If you’re an entrepreneur, chances are a garden-variety office worker has looked you in the eye at some point and asked: “Are you crazy?”
No matter what sector you enter into, starting a new venture involves tonnes of risk and little sleep. Trading up a regular salary for the promise of bigger returns down the line can be terrifying, so are some people more cut out for the game than others?
This week, we headed to Sydney to hear from a range of entrepreneurial minds about what drives them. Here are six qualities these company founders attribute their success to. Are you able to harness them?
Founder of Sydney property buyer agent Your Empire, Chris Gray, was “semi-retired” by the age of 31 but says his business acumen stems from thinking well into the long term, rather than focusing on immediate gains.
Speaking during an Entrepreneur’s Organization Sydney panel event at Vivid Festival, Gray said he got started in the property market when he returned home to the UK to live with his parents after a stint as a backpacker; he realised he could start a career in the property market through one initial investment.
“I just had the foresight to say, I need to get into property and once you work the numbers I’ll actually have more money to go to the pub with,” Gray said.
However, with his own property portfolio and business on the go, Gray says entrepreneurs should understand long term value isn’t without downsides and risk. The trick is to see through that.
“You see the beautiful story and it’s all passionate, but there is the darker side of debt. My life is pretty much about debt … and I’ve pretty much been in debt all my life,” he said.
Richard Branson has said that for a business to be born in the first place, someone has to have been brave. But the question is, how do you harness that bravery?
One option is to put yourself in situations where you don’t have a Plan B, like L&A Social founder Gina Lednyak.
Lednyak started her social media agency in 2008 after landing in Bondi from the US the year before, and says at the time, she had no choice but to persist with the business because to fail would mean completely uprooting her life again.
At 23, and without any savings or support, losing momentum would mean moving back home.
“I couldn’t go move back in with my parents, that would mean going back to America with my tail between my legs,” she told the panel event.
Lednyak also had the instinct that “social media was about to explode in Australia”, so she followed her gut and started chasing clients, knowing that while there wasn’t a formal “Plan B”, she would always find a means to support herself.
“It was knowing that worst case scenario I could go work on a sailboat, or something,” she said.
3. Harnessing emotion
Starting a business out of spite might not be on everyone’s agenda, but for retail queen and founder of Showpo, Jane Lu, a multimillion-dollar business was born out of a desire to prove everyone wrong.
After some false starts with business ideas that didn’t go to plan, then 24-year-old Lu had quit her corporate job, had no business partners and no idea what to do next.
“All of a sudden I was unemployed, I lost money during my first business, my business failed and it was all in the middle of the GFC [global financial crisis] — I didn’t know what else to do,” Lu said.
“My only go to was to start this business, to start Showpo was to start another business.”
Still living with her parents, Lu pretended to keep going to the corporate gig she’d quit each day and it was during those fake commutes that she realised she had to turn her frustrations into action.
“That spite, not wanting to go back to work, pushed me into making it, I guess,” she said.
Plenty of entrepreneurs find themselves in high-pressure, low satisfaction roles before breaking out on their own, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to start a new venture.
Michael Frizell, founder of pet food delivery platform Pet Circle, was tired of his banking job and looking for a change. He said the first step was straightforward.
“The first step was to decide to quit my job. I’d always wanted to start a business … One day I just decided, ‘this is not what I like, I’ve learned enough, I’ll leave’,” he said.
He took off travelling, but quickly learned this wasn’t the way to come up with a stellar business idea; you need to prepare and do deep research before finding the thing that will fit for you.
“One day you just get this bug that you have to do something, you’re bored, there’s more to life,” Frizell said.
A friend in private equity tipped him off that the pet industry was an interesting one, but the Australian market was fragmented and there was no market leader. Frizell was hooked by that information, but before he could launch Pet Circle, which would later take out top place in the 2014 Smart50 awards, the hard work had to begin.
“[I] came up with four ideas in the industry, decided to get serious went to the US,” says Frizell, before deciding on the model that would eventually build into a $70 million business.
Growing a strong enterprise is also about knowing your strengths and interests, says founder of Pulse Collective, Lauren Fried.
The advertising expert and Gruen panelist has grown her agency into one that services just the nation’s entrepreneurial community. Fried says she made the choice to prioritise because she knew there was something in Australian early-stage businesses that really captured her interest.
“It was uncontrollable: because all entrepreneurs plan and stuff, but they don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Compared with her larger corporate clients, startups and small businesses were willing to take more risks and threw up new challenges, which captured Fried’s attention.
“I like the bravery and risk associated with working with entrepreneurs,” she said.
The decision to hone in on that niche also has had an effect on the creative process of Fried’s team, who approach problems holistically and with a growth mentality.
“They are always X-raying businesses and asking how can we grow this business?” she said.
The idea of starting a business off the back of a hobby is pretty seductive, but simply having an interest in something isn’t enough to monetise it.
For iFLYflat founder Steve Hui, business success has come from joining the dots between his professional strengths, interests and the creation of value for customers.
IFLYflat “is about turning points from balances into travel dreams” — a travel advisory service that promises to leverage frequent flyer points to find bargain business class fares.
“Two things really excite me — a bargain and luxury, if I combine the two, that’s what iFLYflat is about,” Hui said.
But that excitement isn’t what drives value. Reflecting that he’s a bit of an introvert, Hui has had to push through to sell his idea to customers, and work out ways of communicating with people to actually sell the concept as a business.
“How can I help people turn their points that they believe are worthless or really hard and convince them they have value?” he said.
One way to connect with customers is by building the idea into a story.
“I like my clients to open up Google Maps, pick a place which they’ve always wanted to go and [I say], ‘I’ll get you there for $2500.'”
SmartCompany attended the Vivid Festival event as a guest of Entrepreneur’s Organization Sydney.