Yarno Stories: An interview with our co-founders

Courtney Dutton |    | culture

‘I make the mess, he mops it up’

This is how one of our co-founders, Mark, describes both his personal and professional relationship with our other co-founder, Lachy. It’s amazing to see, that level of trust. Mark has complete faith that whatever mess he makes, however many eggs he breaks, Lachy’s going to be right there to fix it up.

And it works. They balance each other out: Ying to Yang, Homer to Marge. It’s gotten them this far, at least.


Where they’ve come from


To see exactly how far this relationship has brought them, let’s take a look at where they’ve come from. In another life, Mark, was working as a merchandiser for Cadbury by day, and as a DJ in Sydney’s Darling Harbour by night.

Mark: "Back in the day when I'd just finished uni, I would work from either 11pm to 1am, or 2am to 3am, then I’d come home, sleep ‘til noon, work at Cadbury for a bit, go to the beach, and then DJ again at night. But Mum didn’t like me DJing because it wrecked my hearing. So I had to sneak out of the house. She was always asking why I slept in so late, but I couldn’t tell her the truth, so she just thought I was super lazy.”

A fair way from starting a digital micro-learning platform.

Lachy, on his part, was equally directionless. When I asked him what he thought he’d be doing if not for Yarno, he was stumped, ‘For years I was looking around wondering what I was going to do. I couldn’t find anything.’

But he did, eventually. He found it sitting on a ski-lift in Japan next to his old-pal Mark. The story of this ski-lift conversation has already been written about here, but there’s more to that story as well; there’s the reason why they wanted to start Yarno:


Lachy: “I was in digital for 10 years. I was bored, knew I wanted to do something different. I felt I wasn’t learning anything new.”

So what do you do when you’re bored and want something new? Obviously, you completely overhaul your life and build a business with your bare hands, from the ground up, with your mate skilled in the art of the DJ.


The Reason


So they did. Improbable as it seems, it’s worked. Three years in, they’re making a buck. The thing about Yarno though, is that that’s not really the point.


Mark: "We’re all here to make a buck so that we can survive, but it’s not about the money, it’s about being able to do something with that money. It’s about using that money for a purpose greater than just making more money."

If success isn’t defined by making money, then what is it defined by?

Lachy: “For me, professionally, it’s using my time in a way that helps everybody else succeed. My role as I see it, is to get the best people we can to Yarno, to keep them here, and to help them succeed in their roles. Seeing Yarnoers being enthusiastic about what they’re working on, seeing them applying the things that we learn, like courageous feedback. I feel that is success.”

Mark:  “Having zero staff leave Yarno in 3 years, that’s success to me. Especially when we were first starting; it was the most stressful time for the business, the most uncertain time for the business. People have changed roles to stay around, that’s pretty powerful I think. And having no staff turnover builds a business that’s going to last, I think, because all the intellectual property that we’ve built stays in the one place.”


The Bad


It’s beautiful. And it’s true, Yarno is genuinely a great place to work. There’s a reason not a single one of us has quit. However, it’s impossible to start a business, and it not be almost unbearably stressful at one point or another. So, with all this talk of how great it is to work at Yarno, and how it’s brought meaning to their lives, I had to ask: What’s been bad about starting your own business? The short answer: the pressure.

The long answer:

Mark: “There was a period of about 6 months where I really went too hard. The pressure of having to bring in jobs actually got worse as we built the business. You would think the pressure would be worse at the start, when you have nothing, but it actually got worse when we had something because then we had something to lose.’

Lachy: “I realised that my personal finances and business finances were inextricably linked. I had a young family, a mortgage. We got to a point where we’d used most of our personal funds. But we knew we were onto something. The business was just like this giant boulder that was inching forward, but it wasn’t going fast enough to keep us in business. It was just a time thing, could we hang on long enough? Everyday I would go home and see my wife, Kate, and see that she had 100% faith that we would do it. You have to be driven, of course, but at what point do you drive yourself off a cliff? At what point do you have to look at the facts? We talked about that daily. We tried to be honest about where we’re at, but we were also trying not to give up.”


The importance of culture


You’d think the pressures of starting a business would sweep considerations like culture to the side, that money wouldn’t just be the primary concern, but the only concern. And yet-

Mark: ‘We invested a lot of time and money into culture when we didn’t really have the time or money to do it.’

But, why?

Lachy: “If I have the opportunity to create a place where people genuinely enjoy coming to work, then I need to make that happen. I’ve seen the effect of great culture, and the effects of bad culture, and they are diametrically opposed. Culture, for me, is a set of behaviours that we all agree are important, that we’ll actually stand by, that we’ll give each other feedback on, that we’ll hire against. Culture keeps you honest. If we say that we all want to level up, to be better people, that’s a great mechanism to make that happen, because you’re surrounded by people who are similar in their principles.”

The Yarno culture is so embedded in them that they even refer to each other as their ‘work-wife’.

Mark: “We really do - he called me today when he was supposed to call Kate. He called me on the phone and was like ‘oh sorry, this is embarrassing, I was supposed to call Kate.’”

Mark and Lachy: Founders, cultural guides, friends. They’ve come a long way from their directionless and DJ-ing days. But, we’re all sure, they’ll be going a lot further, yet.