“We had police investigations, liquor licensing breaches; we had a lot of interesting characters sending nude pics to our drivers. If there’s a story, we’ll probably be able to tell it…. In the last year of my AFL career, I was making more money outside the game than [from the game itself].”
Joel Macdonald’s footy career was never straightforward.
If there was a year that summed it up, it was 2009.
Having been drafted as a rookie in 2003, Macdonald had fought hard to win a permanent place in the Brisbane Lions’ back six. Just when it appeared he’d cemented his spot, playing all 22 home and away games in 2009, he was dropped for the Lions’ two finals.
Even more surprisingly, he was then delisted.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT EXECUTION, JUST STARTING SOMEWHERE. THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO PROCRASTINATE ABOUT THIS IDEA BUT DON’T GET OFF THEIR ARSES. THAT’S WHAT WE DID, AND WE LEARNED A LOT.” – JOEL MACDONALD
After getting picked up by Melbourne, he found himself in and out of the senior side, managing 44 games in his four seasons at the club.
Though he finished with 124 games to his name, Macdonald never got the chance to feel comfortable in the AFL system.
While continuity is a valuable commodity for most AFL footballers, Macdonald, now 31, knows a lack of it was ultimately good for him.
“I was always on the fringe of my career – signing one or two-year deals, sitting on the bench, really trying to battle for a career at the end of each year,” Macdonald told aflplayers.com.au this week.
“I always had to have a backup plan.”
The inspiration for Macdonald’s ‘back-up plan’, which became a successful post-footy business venture, emanated from a situation millions of Aussies will relate to.
“It was on the way back from an Adelaide pre-season game,” Macdonald said.
“We were trying to organise some beers after the game but bottle-shops weren’t going to be open.
“There was that lightbulb moment that everyone’s had when they’re sitting around trying to organise these things; ‘we’re going to try and build a business out of this and give it a crack.’”
Putting to use some of the knowledge he’d acquired from his business degree, Macdonald got to work.
“I pulled up a spreadsheet and did some quick modelling. How much is a slab of beer? Can we make some profit on this [if we] pay a driver and have a scalable business?”
“We hit a few bottle-shops up, looking for some suppliers. We were the initial drivers and before you knew it, we had a platform that we were delivering for, and then it really started to take off.”
Before his eyes, LIQUORUN became a success.
“We still get hate mail via our Facebook page saying, ‘Oh, you stole my idea! Alcohol delivery!” Macdonald laughs.
“And I just feel like writing back, well, why didn’t you get up and do it, dickhead?’”
In Macdonald’s eyes, the key to business – much like footy – is working hard and having a crack.
“It’s all about execution, just starting somewhere. There are too many people out there who procrastinate about this idea but don’t get off their arses. That’s what we did, and we learned a lot.
“It’s pretty crazy to look back on it – we went through a lot to get LIQUORUN up and running.
“It’s crazy to think that we were just trying to get beer one night and now we’re in New York doing business with some pretty big companies.” – Joel Macdonald
“We had police investigations and liquor licensing breaches. We had a lot of interesting characters sending nude pics to our drivers. If there’s a story, we’ll probably be able to tell it.”
In the end, it was the software Macdonald created to help LIQUORUN function more effectively, rather than the idea of LIQUORUN itself, which became his greatest business success to date.
“We ended up building some software – Swift was the new company that we created – to really help us automate those processes so we weren’t on the phone dispatching and sending tracking messages out.
“Quite quickly, Swift became the bigger business. We got invited at the end of the year from Wholefoods to come over to do a point of concept, a trial with them for 90 days in Manhattan.
“It’s crazy to think that we were just trying to get beer one night and now we’re in New York doing business with some pretty big companies.
“We failed a lot and pissed a lot of people off, but that’s the evolution. Entrepreneurship is a very emotional roller-coaster ride.”
It’s easy to see why Macdonald is glad he took the risk.
“Towards the end of my career, in the last year, I was making more money outside the game than inside. It was at a stage where my time was up anyway and it really helped, made me confident and comfortable in the decision to walk away on my own terms. That’s something a lot of guys don’t get to do.”