Entrepreneurs and industry leaders are flexing their skills and sharing their knowledge at Freelancer’s SydStart event in Sydney today.
Speaking at one of the workshops is Gary Elphick, founder and CEO of Disrupt. The Aussie startup launched last year on a platform which allowed customers to design and 3D print their own custom surfboards, but has rapidly expanded since to include other sports gear such as snowboards, cricket bats and paddleboards.
Elphick shared the valuable lessons he learned as a startup founder and what you need to know about accelerators as you start out on your own business journey.
In 2014, Disrupt was one of 11 startups to join the second intake of Telstra’s accelerator program muru-D, where entrepreneurs receive $40,000 in seed capital and six months of mentoring and development.
He admits many of tips they provided were a matter of “Do what I say and not what I do”, but says they were also important lessons that any budding business person can learn from.
Here the 10 things Elphick says startups need to know about an accelerator.
1. Strong start
Elphick explains that when you’re starting out with nothing you have the opportunity to put it all out there and try to secure the “big” conversations with important people early on.
He also suggests setting up formal arrangements such as founder’s contracts, where founders start by being paid a monthly salary. By doing so, he says, everyone stays motivate and keeps their eyes on the prize.
2. Support team
Disrupt is startup number three for Elphick “but it’s the first one we’ve gone for a big swing at,” he says.
He suggests creating a strong support network by bringing on mentors, via meeting people and using networks such as LinkedIn.
Setting up an advisory board and board of executives early is also important, Elphick says. “Be organised. Take minutes in meetings and set up a company register… because people will ask you for it [in the future].”
Also, “stop acting like a startup,” he says. “You won’t be taken seriously.”
3. Born global
“For us this is about having a really, really big vision,” Elphick says. “I’m sorry Amazing, we’re going to be better than you in e-commerce.”
“It needs to be a really big, lofty goal that is on a global scale,” he says, as it will inspire the people you want to hire and investors. “And you need to reassure yourself.”
Getting just one customer overseas, Elphick says, changes you from a large Australian company to small international company.
4. Laps, laps, laps
“For us that is customer feedback,” Elphick explains. “You’re one job as a CEO really is not never run out of money… learn as much as you can and get your product market fit without running out of money. And unless you get those laps in really quickly, you’re going to run out of money.”
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There’s always a struggle between trying to get international customers and staying focus, but if you can get really good at one thing, and really delivered a high quality service to a focused group then it will pay off.
“In the short term it brings your revenue potential down, but what it does mean is that you can really focus on making that person extremely happy,” Elphick says.
6. Hats aplenty
This is something I still struggle with,” he says. “Starting out you have to wear lots of hats on a daily basis. You have to be an accountant, you have to be a lawyer, a marketer… it’s pretty much you and your support team.
“I don’t really have an answer for it but know that it’s normal and we all have to go through it… I’ve learnt more in a year than I ever did (as a sports marketer).”
7. The long run
“The average exit time for a startup in the US is 7.2 years,” Elphick says. “On a daily basis, when you’re doing those laps and you don’t feel like you’re doing much just know that you’re building up so much IP (intellectual property) and learning so much that that by doing just one thing every day that moves the business forward, then you’ll be there.
“Celebrate the same wins… it’s a really long process to get there and just enjoy it.”
8. Cash is king
“Customers solves all issues,” Elphick says. If you’ve got revenue coming in the door then you don’t need to think about investors or funding.
“If you find someone that want to pay you for a product, then opinions are just that, they’re just opinions.
“Get your first small customers, then get your first corporate customer in,” he says. “Cash is key.”
He says the investment side of startup is sometimes over glamourised. “Only raise money when you have the need to… don’t just do it because you think it’s what you need to do. Customers are worth 10 times more than that,” he says.
9. One body, one mind
“Yes, you eat countless amounts of noodles and drink free beer… but look after your body and look after your mind,” he says. “It can takes its toll and if you don’t look after your body it will tell you. You won’t be able to achieve what you want to achieve, so set yourself some personal time.
“Also know that it’s OK not to be OK,” he emphasised. “It’s perfectly normal, we all feel the downs but surround yourself with good people… and look after yourself.”
10. The sum of us
“Whilst I’m up here telling you about our experience… it’s not about me, it’s not abut you and it’s not about all of our teams, but it is about the sum of us as a collective,” he says.
“In startup land we’re all helping each other out, everyone is getting together and share their learnings, so try and support that. Give before you get.”
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