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"I think a degree of freshness and edginess and good thinking and creative thinking is vital. But at the same time, sales campaigns for residential are funnels where the whole objective is to generate leads, and for those leads to then land an expression of interest, and for those expressions of interest to result in an appointment, and those appointments to convert into a sale"

Episode 28

How to maximise development outcomes, optimise full funnel marketing tactics and go deep and narrow

Adam Di Marco | Founder & Ceo | The Urban Developer

With over a decade of professional experience in property development, Adam created The Urban Developer in response to a need for greater engagement, information and transparency in the property sector.

From relatively humble beginnings, Adam has driven the growth of The Urban Developer into an integrated media, events and education network that has established an enviable reputation in both media and property circles.

Adam remains active within the property industry as Managing Director of Brisbane-based development business Di Marco Group.

He has been a recipient of the Australian Institute of Management’s ’30 under 30’ Award, represented Australia at the Global Young Leaders Conference in New York and is currently an Ambassador for global microfinance provider Opportunity International.

In this episode Adam explains how to maximise development outcomes, optimise full funnel marketing tactics and go deep and narrow. Enjoy.

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Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Adam, welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Adam Di Marco:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Anthony Denman:
Very interesting family history, I’ve got to say, just doing my research. I don’t know of anyone anywhere that’s been a drummer of a jazz band and then moved into property banking and then become the CEO of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and then back to jazz musician. But your father did. So that’s an incredible resume, I might say.
And what interests me about that resume is, it’s both obviously creative, using the right side of your brain, but it’s also obviously… Property banking, geez, you can’t get any more rational than that, left-hand side of your brain, which is the dominant side of your brain, do you think?

Adam Di Marco:
It’s an interesting question. Dad and I occasionally talk about this and he’ll often make mention of the fact that putting together banking deals is inherently quite a creative pursuit in terms of structuring. And then at the same time, jazz music is very mathematical, in the fact that it’s highly numerical and it’s all about beats, ones and zeros.
So they’re not that far apart, and they often both use different parts of the brain, I think. And I think all of us have the capacity to use both sides of the brain. It’s just a question of which one comes easiest probably, and which one do we lean into?
In terms of my own default settings, I’m not really sure. I’m probably the most obsessive Excel spreadsheet user that I know. But at the same time, I really like to create when it comes to curating events and putting together business strategy, dealing with the customer’s issues and trying to find a marketing strategy that really works for them. They’re all very complex, creative things to try and unsolve or solve.
So I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve done some of those analysis and testing where it tells you what you are on a quadrant, and I landed on the super creative part of the quadrant.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, you do. There you go.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. Whereas, for example, my brother who also works at this business, he’s a much more rounded individual. I think you’ll realise that when you meet him, a much better guy than me. And then we had other members of our team that thrived on the human contact, other members that thrived on solving operational issues and those sorts of things. But I was really quite far out on the creator part of the quadrant. So I think that’s probably the answer, those things know better than me.

Anthony Denman:
I think we’ll tick the right-hand side. Yeah, it’s a hard question to answer, because I’m a little bit the same. I don’t get the beat, the zero, the one, two. I’m more like Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven, that sort of stuff going on, and writing.
It’s the thing, though, I guess that gives you the most energy when you’re doing it. That probably gives you the most correct answer to that question.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. And to answer all of that, the thing that gives me the most energy, it’s also the thing that’s takes the energy out of me, but it’s really bringing people together. And doing so in a way that benefits and grows the business.
So when we put together a program for an event that I personally curate, seeing it all happen, seeing 700 people there, seeing survey data that gives us great feedback, seeing the connections that are made between serious influencers in the industry, that always for me, gives me an enormous kick.
In the same way that internally within our business, working on a strategy, having it clearly articulated, having the team ultimately buy into that, and then having the daily actions and tactics that we deploy all working in concert with this plan, and seeing people thrive and become the best versions of themselves within that plan.
And then seeing, either it be a monthly result or a quarterly profit or so, whatever it is within our team, which is the reason for doing it, come off after the day-to-day process and my role as a leader, all of that come together, that gives me a massive kick as well. So sometimes it’s quite tangible, sometimes it’s more about the process that we go through. And I find that all highly rewarding.
I’m not very moved by money in and of itself. We can pull up one event and have it generate five figures of net earnings and do another event and generate six figures of net earnings. Sometimes it’s the small one that we do really well that moves me so much more than the big one that makes all the money.
So that’s where it’s just important that I think we… Money doesn’t motivate me in that sense. It’s really about how we do it.

Anthony Denman:
Mm-hm. Okay. So that’s a really interesting point. Your ambition doesn’t necessarily have to result in a financial advantage. You love the idea of a plan coming together.

Adam Di Marco:
Flip side of that is I’m not doing anything for practice too, so it’s got to still return. But as long as that return is commensurate to the effort, if not more so, then we’re happy.

Anthony Denman:
Where do you think that ambition and all that entrepreneurial spirit, where do you think that comes from?

Adam Di Marco:
You mentioned my dad earlier. Very interesting, fascinating guy. He’s always supported me, and everyone in our family. But there’s my mother as well on the other side of things, just from a personal point of view, always encouraged me to dream really big and always supported that. She talks about behind every good leader is a good mother.
And I don’t think it’s exclusive. It’s not exclusive, but she gave me, I think Barack Obama’s book and was, his mother got right behind him and lots of interesting stories. So mum’s been a huge support of mine and a big believer in what we’re doing and unconditional. I never really ever thought or doubted a world where they weren’t there to support me.
And I think growing up we were comfortable, but we certainly weren’t super wealthy or anything like that. But there was always a safety net in our home, be it emotional or material, that meant that even if we did stuff up, again, whether it be in business, in work, in life, whatever, our parents were always there to support us and help us learn through that.
So I think that that unconditional support and love and encouragement to dream big is one part of it. But I do think there’s another part of it that’s quite innate. And for me, I just probably got out of the womb with a bit of energy that I was able to direct towards certain things.
I see it in my daughter, she’s just a go-getter. I have another daughter that’s… And these girls are only two and one respectively. But you can tell by the energy within them that they’re very different in different ways. And so I can certainly see a lot more of myself in my first daughter. And then there’s a very observant nature to the second, which are both amazing assets to have, but have to be channeled and funneled and refined and honed, to ultimately become the best versions of yourself.
The flip side and the downside with having a personality like mine is that you do overshoot and you do overextend and you do make mistakes and you do fuck up. That is the inherent nature of going hard and testing things all the time. But over time, I think wisdom and experience gets you a little bit more sensible about how hard to push it. And you also, I find I’ve got a better radar for when to pivot and turn a little bit more. So that’s the double-edged sword of the instinct that I have.

Anthony Denman:
I love that story about your mum, tear to the eye stuff for me almost. She was just absolutely my rock for my whole life. And without wanting to bring everyone down, I lost her about nine months ago.

Adam Di Marco:
I’m sorry to hear that.

Anthony Denman:
It was a blessing, I think to have had her for that long and to have had her support. The way she supported me sounds very similar to your mother and I can absolutely concur with everything you’ve said there. Can I ask you, how did you end up working in Dubai?

Adam Di Marco:
Talk about dreaming big. I was working… So I’ll go a few steps back. I got out of school. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I was accepted into the University of Queensland, where I was doing business commerce. And I was kind of faffing around a little bit. I knew I wanted to play with business and numbers, but I wasn’t quite sure.
I took a job with an accounting firm called Picture Partners and spent some time there working within their financial services side, working with businesses and basically doing their tax returns and accounting, a little bit of advisory work. And I found it very interesting, but there was not enough time face-to-face with people for me.
And so I looked at that opportunity and I said, oh, I don’t think this is really me. And it was a lovely partner at the accounting firm, a guy called Ian Klug, who was the managing partner, who’s since gone on to serve on multiple boards. And just a really amazing business leader, super humble. But he basically tapped me on the shoulder and he said, mate, this is not for you. Go do something else. And I read between the lines of what that meant. And I bumped into him the other day, and I bump into him frequently, and he always reminds me that he gave me the nudge.
But I looked around at a few other things, and I found an assistant development manager role for a property developer. The company name was MoFo Group, which got my attention. And it was a lovely, lovely private Gary Waters who was working on some boutique residential projects in South East Queensland. And I was just basically his gopher and I ran around and supported him in what he was doing. But as an assistant development manager I wrote reports, did this, did that, whatever.
And then after a period of time, I think Gary wanted to do some different things, and I wanted to do some bigger things. And I looked abroad and there was a recruiter and a role for Dubai, and I thought, holy hell, this is cool. What’s the job? And they said it’s an assistant development manager role on a project called The Palm Jumeirah.
And the Palm Jumeirah is, for anyone that’s familiar with Dubai is a man-made palm island that sticks out in the middle of the coast of Dubai. And the particular project that I was going to be working on was called the Palm Mall, if you can imagine, a palm has a trunk and then it has some fronds that stick off the top, and it’s where the trunk meets the fronds, there was a nine hectare site in there, which was a mall.
It was, I think three stories high. There was a mall, there were two 45 story hotels that sat on top of it. There was a custom-built theater for Cirque du Soleil, and a Barneys New York Department store sitting off these spatial pods that sat… It was just crazy.

