The one piece of advice that’s helped Founders most on their journey
Starting a business can be a huge and scary step. You can’t prepare for what’s coming! The Doomsayers believe the odds are stacked against you. There’s some truth in that. In the US one third will have failed after 2 years. Take it out 10 years and only a third will remain. In Australia, more than 60% close their doors within their first three years.
It can be lonely, you work crazy hours and feel like you have to solve everything yourself. You feel fear, doubt, anxiety, exhilaration, stress, achievement & excitement – often all in one day! So how do you navigate this rollercoaster & what can you do to increase your odds of success?
One thing is to learn from others – the chances are the solution to your challenges lie in someone else’s head. No-one else offers better advice than someone who’s been there and done that before.
I turned to eleven talented & successful Founders and entrepreneurs who took time out to answer one question; what’s the one piece of advice that’s helped you most on your journey?
1. The clarity of your Why has a direct impact on the quality of your decisions
“ I think the best piece of advice is to always come back to Why you are doing this. It’s not just for the money. Yes, money is important but investors have lots of options. If they have backed your idea they are there to see YOUR idea, your SOLUTION come into being.
Have a clear Why, revisit it every day and your pesky daily decisions become really simple”
Georgina McEnroe, Founder & CEO Shebah Women’s Ride Share
Knowing your ‘Why’ gets you through the challenging times and attracts people to work for you. It’s not empty posturing – any such talk is cheap. Your ‘Why’ is a deep, raw, unfiltered motivation that drives you and helps you make decisions easily and swiftly. Stephen Covey said’ motivation is a fire from within’. You want this thing so badly you’ll give it your all to succeed.
We all have different reasons. The right reasons are the ones that motivate you and it’s not about money. Money is the means to an end. It could be freedom to create your own destiny, to leave the world a better place, to have an impact, or the sheer challenge & excitement of building something and that sense of accomplishment it brings. And, to have a business that can generate the profits to achieve your goals.
One example is Shebah, the Australian all-female rideshare service. It’s ‘why’ is loud and clear- to support women providing safe transport and economic freedom. And as their Founder & CEO Georgina says, when you know your ‘why’ decisions become easy. “At Shebah, our purpose is simple: To help create a safer world for women and their children. This is why we do what we do.”
2. Love what you do
Passion will help drive you forward through the inevitable setbacks of small business, and your own energy will guide your team. Commit to continual learning and self development to nurture yourself.
Anneke van den Broek, CEO/Owner Rufus & Coco
Anneke van den Broek, the founder of Rufus & Coco, has built a globally successful pet care brand. She started the business back in 2008 driven by her passion for animals & making a difference for their wellbeing. She says you need to learn to thrive on the challenge. “Founding a business has been incredibly difficult – and has taught me so much about the value of persistence and resilience as a person. Business is like a game of snakes and ladders. One minute, you feel on the top and the next minute you find a snake that takes you back to where you were, and you wonder if it’s worth it”.
You need to be passionate about what you’re creating. We use the word passion quite freely. Putting romance to one side, in business, we take it to mean an intense conviction and enthusiasm – when you put your heart, soul, mind, everything you have, into making it possible. That energy is contagious and attracts people to your mission.
A business only fails when you stop trying and to make a start-up succeed there’s a sacrifice as well as glory. The origins of the word passion come from the Latin root ‘pati’, which means to suffer. So when we ask, what are we passionate about, we should ask; what are we prepared to suffer for? what will we fight for?
3. Build a customer-focused company
“ The one piece of advice would be to be 100% customer focused. Start by really understanding their problems and solving them and you will get paid by customers and won’t need investment to survive.”
Silvia Pfeiffer, Coviu –Video telehealth solutions
The simple secret of any great business is a relentless focus on the customer. CEO and co-founder Silvia Pfeiffer of the telehealth startup Coviu helps patients avoid the travel and time required to attend a GP clinic, as well as opening access to healthcare to people who couldn’t easily do so, such as those in rural areas or the elderly.
They are a great example of a business that has anticipated what people want – before they know they want it. As she says you need to fall in love with the problem you’re solving. So worry less about the product in your head or what the competitor’s already offering & focus on understanding your customers. In Coviu’s case the pandemic has seen a massive rise in telehealth and they, as a business, were ready. They had anticipated and built for a market need.
