Home Startup & Entrepreneurship Vanessa Cullen, 2010 Anthill 30under30 Winner

Vanessa Cullen, 2010 Anthill 30under30 Winner

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What is 30under30?

30under30 is an Anthill initiative that was launched in early 2008 to encourage and promote entrepreneurship among young Australians. Each year, we invite our readers to nominate young Australian entrepreneurs deserving of recognition for their outstanding entrepreneurial endeavours. More.

Vanessa Cullen, NSW (b. 1981)

Name: Vanessa Cullen
Age: 29 (Born: June 1981)
Gender: Female
State: NSW

It’s not easily being a woman in Australia’s building industry. It’s not necessarily an advantage to be young either, as many a potential client might assume you’re callow and spook easily.

Vanessa Cullen has vaporised these obstacles. As the sole owner of Forward Thinking Design, a seven-year-old interior architecture firm, she delivers a “fresh and creative Gen Y” approach to her vision of how a client’s office can look and function.

Cullen is one of three 2010 30under30 honorees who received the same honor in 2009. So what has happened with this Western Sydney businesswoman in the past year? Only this:

  • In September, Forward Thinking Design received the Excellence in Customer Service award in the Suncorp Western Sydney Business Excellence competition.
  • Cullen added staff, which played a big role in 1) tripling revenue since April and 2) allowing her to take off at least every second weekend.
  • In spring, Forward Thinking Design incorporated.
  • Cullen recently graduated to a blue belt in a Japanese form of mixed martial arts.

The customer-service award was especially gratifying for Cullen, who puts on a strong emphasis on ethical practices. She says she left a secure job years ago because her employer was playing fast and loose with intellectual property. She figured the only way to could guarantee her career followed her ethical compass was if she was the boss.

Cullen says Forward Thinking is successful because “I dare to be different. I’ve been a new business owner, just like my clients, and so I service them from the standpoint of acute understanding, honesty and empathy.”

Forward Thinking has forged alliances with 10 shopfitting companies, many of them well-established with more with 20 years in the industry. Cullen says she builds buzz by “infiltrating the professional bodies of aligned industries and then spreading the word so well that members then approach us by the dozens, with new leads and opportunities to build strategic alliances for mutual benefit.”

Put more simply, she “tells anyone who will listen how awesome we are.”

Vanessa Cullen uses this little fable to inspires her:

As the old man walked down the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea.

Catching up to the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.

“But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish,” the old man said. “How can your effort make any difference?”

The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and threw it safely into the waves. “It makes a big difference to this one,” he said.

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To check out the full list of Anthill’s 30under30 winners, click here.

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