IN GOOD COMPANY: 15 successful Australian entrepreneurs share the best advice they ever received

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Looking for some good advice? Here’s what these successful business leaders go by.
Photo: John Benson/ Flickr.

Intrinsically driven to innovate, find solutions, create new things and be the best, entrepreneurs are a special breed.

But being successful often relies on more than just motivation and ingenuity. Usually, behind a great business person is great advice.

Whether it be from a mentor, loved one, or educator, entrepreneurs often have wisdom to fall back on in times of need.

Business Insider recently reached out to 15 successful entrepreneurs about the best advice they’ve ever received. Here’s what they had to say.

David Rohrsheim, general manager of Australia and New Zealand at Uber.

“In order to become a genius, you must first risk being seen as a fool.”

Rohrsheim says: I learned that from my Stanford MBA strategy professor, Bill Barnett.

Most business ideas in the world are rather generic, and even being a category winner may not be life-changing. The truly crazy ideas are the ones that pay off, because by definition nobody else it doing it. But the crazy ideas are also the most likely to fail – and that’s when all your friends say “I told you so”. There’s always plenty of people in Australia who can tell you why your idea will fail.

Karen Stocks, managing director at Twitter Australia.

“Figure out what it is you stand for, go and stand up for it.”

In a career development session back in 2005, Russell Hewitt (the then CEO of Vodafone Australia) and I were discussing my next steps and mapping out advice on leadership. He told me: “Figure out what it is you stand for, go and stand up for it, and make sure people know you stood up for it”.

Naomi Simson, founder and CEO of Red Balloon.

“Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless”

At the start of the RedBalloon journey, Naomi learned this from Verne Harnish in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits book, and applied it to her business. Purpose; knowing your numbers; and rhythm. Naomi implemented many of the practices Verne preaches, one of which being famously known as the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of which has been celebrated at significant milestones at RedBalloon.

She says: The most successful business leaders have a clear vision and the disciplines (routines) to make it a reality.

Photo: Lisa Messenger/ The Collective.

Lisa Messenger, founder and CEO of The Messenger Group.

“Hire fast, fire slowly.”

Messenger says: When hiring, hire fast, fire slowly is my motto, and I am unapologetically probing when it comes to getting to know prospective new team members. This is because work culture is so important to be me, is the making and breaking of a company and also it might sound cheesy I really do see my team as a family, not just a series of cogs in a machine.

From memory it was Rhonda Brighton Hall who worked at Luxottica at the time [who gave me this advice].

Nicole McInnes, director of marketing ANZ for Pandora Radio.

“Face yourself.”

McInnes says: The best piece of advice I ever received was from my executive coach, I was explaining a situation where I felt I was more right than someone at work and had less ego and judgement and he said ‘Do you want to continue selling yourself these lines or do you want to face your own bullshit and sort this out!’ Luckily I chose the former.

The best thing you can do is face yourself as it dispels your need for an ego, you don’t have to pretend you are this amazing thing anymore. If you know you are imperfect and accept yourself both the good and the bad, then it is so easy to understand others and not judge them either. It has been the most liberating piece of advice not only for my working life but also my personal life. So don’t aim for success or happiness, aim for self-awareness and acceptance, and then the by-products of that will be more than you can imagine.

Fred Schebesta, founder of

“Focus on the one thing that you can be the best in the world at and just do that over and over again.”

Schebesta says: In 2004, Michael Kiely, my direct marketing mentor, said to me, ‘The main game is the main game.’ I realised through that he meant, ‘Focus’. It’s shaped my approach to business and life.

Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice.

“Listen more than talk.”

Allis says: I have been like a sponge in business from day one, and spend my time even now, listening to successful people and their approach to business and life. I could write pages of things that I have learnt on hiring people, driving profit, making people accountable for their actions, creating culture etc. But really this all gets down to listening, so the best advice I have heard is listen more than talk and that is from my husband Jeff, who has always been a voracious appetite for learning.

When you are meeting with some to get their advice or mentoring always take a pen and paper and write down what you are learning. How do you repay these people, is to actually try what they say, read what they suggest as this is the greatest respect you can give them. Everyday no matter how senior you are in a business there is always things to learn and often they come from the most unexpected places.

Photo: Daniel Flynn, co-founder of Thankyou/ supplied.

Daniel Flynn, co-founder and managing director of Thankyou.

“Leadership is learning, just in front of more people.”

Flynn says: I was discussing leadership with my good friend Andy when he dropped this piece of absolute gold.

There is a common misperception of those in leadership… that they ‘have it all together’ and ‘know everything’, but the reality is, just like everyone, they are learning. This thought reminds me to stay humble. I know that there’s always something I can learn. As Thankyou continues to pioneer, we won’t always get it right, but we will always learn, and some of the greatest lessons come from making mistakes and picking yourself back up again.

Mitch Harper, co-founder of Bigcommerce.

“Get really good at learning.”

Harper says: Ask 5x more questions than you answer but also be careful who you take advice from. Everyone will give you free advice and you get what you pay for, so find a great coach who has ideally been through what you’re going through and ask them really great, carefully considered questions.

[I learned this from] Bill Campbell who has been the executive coach for Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO) and Evan Williams (Twitter founder).

Catherine Brenner, a non-executive director at Coca-Cola Amatil, Boral, and AMP.

“You have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.”

Brenner says: This pearl from my father immediately springs to mind. It was given to her on joining her first board.

David Jones, executive chairman of VGI Partners.

“Figure out if you are an adviser or an ‘owner’.”

Jones says: A friend of my father’s – the former CEO of Heinz Australia – said to me, as I was taking my first job as a junior management consultant: “Figure out if you are an adviser or an ‘owner’.” What he meant was figure out whether you liked to advise others what to do (consultant, lawyer, adviser), or whether you preferred to take responsibility and accountability directly yourself for actions and outcomes. I found this very useful for thinking about what type of person I was (the latter).

Photo: Co-founder of Shoes of Prey, Jodie Fox/ supplied.

Jodie Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey.

“You can be whatever it is that you want to be.”

Fox says: This was the best advice I ever received, from my dad. Education was really prized in my family and I was the first of us to go to university. When I was young my dad used to talk about all the amazing possibilities in the world and the potential that I had to achieve them, because I had the chance to get a higher education.

James Spenceley, CEO of Vocus Communications.

“Don’t worry about the things you can’t control.”

Spenceley says: Someone once told me not to worry about the things you can’t control and instead, focus your energy on what you can. All that wasted energy that would have come to nothing can create tangible outcomes when you put it towards influencing the things in your power to control. This advice taught me to be laser focused on the things that really matter and it has really helped our business to thrive.

Nicolette Maury, managing director of Intuit Australia.

“Be the best version of yourself.”

Maury says: The best advice I ever received is ‘be the best version of yourself’. So, don’t try to be someone else and model yourself on other people, especially those you see as successful. Instead, focus on identifying and nurturing your own strengths, and being true to your values and personal integrity. Ultimately, being the best version of yourself is about self-awareness and authenticity. At Intuit we encourage people to bring their whole selves to work and, for me, this captures being the best version of yourself.

Eugene Trautwein, vice president of worldwide customer support at Commvault.

“Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Trautwein says: One of my earliest mentors taught me the value of active empathy in all things Business. The old adage ‘Put yourself in the other person’s shoes’, the importance of taking on another parties’ circumstances and influences and then utilising this to build an understanding of their perspective. With this unique insight you have a great opportunity to help your customer with their challenges as well as lead and motivate your teams.

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