Episode 30 - Matt Menichelli

September 01, 2021
Episode 30 - Matt Menichelli

Aaron Kyle: I'm Aaron Kyle and welcome to another episode of Build Hatch. On this week's episode of Build Hatch, I got to sit down with Matt from Elevate Building Group in Melbourne. Matt's well-known for his building work on Channel 9's reality TV shows such as The Block, and Reno Rumble. But as usual, we get to take it behind the scenes and we get to know and understand this incredibly hard-working and devoted builder from Melbourne. Matt and I sat down inside his Melbourne headquarters and on this episode, you're going to hear how getting a single phone call from a potential client and simply agreeing to help that client out can absolutely change your life and career in a big way. I love these moments as you never know where life's journey can take you if you keep your eyes open for these opportunities that find you and like Matt, put yourself in a strategic position to attract those opportunities, but execute them. Now let's get into it. Matt from Elevate Building Group, welcome to Build Hatch.

Matt: Pleasure. Thanks, Aaron. Thanks for having me.

Aaron Kyle: So, Matt, you're most well-known for your work on The Block and Reno Rumble. Now before we talk about that, we always like to go back in time. So, we're here in Melbourne, did you grow up in Melbourne?

Matt: Yeah, yeah. So, I grew up, North Eastern Suburbs, so always been in the area. Still am living here. So, realistically sort of stock standard family of five growing up. Yeah, yeah. So, three kids, I was the youngest, so, yeah, couple of, older brother, older sister and, yeah, just a stock standard upbringing. A little bit sort of strange that none of my parents or brothers or sisters were in the trade or in that industry at all. So, I suppose, realistically moving up and coming through school and things like that, sort of a bit of a decision from left-field that I decided to get into carpentry and subsequently get into building, yeah.

Aaron Kyle: So, I'm interested to know what steered you in that direction when you were at school?

Matt: Yeah. Look, to be honest, once it dawned on me it was a bit of a surprise to myself as well. Went to Marcellin College, which is quite a well-respected private boys school. I suppose back then it was... There wasn't a stigma around trades or anything like that, but that school was more tailored towards your academics and the course to take was to go to uni. And that was in my head, that's what I thought I wanted to do, so through VCE and things like that I was quite passionate about all the folio subjects, so, I was doing visual communication and design which was a cross between graphic design and architecture. That was the route I thought I wanted to take, so, with that, I was always a bit of a logical thinker and a good problem solver. I always had that ability and I knew that about myself, so I was always tinkering around and even at home, just sort of as you do as a kid, you're building weird bits and pieces, slingshots and all that sort of stuff and problem-solving. So, I had that tendency, but going through VCE, as I said, I thought that I was set on going to uni, that was the course that I saw as, as I said, the family environment, everyone else went to uni and both parents were professionals. So, that was what I thought was the course.

Aaron Kyle: Now, Marcellin College, it's a pretty good AFL school?

Matt: Yeah, yeah. Have you seen the grounds? Quite lush, green.

Aaron Kyle: It is.

Matt: They pride themselves on their turf, that's for sure.

Aaron Kyle: Okay. So going through the VCE, you then made a decision, "Look, I'm not going to go to the university, I'll go and get a trade." Is that how it worked?

Matt: So, I actually did go to uni, spent six months, managed, as I said, I had a passion for the folio subjects and as I said, I was studying Viscom, so visual communication and design-

Aaron Kyle: Oh, so that was at university?

Matt: No, no. So that was through VCE and then obviously [inaudible 00:04:17] scores came out and was fortunate enough to get a position at Swinburne. And I was studying industrial design, so I spent six months doing that. I got to the mid-year break end of the first semester and I was scratching my head, I just said, "Look, in theory, there's a basis of this course that I've got a passion for, but it's just not me. It's not suiting well and I know that even if I do push to see it through, it's not a career path."

Aaron Kyle: Was there a difference between, I guess, the theory side of it and you're craving the practical side?

Matt: I think so. The good thing about industrial design, it was always finding a solution to a problem. You're trying to design a product itself, a brief or to meet that need or that function. That was where my passion or my drive came from and that was the enjoyment. But it was more the art and that side of things and those sorts of principles which just didn't gel for me and didn't click. And just, there wasn't that passion there. I could tick along and I dare say I could finish the course, but I wasn't really going to progress any further than that. So, in that, as I said, mid-year break end of the first semester, I had a family friend that was a builder and jumped on board just laboring with him, just to pick up a bit of work in the holidays. And we were just doing manual labor, just pulling out concrete for paths and things like that, just kicking around, and to be perfectly honest, I loved it. It was the first, I've always worked from a young age, but that was the first job where you could actually see the progress at the end of the day and it was reward for the effort and sort of picking his brain and things like that. Obviously, he was a successful builder, it just sort of got my mind ticking over, carpentry might be an avenue. As I said, I was sort of interested in the architecture side of things and property and homes and the structure and the design of them. So, I started thinking how can I mold a career around that and then also, combine that with a trade apprenticeship and career path and somehow come full circle maybe 10 years down the track and gel them all together, which is somehow, I've done it in a way. I don’t know how, but, yeah, it's all worked and it's all clicked.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. It's a good combination. So how did you, I guess, take that plunge and apply for an apprenticeship? Did you know someone or...