Anthony Denman:
Mind-boggling stuff over there, right?

Adam Di Marco:
And I was, yep, I’m in. So I went over there and I got cracking. There were a lot of Australians that were working in Dubai at the time, and so I really didn’t feel out of place, albeit you’re in the middle of the Middle East. And the company was Nakheel, which is the Royal Family’s master development company. Nakheel is the master developer of Dubai.
It’s fantastic. I got there. There was no feasibility for the project. I think it was roughly a $2 billion US cost project, total project cost. And there was no FESO, it was a one-page spreadsheet thing. So hence the Excel skills. And we were in EstateMaster. I basically set the EstateMaster model up for those that use FESO software.
And multi-stage, very complex. Samsung were the contractor. They had just finished, or they were currently building the Burj Dubai at the time, which was the world’s tallest tower. And that same crew were then going to transition across to Palm Mall.
And I think I was there for nine months or something like that, and Lehman Brothers fell over and it was all over.

Anthony Denman:
Oh.

Adam Di Marco:
So it wasn’t a very long stint in Dubai, unfortunately. But we basically got another tap on the shoulder that said, hey, would you be interested in taking a voluntary redundancy? And I said, oh, I’ve never really been made redundant before. What’s involved? And they said, well, you get nine months pay. It’s all tax-free.

Anthony Denman:
Okay.

Adam Di Marco:
We’ll basically let you go and you can go do what you want. So I remember checking in with some family members, and I said, how bad’s this Lehman Brothers thing? And everyone said, get the hell out of there. So I was able to leave Dubai before the impacts of the GFC actually really hit the place.
There were all these horror stories about people leaving cars at the airport and just basically jetting out of there. I’d bought a car and then I ended up selling it for more than I bought it for by the time I got out of there. So it was just this weird set of circumstances that was really, really lucky.
And then I went and met my mates overseas. They were all traveling through South America and ended up doing a few months over in South America as the world melted down. So I was a little insulated in the middle of the Amazon Basin from everything that happened.
And then again, it was really pre-iPhones and pre the ubiquitous internet. So you’d come back, check in, you’d be, ooh, that looks bad. And then you’d keep going. And go down the Rionegro or something like that, and a week later you’d come back and you’re, ooh, that looks like it’s getting pretty bad out there.
But we were living on rice and beans, and enjoying the amazing wildlife that Brazil and Paraguay and Uruguay had to offer at that point in time. And then it was, I think around February 20th, 2009 when we returned back to… Oh, I returned back to Australia. I think it was… Again, my memory might be wrong, but it was around the Black Saturday bushfires that were happening in Australia. I think they were both crossing over.
Again, if I’m wrong, I apologise for those dates, but that’s what my memory serves me as. And then I was, well, what do I do? What do we do here? I had a little bit of cash, but nothing really. And the big question was, well, what do I do? So I stepped into a development.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I would’ve thought maybe you had a little bit more than just a little bit of cash. Nine months redundancy, living on rice and beans. Honestly, man, it sounds like you got hit in the arse with a rainbow.

Adam Di Marco:
Well, the other thing that was interesting, and I think this is a big lessons for me around trusting my gut and my instinct, was that when I got to Dubai, and I had this amazing job that paid really, really well, the convention was that you had to pay 12 months rent upfront, and you had to do that with two cheques. One, which was for six months upfront, that they deposited immediately. And the second, which was post-dated, so forward dated for the balance six-month check. And that would be your 12 months.
If those cheques bounced, you would go straight to prison. And then if you go to prison, then I think you’re typically three days there or two days there and then you would have your matter heard. I looked at all of that and I was, that does not sound cool to me.
One, 12 months up front. I don’t know what’s going to happen here in 12 months time. Am I going to hate this job? Am I going to like this job? Two, I don’t want to go to jail. Three, what if, for whatever reason, on that particular day, whenever someone wants to deposit that checqu I don’t have the full six. And the rents weren’t insignificant. The rents were a 1,000 bucks a week for a room or something like that. It was big dough.
So anyway, I got comfortable with being uncomfortable with that and ended up sub-leasing a maid’s room in this amazing penthouse with a whole bunch of other expats. And so sure, I had the smallest room. It still had an en suite, but it wasn’t palatial like the rest of them, in an five bedroomed penthouse in the Jumeirah Beach Residences, which is… JBR was a really good part of Dubai.
And I didn’t feel comfortable. And then what ended up happening is the world collapsed. I had no commitments. I basically flipped a car in 24 hours, which was easy to do at the time, and I had no other commitments. So I was able to get out of there reasonably scot-free. And I think in hindsight, it was just being uncomfortable with having to make those commitments when you didn’t know what was happening. And I trust my gut a lot more.
And that’s not the only example of that. Probably 20, 30 examples of them over time, where you constantly hone that sense of gut feel and you know it’s coming from somewhere. It’s usually just muscle memory.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, it’s really interesting. When it comes to really tough decision, do you trust your gut more so than say your mind and your emotion?

Adam Di Marco:
Really hard, because often you can’t actually hear which one is which.

Anthony Denman:
Sorry, then I’ll put that in perspective. Because when I’ve got a really tough decision to make, I generally ask my mind and my emotional self and my intuitive self. So I guess is rational in the mind, emotional in the heart, and intuitive in the gut. So ask yourself, those three versions of yourself, is it a yes or a no? And if I get a yes on all three, if I get a yes in my mind, if I’ve got a yes in my heart, and I’ve got a yes in my gut, then it’s a yes.

Adam Di Marco:
I would definitely agree with that. And that’s typically the lens through which I would pass everything, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Cool.

Adam Di Marco:
I find it very uncomfortable to move forward in spite of each one of those three things.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Adam Di Marco:
Is it the right thing to do?

Anthony Denman:
If it’s a big decision, right?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
If moving the whole family to Dubai, for example.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. Well, it was easy because it was just me at the time.

Anthony Denman:
It was just you.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
And that was just a yes, I’m going. But it might be a different-

Adam Di Marco:
Today it would be very different, yeah

Anthony Denman:
A very different decision making process with two young girls, for sure.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So back in Brisvegas, a bit of coin in the pocket after living on rice and beans for nine months whilst being paid a palatial sum of money, you’re only 24, 25 at this point in time.

Adam Di Marco:
24, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
And you come across a 700 square meter block of land and somehow negotiate and convince a father of a friend to develop seven apartments, which you pre-sold for affordable housing without having to build it. So that was, again, a nice little deal to get started on.
What did that conversation look like? How did you convince father of friend? And why didn’t you go to said, drummer, CEO of Flying Doctor fellow instead?

Adam Di Marco:
I’ll answer the second part of that question first. I don’t know. The opportunity presented itself and I just pitched it and got support to do it. So I don’t think my dad or my family or anyone else would’ve not been supportive of it. But at the same time, I was just hell-bent on doing my own thing as well. It’s a big part of my own personal satisfaction, is that I feel I always need to do it myself first, and then I’m happy to bring others in and whatever. Just for self-satisfaction, it’s the only reason.
Look, I was trolling realestate.com and all of the different places where you would find at that stage site zoned for apartments. I picked a suburb or an area which I was familiar with, which was the middle northern ring of Brisbane, suburbs around the Westfield at Chermside and that area.
I got my head around the town planning in those areas, which was fairly straightforward and basically just saw something, came to market. I put an offer on it, it was subject to, I think I acquired it for $525,000. I had enough for the deposit, and I needed someone to come in and help me settle the land. Sorry, I had enough for the deposit and the DA cost, and I needed someone that could help me settle the land.
I worked out that because this particular block of land, which was about 700 square meters, I could typically get six two-bedroom apartments on it with on-grade car parking. But because all three adjoining properties, one to the left, one to the right, one to the back, they were all multi-unit dwellings. It meant that I could push the density more under the code, which allowed me to get a seventh apartment on it.
And then, I guess from that point in time, I put an ad in the paper to see if I could find a builder that was willing to take things out. And then at the same time, there was a scheme-

Anthony Denman:
Hang on. Hey, whoa, whoa, you put an ad in the paper for a builder?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Which paper?