If more businesses took that advice on board maybe they wouldn’t make a product no one wants. And the truth is that’s the main reason why so many fail. Research by CB Insights who analyzed 101 Start-Up failures found “tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was the number one reason for failure in 42% of cases”.
“The best leaders I worked for knew how to find out and understand what their clients wanted and needed and worked to meet those needs in a way that no other product/service provided in the market could replicate”
Laura Racky, Director & Lawyer, and host of the All Founder Show, adds the importance of being different. “Finding ways to meet their needs in a way that others will struggle to replicate is critical… We do law differently. Strategy and understanding your business is our game.” Think about your answer to this question: Why should a customer choose you over all the other choices they have?
4. You don’t have a business until you’re cashflow positive
Focus on generating the cash first before spending it.” We grew organically from a budget of $10 per day in 2004 to $150m revenue before completing our first capital raise one year ago. A business is not a business until it is cash flow positive.
Tony Nash, CEO at Booktopia, the largest Australian owned online-only book retailer
Wise words from Tony Nash. Booktopia has been largely self-funded. Its revenue for the first half of the financial year rose 52 percent to $113 million, fuelled by the company’s strongest-ever sales through December 2020, with nearly 730,000 books sold. Impressive performance when you think they are up against giant behemoths like Amazon.
The truth is without cash you don’t have a business. Your survival and growth depend on cash flow. So plan out your cash management. What money have you got coming in? What’s going out? What’s the timing of each? Look at different scenarios, the worst case, and best case, and use those to model impact on cashflow and resources. Be proactive about getting money in, incentivizing early payments, performance payments, etc. You can’t afford to be shy about calling companies who don’t respect your payment terms either.
5. Learn to trust yourself
“ Trust in your intuition is some of the best advice I have ever received and it has never led me wrong. Also, surround yourself with the people who you want to become because your inner circle matters”
Caitlin Logue, Chief everything officer at 5280 Coffee Co .
Gut instinct! There are so many experts out there who tell you their way is the right way. And yet many founders I know say the most important thing is to trust yourself. You belong here so it’s important you back yourself. And if something doesn’t feel right, do your research before making the decision.
As someone who also loves coffee, I love Caitlin’s story, a coffee lifestyle brand based in Denver, Colorado, and created during the height of COVID-19. “I never thought of myself as someone to run a company” but her experience as a frustrated consumer led her to start a business because as she says’ I knew there had to be a better way to enjoy my favourite thing in the world whilst not harming the environment “
Caitlin also highlights how we all need help sometimes and the secret is to have an inner circle that has your best interests at heart. People who’ve walked the path you’re on where the benefit of their experience can save you a lot of time and stress.
6. Take control of your own Decisions
Take in but not act on all advice offered – to get the benefits of other’s experience and wisdom but in the end to make my own decisions and actions.
Emma Weston, CEO & Co Founder AgriDigital
Emma Weston, the founder & CEO of AgriDigital has transformed the end to end grain supply chain helping farmers, bulk handlers, and traders manage their grain from one easy to use digital platform. Her advice to make your own decisions having taken on board what others have to say is powerful.
In my experience, great leaders are great decision-makers. It’s not an easy skill. We jump to conclusions, let our own biases ( often unconscious) get in the way, or get paralyzed by fear of the unknown, or overwhelm – too much information, and the ‘what if I get it wrong’ game. One of the principles Jeff Bezos expounds on is the concept of making high-quality, high-velocity decisions . Involving other people with experience and perspective can help …but.
Emma’s advice highlights the need to take other’s people’s opinions and expertise into account in your decision making but to maintain control over the decision you take. The reality is that if you don’t make your own decisions someone else will make them for you. It’s the decisions you make – and the tradeoffs between risk & reward -that set you up for success. If you want to achieve your goals you need to be decisive and take charge. Get the help and advice you need to make the call – but remember it’s your call to make.
7. You want your team to challenge you
Surround yourself with a team that challenge your thinking and mentors you look up to and most importantly remember to listen and learn from them … unless your gut absolutely tells you you’re right then convince them with a powerful argument that stacks up!
Tania Taylor, Owner Wild Women on Top
Tania Taylor has been a partner at Wild Women on Top since 2017. The company inspires women to get outdoors and enjoy nature. They create life-changing hiking adventures for women, by women. She says that as a Founder ” you have a strong vision, product, brand, and culture all mapped out in your mind. But you can’t be an expert in every field “.
