As the co-founder of Sydney-based creative agency and social marketing firm Mentored Media, Matt Purcell is well versed in building people up and putting others in the best light.
But having suffered from bullying as a child, the serial entrepreneur also knows what it means to be knocked down, and the impact such experiences can have on young people in their formative years.
In his professional life Purcell has run successful campaigns for some of Australia's and the world's most recognisable brands, and interviewed a who's who of the business world on his podcast, but a side venture takes an entirely different tack by teaching schoolchildren verbal self defence tactics.
With a goal to impact one million Australian students, Social Kung Fu shows kids how to beat back bullies with words - not fists.
Musician, music school owner and wedding celebrant are just a few of the previous occupations Matt Purcell keeps in his "Swiss army knife" of life experience, although it was his podcast that propelled him to social media fame and set the foundations for the flourishing business Mentored Media.
In The Examined Life with Matt Purcell podcast he interviewed well-known Australian personalities including Mark Bouris, Janine Allis and Osher Günsberg about topics like leadership, spirituality, mental health, relationships and more, ultimately leading him to set up Mentored Media in 2019 as a creative agency for entrepreneurs and corporations.
Purcell co-founded Mentored Media - soon to be renamed as KYU Media - with Mark Bouris-backed entity Mentored Platform, but Bouris has since exited the business.
Since then the agency has gone on to run campaigns for the likes of Crowne Plaza, American Express, Land Rover, Sony, The Entourage, Westfield and the Wallabies, manage personal branding for pro surfer Layne Beachley, and provide media training, podcast production and social media strategy services for its variety of clients.
Based on past moments when he was a different kind of entrepreneur to different people, Purcell is now averse to taking on too many projects at once and losing focus. But it is with a particularly personal passion that he embarked on the project Social Kung Fu as an outlet for giving back to the community and arming students with the confidence they need to thrive.
Having changed schools when he was in primary-level education, Purcell became the target of some older students. He was used as a “human soccer ball”; kicked, punched, called racist names and even thrown into bins.
Feeling “completely like a piece of rubbish”, he eventually involved his parents and school authorities, which put a stop to the violence.
“But the words never stopped,” Purcell told Business News Australia.
“The only framework I had was to punch or kick back - that’s all I was taught.”
After the bullying incident, his dad enrolled him in martial arts programs - something that undeniably taught him many lessons on focus, mindfulness and discipline, but it also meant he learned how to hit back.
“If someone called me a name and I just smashed them, I’ve just matched words with fists,” he said.
“I don’t agree with that notion.”
Social Kung Fu, founded in 2021 by the Sydney-based entrepreneur, aims to give kids another maneuver in their repertoire beyond kicks and punches. Offering both virtual and in-person workshops, as well as a course for school leaders called ‘Defenders’, the program empowers young people with verbal defence training to deal with high-pressure situations and has worked with around 100 schools to date.
The company is also set to partner with the University of Sydney this year to have the programs peer-reviewed to assess their efficacy.
“What we need is a verbal martial art. We need something like a verbal block, a verbal kick or a verbal grapple,” he said.
“What research has shown is the most common form of abuse is not kicks or punches - and God forbid anyone has to go through that - but really it’s verbal abuse. It’s still the most prominent form of bullying.”
Students that take part in Social Kung Fu work through a nine-module program where they go from being a ‘white belt’ all the way through to a ‘black belt’. Teachers facilitate the program and Purcell teaches the courses via a prerecorded video unless schools take up the in-person option.
“Our aim is to impact one million students in Australia,” he said.
For most entrepreneurs, running one business is enough, but shooting for the stars with multiple ventures comes as second nature for Purcell, once a successful musician in his own right having shared the stage with artists like Daryl Braithwaite, Jimmy Barnes and Thirsty Merc.
He also counts music school owner as a past career, having previously run The Green Room - a “little music school which turned into a big music school which turned into three campuses”.
Wedding celebrant is another past life for Purcell, who acknowledges that he used to change ‘costumes’ regularly leading him to feel spread thin.
“If you’d seen me in my early 20s or late teens you would’ve been really confused,” he said.
“I can comedically and honestly say that my entrepreneurial journey started as a Swiss army knife or a general store, offering several things as the same person.
“People would have known me for one of the several things I was doing, and then it was like I was changing costumes and promoting something different every day.”
It took until he was about 22 to realise he needed to focus, after experiencing the “scary realisation that if I changed nothing I would be 50 years old and I would still be this general store, trying to sell everything I was doing”.
This led to some self-reflection on the part of the entrepreneur who sat down and asked himself a series of ‘difficult questions’.
“These questions were: ‘Is what I’m doing sustainable?’, ‘Is it scalable beyond me?’, ‘What pays the most?’, ‘What do I enjoy the most?’, ‘Is it a rising tide?’, ‘What’s my exit strategy?’,” he said.
“I realised a lot of what I was doing wasn’t lining up and I needed clarity quickly.”
For Purcell, clarity came with the realisation that he enjoyed working with people and helping people, demonstrated with both of his current ventures Mentored Media and Social Kung Fu.
“I enjoy working with people and the actual brand of the person,” he said.
“What we do for them is we are influencing what part of the story people get to see, which affects how people who want to keep following them or go to their shows or buy their things continue the relationship.
“We build relevance and credibility - you can be relevant but not be credible, and you can be credible but not relevant at all. If you want your pulse to continue to beat you need to remain relevant. Reinventing yourself is to align yourself with ‘what is this thing that I'm going to use this credibility attached to’.”
Part of this formula, and what Mentored Media helps clients to achieve, is helping them curate an image to achieve what an entrepreneur needs to present to the world.
“Let me give you an example. When you go for a job interview, on your resume do you include everything in your career on it? No. You need to put yourself forward in the best light possible that’s relevant for the job you want,” he explained.
“That curation, that’s putting forward to the world what you want people to judge you for. That’s important because that’s how we should be treating our brands.”
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.