‘Last year, a mirror got held up to my face’: A Q&A with UQ entrepreneur in residence Sam Jockel

Sam Jockel

Sam Jockel. is the University of Queensland's entrepreneur in residence and the founder of ParentTV. Source: Ventures/the University of Queensland.

Brisbane-based entrepreneur Sam Jockel is no stranger to launching successful ventures.

Most recently, she’s created her own online video advice hub ParentTV — think Netflix for parenting advice — which has an audience of over 150,000 viewers, and features parental experts sharing thoughts and ideas about parenting in the modern age.

Jockel is also the University of Queensland’s entrepreneur in residence, and recently released a book — Parents, this is the one thing you need to know — which brings together ParentTV’s most trusted experts, sharing the most important lessons.

So what does Jockel, who started her own family at 24, hope to achieve for Aussie parents, and herself?

I caught up with the dynamic entrepreneur to get the lowdown.

How does it feel to be the University of Queensland’s entrepreneur in residence?

I clearly remember when I received a phone call from Ran Heimann, who was the current entrepreneur in residence at UQ, asking if I was interested in joining him as the second EIR at UQ. I thought to myself that he must have the wrong person as I was absolutely not qualified for that.

I had only met Ran one time in the past for coffee about a year earlier, on the back of an article I wrote which got published on the front page of SmartCompany about the time a $1.2 million investment in my company fell through and what that felt like.

Ran assured me that he meant to call me and fast forward nearly 18 months, I am now in my second year as an EIR at UQ. To be really honest, it meant a lot to me to be invited to take on this role.

I have run my own businesses for nearly 13 years now and I often play on the fringes.

I’m not one to apply for awards or go to many events. I really just get on with doing the work.

This was the first time it felt like someone really noticed my potential to add value to something bigger than me in the world of business, that I had not made happen myself.

It still feels like a privilege 18 months in and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

What are the most important factors you foreground as you mentor people?

This comes a little bit from my own personal experience, but I tend to focus quite strongly on the personal growth that is required to start and grow a startup, rather than the tangible business side of things.

You can Google how to set up a company, do a cashflow, and implement a CRM, and you can follow those instructions relatively easily to achieve that outcome.

What is hard to Google and get clear tangible instructions on is managing your own insecurities, dealing with shame and failure, how to stay motivated when it seems like nothing is working, how to keep knocking on doors after 57 people have said no, and how to process all of the emotions that come with that.

The personal side of starting a startup is the most challenging.

There is a lot of talk about accelerating businesses, but you have to accelerate yourself first.

In your opinion, what are the top three traits for a successful startup?

A passionate founder who is not afraid to do the work would be the most important trait; followed by the ability to be curious and really listen to your customers or potential customers realising you don’t know everything already; and finally, flexibility and being able shift and pivot when needed.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced as you were starting up ParentTV? How did you overcome them?

The greatest challenge for me hands down with ParentTV has been scaling the company and building a team.

What I know now looking back is that even though I had over 13 years experience as an entrepreneur, and was able to see opportunity and execute that quickly, I had massive gaps when it came to systems, processes and building teams.

I had worked on my own or in small teams with part-time contractors most of my working life. I had never gone through a proper hiring and onboarding process for staff and this became quite the challenge.

It was actually one of my mentors, Paul Mansfield, who said to me that the first thing I needed to do was hire a COO.

I had no idea what that was going to mean for me and the business but I trusted him so put a job posting up on LinkedIn.

I had a friend who worked as a COO for a billion-dollar-company based in Sydney, and I also reached out to him on LinkedIn to ask him if he could help me hire a COO as I had no idea what I was doing.

Matt was very kind and helped me look through the applications as they came in and gave me a simple process to follow.

If it wasn’t for Matt I would have never hired Kerri Ryan, who has changed my life and ParentTV forever.

Kerri was the best decision I have ever made to date. She was experienced and more capable than me in all things systems, processes and organisations.

She had led and run teams and she came alongside me and guided me through.

What motivated you to start social media agency Good Funny Smart? 

In 2012, I was running the ALDI Mum and School Mum Facebook and blog communities with my then business partner David.

They had a following of over 650,000 parents combined. We were being represented by an influencer agency called The Remarkables along with a number of other large parenting influencers including The Organised Housewife, Fat Mum Slim, Paging Fun Mums, BabyMac and a few others.

Lorraine, who was running the agency at the time, decided that she no longer wanted to continue representing influencers. So, my business partner and I stepped in and created our own agency, Good Funny Smart, and began representing a number of the parenting influencers ourselves.

It was much easier to get bigger brands and clients to work with us when you were a group as it was a much more efficient system to work with for their advertising spend.

What are some of the greatest challenges you faced in 2020?

When the first lockdown hit, we were a few weeks off signing the deal of a lifetime with ParentTV that would see us have a solid revenue stream for the next one to three years with a major childcare client.

We were informed on the back of what was unfolding in the world that the deal had to be put on hold for an unknown amount of time until further notice.

In an instant, uncertainty was everywhere and we had no safety net. I’m actually really good in crisis, because my superpowers, also known as anxiety, kick in.

We pivoted really quickly to start providing daily resource packs to parents who were stuck at home with their kids with a selection of activities and social and emotional support.

We filmed about 25 videos with our experts specifically around supporting your kid’s questions and anxieties about COVID-19 and had those live within the first few days of lockdown.

We also filmed a series of videos with a school principal just before homeschooling started with a full resource pack of advice to support parents to set their kids up for success.

It was a crazy time at ParentTV, and the team was amazing, and we just showed up and gave support and helped where we could.

This all paid off in the end as that major client ended up coming back to us and we signed that deal a few months later.

Having said all of that, I think the greatest challenge was actually personal.

For me, 2020 was the year that a mirror got held up to my face, with a quiet voice whispering, ‘it’s time to slow down and stop running so fast and running from your past’.

For all the mothers juggling caring duties, who also harbour strong ambitions to begin their own business, what advice would you give them?

The advice I would give any mother juggling all of the things and harbouring strong ambitions is that anything is possible but timing and support are critical.

Some days I pinch myself that I have come as far as I have (though I still know we have so far to go).

I had my first child at 24 and had no idea I was as ambitious as I was at the time.

It was only years later in my early-30s that the full reality of what it meant to be a parent hit me in terms of what I gave up in those earlier years.

I would dream about leading a company and changing the world doing good things but never ever did I think that would be possible now that I had three kids and no earlier career experience.

I had been running businesses from home for years but they were not scalable. It was more just keeping me busy and bringing some money in.

There was a bit of thinking and planning that had to go into making ParentTV possible. Honest conversations with my family and husband about my hopes and dreams, the financial commitments required and some risks we had to take.

What I do want to tell you is that it’s possible and I’m living proof, but timing is very important.

There is no way I could have done what I am doing if my children were still babies and toddlers.

All of the work I did during those years still added up to where I am today, but really stepping into founding and now being the CEO of a scaling company is something that has been much more possible now that my children have some of their own independence.

It’s been the adventure of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing.

This is an edited version of an article first published by Women’s Agenda.

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