Founder / 35mm Co
Do you walk around looking for and sussing out new business ideas, wanting to run your very own business one day? The gorgeous Madison Stefanis always knew that she wanted to run her own business. As founder of 35mm Co, a sustainable and reusable camera company, Madison’s reloadable camera gives GenZ the best of both worlds by being sustainable with a 90’s twist.
In the past year, Madisons business baby has exploded, due to Madison’s work ethic and also her analogue niche in a very digital market. It doesn’t hurt that the reloader is on the A-List for all the cool party’s and events such as Ksubi’s 23rd Anniversary party in September this year.
I couldn’t wait to sit down with Madi to discuss her time at school, her journey as an entrepreneur, what her must have resources are, and of course to find out her insider tips for anyone wanting to build their own big thing.
Where did you grow up and how did your experience shape the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and I’m one of two children. In my household, no dream was ever too big – I have my mum to thank for that. From a young age I was taught that nothing was ever out of reach, as long as I worked hard for it myself. I was such a determined and strong-willed kid, I always found a way to get what I wanted. My grandparents came to Australia when they were teenagers. They were so resilient and worked hard to build a future for our family. I think this work ethic has definitely been passed to me from my grandparents and mum.
When you were a young girl what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to be a business owner for as long as I can remember. During primary school I was buying and selling anything I could get my hands on. Neither of my parents come from a business background but I’ve always loved business.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to St Catherine’s School – it was an all-girls school. To be completely honest I didn’t love my high school experience. I was quite introverted and felt really restricted during school. I was a great student but I put a lot of pressure on myself, despite not facing any pressure from my parents. I had a handful of incredibly supportive teachers but the majority were quick to dismiss me because I was quiet and didn’t participate much in class. I used to sit in the back of my classes planning, researching and learning about business. My health really suffered at the end of year 12. I had glandular fever which turned into chronic fatigue – something I still deal with today. This cast a really bad light on my high school experience and I view it as such a low time in my life.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I don’t think high school played a particularly important role in my choice of career – I always knew that I wanted to own a business. I spent a lot of my time during high school running small businesses, monitoring trends and learning about eCommerce.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I didn’t complete any internships or work experience, however, I worked at Woolworths for 4 years as a checkout chick during high school. I met some of my closest friends during that time – it was so fun.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I’m currently studying my Bachelor of Business at RMIT, majoring in Entrepreneurship and Marketing. I’ve recently moved to the Gold Coast, so I’m finishing my degree online. I have one semester left but it’s taking me (a lot) longer than expected to finish my degree – the business has totally taken over in the past 12 months.
Entrepreneurship was the obvious choice for me to study after I finished high school, but unfortunately, I haven’t found my degree particularly helpful when it comes to running a business. There’s a heavy focus on entrepreneurial theory rather than the practical application of skills. I wish my degree had taught me about social media marketing, content creation, copywriting, media buying, how to manage employees, manufacturing, cash flow, forecasting etc – there’s so so much to learn.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any
I worked at the supermarket during high school for four years. When I was 19, I started working as a store host at Mecca. I’ve always loved beauty so it was such a fun job. I wish I’d spent more time there learning about the company but I started 35mm Co and slowly reduced my hours at Mecca until the business was my full-time job.
How did you get into the job that you are in now running your own business?
Funnily enough, I don’t come from a background in photography. I used to shoot film for fun – it’s trendy and super popular (again) so I used to carry a disposable camera with me on weekends. I had an old film camera at home and decided to list it for sale on Facebook. It was a clunky old SLR and I had no idea how to use it. It ended up selling for 5x the amount I had listed it for and that was my lightbulb moment, so I started flipping vintage cameras. I always say to people that I come from a business background rather than photography – I came across the right niche and decided to roll with it.
I did this for several months but ran into supply issues pretty quickly. Vintage cams are in low supply and high demand, which commands a steep price point. I started building an Instagram following for 35mm Co and working on the development of our own camera at the same time. I kept running into supply issues and couldn’t keep the vintage cameras in stock – they were constantly selling out.
The idea behind The Reloader was to create a product that was small and compact like a disposable camera, but completely reusable. Customers were seeking a beginner-friendly camera at a much lower price point, so I took the very informal market research I had and invested all of my savings into our first stock shipment of The Reloader. My mum actually came up with the name – I’ve never mentioned it before so it’s time I give her some credit. It took us 12 months to launch The Reloader and the rest is history – one year later we’re focusing on expanding our product range and transitioning into the lifestyle space.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Work-life balance is really hard. I started 35mm Co during lockdown so I was working on the business 24/7. I remember having a hard time adjusting to post-lockdown life because I was so used to spending all of my time working on the business. It’s so hard to switch off when you’re always thinking about work. The business is my baby – it’s super time-consuming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember feeling really lonely in the first 6 months of business. Nobody in my family comes from a business background and I didn’t have anyone in my inner circle that could relate – I was developing a camera at the age of 20 whilst all of my friends were studying, partying etc. I’m lucky that I now have a strong network of people around me whom I can turn for support.
What does a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
My routine is really different since moving to the Gold Coast. Everyone is up with the sun here and I love it. I wake up at 5am and do Pilates most days, respond to emails and start my tasks for the day. I’m an early riser and thrive off structure so I love having a morning routine. Having an empty inbox by 7am is the best feeling. Every day of work is really different and the quiet days always end up being the busiest ones. I’ll chat to our marketing agency and my team, and work on upcoming campaigns, events, product development and shoots. I spend the whole day on my phone – I’ve given up monitoring my screen time.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Definitely my mum. I can tell her all of my crazy ideas and dreams and she won’t blink an eye. She’s incredibly supportive and has had such an impact on my life.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Be resilient and confident – you’re always going to face setbacks. Accept the lessons they bring, because it makes you so much stronger.
Follow your ideas through to execution and don’t be discouraged by rejection.
No dream is ever too big – if you believe in it, you can achieve it.
List the most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession.
- Favourite Websites: Shopify
- Name an Instagram account you can’t go a day without checking:@35mm_co of course!
- Favourite Podcast: The Mentor, Female Start-Up Club, Girls that Invest.
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: Omg this is so hard – I don’t watch many tv shows. The Intern is the cutest movie ever.
- Who is your mentor? I don’t have one person in particular, but there are so many people in my life that I really admire and look up to.
- Favourite all-time book/s: The Courage to be Disliked, atomic habits.
- Favourite App that you use every day: Google Calendar, Tiktok.