Adam Di Marco:
The Courier Mail, Classifieds. This is all the before things like the Urban Developer existed.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. For those of you, you would’ve heard it in the intro. You know what he’s doing today, he’s probably the most connected bloke in Brisbane. Putting a black and white lineage ad in the classified section of the Courier Mail, looking for a builder.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, it was a builder and or developer to take… So a builder developer to take it out. Because my idea was I’m going to need someone to build this anyway, so I want a price, but at the same time, if I was to successfully get this… What was it? It’s basically an approval that your project will be entered into a…
So at the time, because we’re in the GFC, Kevin Rudd introduced a home building program. The prime minister at the time introduced a home building program, which said that if you construct affordable housing or social housing or whatever it is, key worker housing, and it’s completed within this window, as long as it meets this criteria. So it’s all highly conditional, then you can roll it into this home building program and we’ll ultimately acquire them at a market rate.
So the situation, the deal was, I needed to line up a builder, so I knew what I could build it for, to be able to ensure that I could deliver it at a time, so that I could get it pre-sold into this home building fund. But the deal was a switcheroo, in that I said, that’s okay, builder, if you love what you’re doing here, why don’t you take it off me, right? Pay me out my development profit before I need to actually deliver the development, and then you can go on and deliver it with all the certainty that I was willing to take myself.
But it was about me being able to pay out my investor, recycle my capital, and do that again. So I did that several times over the next few years. I did one with 26 apartments in Newmarket.
So at that point in time, then I disposed of it to the builder that I’d originally been engaged with and talking to.

Adam Di Marco:
… to the builder that I had originally been engaged with and talking to. He acquired it. He basically bought himself a job during the GFC, which is what he wanted to do. And then he ultimately sold them onto to this program. And so that whole idea of securing development opportunities and then effectively packaging them up and then cashing out before construction commenced is a really good way to, if you don’t have an enormous amount of capital, to get a high return on your equity without having to take on the ultimate project risk, which is construction. You basically package it up for builders that don’t want to be doing the planning piece, which was the bit that I actually enjoyed doing and was able to do.
So we did that once. And then it was actually at that point in time where I was about to jump into it and do it again. Had another good conversation with my parents and my dad at the time. And he said, “Look, I reckon it’s a good idea for you to go and get a job.” And so at that point in time, I went and got a job with Leighton Properties, initially selling off-the-plan apartments in Fortitude Valley, which that was the first role that I was able to get at that point in time. It was actually a wonderful experience, where I was dealing with mums and dads and investors, and actually personally selling these apartments. And I think that taught me a lot about what triggers a decision for someone to purchase property. And then that ultimately went into a development role, which is what I ultimately… It’s what I came from, but it’s what I ultimately ended up doing.
But the interim period during the GFC meant I had to do something, which at the time I thought was a little below me in terms of selling real estate, but it was actually probably one of the most valuable things I did. It made me a better development manager and ultimately a better developer. And at the same time, in conversation and dialogue I ended up having with other salespeople in my career, it was sort of like, well, I’ve sold the units myself, so there’s no part of this process that I’m not familiar with as well. So it was a great experience and taught me a lot, and I spent four or five years working with Leighton’s. There were a fantastic company. We worked on some really interesting mixed-use projects. And then, yeah, I ended up going out of my own after that.

Anthony Denman:
Di Marco Group. Wonderfully creative name. You obviously weren’t using the right-hand side of your brain when you came up with that name.

Adam Di Marco:
No, it’s just simple. It is what it says it is.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Well, it’s funny because in the course of creating brand identities for projects and stories around those identities, which is what I do, developers come to us sometimes and they say, “Mate, I’m going to call this thing Samantha because I’m naming it after my daughter.” And when they tell me that I’m totally on board with it, because what it’s telling me is that they really care about this project. You have to really care about a project to name it after one of your children, so that’s okay. So long as we can build a narrative around it. I guess same deal with you, right? If you’re going to put your name on the door, especially for someone like yourself who has such a high degree of self-esteem, who cares about what they do, I think that to put your name on the door is really putting a lot of pressure on yourself because it means that you have to be fully transparent, honest, and successful in everything that you do.

Adam Di Marco:
Yep. It’s the ultimate accountability, and that’s the way I look at it, in that there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s as accountable as you can be. And for me, it’s also about, to a certain extent, building some legacy into the future and having something that, over time, evolves. Perhaps something that, over time, family members can be involved in as well. And I’m a big believer in family businesses. It’s something that everything is set up to be a family business.

Anthony Denman:
You’re a good Italian man, right?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. Well, to be honest, it is to a certain extent. I also have never had any of that in my family, so we haven’t had our own family businesses, and I want to be the one that sets that up. And give-

Anthony Denman:
It sounds like you’ve got a daughter that’s going to be perfect for it.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, three actually, potentially. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
So listen, why focus on quality boutique residential only?

Adam Di Marco:
I don’t think it’s an exclusive focus. I’m looking at some other things at the moment, which are not boutique residential. However, it’s what I know. So I’m very mindful that you can’t be everything to everyone, and you really got to just double down on what you know and what you understand. The nuance of building a boutique apartment building for baby boomers who have sold their principal place of residence that they’ve been in… There is so much embedded understanding and learning just within that one demographic. You then step to first homeowners, or you step into upgraders, and all these different types… But it’s still boutique residential, and they’re all going to be very different in terms of the messaging and how you do it and what’s important, how price elastic they are, and how many times they want to customise and vary things and so on and so forth.
That’s all still within the boutique residential classification. Then you expand out to all residential, and then you expand out to different scales of residential, single home, all the… It’s all so different. And what I’ve learned, and again, very good mentoring and very good wisdom sharing from people that have been through this before, is that you really do just stick to your stick to what you know geographically and product-wise.

Anthony Denman:
And I guess stick to what you know, and we’re going to get into this shortly, but you and your infinite learning person self that you are, the endless amount of curiosity that flows within the veins of your being means that you’ve constantly learning every day and learning a lot more. So stick to what you know. Before you know it, you’ll be doing your own version of a nine-hectare commercial project in Sri Lanka.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. Well, wait for construction cost to settle down a little bit. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
How do you select the right architect?

Adam Di Marco:
It’s a good question. I think a lot of the time it’s sort of been a bit of an evolutionary process in that I’ve been working with someone on a particular idea, and then we find a site that sort of works in with that idea quite well, and then we sort of test it. And then by that point in time, you’re kind of working with them in that way. So sometimes it’s very kind of organic like that. Other times you’ve sort of got a site, you run a campaign, like a little bit of a mini design competition. You might run a formal design competition if the site warrants it, if it’s big enough, which we’ve done before as well. And that’s interesting. You get a lot of ideas, but then you also need to let down the unsuccessful. And I think that’s fine, I’m totally comfortable doing that. But I’m also a big believer and if you’re going to leverage someone’s idea, that you pay for it regardless of whether it’s a speculative thing or not. So when we run design comps, we always pay because we don’t want anyone thinking that we’ve taken their ideas or not.
Then in terms of who’s fit for purpose, there’s another big question. Is this architect well-suited to medium-rise boutique residential apartments in Brisbane? Because again, a lot of people make the mistake of, I’ve got a Melbourne architect, I’ve got a Sydney architect who do these things perfectly elsewhere, and then they might be jumping into a new geographic territory, and climate is a big issue, planning is a big issue. There’s a lot of different things to consider. Now, I’m not saying that if you’re not from a particular market, that it precludes you from being active in it as an architect. The inverse could be true as well, it can be fresh thinking. But it’s often a bit of an exponential learning curve if they’re not familiar with it.
So that’s sort of that site specificity, the relevance. Have you been involved in that area? And then there’s aesthetic, right? There’s architectural thinking and aesthetic. If you are in Brisbane, again, I just talk to my local context, but it’s 300 days of sunshine a year sitting between 20 and 35 degrees. It’s a subtropical climate. It’s comfortable. It’s the kind of climate you want to be on your balcony, and it’s the kind of climate you want cross-flow ventilation. So if you are putting up big glazed boxes that face the west, then that’s not climatically responsive to the environmental conditions that you have. So sort of all of those sort of factors. I mean, I’m a bit of an architectural Instagram groupie, so I follow them all on Instagram and LinkedIn. And over time the list has gotten pretty comprehensive. There’s not many that we’re not following, and the ideas that you get out of it are amazing.
You put it all into Pinterest, you set up your boards. That’s got smart enough AI now where it’s feeding you back imagery and things based on what you’re liking. So you got to be careful of the feedback loop, particularly in relation to architecture and that you’re constantly looking at things that you’re already looking at. It’s a bit like social media. But yeah, look, I don’t know. There’s no one rule. I think I’ve probably done it differently every single time, and that’s usually just a bit more of an intuitive thing. Do I feel like this is the right architect for this particular job?

Anthony Denman:
What about marketing and storytelling? How do you select your creative agency?

Adam Di Marco:
On that one it’s mostly around work that they’ve done, so the project kind of workbook. I think sales success is a big part of that project workbook. So it’s one thing to have a successful brand. It’s another thing actually to go back to the source of all of that. Why are you doing it? Well, the projects sold really, really well. Now, I know there’s limitations to a creative agency’s ability to sell dwellings or whatever it may be. It could be that the product doesn’t meet the market, pricing-wise, product-wise, whatever it might be. I think a degree of freshness and edginess and good thinking and creative thinking is vital. But at the same time, sales campaigns for residential are funnels where the whole objective is to generate leads, and for those leads to then land an expression of interest, and for those expressions of interest to result in an appointment, and those appointments to convert into a sale.
So if that funnel is not super well-designed and converting at the right conversion rates and generating leads at the right cost per lead, then it’s all for nothing. Your marketing budget will get exhausted pretty quickly. So there’s that very quantifiable results-driven marketing on one side, which is then complimented by a beautiful narrative and brand identity and storytelling that drives and optimizes all of that. There’s that balance. I think the balance is really important.