Matt: No. So it was just, yeah, as I said, I was doing that laboring work for around about a month in the holidays and over that time, the first probably week or so, it was, not an epiphany, but a bit of a light bulb moment-

Aaron Kyle: And you knew this was it?

Matt: And then I sort of floated the idea with my lady and she just looked at me, not that she wasn't supportive, by any means. It wasn't that at all, but it was just different. Out of the left-field, as I said, none of my family were trades or anything like that, so, it was, yeah, definitely out of the left-field. So, they sort of said, "Yeah, do what you want to do." And I knew, it just clicked, it just clicked.

Aaron Kyle: It just felt right?

Matt: Yeah, yeah. So, basically, back in the day, I mean, realistically it was only 2009, 2010 it would have been, no one does it anymore, but I opened up the local paper and had a look there in the ads or if a builder's looking for an apprentice. And there was one who was the local builder, just in the next suburb over and he was a registered builder doing renovations, extensions, and new builds. So I saw that and I said, "Look, that's quite diverse." I'm not one to pigeonhole myself and doing an apprenticeship under a builder, you're going to see the full scale of the build process rather than just the carpentry aspect or just doing framing or a fix or a lockup or something like that.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. You got that exposure to the whole build?

Matt: So that was the number one option. So I gave him a phone call and within the space of a week or two had an interview with him and that was that; pretty much just dived in and, yeah. Sort of took off from there and I was always been in a way a little bit of a goer, so, I think he was pretty surprised by each week that ticked by I was buying a new tool and getting all excited and as we were discussing before, you have to have the new toys and the best of everything. So I think, yeah, by the end of my first year I had a ute and a tool trailer and it was pretty well stocked. So, it was racked and I used him, I mean, obviously, he was benefiting from me and my passion and my drive to learn as much as I could. But I was using him to basically ask for more responsibility, sort of lump more expectation on me, and yeah, from halfway through my apprenticeship I was actually running jobs for him and managing trades and he did just a few phone calls through the week and I would see him for a week or two, it was good.

Aaron Kyle: So he loved it?

Matt: Oh, I'll bet. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've got this opportunity to realistically learn as much as I possibly can and he's taking it upon me to do the right thing by him, so it's a two-way street.

Aaron Kyle: I think the right perspective is, it's a win-win and he's relying on you just as much as you're relying on him. So to have that, and that comes back to leadership as well, I think too. So, having those qualities from a young age and then being basically, and being effectively a sponge, if you like, to just learn as much as you can, ask lots of questions and then you probably had that client interaction too, which a lot of apprentices wouldn't normally get?

Matt: That's exactly right and as you said, that was an important learning experience because you see that side of things, you're managing client expectations and responding to their queries of concerns with the day-to-day operations of what goes on site. A lot of the time we were doing renovations and the clients were living there, so there was that close contact and that was sort of a good eye-opener, it's almost a little bit of customer service at the same time.

Aaron Kyle: It is, that's exactly right.

Matt: As well [crosstalk 00:10:52] so, yeah, it was good.

Aaron Kyle: Which is a big part of building is managing relationships?

Matt: Definitely. You've got to be a people person [crosstalk 00:10:58] of everyone.

Aaron Kyle: That's right. There's a lot of diverse people and personalities in construction, so...

Matt: Exactly.

Aaron Kyle: Okay. So moving on from your apprenticeship, what did you do then?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, realistically that was up until halfway through my apprenticeship and as I was saying, I was always obsessed with progression and looking forward and always trying to set a plan for the next three to five years and working out what I can do now to put me in the best position or put me on that trajectory. So, obviously, I was doing an apprenticeship, doing my Cert 3, and decided to bite the bullet and enroll in doing a Cert 4, which is the schooling that you need to get your builder's license. So I was doing my Cert 4 while I was doing my Cert 3.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah, you were doing both?

Matt: Yeah. So I was doing them at night school, spend the better part of 18 months or almost two years doing that, ticking along, and I actually got my Cert 4 before I got my Cert 3. So, it was a little bit backwards, but I ticked those boxes by the time I was out of my time, which was good. Because in retrospect once you finish your apprenticeship and you're out and essentially qualified and subie and all, running companies it's pretty hard to bite the bullet and go back to schooling. So, that's something that I'll pat myself on the back that I made that choice early on, because it did put me on the right course to... Yeah, gave me the tools to obviously, once I finish my apprenticeship, start with the business and it was pretty much just go from there.

