'54-year-old startup' Tracks plunges into new sets with Surf Shacks, 24/7 TV channel

'54-year-old startup' Tracks plunges into new sets with Surf Shacks, 24/7 TV channel

Tracks editor-in-chief Luke Kennedy.

After the dumping waves of the pandemic nearly knocked out iconic Australian surf magazine Tracks with its travel industry-dependent advertising revenue that suddenly disappeared, the business was picked up by some mates from Bondi and management to turn the publication's fortunes around.

Fast forward three years later, amidst an epic archiving exercise that has so far digitised issues from 1970 to 2000, the world's most prolific surf magazine founded in Sydney's Northern Beaches has revamped its website, built a solid social media following, and found new breaks via partnerships with short-stay accommodation and TV production partners.

Tracks CEO Peter Strain tells Business News Australia the company could have "tapped a couple of whales on the shoulder and that'd be the end of it" for funding, but instead the community-focused brand is reaching out to the crowd to raise between $3-5 million to deliver on its ambitions.

"We see crowdfunding as bringing on a couple of thousand ambassadors for the brand," he says. 

If successful, the raise on Birchal would be the largest in 2024 to date, ranking alongside just three companies that achieved crowd-sourced funding (CSF) equity raises in that range on the platform last year. 

Historical photo in Indonesia of Alby Falzon, who co-founded Tracks in 1970 with David Elfick and John Witzig.
Historical photo in Indonesia of Alby Falzon, who co-founded Tracks in 1970 with David Elfick and John Witzig.

 

"We have a massive fan base throughout Australia and various other parts of the world. This gives people who have loved Tracks for more than 50 years the opportunity to own it," says Strain.

"It was described to me recently as a '54-year-old startup'. Everybody knows what it is, yet it's a startup business and that's how we've always looked at it."

Strain grew up with the magazine but his journey as an owner began in 2021 after seeing that Next Media wanted to sell it.

He met with the CEO of Next Media and then ran the scenario of a buyout by two friends David Mulham and Greg Cooper, just to make sure they didn't think he was "mad" to consider buying Tracks.

"Both of them said, 'not only are you mad, but can I have a piece of the action'," he says.

"Then out of the management group of Tracks, which was pretty small, two of them (Luke Kennedy and Damian Martin), wanted to come in as well. I thought having management invested as well was a terrific idea.

"Tracks had not produced a regular magazine for 12 months. It produced an annual mag, but 12 months it had not produced a regular magazine, COVID had pretty much killed it."

Tracks CEO Peter Strain.
Tracks CEO Peter Strain.

Horizons not yet defeated

A combination of the drying up of travel industry advertiser funding and its small size meant Next Media wanted to offload the publication. Then the new owners had to paddle out past the breakers.

"When we dived in we knew we weren’t just buying a magazine - we were buying an iconic Australian brand," Strain explains.

"In the back of our minds it was always about innovation, and about building and diversifying a brand, which otherwise for 15 years had sort of hidden its attraction in the pages of a magazine and done pretty well nothing else.

"It was ripe for the takeover, it was ripe for the building of businesses around it."

For starters, that was at a minimum getting into apparel as "you couldn't even buy Tracks T-shirt", but Strain says there weren't any defined pathways apart from that and embarking on the archiving job.

"It was also obvious that we needed to move into moving pictures. Magazines are one thing, but the world is going towards moving pictures so we needed to as well," he says.

"We were approached by a company called Perpetual Entertainment which is a production studio based in Stanmore and in the United States and New Zealand.

"They wanted to work with us, we chatted for a while, and then after a year or so went by they wanted to invest, so they came in as our investment partners. They will now be responsible for creating the Tracks production house where we'll produce our own content."

Award-winning Perpetual is one of Australia’s most successful production houses that has been behind such shows as Body Hack with Todd Sampson on Network Ten, Border Security on Network Seven, a Shane Warne documentary on Amazon Prime Video and countless more since it was founded in 2005.

Steph Gilmore on the cover of Tracks.
Steph Gilmore on the cover of Tracks.

 

Tracks have partnered up with Greg Quail and his team at Perpetual to create a unique 24/7 channel to be available on all devices consisting of non-stop surf, snow, skate, music and lifestyle content.

