Apparition Media · Tyson Hunter

Tyson created a unique business with his mates Hamish & Tristan, hand painting murals all over Australia.

April 8, 2022
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Table of contents

  • Apparition Media
  • Founders - Tyson Hunter, Hamish McBride, Tristan Minter
  • Offices in Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane
  • Started in 2013
  • 3 founders & 30 employee

Tyson, what's your backstory?

I grew up in Albury, Wodonga. After graduating from high school, I went to Monash University, where I studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Journalism and Criminology, graduating in 2009. I then dabbled in Business Development and published my first book called "Coffee Encounters." Then I went on to found Apparition Media with two of my mates.

Since then, I also completed a Professional Program in Writing for Television at UCLA in 2021 and started writing my second book, my first children's book.

Tell us what your company does?

Apparition Media is an Out Of Home Advertising agency specialising in hand-painted murals. These murals celebrate the tradition of old school signwriting whilst bringing them into the 'new age.

Murals allow consumers to engage with the advertisement and not just pass it by.

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea for Apparition Media came to me when I was driving home one night through a sus area in Melbourne. I saw an advertisement on the side of an old, run-down milk bar. The sign was falling off the wall and was half-covered by a tree. All I could think was, who would even advertise there? When I got closer, I realised it was an advertisement for the Dark Knight Rises. Being a massive Batman fan, it suddenly made sense -  I just wished it was a mural.

I went home and told my then housemate and now business partner, Tristan Minter, about the idea over a beer. We pretended to watch TV as we both sipped on our VB tinnies. Both minds fixated on the possibility of what Apparition Media could be. After an hour or so of silence, Tristan turned to me and said, "I think that's it," and at that moment, Apparition was born. 

We came up with the name Apparition because of its meaning - "a remarkable or unexpected appearance of someone or something."

We didn't anticipate people's inability to pronounce, spell or understand the name. In hindsight, we likely would have called it something else, hahaha.

After coming up with the idea, we researched the out of home advertising and sign writing market on a global scale. We found a gap in the Australian market for hand-painted murals. The specific product we had in mind hadn't existed in Australia since the 1950s. 

In our research, we found a company called "Colossal Media" based out of Brooklyn, New York. They became the company on which we based Apparition Media off. Years later, we visited them in Brooklyn, and we now have implemented an artist share program with them. 

Once we had the idea, we needed the artist. I first met Hamish through a mutual friend. In our early 20s, our friendship mainly consisted of being inebriated at rock concerts and dirty festivals. Then one day, he rang me and said he was moving to Sydney. I had a spare room at this point, so he moved in. 

When I would come into Hamish's room, he would be painting the most insane photorealistic landscapes. They always stuck in my mind. 

When Tristan and I came up with our initial business idea, I contacted Hamish to get him onboard. I excitedly sent him a Facebook message with all the details. I checked it for 10 days straight, no response. He hadn't even seen it. Until one day, I awoke to a message:

"Hey mate, sorry, I've been living in a hippie commune painting romantic landscapes for Swedish backpackers… This idea is fucking awesome, stupidly difficult, but fucking awesome. I will work out how it's done. I'm in."

How did you go about building and launching the business?

I flew Hamish over to Melbourne three times over a couple of months to discuss business. We kept forgetting the first two times, entirely focussing on beers and catching up. Finally, on his third trip, Hamish came to us with a plan on how we could execute our concept.

Hamish developed the entire technique we use today (unfortunately, a trade secret). Essentially he utilised old school sign writer techniques and introduced them to modern technology. This allowed us to create murals on a larger scale and keep all the perspectives right.

Once we were convinced we could do it, we rented a dilapidated warehouse in Fitzroy with weeds growing out of the floor and no roof. We began fixing it up and called it our official head office. We went for the classy option for furniture and sat on milk crates and used planks of wood as our desks. It was a shithole, but it was our shithole.

From memory, it took us about 12 months to fully understand our product and what we were aiming to achieve. During this time, we painted murals on bars, pubs and restaurants to increase our cash flow while we were putting together our first sales kits. I have to mention that to create these sales kits, we all had to learn how to use Adobe from scratch.

I started researching potential clients and began cold calling them. I was surprised to learn that they didn't handle their advertising in-house. Every single one pointed me in the direction of a media buyer.

At this point, I'm thinking, "What the fuck is a media buyer?" So, I learned what a media buyer was and started reaching out to agencies. We had our first-ever meeting with H&M but didn't land the gig. Then we eventually booked our first campaign with one of the world's largest tech companies. We were on our way. We collected our materials, hired more staff, and geared up to create our first significant campaign until they pulled the pin 10 days from our start date.

We were completely broke at this stage, flat out of money, and Hamish had just flown to Canada for a wedding. Tristan and I decided we had no choice but to close our doors. There was no way Apparition could continue from here. We went out, drowned our sorrows. I couldn't bring myself to tell Hamish yet. That Monday morning that we were supposed to tell Hamish, I came into the office and saw I had an email from the agency we had our first meeting with. They had a Coca Cola brief for us to pitch and wanted me to come to Sydney that day for a meeting.