Aaron Kyle: And what's important about that story is it shows the initiative that you need to have in order to, whether it's any sort of business but particular in the construction world, you need to go above and beyond. If it's a case of going without sleep, you go without sleep. If you have to work a second job to fund a project, for cash flow, that's just what you have to do. There's a lot of sacrifices that you have to make.

Matt: It's about being proactive as well, obviously, to do the night school classes, I had to take a year off footy, because night school classes, I was just playing local footy that was nothing big, but that was a little passion of mine, a little outlet, so I had to sacrifice that because it clashed with training and things like that. And as I said, yeah, whether it be get a second job and things like that, while I was doing my apprenticeship I was actually bartending as well. So, doing Friday and Saturday nights, sort of twofold, earning a bit of extra coin and eliminating me going out on the piss as well. So, it was good. And then once I got to the point where I could do sort of little weekender decks and little handyman jobs through my apprenticeship for friends and family and things like that, it was sort of just substituted one for the other and, yeah.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. They're the sacrifices that you have to make. You just work overtime or work extra and sacrificing a year of your life for football, although at the time it was probably painful, it's one of those things that you look back in time and say, "It was nothing for where I am today."

Matt: That's exactly right.

Aaron Kyle: "That was a small sacrifice and I'm glad I did it."

Matt: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It's all about, as I said, I'm a firm believer, you sort of you look at where you want to be in three years' time and then make the choices now that point you in that direction and set yourself up for it.

Aaron Kyle: So, once you obtained your Cert 4 in building, did you transition into your own business or how did you get into that?

Matt: Yes. Obviously, it's a four-year apprenticeship. I finished my trade schooling and the theory side of things about six months early, so, in theory, my employer could sign me off early, which I did. So, I knocked off the back end of my apprenticeship the last six months, he signed me off early and as soon as I got wind of that, it was bang, set up a proper company, register a business name, and had a shortlist of names and it was pretty much, I was always... In terms of business name, obviously, it's hard. You don't want to be similar to someone else and things like that, so, had a shortlist, jumped on the ASIC website, and work out what was available what wasn't, what clashed what didn't, and Elevate was something that wasn't really around. There were no websites or social media pages or anything like that in the construction space so, that was the winner. So, I registered and that was it, as soon as I got signed off, bang, operating as a company and trying to source and find whatever work I could, yeah...

Aaron Kyle: Now, I have a feeling I know the answer to this already, but the name Elevate Building Group, what's behind that?

Matt: I think it's just appropriate. In a way you're sort of, obviously, building you're coming up out of the ground, it's rising, so, it's a bit of a play on that. But I think it's... I was always adamant that wasn't going to have something affiliated with my name, my surname's a bit of a mouthful, it's about 11 letters long and every letter in the alphabet almost, so no one can pronounce it, so that makes it a little bit difficult. So it was-

Aaron Kyle: I didn't intentionally avoid pronouncing it at the beginning, by the way.

Matt: You're not alone. But the funny thing is, my old man was actually born in Italy. So it's an Italian surname and then people see my surname written down and then they look at me, they're like, "What's going on there? You're the milkman's son, or something?" Obviously, podcasts isn't visual, but I've got red hair, so I don't look Italian.

Aaron Kyle: All right. So what were those days like? You had your company name, you had the business ready to go, you had your shortlist or your network?

Matt: Yeah. So that was the thing, I definitely looked the part ute had the trailer, had the company gear, and all the tools, but not much of a work supply. So, I was just taking whatever I could, drifting around a couple of local builders, nothing was a solid 40 hours a week and that's the thing that you're relying on subcontracting and somewhat of a stable income. So, I was fortunate enough to be in a position I was still at home at that point, so no serious overheads or no serious expenses. So I had a bit of a safety net there and then just basically bit the bullet. I had a phone call from a mate's old man who are commercial concreters, they do a lot of service stations and things like that and they were just pumping at the time. And they knew I finished my apprenticeship and I was floating around looking for work, and they just threw the offer out there and I looked at it and a lot of people... Concreting is hard work the way I looked at it and I didn't have too much experience, you do the odd alfresco slab or something like that in a domestic build, but they're doing service stations, they're doing serious stuff. So, that was another opportunity for me to get a little bit of experience outside of what I normally did have. So, jumped on board with them and on day one met at their factory in Tullamarine at 5 AM, drove to Beaufort however far that is, over two hours, and put in some big days and I was working with them for two or three weeks and hats off to them because they go like buggery to get the job done and it was a good insight so, that served its purpose. I was working with them for about three weeks and then I had another local builder call me and was basically looking for a reliable carpenter just to basically work for them essentially 40 hours a week, but obviously not working full time on wages, it was just a subcontract basis. He'd give us a scope of works for different builds and we'd take care of them. So, as that grew, had a few subies drift in, drift out to give me an extra set of hands, and then once that sort of stabilized a bit, I bit the bullet and took on an apprentice, so, realistically I got signed off for my apprenticeship six months early and then six months down the track, when I should have just been qualified, that's when I employed my apprentice. So-

Aaron Kyle: When you have such high standards, and you have that high level of drive, it can be so difficult being on the opposite end of the stick where you're the boss and you're employing an apprentice.

