7 successful Australian female entrepreneurs on the biggest lessons they learned from starting a business

Jo Burston. Photo: supplied.

Australia is flush with budding entrepreneurs hungry for success, and there pushing the envelope are a large proportion of eager business-minded women.

Rare Birds founder and CEO, Jo Burston is one of them as well as being a mentor for other female Australian entrepreneurs seeking to drive innovation and disruption.

Passionate about helping others on their own journey to success, Burston has published a book, #IFSHECANICAN.

“Its primary aim is to show how the next generation of Australia’s business leaders have overcome challenges in their own businesses and to guide aspiring and established entrepreneurs on their business journeys,” she says.

Burston shared with Business Insider some of the advice she collected from other entrepreneurs for the book.

Here are the lessons these seven entrepreneurs learned from starting their own business.

Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva

“The most important thing for a startup is to solve a real problem. Find something that is truly significant. Find a problem faced by lots of people. With Canva, the problem was that creating engaging, professional looking graphic design was incredibly difficult unless you had expensive software and spent years studying.

“We stand out in this space because we are doing something completely different. We are disrupting the design industry.”

Alli Baker, co-founder and CEO of Workible

“When we did our first pitching event, we didn’t even know what a pitch was. There was a group of about 25 businesses pitching and the winner was going to be sent to Silicon Valley to develop their idea and attend a conference. My co-founder Fiona is the more experienced public speaker, so I nominated her to do our pitch, and she practised it all that afternoon.

“When she got up to do the pitch she forgot half of what she was going to say. She sat down next to me and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I just completely stuffed that up’. I told her not to worry about it and we couldn’t afford to go to Silicon Valley anyway. But then she won! The pitch was so short and succinct it set us apart. We were over the moon.”

Justine Flynn, co-founder and Director of Thankyou

“We’ve faced many challenges along the journey. For the first shipment, we arranged for a case to be sent to my co-founder Daniel’s parents’ garage – we were so excited, but as the guys pulled out the bottles, their faces just went blank. The label was scrunched up all the way around to the point where it was unreadable on about a third of the pallet.

“We had to call the distributor to tell him what happened and he was very upset. He had already sent it out Australia-wide and had to do a recall. Recalls ruin big brands and we weren’t even a big brand yet. Luckily for us he gave us a second chance. It was the rockiest year.”

ShanShan Wang, founder and CEO of Roam Technologies

“Sometimes it’s better to have things made locally than to try and have components produced overseas. I have a ton of examples of this in my business, like when we were engineering some components from China. It’s tough to communicate with them if you don’t know Chinese. It was relatively inexpensive to go down that route and although it’s worthwhile trying, I realised we were better off having it made locally by someone we knew, who could have it done within the day, instead of waiting two or three weeks for a part.

“You’ve also got to get that part shipped and through customs, and you don’t even know if it’s going to be right or not. Whereas the guys here in Australia know exactly what you’re on about, because they speak the same language and they have the same skills.”

Carrie Kwan, founder and CEO of DailyAddict.com.au

“Having a mentor is really important, because their experience can help you focus on the areas of your business that matter. In digital, there are so many opportunities and you may find yourself constantly pivoting or looking at different technologies to try and grow your business.

“It’s easy to lose focus, so it’s really important to have smart people around you, who have an unwavering belief in you and can offer you their support. These are the people who will help to keep you on track.”

Le Ho, owner and director of Capital City Waste Services

“Be honest and to treat your staff and customers with integrity. For me, my business is not all about monetary returns. What I get out at the end of the day is the satisfaction of happy customers and the privilege of working with such a great team. For me, it’s the challenge of continually growing my business. There are weekends when I walk past streets and I see the footprint of my bins out there and I’m really happy about what I’ve achieved.

“You can have a really good day one day and make lots of money and then the next day your expenses go out the door. It’s really important to always keep your costs in hand and always be aware of what they will be in the next one, two, three months, so you don’t have any unexpected expenses.”

Erika Geraerts, co-founder and director of Frank Body

“Carefully choose who you partner with for your business. You should know their bad side and you should have had an argument with them beforehand, so you know how they argue or how you argue together. Find someone who has strengths that you don’t have. There’s no point having three people with the same skills. You want to be able to hold each other up when you can’t hold yourself up.

“We will have people come to Willow & Blake with a million ideas and it’s one thing to talk about things, but another to go and do it. I have made a promise to myself that I’ll never say I’m going to do something unless I actually intend to do it. Otherwise, you throw around ideas, and if you say something and don’t accomplish it you internally let yourself down.”

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