Very late 2019, we took a big risk with our start-up business. We waved goodbye to our co-founder, James Hancock, and he left to set up mwah. in the USA. We were so confident and excited, we turned around a moment later, and decided to open our second Australian office, this time in Adelaide.

We’ve never been much for the formulaic approach to anything in life, and how we decided to build mwah. was no exception.

The USA was obvious – James was super keen for the big adventure, and Michael and I had lived and worked in Chicago for years. We knew the USA market. If you want to grow, it has to be part of your dream.

Adelaide was less obvious, but it shouldn’t be.

Adelaide had three things going for it:

  1. It has long been one of the most progressive cities in the country, and the work we do needs brave and fearless approaches to better ways of doing things;
  2. It held some of our first and biggest clients; and
  3. It is the home of Sally Woolford! Sally brought a unique and important skillset to the team, and we wanted her to run (and build) the business there.

So, in February 2020, Sally arrived in Sydney Town. We had mwah.’s third birthday, we onboarded her to our team and way of working, and we sent her back to Adelaide to get started! We planned to see her again in March.

We were excited, we had big plans and big ambitions.

But then a global pandemic happened.

And they locked us down in Australia, and out of SA.

Opening any new office is a risk to a start-up. Opening two as the first global pandemic in one hundred years hits is probably way above most people’s risk threshold.

But we knew, and trusted, that we had four things going for us:

  1. A very different approach to the work we do in People and Culture;
  2. James Hancock;
  3. Sally Woolford; and
  4. A couple of really cool clients that loved us already.

So, we settled in. We would ride this crazy situation out.

While everyone else retracted and hugged in tight, we invested courageously in our tech, got our diagnostics completely automated, and added a new person to the Sydney team for good measure.

Yep, we did the opposite to what almost every other business we spoke to did.

And it paid off.

If you want to build a start-up, check your risk appetite. Lying awake at night in April 2020 was new for me. I’m usually OK with risk, but this felt different. The unknown was looming. I can finally admit now, with everything in the revision mirror, that I was a tad worried, but I shouldn’t have been.

We’d worked with several South Australian clients previously such as SA Police and knew our ways of working and our approach to culture, diversity, inclusion, and leadership, would definitely support SA organisations and businesses to be their absolute best.

On one side of Australia the mwah. team was still connected, hanging together, and enthusiastically delivering. In Phili, James was settling into his new adventure and working with some of the biggest tech and pharma companies in the world – unimpacted (except positively) by COVID. Back in Adelaide, Sally found herself alone in a little office on North Terrace, and establishing our mwah. presence solo in a completely disrupted environment.

“I will admit, having left the public sector to embark on a new journey it felt a bit crazy. No one could have forecast COVID-19 but that wasn’t going to stop us in setting up the office and working with fantastic people. Disruption after all is simply a change – and if we can manage that in the way we deliver to our clients then we will come out the other side amazingly resilient”. Sally Woolford, 2021, on reflection

Resilience is a big part of mwah. – we built from the ground up, on our values, our credibility and our ability to connect.

And where are we now?

This past week we finally had the opportunity to head to Adelaide and celebrate the office opening and first birthday all at once – we had a blast!
We have had some amazingly supportive clients in Adelaide – new and old – each of which have enabled us to not only establish our biz, but build fantastic relationships and see us thrive. And last week we got to celebrate with them and thank them for their belief in us, their confidence in our work, and our shared passion for making a difference.

From a tour of the fire station and fire appliances with our amazing client Metropolitan Fire Service, to chatting about privilege and diversity with Renewal SA through to exploring what the future of HR might look like with the State AHRI President. Across to universities, into a childcare business and out to two Boards. So many conversations and so much opportunity!

We love Adelaide, the city of churches, Radelaide – call it what you will, mwah. Adelaide is open and ready to go.

And our best bit.

Thursday morning last week.

Out of the uber.

Running down the street – North Terrace.

Seeing Sally! In person!

And giving her the BIGGEST hug!

Business is always about the work you do, the difference you make, and the impact you have. It’s also about your colleagues, and laughing, and singing together.

Now to get to Phili and see Mr Hancock!