Matt: That's exactly right.

Aaron Kyle: It's frustrating, isn't it?

Matt: It was something that I dove into without... I saw it as something that was necessary because as I said, my workload was picking up and I was relying on subcontractors to come and give me an extra set of hands for the sake of cladding or doing a fix or things like that. But you're paying premium for work, and you can, in a way, if you're working one on one, you can achieve the same result with a young bloke with a first-year apprentice and bring them up, to arrange and teach them the way that you want to do things. Whereas if you're using subcontractors, they're almost set in their ways, they've had four years experience, they've been around, they do what they want to do. So, that was my mindset, but it was a completely different dynamic, the first few weeks, months he jumped on board he was a young kid, freshly out of school, realistically I wasn't too far ahead of him, I only had a few years on him in terms of age. But it was something that I hadn't really thought about, I've actually got to teach him. I never had the experience when I was working with my old boss, it was always me ticking along by myself or managing trades that were older than me, more experienced than me. I've never had to teach a young kid that's fresh out of school, not immature, but it's just a brand-new job for him. So first time on a job site as well, in a way. So, that was a bit of a head-scratcher and I put my hand up, I probably, in retrospect, the way I handle apprentices now is a lot different to the way I did. But hats off to young Louie I mean, fast forward six years he's still with us. So I couldn't have traumatized him too much.

Aaron Kyle: It couldn't have been too bad?

Matt: No, no, no. And he's a ripper, he's a nice testament to, yeah, if you put the time into someone and teach them the ethics and the way you want to go about things, and their morals are aligned they'll stick around. So, we've got a good relationship. Yeah.

Aaron Kyle: Now, as mentioned earlier in the intro, you're well known for your work on The Block and Reno Rumble, so, how did that come about?

Matt: Truth be told, it was just a cold phone call. So, as I said, it was around about, segue, it was around about the same time. So realistically it was probably three months after I put young Louie on as a first-year apprentice. So I was, yeah, just over 8 months out of my apprenticeship, I was working on a job site in Mitcham for a builder and we obviously start at seven in the morning, got a phone call around about smoko and it was contestants on The Block, this is going back 2015 it was, and the phone call sort of something along the lines of, "We found your website through Google. We're contestants on The Block." Obviously, I've watched the show so I knew what they were talking about, they alluded to the fact that it was day one and they needed a builder that day, essentially, ASAP. So, I was already on a job site that I started there at 7 AM, this was probably 10, 10:30, 11. By 2 PM I sent young Louie home he had an early knock off and by 2 PM that day I was in South Yarra getting mic-ed up with cameras in my face and fulfilling the role as a builder. And it was at that time where, in a way, I sort of felt sick, butterflies in my stomach, I'm like, "I bit off more than I can chew here. What have I gotten myself into?"

Aaron Kyle: So is that really how it works?

Matt: 100%

Aaron Kyle: Because I'll be honest with you, you and I getting to know each other before this, I honestly thought this whole crew of guys that's all behind the scenes and these guys, they're going on the show, they might do four or five hours of camera time, and then you guys are the ones behind the scenes doing all the work. That was my honest opinion before this.

Matt: So that's the thing, contestants are in control of finding their own trades, that's the spin that the producers put on it, that's them throwing them in the deep end. They don't give them help.

Aaron Kyle: So they give them that chaos to...

Matt: Yeah, yeah. And then they just sit back and watch it unfold. And the thing is, I mean, in the industry, some tradesmen... The Block carries a little bit of a bad stigma, a lot of tradesmen don't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. So, trying to convince a builder to jump on board and put themselves in that environment, do what they do for a living in front of-

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. See, I'm with you, I see it as an opportunity.

Matt: Yeah. And that was exactly right, I mean, I was only eight months out of my apprenticeship just started my own company, I mean, what better platform or pedestal or an opportunity could there be for me to do what I do for a living at an early time and my career to sort of either sink or swim in a way.

