Surfing CEO rides the cloud to international success

Hayden Cox heads up Haydenshapes, which shifts thousands of surfboards a year across 70 nations, while chasing the best waves around the world. He shares his tips for working remotely.

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Hayden Cox heads up Haydenshapes, which shifts thousands of surfboards a year across 70 nations. By setting up cloud-based solutions, he’s able to run his business from anywhere, giving him the freedom to chase the best waves around the world. He shares his tips for working remotely.

When it comes to living the dream, it’s hard to imagine anyone is riding a sweeter wave than Hayden Cox. At 34, he heads up his globe-spanning enterprise, Haydenshapes, which shifts thousands of surfboards a year across 70 nations.

That would be magical enough for any entrepreneur but here’s the really envy-inducing part: Cox can also run his global empire remotely, issuing instructions to staff, approving purchases and signing contracts via his mobile phone. Even during his downtime on boat trips cruising around remote Indonesian islands looking for good reef breaks to surf.

Cox, who grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, got interested in shaping surfboards when he snapped his own at age 15. He did some work experience with local craftsmen. Then he created a part-time business for himself shaping surfboards for friends, family members and schoolmates. After finishing school, Cox threw himself into surfboard making. By 22, he had a manufacturing facility, showroom and employed several staff.

Surf, sun and skyping– a Gen Y entrepreneur’s workweek.

At this juncture, 11 years ago, Cox’s wanderlust started to make itself felt. “I spent a few years working six or seven days a week to get the business to a point where I was able to go to Japan and Indonesia. While I was in those countries I’d do business, meeting with retailers and starting to grow my brand,” he says.

Even with these overseas trips, Cox was still spending most of his time at his Sydney headquarters. However, technology was starting to emerge that would allow him to embark on extended surfing safaris.

“I’ve always been an early adopter,” he says. “By 2007, I’d set up cloud-based solutions that allowed me to keep on top of things, especially the manufacturing side of the operation, from anywhere. Travelling with my laptop or even just my mobile, I could see what orders were being placed, how those orders were moving through the production process and what staff members were working on. [Cloud-based accounting software] Xero allowed me to stay on top of the finances. More recently, Google Apps has made remote working even more seamless.”

With demand still high in Australia, Cox was a bit of a homebody in 2015, spending seven months in Sydney and the other five in Japan, Los Angeles, Mexico, New Zealand and Tahiti. He’s planning on spending more time in LA this year, continuing to drive the Haydenshapes’ US HQ and team. (Haydenshapes recently won the ‘Surfboard of the Year’ award in the US.)

Despite his technophilia, Cox agrees not everything can be automated. Not yet. “It’s important to have a solid team behind you. I appreciate being able to talk with my NAB banker, be it face-to-face or via my phone or tablet. That said, it’s also helpful that my NAB Business Bank accounts integrate so well with Xero.”

Cox accepts he’s a remote working outlier. Nonetheless, he doesn’t understand why more business owners aren’t seizing the opportunities he’s embraced.

“People my age and younger don’t have that mindset that someone’s workflow is tied to their geographical location,” he says. “I understand that’s not the norm for some older business owners. All I can tell them is if they do invest in getting up to speed with the relevant technology they’ll almost certainly be more productive and efficient and so will their staff.”

Could you run your business from the beach?

We asked Google how.

The answer is Google Apps for Work, a suite of cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools. A standard subscription costs $5 per user per month.

Renee Gamble, Country Manager (Australia and New Zealand), Google for Work says that Google Apps provides businesses of any size with the tools to empower their workforce.

“In today’s fast-paced and highly mobile world, we know our users need tools that allow them to work with anyone from anywhere on any device,” she says. “From Gmail and Calendar for seamless communication and scheduling to Docs and Drive for simple yet powerful shared document creation and storage, the Google Apps suite makes it possible to work together efficiently no matter the distance between colleagues and offices.

“Today’s workers are constantly on the go so all of our tools – whether it’s video conferencing and chatting on Hangouts to building spreadsheets and editing documents are – available on mobile devices.”

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Issue 21).

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