At that moment, in this broken-down warehouse in Fitzroy, Melbourne,  I was convinced that nothing would come of it. Still, I knew I had to go. If I didn't, I would regret it forever. I called my mum, begged her for $36, booked a one-way Jetstar flight to Sydney, and scheduled a meeting for 3:00 pm that day.

We ended up booking the campaign on the spot. I flew back to Melbourne, and we got to work. 1 month later, we painted  8 murals around Sydney and Melbourne, and from there, we never looked back.

How have you grown the business?

The business has steadily grown since its start. Coca Cola was probably our only and most vital lucky break. After Coca Cola, we worked for Nike, and then the advertising world began to notice us.

The Advertising game is a war of attrition. The only way to get 'lucky breaks' is to consistently put yourself out there and win campaigns based on your merit.

We believed in the product, the business, and how the industry responded to it was humbling. When we first started Apparition, we had a motto that we would continuously "pound the rock, " and eventually, it would break. The whole team worked relentlessly, booking meetings and campaigns round the clock. It took about 2 years to make a profit and 4 years to muster consistent work.

What's your biggest selling service?

Our most significant market is painting murals across Australia. On top of that, we have an in-house design service to help bring our client's concepts to life. We have recently begun branching out into more experiential media services such as posters and light projections.

What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?

Looking back on the process, it feels like there were so many mistakes. We came into the industry thinking we knew everything, but in reality, we knew nothing. Each campaign had its own unique set of struggles. We completely threw ourselves into the deep-end wholeheartedly. For me, it felt like a trial by fire.

Two critical instances stand out for me and would be our most significant learning curves. Firstly, we decided to partner with another out of home advertising provider to utilise their sites for campaigns. Once everything was agreed on, they backtracked and demanded extraordinary rates for their assets. This really highlighted for me how complex one-sided partnerships can be in business. It definitely taught us to be aware of others' agendas.

Secondly, when we began expanding and reaching real growth, we opened up an office in Sydney.

We won a campaign, and the advertiser wanted us to focus on a site in Newtown. A site that already had a street art mural on it. We were hesitant, but we received landlord approval and engaged with the artist who originally painted the works. We painted over the mural with the advert, and the world imploded around us.

The community backlash we received from that was unprecedented. It was national and even international news at the time. This incident taught us so much and informed us how to run a business. We now do not paint over any murals that aren't our own. We now have a better understanding of the emotional impact street art has on the community.

What digital tools do you use regularly?

Some tools we couldn't live without; the Google suite, Dropbox, Trello, Hootsuite, Adobe suite, Xero, T sheets and Facebook

What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?

I try not to read too much, especially when I am writing something myself. I find the tone of whatever I'm reading affects what I am writing, and I always tend to be writing something.

If I have to suggest one book that inspired me,  it would have to be The Damage Done by Warren Fellows. I read that when I was young, and it's truly a harrowing story. More recently, I loved Sapiens.

Any podcast/websites that help you run your business?

I just started listening to The Diary of a CEO. I'm probably about 6 episodes in so far, but I find it really interesting and relatable.

I also would highly recommend Dan Carlin Wrath of the Khan's. It's a fascinating recount of a little known pocket of history by an extraordinary group of people. Oh, and definitely My Dad Wrote a Porno.

What quotes do you live by?

Just before my Grandmother passed away, I asked her if she had any advice for me. She paused for a moment, looked out the window and then turned back to me. She said, "live life gently." This really stuck with me because it's something I have never been able to do. I am either all in or all out on any matter. There is no grey with me.

"Live life gently"

Another quote would have to be, "How I envy the naive when I am so ignorant." This is a line that I use to keep me in check, to not take things so seriously and understand that everyone in this world is just having a crack and giving it their best shot.

"How I envy the naive when I am so ignorant."

What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?

Honestly, this has never really been an issue for me. Not because I don't feel the pressure or unrelenting stress of business. But because I have perfected the art of not beating myself up too badly for my mistakes. Or praising myself too highly for the successes I've had.

I've never taken myself too seriously, and at the end of the day, we paint pretty pictures on walls - it is not life or death stuff, nor is it world-changing.

I love the game of business; it is my hobby, sport, passion, and job - I am ruthlessly competitive by nature and enjoy healthy conflict. I perform better under pressure and constantly keep myself busy. In saying that, I do believe it is vital to take care of yourself - Eat well, work out blah blah blah.

Oh, and I  have my two-year-old crackhead Boston Terrier, Bear. He gets me out of the house regularly and has me constantly bemused. It's hard to be too stressed around him.

In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?

"Incredibly rewarding but fucking hard."

What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?

Don't take yourself too seriously. Things are inevitably going to go wrong in business. That's just the nature of it, you will make mistakes, but all will be okay.

You can only make the best decision with the information you have at hand -  so get the information, make the decision, and if it doesn't work out, understand why and move on.

Where can people find out more about your business?

You can find out more about our business through our website or through our Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin!

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