Aaron Kyle: Now I have to ask this, was your name on Google SEO or anything like that? Did you pay to have it ranked back then or-

Matt: No. No, no. So I was smart in how I structured the website. I was going back, I mean, I'm not a buff on the SEOs or anything like that, but I was conscious of always putting Melbourne construction, Melbourne building, Melbourne carpentry in the text content of the website so that improved results and things like that. So, I couldn't even tell you how many pages they went through to come across my website or how many other builders they called that hung up on them or said no before they got to me. But-

Aaron Kyle: Well, who knows, it could come back to the simple name, Elevate Building. It has good connotations and paints a particular image in people's minds, so...

Matt: So yeah, I mean, that is the famous question, "How did you get the first one? Did weasel your way in there?" But it really was just a cold phone call. So, yeah, with very, very short notice, about two hours and I was there, getting mic-ed up.

Aaron Kyle: Wow. As they say, "The harder you work the luckier you get."

Matt: Well, that's exactly right.

Aaron Kyle: That's a clear example, isn't it?

Matt: It really is, I've heard that a lot of times and people go, "Geesh, you're lucky." And I'm like, "Well, I'm not a leprechaun, I'm just yeah, I'm just a yes man. That's all it is."

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. That's great. Awesome story.

Matt: So yeah, that was day one on The Block, and as I said, to paint a picture of the environment of it, we walked into a 24-hour challenge and basically had to turn around a full bedroom renovation that day. So, we were starting at 2 PM and it had to be finished by 3 PM the next day, so-

Aaron Kyle: So, it was an all-nighter then?

Matt: It was an all-nighter. Got to about 6 AM Sunday morning and I was just sort of... Mind you, I started on the other job in Mitcham at seven-

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. So you hadn't had a chance to get some sleep or rest beforehand?

Matt: Nothing, nothing. Full 24 hours with a nail bag on. And then got to the point where we were going to fall short, so, sent a message, Hail Mary up to my brother-in-law, who is a Chippy, I said, "Mate, you wouldn't believe what I've done. What hole I've dug myself." I said, "I need a chop out." Painted a picture for him and he goes, "Yeah, I'm jumping in the car, I'm on my way." So in the space of an hour, he was there helping out, basically rescuing us, getting the room across the line. Also had to call my footie coach, tell him, "Mate, sorry, I can't play this morning or... " We had a game at mid-day, "... can't play, I haven't slept." He didn't know it was because I was working, but explained that to him afterwards, and, yeah, we handed the room over by 3 PM. So what's that, a good 30, 36 hours wearing a nail bag and that was day one.

Aaron Kyle: Yes. Tough gig.

Matt: Yeah.

Aaron Kyle: The complicated environment with showbiz and cameras and, yeah.

Matt: That's a pressure cooker. And they've got to create the drama, they're pushing your buttons purposely and just, yeah, sitting back and watch how you handle it and what the reaction is and how you play into their narrative, they're good at it.

Aaron Kyle: I'll bet.

Matt: Yeah.

Aaron Kyle: So from there, what was your involvement after that first initial stage?

Matt: So that was it, that was the first, yeah, that was the first day and then all that series, the contestants, obviously that's the first little hurdle to get over for the contestants and to work out who gets what house or what apartment. And then from then on, it's a full 12 weeks renovating. And this one was the one on the octagon, so the one in Commercial Road, so it was a high-rise apartment and it was, yeah, as I said, 12 weeks. So they called me the next day and pretty much we had a bit of a chat and they go, "You bailed us out today and yesterday, but are you in a position to commit for the next three months?" "Yup. Yes. Yeah."

Aaron Kyle: Automatically yes.

Matt: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes yes is a full sentence, so... And that was that, basically company at 80, 100 hours a week just swinging a hammer. Obviously fortunate enough to have a really good network family and friends who were trades-

Aaron Kyle: So you could just bring those guys in as needed?

Matt: Correct. Yeah, yeah. So, whether it be plastering or plumbing or electrical or those trades, that was not only my network but friends of friends who have heard of the situation that I got myself in and needed a lot of help and a lot of support, yeah, and somehow we all banded together and did a ripper effort. Fast forward three months I think the contestants walked away with just shy of half a mil in prize money. So it was a great result, yeah.

Aaron Kyle: That's fantastic.

Matt: That was 2015.

Aaron Kyle: That was 2015, and you've been a part of the subsequent series of The Block as well?

Matt: Yeah. Correct. So the way they operate, realistically they want the contestants to be the characters in the show, in a way. They want them to be the main event, so they're not too keen on having the builders having a constant reoccurring role, so as a result of I've done every second year since then. So, I did, obviously, The Block in 2015, Reno Rumble which was sort of an offshoot, we did that in 2016. 2017 We went around to The Block again and then again last year in 2019, did The Block. So 2017, 2019 we had a good result and won both of them, so...

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. It's a proud effort, isn't it?

Matt: Yeah. It's huge, yeah. We were stoked. Big prize money and a good little feather in the cap, really.

