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Advice for start-up founders

Vision, Values, Belief - getting the fundamentals right!

Start-up founders and entrepreneurs are often portrayed as enjoying lavish and excessive lifestyles and recent fallen angels are testament to this. However, as someone who has started a company from nothing I can tell you that you need to keep your head down. It will take extreme hard work, plenty of self-belief and the backing of genuine supporters. Apply all of this in the right amounts and the rewards could be beyond your wildest dreams. And I’m not talking about financial rewards but the pride in seeing something that you started and invested your time, heart and soul into grow and develop into something that is making a real difference.

So if you are thinking of launching your own venture, or you have already taken that leap, I have some advice that might help you on your journey.


Clarify your vision

You have to have a clear vision and purpose to be successful in business otherwise you will risk falling by the wayside in the early stages. You also need a strong sense of conviction or people won’t join you on your journey, including both employees and customers. Belief in yourself and your venture is vital and it's apparent to others when you walk into a room and begin talking.

When I started Talent our funding was limited but we had belief and purpose. It has always been a focus for me in terms of mapping out our journey whether short term or long term. Talent’s first logo was a spinning globe with an orbit track coming out of Australia. Even back then – from a home office in Perth, whilst survival was the key, we also knew where we wanted to go. But it’s more than that, vision is about finding and understanding, as Simon Sinek says, your ‘why’ and then building everything around it. Your purpose, your values and your vision should be clearly defined and something you keep front of mind every day.


Failure is part of success

No business has ever existed that got everything right. You will have failures and that’s a not a bad thing as long you take lessons away with you. How will you learn if you haven’t fallen and figured out what you did wrong so that you can fix it? Treat each failure as a way to learn and get better and don’t let it get to you – keep getting up and keep going. However it is important to know when to reassess your model and change focus.

Persistence is a great trait but make sure it doesn’t become mindless. For us at Talent this may have been reflected in our Asian excursions. We kept throwing funds into our expansion into places like Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong where there was never likely to be a great return for the nature of our business. As an Australian company it seemed to be the thing to do and we subscribed to the hype. Wrong! Those funds were always going to be better invested in innovation or places like the US and Germany where the potential returns for us are enormous. This is exactly what we have done.


Grow at the right speed but prepare for more

Businesses are not created overnight. Things will sometimes take longer than you expect, whether that’s finding the right team, building a strong customer base, raising funds, or making a profit. A lot of start-ups these days are focused on short-term quick growth, unrealistic valuations or immediate exits. If you are starting a business, my advice would be to spend time and resources getting your foundations right. Those who have patience, strong foundations and resilience are more likely to find success.

When we expanded to Sydney from Perth we made a decision to move HQ there and set up a back-office infrastructure that could handle a contracting business 20 times larger than we had at the time. It seemed a little crazy but I wanted to make sure we could handle the growth I was confident we would achieve. Sure enough, it happened and for many years we added 50 contractors a month which we absorbed without missing a beat. Many of that infrastructure team are still with us today.


Build a great team

The key to building a successful business is finding great people. This is everything! No one can do it alone and being able to build a strong team with the right dynamics, diversity and synergies is perhaps the greatest ability a leader can have. From my observations, many entrepreneurs and start-up founders focus too much on hiring people who are and similar to them in their thinking or will do what they’re told. You must be challenged whether you like it or not! There is often too much focus on breakneck growth, valuations and endless pivoting and not enough on building a true and lasting culture based on trust, respect, and long term value systems. Look at the person and personality first, and specific work skills second. Then hire people who will complement the existing team and yourself. Find complementary people who work well together. Make sure that the team feels ownership and is involved in the hiring process so there is buy-in. Also if you have a geographically dispersed business bring your people together regularly and get them on the same page. This was a challenge at Talent but also something we invested plenty of time and energy into. It's been well worth it!


Take advice but be selective

Tune in and get connected to the business community that’s relevant to you. There are a lot of people who have done it before and can give you great advice. But at the same time be selective about who you ask advice of and who you listen to. Too much of the wrong advice and ideas can choke your creativity and your beliefs. Feedback and advice are important when you are starting up or in the early stages of your business, but you need to be able to put the feedback in context. If you can identify a good mentor then do so. Remember advice can come from the unlikeliest of sources – even from within your business and often from young or junior staff. It is very tempting to gravitate to highly successful wealthy people in business or your field, but they can sometimes be disappointing and prone to dine out on their own stories rather than listening to yours. Your customers can also be a great source of advice – never be shy about asking them how you can do a better job

And finally don’t forget friends, family and loved ones. They know you better than anyone and are likely to have the best handle on your emotional capacity – a vital component for a successful entrepreneur.


Be brave and good luck!