Anthony Denman:
Do you look for an agency that can do both?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, usually the agencies that I’ve kind of worked with, most of them can do both. And then, that’s where it sort of plugs into the selling agent systems as well. So if your selling agent doesn’t have the ability to hook into the agency side, the creative agency side, then that’s an issue. And if the CRM isn’t tracking all of that sort of stuff, then again, it’s all for practice. And you get so much spillage out of the funnels that can affect your cost per sale by multiple. So yeah, I think that’s where I look for agencies. So project marketing agencies or project marketers that have worked very closely with other creative agencies, and then I ask them a lot of questions about CRM and lead capturing.

Anthony Denman:
Reckon you’d be a fucking hard taskmaster master, that’s for sure. Hey, don’t call me. How do you-

Adam Di Marco:
Well, I mean it’s also the business I’m in with The Urban Developer-

Anthony Denman:
Totally. Yeah.

Adam Di Marco:
… so it’s sort of like don’t bullshitt a bullshitter.

Anthony Denman:
No, that’s right.

Adam Di Marco:
I understand this business, now-

Anthony Denman:
You sure do.

Adam Di Marco:
… now get me $70 leads.

Anthony Denman:
You sure do. You sure do. You sure do. You sure do. Cost per sale versus cost per lead. If you haven’t listened to it, listen to my conversation with George Glover. He’s from a company called Social Garden. And he’s got a brilliant mind when it comes to weighing up the cost per sale versus the cost per lead, and making sure that everything’s plugged into that funnel to ensure that it works at its optimum level. For anyone who may be listening and thinking about giving a project to us, I was only joking before when I said to Adam, “Don’t call us.” We’re a creative agency essentially, but do work with companies like Social Garden. Can make sure that funnel’s functioning at it’s fullest and most efficient capacity.
Do you have a process for naming… You talked before about naming a building after your daughter. How do you feel about naming buildings? What’s your point of view on that one?

Adam Di Marco:
I’m not brave enough or good enough at what I do yet to name any of my projects after my children or family members. The thought has definitely crossed my mind. And I think about it and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t think my wife would want this yet,” or, “I don’t think my mum would… Not this project. It needs to be a better site.” That’s the thinking in and around all of that. Look, I love it. I love the classicism of it, but at the same time, don’t necessarily think that it’s an approach. I look for just site-responsive things. I also don’t like too much ego in a project name. My philosophy is let the product do the talking. And for all the money that you spend on dressing up the building, dressing up the brand, dressing up the marketing, take that and, again, just philosophically put it back into more space, more volume, better finishes, quicker sales rates.
And also, then another philosophy that drilled into me at my time during my time at Leighton’s was less is more. And that came out of actually someone that had come out of the Mirvac school of working with Bob Hamilton and the Mirvac way, which was really about, sure, we could probably fit 60 units on this thing, but what would 40 good units look like if they were better? That’s 20 less buyers we’ve got to deal with. They’re going to be bigger. Sure, they’re going to be a bit more expensive, but are they going to be that much more expensive? What about the sales rate? It’s going to take one and a half times as long to sell 60 as it does 40. So what does that mean from a funding point of view? What does that mean from a construction point of view? Does it tip us into a different kind of contractor? Does it tip us into a different kind of subcontractor? Are we then tipping ourselves into union land?
There’s so many different considerations about trying to squeeze too much onto a site. The perfect example is Amersham, the project that we’ve just completed in Brisbane in West End. I mean, from the perfect example. It’s an example where we could have got… So one of the measures was 80% site cover. Well, when you actually lay that all up and put 80% site cover on it, you get a bulky building, a really bulky building. So just visually and aesthetically, it didn’t have any kind of refinement to it. So we sort of pared that back down to about 50%. And then in addition to that, we could have… So if we’d pushed the envelope more, we could have got probably about 40 apartments. We ended up landing at 29 apartments, but they were mostly two and three. And there genuinely wasn’t one bad floor plan on the development.
So that enabled us to sell quicker, sell better, get higher rates, build quicker, easier planning. So many different things that ultimately impacted our IRR, our internal rate of return, basically the velocity and the return on our capital when factoring in time, it was just better and you got happier buyers. It’s a more boutique project, it’s a more exclusive project. And that’s where this kind of less-is-more approach is more relevant to boutique scale. If you are doing build to rent, it’s all about scale. You do need to put more into it because it’s all about the income.
Sure, it’s about the rentability of it, it’s about the amenity that you can put in and all of those different things, but less is more doesn’t really apply in the build-to-rent space, where it does in the boutique space. So again, that’s the nuance of the different scales and the different types of development that are out there. And that’s why, again, I try to stick to my knitting in that respect. So yeah, I try and take that less-is-more approach. I think it’s really powerful. It’s a powerful narrative as well to buyers.

Anthony Denman:
What did you say that project was called?

Adam Di Marco:
It’s called The Amersham.

Anthony Denman:
The Amersham? What’s that mean? Where’s that name come from?

Adam Di Marco:
That is the street. So Amersham is… Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Amersham, good street?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, beautiful street. Beautiful street.

Anthony Denman:
There you go.

Adam Di Marco:
And again, I’m doing everything I can to find another Amersham site. It’s a beautiful site, elevated, north-facing, city views, 50 meters from one of the best high streets in Brisbane, being West End. I mean irreplaceable. It was quiet, yet you’re in the middle of the city. It was walking distance to schools, parks. Incredible. So we had the option to do 40 up to 50 apartments on that site, and we cut it back and did something that we’re really proud of, which is 29 big twos and big threes, a penthouse. We basically broke the building so that it had three mini buildings within one. All of the internal corridors were open air. So you had this wonderful cross-flow ventilation working its way through the building. It’s so breezy, it’s beautiful. The fire stair, which is a requirement that we had to deliver, is an open air, beautiful, usable internal feature stair.
Above every single one of the front doors, entry doors of each apartment, we have operable windows, so you can wind them down and open your windows internally. And so when you’re not home, you’ve just got the benefit of this beautiful cross-flow ventilation, always working its way through the building. So no need to air condition it in summer. A function of it being an elevated site, you get all these beautiful breezes that run through it. The ceilings were all 2.8, 2.9 meters high. Typically, in an apartment development, they’re 2.6, 2.7 meters high. That extra 200, 300 mils, it makes a difference. It feels different.
People always talk about how many square meters an apartment is, right? My question is, why don’t we think about it in cubic meters? They are three-dimensional spaces. So if you’ve got 100 square meter apartment with 2.5 meter high ceilings, and then you compare that to 100 square meter apartment with 2.9 meter high ceilings, there is a material difference between the way that those two things feel. So why are our valuers looking at them as square meter rates? Why are our project marketers pricing them as on square meter rates? So I’m not suggesting everything needs to convert into cubic meters, but volume is such an important part of our philosophy for design. We’ve really got four or five principles that we work to, which is volume, which is the heights. We’ve got air, which is the cross-flow ventilation. We’ve got the light, which is natural light in bathrooms and as many rooms as possible. And we’ve got landscape, biophilic architecture, always integrating how we can bring landscape into our dwellings in a way that benefits people.
And the science is there to prove that it’s a thing that makes us feel happier, healthier, it builds more community when you’ve got landscape within it. It’s a nicer place to dwell, therefore it’s nicer place to chat. And you’ll see the fruits of all of that in the work. I’ve had conversations with residents now sort of six, seven months on from completion, and the things that we designed and baked into the model, the design model, are resulting in human behaviour doing those sorts of things quite predictably, which is really cool. It’s fun to see.

Anthony Denman:
I actually take back what I said before about not wanting to work for you, that you’re too hard a taskmaster. Because quite honestly, all I would do is get my DOP, director of photography, stick a video in your face and just let you talk. Job done. Job done. Okay.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
That’s great.

Adam Di Marco:
I’m not often on this side of the conversation. I’m usually doing your side, so-

Anthony Denman:
We’ll get to that. In fact, let’s start to transition now because we talked about the Di Marco Group, and we’ve just been talking about that and how passionate you are about that, and what a tremendous job you’re doing there. I mean, really, it’s like talking to a bloke who’s 108, not… What are you? 40 something?

Adam Di Marco:
37.

Anthony Denman:
37? There you go. I feel like I’m talking to an 80-year-old. I want to talk about… After hearing all that, it’s a little bit little why even bother with The Urban Developer? Seriously. But I’m guessing maybe bother because your 80-year-old self, the wisdom that lies within that 45 year old shell, I guess in some ways is a direct result from the work you’ve been doing on The Urban Developer.

