On August 25th we had the honour of participating in LaunchVic’s inaugural Yeah Nah Summit. Speakers included our CEO, Jack Zhang, Cyan Ta’eed, founder of Envato, Paul Bassat of Seek and Square Peg Capital fame, Kate Morris, founder & CEO of Adore Beauty, and many other inspiring founders in the Victorian entrepreneurship scene.
It was an enlightening event with speakers sharing their successes and failures, and tips for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Do pick your “friends” wisely
Whether it’s founders, staff, or investors, make sure you’re getting the right people on board. Finding people with complementary skills and expertise is crucial, but so is ensuring everyone can work well together.
Paul Bassat founded Seek.com with his brother and a friend. Starting a business with a sibling could have a been a recipe for disaster but what made it work was the complementary skill sets of the three founders and the clear division of labour. Everyone in the company knew where responsibilities lay, thus avoiding potential yo-yoing and pointless back and forths to get buy-in from one, then the others for decisions.
The same applies to staff and investors. We’ve discussed good hiring practices for startups here, and listed tips on how to find the right investors. You want to pick staff who will help your company grow (that means they need to bring the right skills and attitude at the right time), and pick investors who are going to bring in funds as well as the expertise and network needed to take your business to the next level.
2. Don’t let borders stop you
Like many of the founders featured at the Summit, Abigail Forsyth founded Keep Cup in Melbourne but soon started exporting her products internationally. Reusable cups seemed like a fairly easy export given the dozens of other countries with strong coffee takeaway cultures. But with the brand’s identity built on sustainability, exporting cups from Australia raised a number of ethical issues.
The company therefore decided to produce Keep Cups sold in the UK on UK soil, even though it was more expensive than shipping them from Australia. The bet paid off: the move endeared the company to UK customers who were keen to purchase and support locally made products, and drove Keep Cup’s local success.
Scaling Software-as-a-Service platforms internationally is a different ballgame and comes with its own set of challenges. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it: Jack Zhang our CEO says once you’ve done the research and properly assessed the market opportunity, it’s all about communication and ensuring the various teams feel connected to the same overarching vision.
For more founder thoughts on scaling businesses internationally, check out this interview with Fred Schebesta of Finder.com.au from our Finspirational Series.
3. Do let your passion and vision shine through
Passion is one of the greatest tools an entrepreneur has at their disposal. From convincing early staff members to take the risk and join an unproven business, to getting clients and investors on board with the product, passion can go a very long way in getting a fledgling business off the ground.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff
If Paul Bassat had to do it again, he wouldn’t sweat the small stuff - as much.
Neither would Kate Morris, CEO of Adore Beauty. When she reached out to beauty brands 15+ years ago to feature them on her new ecommerce website, she received resounding no’s. Rather than letting despair set in, she changed tactics and went for smaller, local brands who were open to alternative distribution channels. These brands may no longer exist but they were her ticket to signing up many more - including brand names like Bloom and Clarins.
The point isn’t to get everything right the first time and release the perfect product; rather, it’s about getting something in working order out to the market as quickly as possible to receive valuable customer feedback and iterate.
Which leads us to our final point...
5. Do put customers at the heart of what you do
Without product-market fit, your company will inevitably fail. You want to release a product you’re proud of, but it has to match the expectations of the market. Many companies have experienced the woes that come with releasing genius products too soon (Google Wave anyone?) so it’s important to make sure you’re solving a problem that needs solving.
And keep in mind your ‘customers’ may not just be the people using your products. Abigail Forsyth highlighted that Keep Cup’s success was largely due to its ingenious design: its standard size and form. Keep Cups hold the same amount of liquid as a standard paper cup would and the lid is extremely easy to pop on and off. As a result, it fits seamlessly into both baristas’ and users’ lifestyles - cementing its success.