Statement by our Director & Founder, Rukshan Fernando, as we celebrate 10 years of Ferndara.
“I was tempted to get up here and rattle off some jokes I’ve heard a thousand times at weddings, maybe even start with how I went to google first before figuring out what to say, which is a classic intro to the best of wedding speeches!
However, I thought it would be better to use this opportunity to reflect on the 10 year journey of Ferndara, as it is not every day we are in a setting such as this to celebrate a milestone moment this pivotal for a business.
And of course, all though we listen to hundreds of wedding speeches, this event is in fact not a wedding.
The story of Ferndara is one about the past, the present and the future. I will make statements; I will tell stories and most of all I will share with you our underlying vision that makes us who we are and ties all these statements and stories together.
Going back to where it all started 10 years ago, sitting with Chamika Bandara in my bedroom after having had a dance practice session or filming our latest lame short film, I can tell you that we were humble and never thought that this day would come when we would be celebrating 10 years in business.
However, I would be lying – we were idealistic, ambitious, brash and had no doubt we could and would be successful. This of course didn’t occur to us as clear as I’m alluding to now, it was just a symptom of our excitement and inexperience that led us down this path of overconfidence.
In hindsight though, this is exactly the kind of bravado that was needed to get Ferndara off the ground. Because if we were to have been realistic, if we had for a moment assessed all the risks involved with our endeavour, it may have never seen the light of day. Maybe it was just our worldview but back in 2009, but I don’t recall it being an acceptable profession or pursuit for two South Asian boys to start a photography company after their parents had immigrated over from Sri Lanka to Australia, worked very hard to put them through school and university with the hope of pursuing a professional career. Personally, at that time my parents especially found it very difficult to understand this newfound interest in photography vs my growing lack of interest in finishing my law degree.
So, the die was cast, we had started Ferndara and from that moment we were free falling into our new roles as photographers and very little did we understand, but as business owners.
Overnight we were managing directors, CEOs, creative directors, art directors, in fact whatever title we wanted to give ourselves we could be, it was like fantasia where nothing was impossible. We had nothing to show of course – no work, no money and no initial capital to begin with. But for all that was lacking, we had endless passion for what we were embarking on.
The first few years we were out there grinding away to get work. Our friendship circle was our greatest source of meaningful gigs, from birthday parties, night club events, concerts and personal photo projects, we cut our teeth learning our trade thanks to the support of our friends and families. We eventually worked our way up to engagements and small wedding functions, which of course led us down to the path we are on now.
The most important thing we focused on was building our portfolio, nothing else mattered because at the end of the day the work, our work, was what was going to allow us to build our business. I remember doing some events for nothing, doing more than we should for other events and doing weddings for a few hundred dollars. At the time it was what it was, we were prepared to prove ourselves and nothing else mattered.
During this time we would have our meetings, usually in my bedroom at my family home in Dandenong. We would plot how we can move forward, what we could do to become the best. In fact, I distinctly remember having the business card of what we had been told was the best wedding photographers in Australia pinned to a whiteboard with the goal of putting them out of business. Maybe a little drastic but like I said, we were idealistic and ambitious.
Slowly we were building momentum and within the first few years we moved out from our bedrooms and set up in a shared office on Lygon Street, Carlton. This was a defining moment for me personally, as I knew that it would be make or break from this moment on and was something that had to happen if we were seriously pursuing our goals.
Endless 24 hours working night and day, sleeping on floors, and living dollar to dollar – yes all this happened, but it was fun, I wouldn’t want to change any of it because that is what made me prepared for the challenges that inevitability were to come our way.
So, before I move onto the present I want to acknowledge the contribution made to Ferndara by all of those of the past. There are many who are no longer a part of our team, whether they were photographers, videographers and those within the management team, they all shaped our identify and for that I’m forever grateful.
I want to acknowledge Shevan Jayasingha who started with Ferndara a few years after our founding and was also involved in our management as a directing partner during his time with us. Today Shev is within his own right a successful photographer. I will always be very appreciative of his contribution to Ferndara during those early years.
And of course, I wouldn’t be able to have made it this far without Chamika Bandara who founded Ferndara with me. Although he has since moved onto pursue his own successful interests 3 years ago. His dedication and the memories we fondly shared during his time at Ferndara will always be remembered and appreciated by myself and our company.
I believe strongly in always respecting the contributions made by everyone who has in the past worked with Ferndara, because during the time they were here I know, I remember and I felt their support for the vision we strived for.
The present is of course today. But for me the present is 3 years ago, when I became the sole director of Ferndara. It never dawned on me that I would be at such a juncture, but there I was. The past 7 years had been like a whirlwind, so much had happened, so much had been achieved. Yet much of it, almost all of it was sitting in ruin. It was that ever elusive thing that I had never been able to pinpoint, that one thing I never understood. The thing which had been a constant part of Ferndara since we started, and a thing to this day remains our greatest challenge. Now you may be thinking what is this ever-elusive profound part of Ferndara? Well it isn’t the best of us, it is actually the worst of us, but within it lies the greatest opportunity to attain something far greater than we set out to do.