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. I mean The Urban Developer’s the main game. I don’t mince words about that. It’s such a fascinating, valuable, unique, impactful organization and ecosystem of people. It’s ridiculous. From a blog to a community of 65,000 city shapers, it’s put me and our team, our entire team in a position where we have a responsibility now to leverage what we’ve got in a really positive way. And we do that through publishing consistent quality exclusive enterprise journalism. We do that through curating the most interesting events with the most interesting people, and by bringing together experts that help people learn via industry-led professional development, and businesses that come together to help grow revenue, and grow that through our B2B marketing channels and platform as well.
So it’s an interesting business. It’s got no playbook, as far as I’m aware, in terms of how to roll it out. We don’t have any really kind of direct competition insofar as our current business model is concerned. There are direct competitors in relation to some of the things that we do. If you think about them in verticals, we have competitors in each of the verticals, but not the magic sauce… Not all of it together. I guess when I talk about it being the main game, my highest priority is to make the most of the opportunity that I’ve been given to is to grow this thing, to grow it meaningfully as well. Not just grow at all costs. So grow it sustainably, but not at all costs. I see that as an opportunity to take what we’ve done here in Australia with The Urban-

Adam Di Marco:
I see there is an opportunity to take what we’ve done here in Australia with The Urban Developer, and export that globally as well. There’s no real independent platform that’s stitched the entire global development sector together. There’s bits and pieces of it, but nothing like Bloomberg is for the financial markets. And I think I just love it. You look at so many social issues that exist, social, economic issues, environmental issues, the driving force in all of that, the creative force in all of that is urbanisation. It’s population growth and urbanization, people moving to cities. So how we consume our resources, how we spread economic wealth, the disparity in all of that. How we house people, how we feed people, where we work, how we transport each other, how we move everything around the world. These are all questions and ultimately answers that our 65,000 people here in Australia for this particular market, those 65,000 people are the people that answer those questions.
And I’ve said this previously, I can’t really think of a more important cause really, once you sort of step back and look at it all, than helping solve this enormous force of urbanisation that’s around the world. Sure, maybe curing cancer might be there, or curing some incredibly challenging diseases, maybe climate change. But climate change is actually a function of what we’re doing here as a force of urbanisation. So to start at the genesis of urbanisation, and you’ll start to see the benefits downstream. And you look at something like 25, 30% of the world’s emissions are created by building.

Anthony Denman:
75%, I think it is cities, right?

Adam Di Marco:
And cities more broadly. So where’s the low hanging fruit in all of this? Well, it’s in the demographic that we talk to every single day. I feel that there’s a real reason to be growing the business. And then at the same time, I love the business model. It’s a fascinating business model, that I said has no playbook. You compare that to property development, where you got building regulations, planning regulations, funding structures. You’ve got so many constraints, right?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, yeah.

Adam Di Marco:
And on the other side, you’ve got a business model, which is completely unbridled.

Anthony Denman:
A little bit like property banking versus being a drummer in a jazz band.

Adam Di Marco:
Dad’s going to love this when he hears this, he’s going to wonder what your obsession with him is.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, well, we might have to organize a bit of a get together, and have a Kumbacha or something together. Okay, so how did you come up with said idea that has no playbook? How did the idea occur to you?

Adam Di Marco:
It’s really interesting. There’s a business plan I wrote. And that business plan’s quite interesting because it basically lays out all of the different things that The Urban Developer could have done. And I look at that today, and we’ve knocked over probably 80% of them, and that was pure idea generation at that point in time. I’m pretty clear in my mind what this business could look like in 10, 20 years. Definitely 10 years. 10, probably 20 years. Not so sure about after that, because honestly, you look at what ChatGPT’s doing to the way that media publishers are starting to think about what they do. So many different things. And that’s within the 10-year horizon.
I feel like engaging content is always at the core of it. So we are a content first or editorial first business. That’s always the first priority. That’s relentless in terms of publishing every day. I’ve been responsible for a business that has published every single day for nine years. Sorry, every single weekday, notwithstanding public holidays. I don’t know how many count at that. It’s two and a half thousand days or something like that. And that’s exhausting, but it’s what needed to keep a community that big, that engaged every day.

Anthony Denman:
I’m interested though in how you actually came up with the idea in the first place.

Adam Di Marco:
The genesis is pretty simple. I mean, it came out of probably out of frustration, more than anything. I was sitting in my time during the GFC at Leighton Properties in the sales display that I was talking about. We’d have one person walk through all weekend. And as part of my role, I needed to know what was going on in other projects. So I was doing my research, that competing project down the road, how much are they priced for? Blah, blah, blah. And then I was like, “Okay, that’s cool. They’re on-the-market projects. What about what’s coming up?” So I started trolling the planning portals in Brisbane. It was called PDOnline at the time. So yeah, Brisbane City Council had a planning portal so cumbersome, it was hard to use it. Everything was hidden behind the addresses and all this different stuff.
So I got pretty good at using it, and then I was like, “There’s got to be a better way to organize all of this.” And I didn’t rely upon the Council to be changing their ways, which they still haven’t, 12 years later or whatever. So I was in frustration talking to a friend of mine, and we were having pizza. And he mentioned to me that in advertising, which is what he works in, you’d be familiar with this. There was sort of B&T magazine, and I think it was Brand Republic, and Adweek and a whole bunch of these sort of trade journals, I guess they were, that would send a daily email that said, Saatchi & Saatchi is doing this, or Publicist is doing this. And you just get all these ideas. And if you’re in the game as you are in that space, it would just keep you abreast of what was going on.
Whereas I was in property, and they were like, “How to get rich off by buying 20 investment properties.” And this developers going to jail for fraud, and these are the 16 hottest suburbs in South East Queensland. And it’s like, that shit’s not talking to me as someone that’s passionate about architecture, property development, finance, economics, society, politics, construction technology. You’re not giving me a sophisticated view of what’s happening. You’re giving me a smutty, gotcha style journalism view of what’s going on. So my intent was always for it to be professional, which is funny. It’s ironic, because I started writing each of the articles, and I’m a hopeless writer. And I was just very, very factually writing these things. I can confirm now that none of those first thousand odd articles exist online, thankfully. Yeah, yeah. It’s ridiculous.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, no, I was going to ask you that question actually. Did you have any journalistic experience?

Adam Di Marco:
No, it was was always about professionally documenting new development projects that were coming up in the city. And so I got a real habit of it. And I treated it like it’s not my own internal journaling or research phase, I have to work out. Okay, cool. Who’s the developer? How many units? What size were they? What’s the status of it? Okay, DA’s just been lodged. Who else is involved in it? Yeah, this is the architect, this is the planner, this is the blah, blah, blah. Anyone can write it. That wasn’t really journalism, that was more just summarising. And then I just publish it. So screenshot the feature image from the plans, and upload it into WordPress. And then you do a few of them, and then collate them into an EDM that you’d blast out once a week on a Wednesday. That was the model.
I had no revenue, but I was servicing a problem. I was my use case, in that, it was solving a problem for me. And then by doing that, I was also experimenting with this idea that I had to do something like The Urban Developer. So in that early phase, I started thinking about, well, if I can get traction out of this bit, which is by building a community, how could I leverage that community, and how could I commercialise that community to be able to continue to fund journalism? And that’s where events, education, memberships, awards, jobs boards, there are a few other things that we haven’t done for a good reason, but other revenue streams existed out there. So yeah, it was sort of, frustration was the answer to that question. That’s how we got cracking.

Anthony Denman:
Actually, I was going to ask you a question around writing, and I’m not sure if you can answer it, but I’ll give it a go. What does Rudyard Kipling’s book, Heart of Darkness, have to do with a Wu-Tang Clan song?

Adam Di Marco:
So in grade 12, so my experience, or I guess my education in English and writing literature was, it was hated at school. I was invited to join an extension English class in grade 12, which is like an independent writing class. And one of the projects was, you could pick a topic, and you had to find something kind of classic, a text that was classic and a text that was contemporary. And you had to write this kind of comparative piece about what it all means. And so what I ended up doing was taking Heart of Darkness, which was a colonial book set in Africa, and a Wu-Tang Clan song. And somehow, I can’t even remember what my points were.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, classic. How could you? How could you not, in fact?

Adam Di Marco:
I don’t know. But look, if that scares anyone away from our independent journalism, then I’d like to just remind you all that I don’t write.

Anthony Denman:
No, I was going to ask you that actually. Because you personally wrote the first thousand articles, at least with no journalistic experience, or writing experience beyond the grade 12 extension class. I think you’ve answered the question, you don’t write any more stories. But without having that experience, how did you go about recruiting writers and journalists, not having any genuine journalistic writing experience in your resume?

