“Good choices, hard work and a bit of luck”: How David started his business

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David Mallett is a proud Ngarrindjeri man. He runs his own business Yanun Project Services, which specialises in project services in the defence and government industries. Yanun means ‘to communicate with others’ in Ngarrindjeri. David is also a mentor of young Indigenous people. He shares his story and top tips below.

What inspired you to start Yanun?

I’ve always been interested in the idea of owning and running my own business. I toyed around for many years with various business model ideas, but after serving in the military I eventually decided to go to uni to study project management with the hope to create a professional career path in the construction industry, an industry that excited me. Then I suppose it was the Indigenous Procurement Policy work the government has been developing and the sense of social commitment to improve the lives of First Nations people in our community, that gave me a new sense of encouragement and confidence to start Yanun.

I could see that Yanun had a differentiator. Private and public organisations are developing Reconciliation Action Plans and many government projects have Indigenous procurement targets; however, there simply aren’t the abundance of First Nations professionals or organisations that they can tap into within their supply chain.

I also had a sense of responsibility to help other Indigenous Australians development employment pathways. I really believe that economic prosperity is the number one change agent for improving the lives of my people in my community.

I didn’t come from privilege, but with some good choices, hard work and a bit of luck, I’ve found myself living the life I could only hope for as a kid. I am now trying to create the bridge between the two worlds, to support other indigenous youth to have that opportunity.

What would have made your journey easier, in terms of starting out in the business world?

Undertaking an MBA at the University of Adelaide was a really great platform for providing a base competency for running a business. Towards the end of the degree, when I was about to hang my shingle, the university also set me up with Jim Whalley (the then chief entrepreneur for South Australia) as a mentor, which has been absolutely invaluable.

But that said, it’s still been hard. I had a full-time contract secured on the submarine project, so having that revenue stream has been a god send… but growing the business has still been slow and hard. There was a moment about 12 months in where I became really disheartened. I really hadn’t converted many meaningful contracts at that stage but had had maybe a hundred of meetings with potential clients. I was told that once I had a critical mass of staff, I would be easier to contract, but it’s the old chicken and egg thing, I needed contracts to hire, but I understood that I would be easier to hire with more staff.

I think having one or more decent-sized contracts, either public or private, that I could have hired staff off the back of would have really helped.

The business is starting to get real momentum now and I can see how converting projects takes time.

I read that on average it can take seven meetings and 18 months of building a client relationship to convert anything meaningful and that is panning out to be my experience.

David’s top tips


  1. Find the confidence to back yourself. I know how daunting this can be, especially if you’re walking into a very white, established institution. But society is recognising more and more the importance of diversity and the importance of supporting Indigenous employment and development.
  2. Be reliable. Show up and put in. Don’t be late, don’t take days off unless you really need it. Work hard when you are there. Ideally, become the person that everyone wants on their team, because you are reliable, consistent and hardworking.

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