An Australian startup founder shares 3 of the best mistakes he ever made

Finder co-founder Fred Schebesta.

Building your own company entails falling flat on your face countless times. That’s a given.

And if you’re not anticipating a few significant losses, you’re not ready for business. But when an unexpected crisis hits your team, it’s crucial to take from the “Eureka” moment that follows the loss; from losing in business comes the opportunity to perfect your growth strategy – so learn to heed those opportunities.

That’s my message for those new to the brutal startup game.

From founding a financial comparison site finder.com.au in 2006 to now being the second-largest in Australia, here are some of the most forefront moments I was pushed into the mud through my own mistakes, and the learnings that came from them.

1. Ranking #1 for search terms by being on too many websites

What I learned: Hard work can be the catalyst for dominating your market.

Back when finder.com.au began, we paid all of our attention to being visible in a Google search but we failed to focus on the quality of the websites we appeared on. I made maximising these opportunities a priority in my team, until a Google update included the ability to cross-reference content with relevant websites. Overnight, we lost a huge chunk of our traffic, and had to remove lots of links on the web, which caused long-term damage to our business.

This was one of the most significant business mistakes I’ve ever made, but the experience did prove one crucial lesson to our team: If we worked our asses off, we could win back our authority. Provided we stayed genuine to our brand, we could dominate our market and be the first source for people searching for answers.

2. Hiring good workers without understanding who they are

What I learned: The difference between good workers and your people.

I’ve hired and interviewed hundreds of people over the years as finder.com.au is the second startup I’ve built. Initially I focused on only hiring excellence and going for candidates who were apex at their profession, which is why I was confused at times when they weren’t happy and therefore were producing work they weren’t proud of. At times, this significantly brought down the team cadence, with minimal tangible signs that things weren’t right.

That’s when I learned the hard way that, although you should always focus on hiring excellence, they need to be “your people”. Perhaps it’s the traditional, hard-nosed institutional workplace style that gives them their edge, and they’re just not getting that vibe from your startup. Alternatively, you might be restricting their creative potential by way of your managerial style. The point is that excellent people are the worst hire if they’re not going to be happy in their environment.

3. Fueling new business ventures that completely collapsed

What I learned: Incubating your growth ideas and how to break them into the real world.

Launching a comparison site was a key decision in our team as it leaves the door open for additional growth possibilities.

The flipside to this is that, by extrapolating your money-making methods into new target markets, you could end up backing the losing team – and that’s exactly what happened numerous times in our early days.

For example, proper market analysis when launching our mobile phone comparisons would have told us that there were other people out there with more efficient means of providing quality info, but instead we just jumped into the service on the assumption it would be valuable to consumers.

In summary

The key learning out of all this was that you need to develop a solid incubation strategy for your new business ideas, and it needs to be something that works across any business idea you could imagine. If you make some significant waves, you know you’ve come across a niche that people are thirsty for knowledge.

Fred Schebesta is the co-founder and director of finder.com.au, a website that helps Australians compare credit cards, savings accounts, home loans, personal loans, travel insurance, life insurance, shopping deals and more. Fred will be in attendance at the St George TEDx Sydney Fast Pitch this Thursday (21 May). You can find him on Twitter.

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