Adam Di Marco:
If you do it every day for almost 10 years, you work out what’s important pretty quick. It’s something that you hone every single day. And so I think what’s been a little unique about our context is that I’m writing for myself in many ways, or at least I’m leading an editorial team with a view to answering questions that I’ve got myself about what’s happening in property, how is it happening, why is it happening? Oh shit, who did that? Oh, did someone buy that? Oh, there’s a new town planning code over there. So there’s been a huge amount of education and an industry knowledge shared with our editorial team. And then sort of bringing that together with quality journalism. So a good journalist knows how to get there. They’re very good discoverers, very curious, can write. The writing bit’s only 5% of it. That might be 20% in some cases.
The other 80% is understanding context, understanding our reader persona, understanding the questions that the persona is asking about the world. And then understanding whether a story hits the mark, which is a term we use internally. Or whether a story misses the mark, which is how well did what I pitched as a story, answer the questions that the persona has? Then it comes down to the writing. You’ve got a few different components. You’ve got a headline. You’ve got what we call a write-off or an EDM intro, an intro, which is the sort of, probably don’t know what a write-off is. There might be 20 words or something that sort of summarise it. It’s catchy. And then you’ve got opening paragraph, the first few paragraphs often called the lead, and then you’ve got the body, and then you’ve got whatever the end of the article is. Within all of that, we are obsessed with this thing called context analysis, CNA.
So the CNA is really important because it’s one thing to report on something happening. It’s another thing to then layer-in the context and analysis, which is coming from the questions that the persona is asking. So if the persona is Adam Di Marco the private property developer based in Brisbane, well then, he or she wants to know why is this happening? Who bought that? Who owned it previously? What is the development potential of that? Who’s involved in that, from an architectural point of view? All of these questions that then sort of dictate how the story gets layered in. What comparative sales have taken place? What comparative projects are in the area? Has that particular geographic area been subject to any zoning changes? All of this colour that starts to fatten out the article. And also it changes it from being an article about one thing to an article about one thing with a ton of context and analysis.
And I think that’s, that obsession with building that out has been a point of differentiation for The Urban Developer compared to other things. And the other bit is that we are niche, we are writing for our audience. Well, that enables us to go longer form in some ways, and it enables us to indulge in a way, from an editorial point of view. Because our audience has a deeper attention span about the things that matter to them than the general audience. So our whole output from an editorial point of view, from a publishing point of view can actually be quite different. You can do lots of different things with an audience that’s very niche. You got a much more uniform need than you would if you were publishing across the general community about all manner of things. So we can go deep and narrow, rather than wide and shallow, from an editorial point of view.

Anthony Denman:
And that’s the framework you use to find and decide on stories, yeah?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah. I mean, we summarise it. I always try to really simplify things, but we’re projects and deals first and foremost, right? Projects being new developments happening, and deals being transactions. So that’s always the focus and the priority. But then we’ve got the people that are in and around all of that. So that’s part of our feature, feature editorial. We’ve got the trends that are happening. So these are all the different things that are going on. You’ve got the policy that sits in behind it, which is planning, legal, regulatory, all matter of things. And then you’ve got the markets. So economics today, the RBA kept the rates on hold, that’s material for our audience. And then you’ve got the research in behind it, which is the underlying demographic drivers, economic drivers, supply-demand dynamics, that all sort of play into it.
So all of those, I call them the 12 ingredients. They come into this recipe, which is ultimately our editorial mix. And that editorial mix is then curated in a way, and then optimised in a way that results in the highest levels of engagement that we can get. And so that engagement is by industry standards, pretty good. And every day, we go out to 65,000 people, and 40% of them open it every single day, which is, if not more than that. So our open rates on the email are fantastic. Our click-through rates on the email are fantastic. And there’s a whole bunch of little tricks and tips that we’ve honed doing that every single day for the period of time that we’ve done, that enable us to be an efficient publisher, and to keep the audience engaged. And that talks to then that editorial first strategy, which means that if our audience is engaged, they’re opening and clicking every day, then that means we’re likely to get them to convert into paid members, which is our premium membership offering, which I can talk to a little bit.
If they’re engaged, that means our advertisers can get the return that they want out of the eyeballs that are there. And if they’re there, then our events can be promoted. Usually, there’s a relationship between the editorial that we’re covering and the success of that from an engagement point of view, and the success of the events and the programming. They’re often interrelated from that perspective. And then the professional development, that’s just about listening for what people want to learn about. So a lot of surveys, a lot of questions, and then we just develop content in and around all of that. So it’s really this kind of, I call it mojo, right? It’s everything that happens in between of all of those little things, that make it an interesting unique business model.

Anthony Denman:
What’s the biggest and/or the most interesting story that you’ve broken so far?

Adam Di Marco:
Ooh, I’m pretty sure we broke, and I think it’s contested. But I’m pretty sure we broke Probuild collapse, which we got to really early. And it was interesting because we got to it early, but we actually had the most in-depth coverage of it as well. So it was one of those things that we anticipated and were able to get to.

Anthony Denman:
Because that affects obviously that ecosystem, right?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because you’ve got… I mean, how do you define success? Is it the total number of page views, which is one metric, right? Is it the total number of members that ultimately sign up off the back of that particular article? They think it’s that good, they got to pay for it? Is it the quality metric as opposed to any of those quantitative metrics? There’s some interesting feature stories that we’ve done, profile pieces that we feel are really meaningful and important, and again, get read by tens of thousands of people. And we think it changes the way that people perceive certain issues in the industry.
We did this one fascinating story about caravan parks, and how they’ve gone from being these pretty undesirable assets that were high income into very attractive, highly demanded. And there’s a whole story in behind all of that. So now that’s, we do 10 to a dozen articles a day that brings us to 50, 60 per week, 50 odd weeks for the year. So it’s two and a half thousand. That’s a lot of kids to love there.

Anthony Denman:
So from Rudyard Kipling and Wu-Tang Clan is it, and journalism to hot topics to events. Okay. And you were talking very excitedly about events previously. Does it freak you out? It’d freak me out a bit, I got to say, if I was the head guy with seven or 800 people turning up to an event. I’ve never been to one of your events, but I guess you’d get up on stage, and MC the whole affair to a certain degree. I would find that really daunting.

Adam Di Marco:
You can be. And it is often to begin with. I’ve done it so much now that I’m quite comfortable with it. I sort of… it’s my job. I’ve got to feed the family. I’ve got to get up there. No one’s going to listen to me complaining about that. But I also look at it from the perspective of, we want our events to be of the highest quality, and we want them to be professionally run and moderated, so that more people come back. And that the quality of the content is good. And yeah, it’s just a great experience. So we keep them light.
We’re professional, but there’s always an experiential element to what we do. It’s always networking, and drinks, and a bit of fun. We talk about our little one percenters. What can we do to just to boost the experience a bit? So yeah, it’s a lot of work. They often do freak me out, but we’ve never missed. There’s some ways of doing events that de-risk them for us. And that’s a big part. It’s actually an interesting kind of comparison or learning out of property that we’ve applied to the events business, which is basically pre-sell all your costs before you ever go and launch an event. For example, if we’ve got a $100,000 a cost, then there’s at least a $100,000 of sponsorships already in the bag before we go and take a risk on any patronage. So we never lose.

Anthony Denman:
With the writing, apart from the Wu-Tang Clan stuff. With the events, do you have any event management experience?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, like a few of festivals and those sorts of things. The more relevant skillset was actually my brother David, who joined us. I think he was the fourth member of our team. And he’d been over in Ireland working in the music industry, both as a player, but also as an organizer.

Anthony Denman:
Is he a jazz musician too?

Adam Di Marco:
No, he was a folk… Well, acoustic folk musician. Yeah, singer-songwriter, guitarist.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Wow, that’s cool.

Adam Di Marco:
And he’d been living in Dublin for a long time, and came back to Brisbane. And I sort of said, “What are you doing?” He’s like, “I don’t know.” And I said, “Well, we need someone to run some events for us, you’ve been running events for a while. Do you want to just give it a crack? Just come on as a consultant for the first time. You don’t have to join our team, but can you help deliver them?” And yeah, he got on board. And the first one was a success, second one was a success. Third one-

Anthony Denman:
What was the first one?

Adam Di Marco:
So that was the first one he did. But before that, we’d done a couple. And one of them was actually Harry Triguboff from Meriton. I’d got wind somehow that he was speaking at the Queensland University of Technology. They wanted a media partner to help that. And then I realized that the people that were organising it just had no idea what they were doing. So I said, “Do you want me to run it?” So then we rebranded the whole thing it as like an Urban Developer event. And I got to introduce Harry. And we had a chat up on stage. And that really kind of like, people were like, “Who’s the urban developer now?” And that was real early days. And then we did a couple, but it’s quite underground ones in the early days. We would hit up graffiti-covered warehouses and stuff like that, where it was just different. It’s really different. We feel like we need to go back to in a big way. So we’ve actually got some new event formats that hark back to our heritage.
And a lot of them just sort of in conversation with developers, that was really where we felt the most comfort. And we would, sometimes you’d be standing up in a shed with a beer, sometimes you’re in a pub, and they were just fun. They were just good fun. They’re great memories, those ones. I mean, we can’t do scale in the same way. It’s so not everything can be like that. But I think there’s a nice blend of the old and the new, and the big and the small, the grunge and the corporate that enables us to keep our flavour.