An early breakthrough for Tracks after the new owners took over was striking a deal with Australian accommodation company Alloggio to develop an Airbnb-style platform tailored for surfers called Tracks Shacks.

Set for launch in the third quarter of 2024, there are now around 2,000 properties on the platform, and the goal is to take that number of ‘surfing relevant’ acquired managed homes on the platform to 15,000 by 2029.

Alloggio is currently in the process of acquiring holiday home management companies in perfectly located regions scattered around the country, and it is expected the total number of self-managed holiday homes listed on Tracks Shacks is expected to be more than 100,000 by that time. 

Surf's up for travel-tainment

Tracks has also devised a way to combine both these diversification initiatives, putting the word out to find three keen surfers who will travel around the country reviewing Australia's best surf spots for a reality travel TV show Wanderlust, while staying in the Tracks Shacks.

"We’ll foot the bill for pretty much everything as you travel up and down the coast attending major surfing events and music festivals, eat and drink at the best pubs and great local restaurants and capture everything in between," says Tracks editor-in-chief, Luke Kennedy.

"The content you film will be shared across all social media platforms as well as creating travel guides of the best places to surf, stay, eat and drink."

Since its launch the publication has become the world’s most prolifically published surf magazine, surpassing USA’s ‘Surfer Magazine’ with well over 600 issues. It is also Australia’s second-longest published magazine, trailling behind Australian Women's Weekly.

 

Tracks also played a pivotal role in shaping global surf culture by pioneering brands like Rip Curl, Billabong, and Quiksilver, putting them firmly on the map.

"Questioning societal norms is as relevant today for Gen Z youth as it was for surfers living on the fringes of society back in October 1970 when Tracks first appeared in newsagents," says Strain.

"That’s our magazine’s DNA. The Vietnam War polarised society and dropping out of society and surfing was seen as the ultimate ‘F You’ to mainstream Australia.

"Today, kids don’t want to listen to boomer bosses telling them how to live their lives – they want to surf, and our new moving pictures platform and the content filmed on the Tracks Wanderlust Bus will show exactly that."

The 'startup' has also teamed up with the new innovative travel company Exceptional Alien to create an immersive experience for readers called Exceptional Tracks.

"Each surfer featured on the cover is invited to share their ‘Exceptional tracks’ of personal tips and recommendations for the location where the cover was photographed – from food and drink, enjoying nature, places to stay, spots to hang with friends and more," adds Strain.

"The two companies have great synergy and a love of travel and the ocean. We are planning to do a lot of exciting things together down the track."

Tracks CEO claims fundraise built on solid business grounding

Strain tells Business News Australia the partnership model means Tracks is not as capital expenditure-heavy as some early stage ventures that raise money via crowdsourced equity, and he is conscious that some other beloved brands have turned to this capital raising model and failed.

One of the most emblematic examples of these collapses in recent times is Gold Coast-based Black Hops Brewing, while another was the Sydney-based helmet brand Forcite which was sold to Go-Pro with most CSF investors losing money while preferential shareholders didn't. 

"We take any investment incredibly seriously. It's one thing to play with your own money, and another to play with other people's money," says Strain. 

"We've built a team from three or four to some incredible consultants that are now part of our team, and we have about 10 of them. They know the brand backwards, they’re extremely enthusiastic about where we're going.

"It's not like we're just setting up a television studio because it sounds like a good idea. No, Perpetual Entertainment has been in business for 30 years and they're doing that for us.

"We have the largest short term accommodation provider in Australia as our partners, so we've got a really strong business base."

He admits that the company's balance sheet is not great yet, but it's getting better every year with significant growth across a range of performance metrics.

"We've invested some good money to build the business, and in the first six months of this financial year revenue doubled," he says.

"Instagram numbers and Facebook numbers get remarkably better every year. I think now we’re in a really good place to start launching the businesses we’ve been talking about for two or three years.

"That will allow us to do everything I’ve spoken about, and will give us probably a 24-month runway to get those businesses up and profitable because that’s not going to happen immediately. That’ll give us breathing space to do what we want to do."

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