Aaron Kyle: And just that exposure of saying yes when they rang, and you're already on a job site, "Can you do it?" You just said, "Yes." And then fast forward, it's amazing to see just by saying yes at that point in time where it's got you today.

Matt: Exactly. And I'm just a firm believer of if you take every opportunity subsequently doors are going to open. Some paths can lead to nowhere and some paths can be really fruitful. So you've just got to have faith that it'll pay off.

Aaron Kyle: It's swings and roundabouts as everyone often talks about.

Matt: Exactly, yeah.

Aaron Kyle: You can have ups and downs and fork in the road moments but it's about going through it, getting there, and then reassessing the situation.

Matt: Exactly.

Aaron Kyle: And I think a key message that you've mentioned is that three-year plan, having that strategy, I mean, I'm sure you adapt and change it, but just having that three-year plan, it could have a few mountains in it or a few steeply dipping low spots.

Matt: Exactly. Because I mean, what's the alternative? You just stagnate really, and I mean, at the end of the day, each to their own if you're content with that, that's fine. But I know myself, I need... In a healthy way, just obsessed with progression. In a way there is no real end goal, it's just a matter of, yeah, setting checkpoints and trying to work out what I can do to get myself there.

Aaron Kyle: All right. So you mentioned progression before, now as a business owner, that's always a challenge to manage that, because being an inspiring leader within your own business and you're surrounding yourself with a crew of guys that work with you, how do you handle that to keep those guys motivated and progressing?

Matt: It is hard, truth be told. It's something that I'm always battling with. I think firstly you've got to try and create an environment where people feel welcome and people are the right fit. You need to make sure that they're someone who wants to grow and progress with you and are there to buy-in. I think that's the biggest thing. And then trying to demonstrate and instill your values and your morals and your ethic and your work rate to set the expectation and demonstrate what's needed and what's required. And making sure that they're comfortable with that, at the end of the day maybe they just aren't the right fit for the team, but the ones that are, the ones that stick around and, it's testament to the boys that we've got on now, there's six of us and as I said, young Louie, the first one that I even employed, he's still swinging a hammer for us and he's still smiling every day. So, it's good.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. That's always great to look back on. What's the future look like with Elevate Building Group? Where are you looking at taking your business into the future?

Matt: Interesting question. Truth be told, as I was saying earlier, I don't have a big green end goal. That's not how I operate. I just, as we've said, have a little bit of a healthy obsession with progression so it's always just ticking along and what's the next challenge I can set myself? How can I push myself? How can I keep it interesting? So, I had some good growth in the business and exposure and things like that as a result to be able to capitalize on that, obviously, I needed to convert from being a run off the mill carpenter with a chippy crew to becoming a registered builder. So, ticked that box a couple of years ago and as a result of dove into the more full-on aspect of domestic work where it is, sort of being a head honcho builder running jobs and whether it be half a million-dollar new builds or renos and extensions or-

Aaron Kyle: So you just pretty well cover all the residential market really?

Matt: Yeah. I don't like to pigeonhole myself, I get bored quickly, truth be told, so I need a bit of diversity and it helps setting up a bit of a robust business model, I guess. Things we've gone through down in Melbourne as of late with a bit of a downturn and things like that, I think, say you were focusing on... Your niche market was the volume build side of construction, I think you probably would have been affected. Whereas we're focusing on the mom and dad renovators and developers and things like that, and that market hasn't been affected yet. So I think the more you diversify yourself, the healthier the business is and the more robust it is and that can absorb any shockwave or any downturn and adjust and get pushing on.

Aaron Kyle: I think the right amount of crew as well. That optimum number of single digits keeping it under 10 so you can adapt and roll with the punches. You can, if you need to tap into a bathroom, you can do that. If someone needs a deck done you can do that between these larger million-dollar jobs or half a million-dollar jobs.

Matt: That's exactly right. And I mean, I've tried over the past few years, I've tried to scale. We've had a few different large contracts come through in terms of the carpentry scope of... We did 12 townhouses about 18 months ago, so we needed, just realistically we needed blokes swinging the hammer, we needed the boots on the ground because obviously, you've got all your checkpoints, you've got your dates, you've got your schedule, so, if you rock up with a crew of four, it's not really adequate, you're not going to be able to keep up. Sort of found, realistically you're ramping up, you're scaling too quick and you don't have time to vet the right blokes for being the right fit for the company.

Aaron Kyle: And it's hard to get that time to put the systems with that growth?

Matt: That's exactly right. I mean, we literally doubled in size in a couple of months.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. That's a clear example where you put... It's not a bad thing, but it's just part of that evolution. You need the boots on the ground, as you said, so your first steps are to put the person in the role and then look after the systems and everything after that?