Anthony Denman:
What’s been the most “successful” event you’ve done so far, and why?

Adam Di Marco:
I think Urbanity last year was a high water mark. I mean, a lot of what we’ve done, we really haven’t stuffed anything up. We’ve always delivered good events. And I think that’s-

Anthony Denman:
What did you enjoy the most then? Which one did you enjoy the most, and why?

Adam Di Marco:
And I think that’s…

Anthony Denman:
What did you enjoy the most then? Which one did you enjoy the most?

Adam Di Marco:
Last year was really rewarding because it was our first event back from COVID, first big event. We were in a situation in 2020 where before COVID hit, we had something like 60% of our revenue sitting in events. And in one day, that disappeared. And I think we had something like a quarter of a million dollars of sponsorships that were prepaid for events that we were expected to deliver. And those events were no longer happening. So what we ultimately had to go and do was sit down with all of those sponsors, basically say, “Look, we can’t do a physical event. We’re jumping into virtuals. Do you want to come on board with us?” That didn’t suit everybody. Some people said, “We’ll, stick it out until you next do them.” I think of the $250,000, all we ever did was refund 7,000 because that particular partner was actually in a tougher situation than we were.
So we said, “No, questions asked.” But $243,000 or whatever it was of that sponsorship money, people stuck with us and supported us. So then two years passed and we had the opportunity to bring a Urbanity on in 2022. Most of those partners still stuck with us then. And we just said, “We’re going to shoot the lights out here for you guys,” and we could created these amazing events. We really celebrated our partners that helped support us from a content programming point of view. It’s really unique content. It was just diverse. It was classic of Urbanity. It had a bit of everything, but it was really still talking to the same demographic, which was the city shapers. There’s people that cared about the future, the people that worked in the built environment, people that worked in development, and it was on the Gold Coast. It was three days. It was heaps of fun.
People were exhausted by the time they got home, which is exactly what you want them to be. We got all the survey results back and it was the amount of people that said, the best conference I’ve ever been to, it was probably like 30, 40% of the feedback. So that was a real high watermark for us in terms of being able to overcome something that was challenging and then be able to deliver on it. Our awards, we’ve got 250 odd submissions that we get now for our awards program. It’s the largest independent property awards program in Australia, New Zealand. I’m really proud of the virtual events that we continue to do, they’re so well attended. They’re not going anywhere. They’re a great way to digest, bite size, factual information, and then doesn’t come at the expense of the experience that you deliver in person. So it’s a real mix. I mean, events are one of the pillars of what we do. They’re not going anywhere.

Anthony Denman:
No. And then we’ve got education. Okay, so professional development. Have you ever been a professor? Or an adjunct?

Adam Di Marco:
No, I’m not an academic person in that respect. I have been asked to speak at universities and those sorts of things where I’ve come in and waxed quite lyrical. But no, we are not really running a kind of an academic style of education. We’re very much an industry led, very practical style of education. You know you can still get CPD points with what we do, but if you want to learn about hybrid timber construction, you can go to a university or you can go to the engineer that did that building. So that’s where we focus on practical industry led learning from experts that are specialists, that have been engaged to do that work. That’s our distinction. We realize that people are time poor, so they’re bite sized, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, not 3 months, 6 months, 12 months. And we want them to be affordable and we want them to be accessible and we want them to be easy to consume.
So price points, we’re in the hundreds of dollars, not in the thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. They’re able to be watched on demand because they’re virtual. If you become a ten plus professional member, then you get unlimited access to every piece of virtual content we’ve ever done in the history as something like 500 hours worth of stuff. We want to create deep value for people and we want that to be just an absolute no-brainer. Like why wouldn’t I, if I’m passionate about this industry? There’s so much to learn and I can learn as much as I want.

Anthony Denman:
How do you find guests in regards to the practical learning process that you talk about?

Adam Di Marco:
We look for topics first and then we look for specialists and experts that sort of meet that topic. A lot of it it’s just all so close to it internally now that we’re like, “Hey, I was having a chat to this person and they’re talking about building with hybrid timber,” timber, concrete steel structures, and we’re like, “That’s cool. A lot of people are thinking about that.” And then so how do we do that? Well, let’s do it as case study led learning, because it’s one thing to go into if you want to be an engineer, then the engineering stuff is what you’d probably learn at the university. But the 65,000 people in our audience aren’t engineers. Well, some are, but not all of them. So what do they want to know? They want to know how it was done, not necessarily the mathematical calculations of how it works. It’s very practical. It’s very outcome driven. It’s a lot of case study and a lot of kind of peer-to-peer learning.

Anthony Denman:
So I just want to pivot back to Di Marco Group just very quickly because I love that you are an infinite learner, that you’ve got this kind of infinite curiosity, this fire that burns within you that can’t be put out. And it seems to me that a lot of what you do is really kind of born out of that curiosity and clearly you are learning. Like I said previously, it’s like talking to 108 year old, not that you look 108, of course, but…

Adam Di Marco:
I feel it sometimes.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I bet you do because you’ve just got so much knowledge there. I guess, I’m curious as to how that knowledge has helped you with Di Marco Group and being a developer. There’s a few questions there. I guess, that’s probably the first one. And then has this business, The Urban Developer, kind of opened doors for Di Marco Group that you could have never imagined that would’ve opened prior to embarking on this journey?

Adam Di Marco:
Second part I’ll do first, I’m very mindful that I don’t let what I’m doing with The Urban Developer sort of crossover into Di Marco Group and vice versa. There’s a very clear black line there between the two businesses. A couple of reasons for that. One is within the Di Marco business, I have investors in that, that aren’t involved in The Urban Developer. And in The Urban Developer business, we have some shareholders as well that aren’t involved in the Di Marco stuff. So it’s very important to me to make sure that there’s no bleeding and no crossover between the two in a way that’s not kind of like organic. But saying all of that, it’s inevitable that people connect the dots between the two businesses.
The Urban Developer has been a huge beneficiary of my knowledge and my experiences in the Di Marco property side of things. The Di Marco property side of things has been, I guess, a beneficiary to the extent of what I’ve learnt and what I’m getting exposed to through The Urban Developer, but I’d say to a far lesser extent. And then I think all up, it’s mutually beneficial. I don’t want there to be any confusion about it. Like I don’t want Di Marco to commercially benefit from The Urban Developer and vice versa. I just want to keep them very separate. What I do with Di Marco is a private investment, and yes, it bears my name. I’m not hiding it from anyone, but it’s not a company that’s directly related to The Urban Developer or vice versa.

Anthony Denman:
So we’re not going to see a story that says The Amersham, cubic meter is more important than…

Adam Di Marco:
No. And it’s funny because our team do such a good job trolling portals that one time I don’t sit in the daily editorial meetings every day anymore because there’s other meetings that sort of clash with it or whatever. But I was in this one meeting and one of the journals said, “I’ve seen this new development application lodged in the Brisbane CBD, and the entity is Perry Lane, JV Proprietary Limited.” Our editor knew about it, she knew it was my project, but the rest of the team and one of the journals said, “I’d like to do a company search to find out who the directors of that business are,” and I just start pissing myself and anyway…
But then there was an interesting question, which was, “Well, hang on. This is an important project for our audience. We should write about it.” And I was like, “Ooh, I don’t want editorially for us to then be promoting my projects on the Urban Developer.” But then a journalist is journalist saying, “Well, are you saying that you are telling us not to publish that now?” That would be shareholder influence on the editorial direction of the business. And I’m like, “Well, it’s basically just an amendment to an existing DA.” So it’s not newsworthy in that respect. But it was sort of tricky.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, I bet it was. Yes.

Adam Di Marco:
I was like, “Ooh God…”

Anthony Denman:
Editorial integrity. Oh my goodness. Having to deal with that hey.

Adam Di Marco:
And we’re members of the press council. We’ve got an editorial charter. We have some very clear rules around the extent to which I influence things from a day-to-day editorial perspective and what influence actually is. Is influence ideas and suggestions and learning? Or is it dictation that you have to write about this? And I don’t think I’ve-

Anthony Denman:
Or you can’t write about this.

Adam Di Marco:
Or you can’t write about this. I don’t think I’ve ever flexed that ever in the course of the business. Maybe the team might pull me up on something, but it’s not something that’s culturally, and why would I? They do such a good job. The last thing we want people to feel like is that this Rupert Murdoch wannabe to be sitting over the top of them dictating what it is that you want. That’s just not how media works these days. You need to empower and you need to empower people with knowledge and insight and wisdom and really get behind them as opposed to sit on top of them and crush them. That’s just… Mate, I’ll have so much turnover in the business if I do that. It’s not funny. And this is not the time to be churning through journos.
It’s hard enough to find a good journo, let alone finding a good journo that understands property. If you look at that as a Venn diagram, there’s like a sliver of crossover in that a property knowledge and journalism that good luck. There’s not that many people out there. So we have to educate and create almost like an internal academy of that. And the good thing about journos is good journos, they learn quick. And that’s something that is a trait of good journalism.

