Losing Friends, Living Frugal, Punishing Hours: A Young Australian Millionaire's Brutal Advice For Start-up Success

Fred Schebesta. Photo: Business Insider

When he was still studying, Fred Schebesta started his first business. He later sold it, becoming a millionaire before he was 30.

In 2009 he founded comparison site finder.com.au, which now attracts more than 200,000 people each month. The website lets users compare products, such as credit cards, home loans and savings accounts, taking a referral fee each time someone signs up.

As well as running the company, Schebesta acts as a mentor to young entrepreneurs. Business Insider sat down with him for an interview and the following advice (with some edits for clarity) is from that discussion.

The effort required

In the early days the number of hours, and the brutal complete-life dedication means you lose yourself. You’re not actually a person for a while.

People talk about that in general terms. But I don’t think they actually realise. That’s the difference between a company that’s just operating — and one that’s actually trying to win.

Some people say ‘I want to have a life’. Basically, what you’re saying is you don’t really care about your business.

There are a lot of entrepreneurs, when you go and see their businesses, who say ‘I don’t want to do that’, or ‘I don’t want to spend my time on that’. But you have to do it all. It’s a big problem. It’s about how much you’re willing to sacrifice. I got really sick for a while; I got really depressed.

Even after a few years… you have to keep going and I think some people aren’t ready to make those sacrifices. I sacrificed a lot of my personal life. I look at photos of myself five years, six years ago and I say ‘wow that guy’s really unhealthy’.

What you have to give up

I consolidated a lot — to just a few friends, a few closes friends that understood that lifestyle. And you hang out with a lot of work people as well. Relationships are always a challenge because you’re so strained for time, all the time. You’re saying to people that I’m putting this above our relationship.

It’s always been a challenge. [People say] ‘It’s four in the morning, why are you in bed on your laptop waking other people up?’ But I’m awake. It’s not work for me, It’s fun.

A lot of entrepreneurs are like that. They are non-stop; they are killers; they are persistent, smart, hard-working and innovative. They’re hardcore. And they are the kind of guys who make something great.

We’re trying to win. We’re not trying to play the game and go along.

Why you do it

You get a real bump. I thought about what would I do if I wasn’t doing this — and I actually genuinely enjoy the thrill. It’s kind of like a big computer game… but with real money, and real people.

We’re out their to help a lot of people. We’re helping people to save money. It actually makes you feel good — you actually get a bump from it. The two have to go together.

We’re not a government organisation. And I believe more social good will come from a profit business than a non-profit business.

Making money is one thing, and a product of that is to help people. The two go together. If you wanted to only make money and not help people — you could do that. That is possible. But I don’t think people would buy into that.

The only way you can create value is to help a lot of people. If you give them what they want — you can get the monetary returns from that. I see the money as being the reward for taking the risks and from the work you put in.

Being frugal

Frugality is crucial. It means you’re not worried about your personal finances and that allows you to take bigger risks.

The level to get to, is where you have enough money to take risks. You can always go home and you have a house. No one is going to come and take my house and that feeling reduces a lot of my anxiety, and that makes me feel good. I can be a bit more adventurous.

You save early on and it unlocks the ability to do bigger things later.

It means you can take time off. You can go home and you’re not worried about things. If something goes badly, or if it goes well, it is the same feeling. That’s where the fun comes into the business.

You see other entrepreneurs and yes they do have the fancy cars, and the businesses but it is all financed, leveraged to the business.

Later you hear that that business didn’t go so well. It couldn’t ride the waves, and they’ve sold their car. That’s a key unlock for me. All the successful entrepreneurs I have met are quite frugal.

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