Q&A With Alex Durkin: Showpo’s General Manager

At only 28 years old, Alex Durkin (or ‘Durka’ as she’s affectionately known as) is one of the youngest General Managers in Australia.

Perpetually keeping Jane in check, Alex keeps things running smoothly and proves that age really is just a number, working with a level of professional maturity unseen in some managers, more than 10 years her senior.

Whenever I hear snippets of things Alex has dabbled in, I’m always pretty damn impressed at her versatility and tenacious spirit – so I got her to give me the whole story and am now sharing with you lot because it’s GMs like her you should be looking up to – not the one with an overweight cat as a lone employee.

Rightio Durks, gimmie the deets on what you studied and where you worked prior to Showpo…

WELL, I actually have a degree in architecture (I know, WTF 🙊🙈) but realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do – I didn’t know exactly what I DID want to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go into a career I didn’t love

I worked part-time in retail for 2 years after uni so I could make some $$$ while figuring out WTF I wanted to do and trial different industries. Firstly, I tried my hand at real estate, before realising  it wasn’t about selling a property (which seemed easy) but getting the listing in the first place, and I’m introverted and didn’t like that.

I then decided to do a course in renovating (this and my architecture degree have actually come in handy with each new office fit out I’ll have you know!); before starting a MVP (minimal viable product) business that traded second hand books at Sydney University and transacted $20k in orientation week, only to realise there was no profit in it. Yes, I failed but failure teaches you everything you need to know for success.

So I then looked into starting a business that built a website for small clothing boutiques, which wasn’t viable either and began to get pretty frustrated as I’m sure you can imagine. Nothing was adding up! I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial so decided to get a job as an Operational Manager at a startup where I could learn as much as possible before starting my own business again.

And is this where Jane and Showpo come in?

How did you guess. 😜  I met Jane at a party and heard she was well connected in the startup scene, so I asked her out for coffee (we got Laksa -yum) to see if she knew anyone in the startup world hiring an Ops Manager.

She said she was hiring.

I interned at Showpo for 6 weeks unpaid to make sure I liked her and she liked me, I didn’t want to rush into working for a company I didn’t love or didn’t have the potential for growth.

I started at Showpo over 5.5 years ago now (a wee lass of 23), and I promised Jane I would work for her as Ops Manager for minimum 2 years. At this stage, I was managing the physical Pitt St store (yes, we had an actual store back in the day!), as well as the online store, designing our EDM’s, doing our photoshoots, designing our website graphics, buying product, packing orders in rush hour etc… yup, everything really!

We worked out that while the physical store was a cash cow, it was limited by foot traffic, so I pushed for us to close the store down and focus on the most scaleable channel, online.  This was the moment that I realised that business was like monopoly, you gather as much information as possible, then you choose to invest in the areas that will give you the best return – it was like a game. The decision to go pure play was pivotal to Showpo, and allowed us to achieve the growth we needed.  As the company grew, so did my responsibilities; more stock, more staff, and more revenue to be responsible for.

So how on earth did you go from intern to Ops Manager to GM!?

While Showpo was growing, I perused other business interests outside work; I started an online tea company with one of my girlfriends that we ended up building and selling a year later. I ran all the marketing for that company, and basically, all of it was via FB. So it was during this period that I realised the power of FB, and this was early days, back when you could get 10 cents a click on an ad! I was running all of Showpo’s FB marketing myself at this stage, and realised that I’d found a sweet spot in the market which was basically a licence to print money.  Since I was only marketing my tea company via FB ads, I knew exactly how much revenue that channel could bring in, whereas, with Showpo, we had so many different channels, we couldn’t clearly see what the most effective channel was.
When I saw FB working in isolation for my tea company, I doubled, then tripled down on FB ads for Showpo.
This saw us double Showpo’s revenue in the space of 3 months, and this was the moment when my career kicked up from ‘girl working out what she was doing’ to ‘girl who was seriously contributing to this company’s growth’.
It took me just over a year to find my feet at Showpo, it takes time to get your head around a new industry.

From there I continued in the Ops role, moving us into 2 new warehouses as well as putting in new systems and processes that would allow us to scale. Eventually, at 15 staff, we decided to hire an Ops Manager to look after our warehouse, logistics and customer service offering. This meant I could focus on company strategy (working on the company, not in it) as well as building our amazing exec team. I guess this was when my title changed from Ops Manager to GM/2IC.

So as Showpo’s GM, what does your role entail?

Today I manage a team of 6 execs (and Jane – haha)! They like to refer me and Jane as ‘Jerka’ cos’ it’s hard to separate us at times.

I set the company’s targets, and work with our execs on defining the strategy to get there. The types of projects I own these days are often projects that run across multiple departments and I LOVE IT! I’m a mix of creative and analytical, which means I can do a bit of everything and Jane and I work so well together because of our differences in dynamic – Jane is big picture and I have the attention to detail require to roll out the direction to get there.

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