Matthew Haynes: “At one stage I had 50K racked up on my credit card!”

Published:  May 2, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Image: Matthew Haynes opens Analogue/Digital Brisbane.

Analogue/Digital emerged out of the Gold Coast in 2009 into a market full of creative conferences. Against the obstacles of inexperience and lack of funding, something made A/D stick. Matthew Haynes talks through the last five years of his passion project – the euphoria and the losses of running a dream business.

Matthew Haynes was like any other design graduate, fresh on the scene, when he says he felt the desire to make his mark on the industry. Youthful exuberance can act as the beginning to many great things, but how to choose its focus is a panicked process. “At the time I just wanted to prove myself,” Haynes admits. “I wanted to see my work and my style of design on the world stage.”

A trip around the world offered geographical perspective. “Looking back, it was the whirlwind trip around the world that was the catalyst for Analogue/Digital, but at the time I didn’t realise I was drawing on very little experience as a designer, and even less as a business consultant,” says Haynes. “I had nothing but a swag of enthusiasm and determination.”

He convinced his original mentor to risk a financial stake and, together, they pulled off the first event. “We pushed pretty hard. We saw the A/D brand up on Aus Infront and desktop,” Haynes says. Getting the name out there was the first of many tiny victories that paid emotional dividends. “It was a surreal experience and I really felt like I was moving mountains,” he confesses. A small, basic and shaky event, A/D Sunshine Coast was characterised by Haynes’ inexperience and overriding enthusiasm. Cables snaked across the venue, projectors lit up blurry images and microphones were unbalanced against the constant buzzing of MacBook audio. Yet the importance of its occurrence was undeniable. “It was the most lo-fi event you would imagine,” Haynes says. “But everyone was pretty juiced. It’s pretty hilarious looking back now!”

The crowd gathers on day 1 — Analogue/Digital Brisbane.

In the new media world of business, it has been said that it is ‘audience before money’, contrary to the industry precedent of ‘money before audience’. This engagement of the audience, in an honest (if basic) event, excited Haynes’ supporters and his community circle with the possibilities available to young people cracking into business. Blind determination was the key. “Everyone was so excited about what we had achieved,” Haynes says. “I was instantly hooked on the thought that I was capable of making something real. I couldn’t wait to get back to the drawing board to start planning another event.”

It was here that Haynes met with the first stumbling block of idealist business – what do you do when the money dries up? With his original mentor and A/D partner hesitant to make a financial risk for a second year, Haynes had to adjust to the idea that A/D was his passion, and only his when it came to losing money. “I tried my best to break down the event to him, but he wasn’t buying it. He just wasn’t prepared to throw caution to the wind. It was just too big of a risk for him and we broke up,” he recalls. “I also realised quickly that we were both motivated very differently. I realised that it was up to me about how I chose to make an impact on my community. I had a vision and I naïvely expected everyone around me to support me without question.”

This played out in his personal relations as well. The expense of running this project had a human cost, one that Haynes was not warned or aware of. Lines became blurred between work and play, on and off, business and buddies, when building the A/D name. “While we still managed not to lose too much money, I lost some good friends who I really respected. I missed weddings, birthdays, I missed my own birthday. I let many of my relationships slide, and when you weigh it all up you have to ask yourself – is it worth it? Thinking about it now, I wonder if it all could be done differently, but you don’t know anything then. I have to take solace knowing I gave A/D and its followers 100 percent.”

Loretta Lizzio on stage. Analogue/Digital Brisbane

“The only people to make it from start to finish are a few key sponsors, my family and my amazing girlfriend (now fiancée), Megan.”

The challenges to Haynes’ determination continued to mount. As each new event came and went, the stakes were higher. “At one stage I had 50K racked up on my credit card with no idea if anyone was going to come,” he says. Each year they made it through, and each year Haynes couldn’t cap his enthusiasm, with the next event planned bigger, broader and better. “We literally dedicate everything we have to the next event.”

As Haynes made his life about A/D, the events came to represent something deeply personal to him and, with the death of his grandfather in 2012, he dedicated the conference titles to his name, coming close to shedding tears onstage. Haynes had drawn on his grandfather’s example as a source of inspiration against the challenges that mounted against him, and together they had shared pride in his successes. “He was a life force for me,” he explains. “He put everyone before himself and made a difference in so many people’s lives. Nothing ever bothered him and he served the community with a smile. He was honest and to be half the man he was would be something to be proud of.”

Striving for change within the design community is Hayne’s dedication to service, in the steps of his late grandfather. And as inexperience is replaced by a hardened worldliness and year-by-year funding gains momentum, Haynes has seen huge rewards for all his efforts, although the sweetest are still the emotional pay-offs. “If you caught Dare Jennings’ presentation on inspiration and motivation at ADgc2012, you would have been deeply moved. His presentation was what convinced me to leave my job and pursue A/D with everything I had. He made me believe that you can leave behind something that feels like something you ought to do, and do something you dream of doing. The same with Askew, or Kevin Finn at ADbne13. Each presentation was beyond anything else out there. Personally, I felt them speak directly into my soul. It was almost like a religious experience. At one, I might have even instigated a standing ovation! Absolutely incredible.”

Attendees mingle as they look through their ‘Premium’ A/D bags.

As 2014 moves forward, Haynes has six A/D events behind him. Getting through the first five years of a start-up will introduce you to obstacles previously unimaginable, and success has nothing to do with business skills. On the contrary, Haynes’ success is measured by his lack of them. “Almost everything I know, I have either learned at an A/D conference or directly from one of the presenters at the events,” he admits. “A/D has ended up supporting me as much as I have supported it. It’s really the most amazing cycle of give and take.”

Haynes continues to plan for the future, having acquired the short-lived Field Trip event from Jacky Winter to run as part of A/D, and adding another dimension to the narratives unfolding on the conference stage. He also plans to live stream future events, making them accessible to many more people. Haynes confirms that, by 2016, A/D aims to be across three continents, still with a focus on Australian creative, but on a wider stage. He is, as he freely admits, as desperately committed to the event as ever. “These days I am almost willing to do anything in my power to see A/D succeed.”

To trace Haynes’ success to a big break or turn of luck would diminish the impact of the steadfast energy he pledged to achieve his goal. Only one element appears to have been consistent the whole way through, a character trait that marks him out, and it’s one that was as vital and pertinent in the very beginnings as it is now. “I guess the thing I have learned is that believing is the difference between failure and success,” he says. “When you believe, you become completely dedicated. Despite better judgement or experience, nothing can stop you and no one can tell you otherwise. A/D was either going to be a massive success or a flaming pile of s**t.”

“But when I look out from the stage, and I see the hundreds of faces in the audience, I know for that moment that I have done it. That we have done it. We built something valuable from nothing, and it is something that people really love.”
All images supplied curtesy Matthew Haynes

One Response

  1. Jo Haynes

    Great article Matt. You probably have inspired more people than you realise.

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