Matt: That's exactly right, no disrespect to the boys that we brought in, the subies that jumped on board. They're great carpenters in their own right, hence why I reached out to them, hence why I got them on board. But the business model and structures that I had in place just weren't equipped to deal with that scale. So, not bitter about it, I was happy to give it a go, roll the dice, but it just didn't pay off. And I looked at it and I said, "Well, I've double the stress, doubled the heads, doubled the overheads, and- "

Aaron Kyle: But I haven't doubled the profits.

Matt: Exactly. It just doesn't add up. So, at the end of the day, we gave it a try, it didn't stick, so we revert back to what we know and keep a crew of six and that's what we've done ever since. It works, it's comfortable, it's good.

Aaron Kyle: I love the pivot, at least you tried, you gave it your all, realized it's very difficult because that's where I was talking earlier before about progression because I often find there's a lot of younger guys who are watching, waiting, like a younger version of yourself, and they're thinking, "Oh, well, I've seen Matt do all this work, this is easy. I can go out and do it." And taking that plunge, making that step from carpenter to builder it's a massive step that you just cannot underestimate that added stresses and the complications that come with being a builder.

Matt: Absolutely. And it's not like click your fingers. I mean, you get your builders ticket, your DBU and it's not, just because you've got the ticket, doesn't mean that you've got all the answers. I mean, even now, as soon as I got my builders license I treated it as if I was going back to an apprenticeship, I was learning this whole other aspect and unfortunately, you don't have anyone to fall back on. I mean, during your apprenticeship you’re learning carpentry, you've got your boss to ask questions. If you're a DBU you're expected to have all the answers, but it's your first time doing it, so, in a way there's a little bit of, I guess, bluffing your way through. And just trying to use the resources and use your network, making sure you have a good support group and not being afraid to ask a question or try and seek advice. But just having the ability to find out, find the answer, and making sure that if you are rolling the dice, you're in a position to recover if it turns south or if you stuff up.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. It's about being prepared and it sounds like you're well prepared and you're always looking ahead.

Matt: Yeah. Just wise about the areas that I roll the dice in, knowing that if... They're calculated decisions, I mean, I would describe myself as someone who's calculated, but not with a negative connotation, more so just strategic and just everything's very well thought through.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. I think it's about just giving everything a slight health check. It doesn't need to be a complicated exercise. Have you got a network or is there someone that you speak to when you're thinking about making these big decisions?

Matt: I do. I'm fortunate enough, I mean, with our offices in the industrial district of the North Eastern Suburbs and all the builders in the area are either next door or upstairs or across the road, and we're all close. I mean, although we look at each other and in theory from the outside it might be seen as competitors, but it's not like that at all, where all pretty chummy, we're of a similar age and we all help each other out. So, we always, over a beer on a Friday, pick each other's brains and vent a little bit so there's that aspect of it. Which is healthy, which is great. And then obviously there's Master Builders and things like that, where you can seek legal advice and stuff like that. And another one, Registered Builder Network, which is who I did my schooling to get my DBU through, they're a good support network as well. So, it's just all about surrounding yourself with like-minded people who is willing to help and going through a similar thing.

Aaron Kyle: Now when you're not building or busy running your crew or doing TV building work, what does Matt like to do outside of work?

Matt: There's not too much time outside of that, to be honest. That's the week pretty much full. But as I said, a little bit of local footy, nothing too serious. It's more of a makeshift thing, obviously, you get a little bit older, and pulling the boots on becomes less of a priority and it's more Thursday night dinners and beers. So, there's that aspect of it and lovely wife, got married round about 10 months ago now, and we've just renovated our own house. So, realistically, my spare time is still building in a way, it's not for clients, it's for myself, but it's, yeah, I wouldn't change it for the world. For the world I'm racked with what we're doing and what we've built, it's great.

Aaron Kyle: Exciting times.

Matt: Yeah, yeah. Just getting started really, so it's good.

Aaron Kyle: All right. So having a bit of a profile like you do with your business and having had that exposure on national television, how do you handle the interaction with clients? Like a client that wants to engage Elevate Building Group and build their home? How do you handle that?

Matt: There's definitely a stigma around the TV shows that I've done. A lot of the jobs that I do go to, they have some form of prior knowledge of me fulfilling that role on the show. So, positive or negative, I've had both experiences. But you really just, I'm confident with how I've been portrayed on the shows and how I operate day-to-day, do you really have to sort of gauge what their view is from the get-go. And then treat their job as the most important job at that time, realistically. I was once told by a lecturer when I was doing night school, it was wise words, he always said, "It doesn't matter if you're doing a $100,000 job or a $1,2 million job, to that client, that's essentially their life's savings and the most important thing that's going on in their life at that time." So, you have to treat each job with the same amount of respect, with the utmost purpose and the utmost care to make them feel like you're genuine and they're a priority in your eyes. So, I've taken that and run with it, because it's true. The industry is a strange one because you're dealing with people's homes. It's meant to be their safe place.

