Startup Advice

This is my story: Why I made the leap from corporate life to startupland

Mark Collis /

Mark Collis

AirSyne founder Mark Collis. Source: Supplied.

If you’re a startup founder, a wantrepreneur or someone with an idea and want advice about how to bring it to life, then you’ve come to the wrong person.

If advice is what you’re after, there are literally millions of articles, books, talks, events, blogs and hubs our there, not to mention LinkedIn. You name it, it’s out there. What I can do, is tell you my story, and if there’s anything in it that helps, then I’ll be happy. 

My story is about the transition from a life working as an employee, being paid a salary, to becoming an early-stage startup founder. But let me first say, I hate the phrase ‘startup’. It has become a ‘thing’, as though starting a business is somehow new. That aside, the transition from salary to no salary was scary. 

I’d had a successful career in advertising as a creative director, and so ideas were my life. They still are. I was also the first-ever creative director at Telstra, where I helped rebrand the entire organisation and got to see the workings of corporate Australia at close quarters.

It’s also where I first considered the idea of heading out on my own and bringing to life an idea I’d had. And here is why I say I really don’t have any advice. It’s something you need to come to yourself. It can take a long time, and for some, it will never even happen. But if you have an idea that you love, an itch you can’t scratch, then only you will know how badly it needs scratching.

I suppose the one thing I have had (and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am) is support — you might have a family, person, partner or pet, too. Just someone that will take the journey with you. For me, that has been my wife. Lizzie has made all the sacrifices, and for that, I am truly grateful. 

A phrase that gets bandied about a lot in the workplace, especially corporate life, is ‘what does success look like to you?’ And while it’s a cliché, it’s something I’ve had to consider, a lot.

The truth is, for most of my early life, success meant money. Unfortunately, the more money I ended up earning, the more untrue that became.

And so, when I started on the road to building a product, I gave myself certain milestones that I considered success.

Finding the right partners, getting the tech, slowly putting together a proposition, building a prototype, meeting with prospective clients, having an MVP — all of these small (and some big) steps I considered to be successes. They weren’t all easy — in fact, I don’t think anything in my story has come without hard work.

I once worked for a man who ended up saving my life. He had a poster on his office wall that said ‘persistence conquers all’. For me, that has been the single most important virtue. Without it, we simply give up. So, if you do have an idea, then trying to turn it into something meaningful will certainly put your persistence to the test.

In March this year, my app was accepted to the App Store. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. It still isn’t a company, but we’re well on the way. We’re part of the Collider Accelerator at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia in Brisbane. At 63, I’m surrounded by really clever and committed people (all at least 30 years younger than me) that didn’t wait as long as me to set out on the road less travelled.

I’ve met dozens of advisors along the way, and one of the things they all say is that ideas aren’t worth anything. I’m not sure I agree. For me, ideas are everything. But whether you give an idea life or not is another story altogether.

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Mark Collis

Mark is the founder of AirSyne and the co-founder of Ai.Agency.

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