Anthony Denman:
No, I get that. It’s like trying to find a good account director who knows property, or a good engineer who can create good property CGI’s. I mean, they’re equally as difficult. A question about mothers. Why are mothers who live in poverty, the optimum candidates to loan money to?

Adam Di Marco:
Okay, so you’re obviously alluding to some work I do with a microfinance charity. I’m not a loan shark. So just to clarify that, look, I’ve been involved as an ambassador for Opportunity International, which is a microfinance fund. They have operations in the developing world, India, Indonesia, other places such as that whereby effectively, we’re a bank that makes loans to people in poverty. Small loans, typically about a 100 bucks. And those loans are used to start a small business. And then that business then enables the loan to be repaid with interest. And in doing so, sets up an income for the recipient of that loan. Now, across the entire portfolio, which includes millions of loan recipients, something like 98% of all those loan recipients are women, typically they’re mothers. And the way that they borrow those funds is through a co-guaranteeing arrangement.
So typically groups of four or six where they would each borrow a $100 and each of those recipients in the four or six group would then co-guarantee the other recipients of that so that if one was unable to pay, the others would pay that back. And that’s very aligned to cultural conditions as well in many parts of the world. And there’s no better borrower of money than a mother that’s trying to run her own business and pay for the education of her children to break the cycle of poverty. And that, in my mind, is such an amazing sustainable business. It’s a not-for-profit business, but it actually is a profit generating enterprise. And over time, those profits get reinvested and reinvested.
And as the loan book grows, it helps more people and it gives independence and autonomy and decision making to people. And we’ve been able through that loan book that’s basically created a network in the developing world and then enables other allied services to then plug on. So education, health, sanitation, insurances, lots of different products depending on which partner we work with in each place are then bolted onto that essential service. So it’s amazing. It’s such a cool, impactful, sustainable way of making a positive contribution in people’s lives. And so, I love it. It’s been a great joy of my life.

Anthony Denman:
Congratulations. Thank you very much for the amount of time you’ve given us today. I feel like I could talk to you all day and then some really the fountain of knowledge. Can I ask question around podcasts? So in your opinion, where do podcasts rank with you in the realm of professional development?

Adam Di Marco:
Well, it’s funny you asked that question. I’m stepping into our third series of podcasting this week, so we’re recording. I’m on the receiving end right now with you. But earlier this morning I had another interview of somebody, another developer. I love it. It’s such an interesting media format or platform. I really struggle, we did lots of different things, video, live events, virtual events, written content, eBooks, lots of different formats. And just as a consumer of them all, I think I’m the most engaged with the podcast because I’m usually consuming it.
And I might be different, but I’m pretty sure this is the way it is because I’ve read it in research. But you usually consume it when you’re either driving or in transit, exercising or walking somewhere or when you’re on your own. And I find I just get so deep into them when I listen to them, provided that they’re good and that I get lost in them and they’re amazing. And I learn so much. I learn an enormous amount out of a 30 or 40 minute podcast that blows my mind. And if they’re well put together, like the ones that you do, they’re just…

Anthony Denman:
Tell me about your new podcast. I think you calling it The Deal.

Adam Di Marco:
We are, yeah. So again, it comes back to what do I want as a consumer? And one of the things I found lacking out there, particularly in the podcast world, was a reasonably sophisticated professional conversation, a peer to peer conversation between either a couple of developers or a couple of property investors, developers, whatever it might be that talks about deals in a way where you’re talking the talk, you walking the walk, exactly what’s happening and we’re not sort of dumbing it down. So that’s the whole notion of the Deal. It’s about how do I frame it, it’s about unpacking Australia’s best property plays. It’s long form, so it’s sort of 40 to 60 minutes if not more. And we’re unpacking how a developer bought something, structures it, finances it, designs it, markets it, sells it, raises capital, external capital.
And some of the people that we’ve got on board are just fascinating individuals that again, think way outside the box and do things really differently. And I think particularly amongst my generation of people that work in property sub 40, there’s a very different sort of willingness and openness to share in a collegiate way. Their learnings are more so than the generation above us, which won’t be in that sort of 50 to 60 age group where you never want to give an inch, it’s a zero-sum game. You either win or lose. Most of the people that I’m sort of coming across, I call them peers, are generally quite happy to share and do so in a way that we’re not silly and give out all the secret sauce. But if there’s sharing that’s mutually beneficial, then we’ll do so. So I think this is what I’m tapping into and I can’t wait.
I’ve already recorded a couple of episodes and you talk about what gives you energy. That 45 to 60 minutes is when I did them in the last couple of days, gave me just a shitload of energy and it was fantastic. It was like I’m learning so much. It is just a waterfall of expertise that’s being distilled down. And I love that. And that’s what I love about the format. You can’t get that out of any other format. Even video, yes, you could a bit, but not in the same way because what’s actually really interesting if you don’t have it visually, the storytelling’s more important. So I’ll ask questions like, “Okay, people can’t see this site, describe it.” Bang, describe it so you can start to really tell a story around all of it.
So I’m pumped for that. We’ve got the first series, which has been recorded over the next couple of weeks that’ll then be published or released sort of in May, something like that. And then my colleague and our managing editor, Taryn, she’s got her own series, which is called Pipeline, and that’s more of a conversation style series where she’s just getting really interesting people from across the property industry and tapping into something that they’re doing. So her remit is a bit wider, it’s a bit more in the news cycle. Whereas mine’s very specific about particular deals and structuring and how that all works. So we’re pumped, we love the format.

Anthony Denman:
Awesome. Now, I’m really looking forward to listening to it myself. So we just access it via The Urban Developer website.

Adam Di Marco:
We’ll have a page on The Urban Developer and then we’ll obviously be on all of the usual platforms. It’s a commercial model for us as well. So we’ll be advertisers supported, got plenty of advertisers that are lining up to jump on board with that, particularly when they look at who we’ve got lined up and see where it goes with it. Again, it’s such a… I mean, it’s not a super new thing, but it’s a reasonably new media type or media format for us to really embrace and try and do it in our own way. And I think that’s something that we are always really cognisant of is that, sure, there’s lots of different ways of doing things, but how do we want to do it? What is the TUD way? What is the way that we want to design something?
And start at that first principles because then that gives us a purity of vision and enables us to develop a product which is uniquely us. Rather than being like, the New York Times does it that way, or Andrew does it that way. There’s all these different reference points that you can sort of draw off. But if you just think about it at first principles, for me, it was always like, I just want someone to unpack really good real estate deals and to do so without dumbing it down and to do so in a reasonably structured way, tackling these 12 areas in an open and transparent way.

Anthony Denman:
What is the TUD way?

Adam Di Marco:
It’s still an involving thing. We’ve got our mid-year retreat coming up and one of the things that we’ll be doing is refining what our values are as a company. We’ve got a statement that sort of defines where we’re going and what we do. It’s more like a mission statement, and that is we empower design led sustainable development that enables us to connect, inform, and inspire the community. That’s sort of our positioning statement as an organization. But now we’re breaking that down into, well what are those values and how do they then align to what we do editorially events, commercially, internally with our people, all of those sorts of things. So that’s the next body of work, but what are they? I think there’s just a couple of simple things like connecting the dots. So what The Urban Developer has been really good at is bringing things together.
So it’s connecting the dots of value? I don’t know whether it is. But it’s a star that we can pursue. I think things like win, win, win, where we always think about, well, what is the way that we can win, they can win and our audience can win? So that’s a unique kind of perspective that is unique to us. There’s plenty of different things that we can, and mostly, these are internal things that we work with all the time. And they’re usually coming out of my mouth, which is annoying, but it’s kind of important to be able to distill them down. I think at this stage of our evolution, we’ve got 20 staff and a lot of people that come on board don’t know. They don’t have that same embedded understanding as all of us do. So we need to be able to start to be able to document these things and be able to share them and pass them on.

Anthony Denman:
Fantastic. Well, look, I’m sure you’ll be doing plenty of documentation and sharing of ideas for many years to come, mate. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the podcast, so I really appreciate your time. Listen, if anybody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way they can go about doing that?

Adam Di Marco:
Yeah, probably LinkedIn is the best way. I mean, I check it. I have people contacting me all the time. Email can sometimes slip through to the slip through the cracks. There’s a few that come through on email and you’ll get me, you’ll find me. I’m not behind any paywalls or anything like that. So just reach out, Adam Di Marco, that’s where I am.

Anthony Denman:
Fantastic. Thanks, mate. I really appreciate it and hope to catch up with you in real life, maybe at one of your events sometime soon.

Adam Di Marco:
Please do. You’re always welcome at our events and if you ever in Brisbane, just let me know. We’re on James Street and we always love catching up for a coffee or a beer.

Anthony Denman:
Awesome. Thanks, Adam.

Adam Di Marco:
Thanks, mate.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, exploring their personal & professional stories whilst unearthing insights on how to create the most successful property brands possible.

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