to an operating company.” – JORGEN ELLIS
What began as Jorgen Ellis’ side-hustle – assembling people’s kitset furniture in his spare time for a flat fee – has grown to become a very real company providing a very real career in international business relations.
The company in question, Kitset Assembly Services (KAS), has fallen on New Zealander’s like a downpour in a drought. Its concept is simple: assembling people’s kitset products at their home for them.
Since KAS’ inception in 2014 there are already 7 franchises in operation throughout the country and Jorgen expects this number to be at 20 within 18 months.
The company is on track to achieve $100 million in assembly sales revenue by 2020, and has plans to open around 100 franchises across three countries by the end of the year.
So how exactly does a teenager from Christchurch – a self-confessed mischief-maker – go from working his first job at the local hardware store to signing his own pay cheques and rubbing shoulders with the heads of some of the world’s biggest brands? Absolute ambition is how.
A typical Kiwi kid of the ‘90s
It’s been clear for some time, at least to those who know him, that Jorgen was destined to forge his own path.
Jorgen fondly recalls his ‘classic’ Kiwi childhood. He grew up under relaxed parents and alongside three elder sisters, and he was most often found playing sport, exploring the outdoors, building huts and playing games on the street until the street lights came on – the ‘90s beacon of an unspoken curfew.
Like many Kiwi households, Jorgen lived in a supportive family environment but expected no hand-outs. He was 14 years old when he landed his first job – working as a check-out operator at a hardware store.
Jorgen admits he was “a little bit mischievous” growing up, or as his Mum would put it, “a little shit!” Whatever way you look at it, this was clearly a young man with spark; a good student of Christchurch Boys’ High School, but one that was easily bored and so was equally as likely to find himself in detention as he was to produce top academic results.
Jorgen began etching his way through a business degree at age 17 – a year earlier than the norm. But as student life would have it, a part-time job was necessary, and so he stayed on at the hardware store.
Little did he know it but a chance encounter with a customer would lead to a chance opportunity that would lead to a chance at the career that he’d always dreamed of.
Capitalising on opportunities
“One of the things my parents instilled in me at an early age is to take every opportunity presented, and I think I’ve done that well,” Jorgen says humbly.
At his age and with the resources he started with, “well” would be an understatement.
“One day, when a customer offered me $100 to assemble a swing set, that moment opened my eyes to the potential and the very next day I started the business,” he says.
And just like that Kitset Assembly Services was born.
The notion to simplify life isn’t a novel one but targeted at the right niche it creates just as much consumer engagement as any revolutionary invention.
Asked what it was about kitset products that people find so appealing, Jorgen says it’s the price.
“Kitset furniture is much cheaper and it’s easy to transport.”
However, it’s a double-edged sword in that assembly can be stressful, frustrating and time consuming, particularly if doing it for the first time.
“Many people don’t have the correct tools, enough time or the willingness to put their kitset together. Sometimes the instructions on kitsets can leave out a lot of required detail making it very hard for the customer to interpret,” he says.
If there was ever an opportunity to capitalise on, Jorgen knew this was it. But like most successful entrepreneurs, he believes it is applied devotion rather than a ‘light bulb idea’ that most commonly leads to success.
“It’s incredibly hard work turning an idea into a company,” Jorgen admits.
“The key to going from an idea to a company is sales; the day customers begin buying your product or service is when it changes from an idea to an operating company.
“I would often work a 20-hour day, seven days a week and sacrificed everything I had to build Kitset Assembly Services.
“I remember times where I’d take a wage of just $100 a week just so I could afford to pay my staff a living wage, or times when I’d sell something of my own to pay for an overdue phone bill.”
Despite this Jorgen never relented. He started out with four staff and focussed on growing the brand nationwide, and never took his sights of the long-term goal: infiltration of the global market.
He identified the key areas in which he needed support, and he found it in high doses from the University of Canterbury and Canterbury Development Corporation in Christchurch, who provided the crucial outside assistance needed to go from a small company to an international franchisor.
“Technology has sped things up, connected people right across the globe and made many tasks so much easier.
“Business has become completely mobile. I can run my business from anywhere in the world, on my mobile devices, and everything is open 24/7. The nine to five has gone and I can employ people on the other side of the world without having an office, company, or even manager in the same country.”
Spoken like a true millennial.
Ambition knows no limits
“I am far from settled. Anyone close to me will tell you I’m probably one of the fastest-moving, spontaneous people they know,” Jorgen admits.
With idols like Elon Musk and George Whitesides, not to mention an interest in the space industry and achieving multi-planetary life, you definitely get the feeling that Jorgen’s name will become synonymous with modern entrepreneurialism not just in New Zealand but across the world.
But that’s long term. Right now he is committed to KAS, saying he loves running the company and he wouldn’t change what he’s currently doing given the opportunity, at least not yet anyway.
He sold the New Zealand rights to some “fantastic” new owners who will continue to develop the brand in New Zealand so he can focus on developing it globally.
He’s currently in private talks with some of the world’s biggest brands on solving the kitset movement on an international scale. This means he’ll be waving our shores goodbye in March as he relocates overseas to further KAS’ international growth, with Australia and England getting the KAS service in mid-2017.
“For me business is my number one hobby. I enjoy building businesses more than others probably enjoy music festivals, jet skiing or sports. I can’t see myself ever retiring as I’d have to give up the one thing that I love most.
“I don’t think there is one piece of advice [I could give] or key aspect for success as there is a lot of different factors. I would say: dream big, be undyingly passionate, focus, and expect it to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
For information on how you can become a franchisee of Kitset Assembly Services, visit www.kitsetassemblyservices.co.nz.
By Lydia Truesdale