We know that the people you choose to have on your team can make or break your business. But as Tania identifies building a talented team isn’t merely about having the best person for the role. Yes, you want people who are passionate and committed to your vision but also you want people who’ll challenge you and think outside the box.
You don’t get that if everyone you hire looks, thinks, and acts in the same way. You want discussion and debate. You want people to think! Encourage people to express alternative points of view. Create situations where they have to argue their case, debate issues, challenge their biases and assumptions, and creatively work together to develop innovative future-forward solutions.
8. Prioritise speed of implementation
‘ Ready, fire, aim’ is the advice I took to heart more than 10 years ago. Get something out there, 80/20 it. Prioritize speed of implementation and making feedback loops faster over everything else. You can always refine later.
Peep Laja, CEO Wynter, CXL
Al Reis said back in the 1980’s ‘Strategy and timing are the Himalayas of marketing’. When I read Peep’s response I was reminded of this. In startups timing is everything. The 80/20 Rule is Gold. Focus on what matters the most. You don’t have the luxury of time – or money – to do everything and certainly not to get distracted by ‘getting it perfect’.
It’s not about sacrificing strategy for speed. The Pareto Principle means you identify the 20% of actions that will deliver you the 80% of results. It’s a matter of prioritizing the right things. You don’t need a long list! Identify the two or three that will make the most difference and focus on them. This way you achieve both impact and speed.
Peep Laja is a champion of evidence-based answers. Wynter helps Businesses find out which parts of their messaging resonate with their audience, and what parts turn people off.
His advice reminds us of the importance of intentional learning to get the feedback you need to refine and improve on what you’re doing. Customer feedback is critical to success. But back to the 80/20 rule be clear what feedback to prioritize. Then design ways to get that feedback as quickly as you can. Too slow and it can’t contribute to the decisions you need to make.
9 . Apply hyper-focus and think scale from day one
Hyper focus – tighten what you do, do less in chunks but do it really well, in order to get breakthrough and do more. And to think scale from day one. To design from day one how to create accessible knowledge, automation, self-service, & global.
Emma Lo Russo, CEO of Digivizer, gave her advice in three words” Vision, Focus, and Scale”. This philosophy has helped her lead Digivizer from start-up through to the size it is today with over 55 employees across the globe, now in 14 countries – and Australia’s leading digital analytics & activations company. Like other contributors, she highlights the importance of “having a super clear vision to stay motivated and provide your North Star “
With your vision clear you can get in your zone. A place where you can focus – intently – on the things that matter most. One chunk at a time to do a better job, and faster. When you have hyperfocus you eliminate distractions ( the curse of the next new shiny thing is beaten). All that matters is the task at hand. It’s a state of mind, you don’t give up. You find a flow that enables you to push further.
Think scale from day one. There’s a difference between growth and scale and scaling isn’t right for everyone. Some businesses are easier to scale than others too. But if you’re a business that wants to achieve exponential growth with a marginal increase in costs then the advice is to design for that from day one. It needs planning – systems, automation, people, culture, technology, processes, and of course funding.
10. Be REALLY comfortable with being uncomfortable
As a founder, you’re doing a job you’ve never done before to create a company that never existed before. It’s all new – not just for you, but for everyone involved. You’ve got to be really comfortable with figuring things out, asking for help, testing and experimenting, and being outside of your comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens.
Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO & Co-Founder at Casted
Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO at Casted, has walked her talk building the first and only podcast platform made for B2B marketers. Her mantra ‘ Boldly be Yourself” is an inspiration and will help you be more comfortable in handling the journey that lies ahead.
No-one likes being uncomfortable but it’s the reality of running your own business. You have to do things that you’ve not done before. Dealing with your fears, learning to take risks, make hard decisions, handling rejection and feedback ( that word”No”) – all the time operating way out of your comfort zone. Embrace failure as part of the journey. The art of entrepreneurship is learning to love operating in a place of uncertainty. In that place you’ll see how strong, resilient and creative you are.
A huge heartfelt thank you to all the founders and entrepreneurs who contributed. If you have a one-piece of advice you’d like to share please do, we’d love to hear from you too.