That thing is failure. We had failed so much, that it was no longer even something we identified with sometimes but instead It was something we felt always. It was the feeling of letting down the people around us and it constantly manifested itself in the words of our customers’ dissatisfaction with our service.
Gone were the idealistic, ambitious and invincible spirit of the past; reality had sunk in, this was the real business and we were knee-deep in trouble of our own doing.
See, it wasn’t our photography or videography work that was failing. The work was amazing, in fact we were doing a record number of weddings. Hundreds every year and demand was growing. Every year we improved our skills and got better at the art of what we did. So if the work was not failing, what was? It was the business itself, it had become a vessel without a direction. We had forgotten that underpinning everything we do, is a business. A business that had lost its way, had no structure and no support networks for all those that relied on it. These failures had for years slowly rotted away at our foundations in the background finally becoming our greatest weakness. The snowball effect from starting with blind passion and bravado had finally caught up to us, we were sinking in what we created.
From this I learnt my greatest lesson, which was that failure is a constant part of business and that success is sometimes momentary.
Let me explain! Many times we had overcome the greatest odds, from starting our business to dealing with changes in leadership to catastrophic mistakes we had made. In overcoming these types of hurdles we had unknowingly succeeded each time, but we never measured those successes. We have in fact gone throughout our business without recognising our success, so overtime we had only ever learnt to look at our faults and the world only ever saw our weaknesses.
It is the point between failure and success and what we do between those two states that was the most important part, this I identify as perseverance. It’s our willingness to fight to overcome the obstacles that lay before us, our ability to reach into the depths of our soul to see that although we have made a mistake the step of correcting it far outweighs its negative implications.
Our success was born out of ability to persevere, and this is what I had been made prepared for all these years working at Ferndara.
I have now meticulously for 3 years worked on improving our business. We have strategically overhauled the remnants of our failure and implemented the lessons learned from the past. From our interactions with our amazing customers, our internal management services and interactions with everyone that works within Ferndara, it has been the most rewarding part of my journey. I firmly believe we have gained more because of this, and the value that it brings to our business is immeasurable.
All of this was possible because of my greatest strength, my wife Rukshani Fernando. Shani has been instrumental in our business since the very beginning, but in the last 3 years she has been our X factor. From leaving her job in the corporate world to get on board at Ferndara during the most difficult time for me 3 years ago, the depth of gratitude I have, as does Ferndara, cannot be put into words. She overhauled our entire customer service experience, and I know speaking on behalf of many of our amazing customers they are very grateful for the work she does. Although, she has always had her opinion on what we do creatively and has always been involved in being one of our greatest critics! She has come into her own as a videographer over the past 3 years, I’m constantly amazed at the work she is doing – all self-taught, whether it be filming or editing, her talent is incredible. So, thank you Rukshani, you are the embodiment of perseverance at Ferndara.
Well here we are, 10 years. The future is now, and the future is everyone here. The future are our couples, of the past, today and tomorrow.
We have done thousands of weddings, all around Australia and the world. We work with cultures from every corner of the world, and have been privileged to share in their unique interpretations of love & marriage. We continue to grow and adapt to a fast-growing industry, and from humble beginnings with an idea in a bedroom we have turned ourselves into a multi-million dollar venture with a studio in North Melbourne.
It is fair to say that the next 10 years will bring even greater challenges, and I personally cannot wait to meet them, and meet them with the help of all of you in this room today.
I want to thank everyone that works tirelessly with Ferndara, the team here is what makes Ferndara so unique. I have always pushed the team, because I believe that is our difference. That is what we bring to the table in this industry that is different from many others.
Without your talent, skill, hard-work and dedication, we are not the same. I’m immensely proud of the people I work with, and I know they are the best at what they do. I tell couples all the time when they ask me about who is working at their wedding, I tell them they are the best, the most talented people – otherwise they would not be working at Ferndara. Our journey together may be short or it may be long, as you have heard many have come before you and gone on to do
amazing things! Regardless of that, the time we do work together I know everyone of you is dedicated to our vision.
To our beautiful couples that entrust us to capture their weddings, you are the reason we do what we do. For that brief moment in your life, we are invited in to document a part of your journey for eternity. We are forever grateful that you have placed your trust in us. Know that above anything else our core commitment is to you. We are always working on new ways to bring amazing experiences and ways of presenting your memories. We will always endeavour to be the best, so that your choice is the best. So, thank you again to the hundreds of couples each year that define Ferndara!
And finally, I said at the beginning that I pinned a business card of one of the best photographers in Australia that I wanted to put out of business. You might be wondering if they’re still in business? Well the truth is they are! See, I have a greater understanding of what it is like to aspire to be a leader within this industry and run a business, it’s all relative.
I will be happy to know that maybe out there is someone plotting a new business venture, and they have stuck a Ferndara business card on their whiteboard.
Thank you, and that’s it!”