5 successful Australian founders share their highs and lows of their startup journey

Photo: iStock

While every entrepreneur’s journey is different, most have to overcome obstacles and setbacks, but it’s through sharing these experiences that the community is able to learn and help one another.

Recently, LaunchVic’s summit Yeah Nah 2018 brought together the Victorian founder community to share the highs and lows of their startup journeys.

Speakers covered a range of topics including investment, raising capital, scaling a business overseas, marketing for small businesses, fostering company culture as well as what they would or would not do differently if they had their chance again, or their “Yeahs and Nahs”.

Here are the highs and lows these five successful founders shared:

Justin Dry, Co-founder and joint-CEO of Vinomofo

SuppliedJustin Dry

Yeah: Harness the power of visualisation.

“If you pretend you’re wearing a superhero cape, you walk differently. You kind of walk shoulders back and tall, and it helps,” he said.

That’s not where the self-belief stops; even when it came to more difficult moments in his startups, he motivated himself by imagining potential outcomes, negative and positive, while looking in the mirror.

He would imagine what his life would look like if he kept doing the wrong things and asked himself what that would look like over one, five and 15 years.

“If you do that in front of a mirror, you start to like, lean forward, and you start kind of start getting smaller, and there are tears in your eyes. It’s really powerful,” he said.

“But if you kind of reverse it and imagine you’re making the right decisions and start living the right way and imagine the outcomes over the next one, to five to 15 years, you find yourself standing up, and you start to get excited, and by the end of it, you’re like yeah I’m going to take on the world.”

Nah: Don’t hire without a plan.

“It’s a fine line between hiring to keep up with growth but slow enough to not make any stupid decisions. What we did, we just hired anyone and made a lot of dumb decisions,” he said.

“Even just one bad seed can change the dynamic and culture in the business, so it really is just an important thing to get right or at least deal with those bad decisions as early as you can.”

Justin’s advice on dealing with the tough conversations? “Do it and be brutally honest. So many things go wrong if you start changing the story.”

Rob Phillpot, Co-founder and Head of Product and Engineering at Aconex

SuppliedRobert Phillpot

Yeah: Embrace the chaos of being in a startup.

“I miss being a cowboy, and doing stupid shit, and the near misses, and the people, and the parties we had, and the crazy trips you’d do, and the room sharing,” he said.

“All that stuff goes away – and I wish I’d appreciated that more.”

Nah: Be careful about taking on debt.

Reflecting on what he would do differently, Phillpot said when his company had come close to collapse he wished he hadn’t taken on a loan.

“Just don’t do it. It’s awful. There are all these reasons why it sounds great, but it sets you up for an epic fail. You have a repayment to make at some point and it’s a cliff that’s looming,” he said.

The kicker is if you can’t pay it back, the moment it’s due you become insolvent. It’s something that can happen so quickly. It nearly happened to us.”

Nathan Chan, CEO of Foundr Magazine

SuppliedNathan Chan

Yeah: Closely monitor how competitors work, particularly on social media.

“One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that success leaves clues,” he said.

“It’s not about copying them he says, but more like skipping the learning curve. If they have a strategy that works, and you sow the same seeds, then you’ll reap the same rewards.

“Look at what’s getting the most engagement. Look at what is getting the most likes and the most comments and then you can kind of innovate on that.”

Nah: Don’t ask people to be your mentor.

“It comes across as really selfish because it’s basically asking how I can take up your time,” he said.

“When fishing for a mentor. Mentors, like references, should be 100% dedicated to helping you out.

“If you get the vibe that they feel pressured or don’t really want to be in the position you’re putting them in, let them out.”

Shahirah Gardner, Co-founder of Finch

SuppliedShahirah Gardner

Yeah: Understand how long it takes to raise capital and to be disciplined about the process.

“The average capital raise takes three months or more, but we did it in six-weeks because we were very, very clear about our criteria of what we wanted in an investor and we had all the ingredients of a compelling story and a compelling opportunity before we reached out,” she said.

“For us, it was very methodical, we did our research and identified eight VC groups that we felt met our criteria and before we reached out.”

Nah: Be wary of burning out.

After experiencing “burnout,” Gardner spoke about making yourself a priority and highlighted the changes she has made after realising she had a hit a low point, saying “it takes courage to slow down”.

She added mediation to her routine and set up an alert at 7pm every night, telling her to “GO HOME” and said that by going home on time every night, she feels like “there’s a part of me that exists outside of the office.”

“I’m very lucky actually to be doing what I love doing, and it’s important to remind yourself of the world around you,” she said.

Darrell Wade, Co-founder of Intrepid Travel

SuppliedDarrell Wade

Yeah: Build your values into your business.

For Wade and his co-founder this meant including three-months of leave each year that allows them to retain work-life balance and maintain their passion their passion for travel, the reason they started their business in the first place.

“There is no doubt as a founder that you will be working hard, and you should be working hard, but at the end of the day we have a life and life is about work-life balance,” said Wade.

Nah: Don’t forget about growing capital.

Wade said his biggest mistake when starting Intrepid Travel was not pushing for capital, admitting: “We were terrible. We never got capital”.

“For the first four years, our growth was severely inhibited because we just did not have enough money in the tank to do the things that would have accelerated the growth,” he said.

“I admit capital is tricky. So, I think you have to work through your business model and get that MVP and then try and get some capital to grow.”

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