When Vaughn Davis is out of the office, the business owner, radio talk-show host, blogger and social media aficionado’s more than likely flying the wild blue yonder in his Piper Arrow. Up there is where NZBusiness discovered his enviable lifestyle.
As we taxi onto the main runway at the North Shore Aerodrome, Vaughn Davis recites his final checks for take-off. I’m tempted to hum the 633 Squadron theme but my thoughts are quickly interrupted by the thrust of the plane’s turbocharged engine.
The little Piper Arrow barrels down the tarmac, eager to launch into the sunny blue skies.
We picked a stunner of a day to explore Auckland from above. Over the next 40 minutes Vaughn takes me over the CBD and it’s now diminutive Sky Tower; then circles over Mt Eden before heading back across the harbour, out over Rangitoto to the Hauraki Gulf and on up the coast. I’m allowed to briefly steer the plane – for someone who’s never even been in a single-engine aircraft, this is a real thrill.
For the founder and creative director of advertising and social media agency The Goat Farm, flying is his regular escape. Between air traffic calls he explains how flying was once his job. He had wanted to fly ever since he was a schoolboy, and later trained with the Air Force – flying everything from Strikemaster jets to Hercules transport planes.
Mental note: I’m in very safe hands. Tummy, you can relax now!
The Air Force may have brought out the military-like discipline and order in Vaughn’s life – but there was a creative side that needed feeding too.
After 11 years, his career took a totally different flight path into the somewhat turbulent world of advertising. He spent more than a decade in “big agency land”, culminating in the creative director’s seat for the New Zealand operation of global ad network Y&R.
But all the while he couldn’t keep ignoring that gnawing desire to be his own boss.
“I wanted to paddle my own kayak and, in particular, do more work with social media,” Vaughn explains. “At the time social media was something big agencies weren’t set up to embrace.”
So he founded The Goat Farm (TGF), a specialist advertising and social media agency – and in the process discovered that networks are everything.
“People don’t want to do business with a stranger, so the more diverse your personal and professional network, the better,” he explains. “Social media was a huge help on this front. I also learnt to default to ‘yes’ whenever approached for a project.”
Vaughn soon mastered the art of running a business. His best advice is to try and think about money as a long term thing – not short term.
“So structure your business in a way that makes it OK for you to have ‘up’ months and ‘down’ months – or even quarters,” he says. “TGF has always had a predictable seasonality to it, just like a farm.”
On the business front, Vaughn gets excited by the diversity of clients they now work with – everything from wine to electricity, to professional services and women’s fashion.
UK TV host Graham Norton’s globally successful (and award winning) range of wines was a marketing collaboration initiated by The Goat Farm.
“Creative collisions and collaborations excite me, and I’m expecting plenty this year,” he says.
Since starting TGF, Vaughan has been joined by former big-agency heavy-hitters Tim Dixon and Natalie Gibb – triggering an even faster growth trajectory for the business.
A full life
‘Sucking the marrow out of life’ is a good expression to describe Vaughn’s attitude to business and living. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Running my own business gives me complete freedom to work every hour of every day, but also find time for the other stuff I enjoy,” he says. “TGF has given me the flexibility to take the plane out when the weather’s nice without worrying what the boss thinks, but I’m also happy to work nights and weekends in return. And, of course, we use the plane for business travel and client entertaining whenever possible.
“As for my radio, TV, public speaking and other media stuff, that takes time too – but I enjoy it and it gives us more profile than we could ever afford to pay for.
“The only downside is that my radio show is on at 7pm on a Sunday, so my weekend doesn’t start until 8pm!
“I guess my pretty full life reflects my deeply held belief that the more interesting and diverse things you fill your head with, the more likely you are to have good ideas.”
Vaughn’s thankful for what he’s achieved in both life and business. “In life, it’s being loved by someone amazing. In business it’s creating a company that provides enjoyable, meaningful work to a great and growing bunch of people, while respecting the way they want to balance their work and family lives.”
Work-life balance. Definitely something Vaughn has mastered – I think to myself as Vaughn lowers the flaps and throttles back the Piper on final approach.
Before closing the hangar door on his pride and joy, time for one last nugget for business owners.
“Collaborate and stay nimble,” says Vaughn. “I liken TGF to a kayak – small, maneuverable, responsive and able to quickly connect with other kayaks as required.
“The traditional agencies we’re up against are like aircraft carriers – awesome for some things, but big, slow, expensive and out-of-date by the time they’re launched.
“Winning in 2017 is about finding other kayaks to do great things with.”