Aaron Kyle: There's a lot of emotional attachment that goes along with building someone's family home versus a development or an investment property.

Matt: That's exactly right, and I mean, we've had experiences in both things, we're doing renovations for people while they're living in the home, but then we've also done the property moguls and the tycoons who are just worried about slapping up units and worrying about the spreadsheets and the ROIs, so, you have to be able to shift and move and treat each job with the respect that it needs. Yeah, yeah.

Aaron Kyle: I think in hindsight having the exposure that you've had, a lot of people would think it's easier for you, but I actually agree with and resonate with you where you said it comes with an expectation or stigma on a different level.

Matt: Yeah. It certainly does. And I mean, if I had a dollar for every time anyone brought up The Block with me or queried The Block or something like that, it's... I've learned now the way I respond is... They will bail me out and they will go, "So how was The Block?" And I'll start from there, I'll say, "Well, what are your thoughts on it?" Because you either watch it because you love it, you watch it and shake your head or you just won't even have it on the TV, on the box. So I want to know what your view is before I respond because if people have strong opinions, whatever I say is not going to convince them, so...

Aaron Kyle: I think it comes with your personality too, and I mean this in a good way, but very calm and collected. I think that sums up from us getting to know each other...

Matt: And I'm just probably in a way a little bit too proud for my own good but I'm confident in how I operate and how I handle every situation and I don't need external affirmation or anything like that. I'm pretty happy with how we're ticking along and how I operate and that's good enough for me really.

Aaron Kyle: And I can see it in your DNA, I talk about this all the time, but I always like to step back and I have a look from the outside looking in, to tie it in with your branding, that's operating at an Elevated level of thinking.

Matt: Yeah. And that's the thing, that's what we're trying to convey. A lot of people, mates and things like that, that are in the industry as well, they query why I do put so much time into the social media marketing and things like that, and try and pump up the jobs that we're doing in terms of giving it attention and unpacking the build process and sharing it with the community and they question why I bother doing it and my thought is, it's just promoting transparency. If I'm willing to put it on a platform for everyone to see, it shows that I'm genuinely proud, I've got nothing to hide. And it creates that sense of familiarity with the client before I even go and have the site meeting with them. They already feel like they've had a walkthrough of my previous jobs and my current jobs, they feel a sense of comfort rather than just a client engaging a trade blindly, really.

Aaron Kyle: Yeah. Look, I often talk about this with people in the industry and the whole social media presence and the investment that you're making by putting yourself out there, often people when they contact you for the first time, there's two important steps that have happened when they're reaching out to you in today's world, right, so, they're almost skipping first base because they've already got, even though it's a social media relationship, they've been watching you, they've been seeing how you interact, how you sound, how you deal with your people. They've been driving past your sites seeing is it a tidy site, how does it look looking in from the outside? So they've been watching and waiting and then combine that with that first step of skipping that first base, they've already got, not a relationship established, but some sort of interaction.

Matt: That's exactly right. And I mean, we talk about the age-old thing of word of mouth is invaluable and back in the day word of mouth only spread through previous clients. But now I've got a few client inquiry forms that I'll get early-stage clients to fill out and a few hard-hitting questions to brief them and give me a little bit of background and time and time again they'll say, there's a question there that says how did you find us? How did you hear about us? And a lot of them will say, "So and so recommended you." And I look at the name, I don't even know that person. So I daresay that they're one of our many followers and they see and respect what we do and maybe it's just come up in a conversation over a coffee or a beer, "Oh, we're looking for a builder." "Oh, I've seen this one, he's local, he's doing great work, give him a buzz." So it's tapping into that and I haven't even done work for them, they just respect how we operate and what we do and what we put out there. And it comes back around full circle.

Aaron Kyle: It certainly does. All right. Well Matt from Elevated building group, it's been great sitting here talking to you and getting your real story out there. So, congratulations on the incredible achievement, having been a builder on The Block and I just love hearing the real stories of how you just said yes back in time you’ve obviously got some exciting prospects moving forward with Elevate Building Group. So, thanks for coming on to Build Hatch.

Matt: Thanks, Aaron. Much appreciated. Exciting times. Just getting started.

Aaron Kyle: Well, that was another Build Hatch episode with Matt from Elevate Building Group in Melbourne. I say it every week but there's so many hard-working and devoted people out there and as you can tell from our chat, Matt and I really spoke about his entire journey and the amazing adventures that this incredible industry can take you on if you let it. So I encourage you to check out Matt's work and follow his socials as he's always posting a lot of great things and keeping everyone informed on what he's up to in the Elevate Building Group family. As usual, please check out Instagram where you'd be able to learn more about our guests and the features of the work that we talk about. Have a great week and you'll hear me again on the airwaves next week. Thanks for listening to another episode of Build Hatch.