Entrepreneurs need courage as well as a good dash of humour if they are to succeed in the business world, according to Shark Tank judge and RedBalloon founding director Naomi Simson.
Speaking at The Sunrise conference in Sydney earlier this week, Simson said she and her fellow sharks got to where they are because they are passionate, positive and very persistent.
“We also have a deep sense of purpose,” she said.
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“It doesn’t occur to us that this is work.”
Here are Simson’s four tips for what it takes to build and run a successful business.
1. Never give up
While there was no competition in the online gift card or experience-giving space when RedBalloon launched in 2001, Simson says snapping up her first customer was far from easy.
“I promise you, nobody was interested,” Simson said.
“And in that time there had been a dot com and tech wreck. So I thought to myself the internet thing was over… I would walk around Martin Place with balloons tied to a brief case hoping someone would see the URL, type it in and visit the website. But we know hope isn’t a strategy.”
It took more than two months for Simson to make her first sale but all along she never thought about throwing in the towel.
“It never occurred to me,” she says.
“Was that because I was pig-headed or persistent? One could argue one, and one could argue the other. But that’s the level of commitment it takes… if somebody told me how much I was going to spend on technology, I would have never gotten out of bed.”
2. Trust yourself and others will follow
When Simson was starting her company the internet was relatively new. As a result, she had to convince suppliers they needed a computer to take online bookings before she could feature them on RedBalloon.
“It’s all about trust – do I trust you as our distributor and do I trust you to deliver our product as we deliver it?” she said.
“Your reputation needs to precede you. Our customers find suppliers for us or there’ll be a particular genre we just can’t miss out on… but it’s mainly through referrals.”
Simson also pointed out getting others to trust you is not worth very much unless you have trust in yourself.
“You must trust yourself enough to make it work,” she said.
“People often say to me, I’ve hired 30 sales reps and none of them have worked. Well, maybe have a look in the mirror.”
3. Make your company a great place to work
“I’ve worked in enough not-good places that I didn’t want to work in another one,” Simson said.
“People think it’s because I’m nice – I’m so not nice. It’s because there’s a commercial outcome for people loving what they do.”
Simson only hired a HR professional five years after starting the business, and says she wished she had done this earlier because you “really want to make sure those people with you get it and love it as much as you do”.
“In the first days I was doing the recruiting, which wasn’t a good thing because I do all the talking [in the interviews],” she says.
“One of the things about being a great employer brand is people want to work for us. Although we’re still relatively small, we’re selling people.”
4. Put customers first
Your business is nothing without its customers, according to Simson, not just because of sales but also because of the opportunities to grow through word-of-mouth.
“At the core of everything we’ve always done is customer experience,” Simson said.
“My purpose comes from reading customer experiences. Only when you read customer stories do you know the difference you make to another human being.”
A good strategy that Simson especially used in the early days was to call people directly and ask for feedback.
However, she says it’s also important to focus on the vision of the company – it shouldn’t be about selling a product, it should be about a higher purpose such as selling an experience.
“There’s not enough good times together,” she says.
“There’s not enough times we connect with the people we love. And if I can contribute to that, that means I’ve done my job. I want them to be able to check things off their bucket list and celebrate with people who are important.”