Battling through rejection, setbacks, and failures is par for the course for many budding startup founders, but the struggles don’t stop even once you’ve got runs on the board.
At FinTech Australia’s Intersekt conference last week, four successful serial startup founders and entrepreneurs took to the stage to reveal the hardest lessons they’ve learnt over their journey, and what they wish they knew when first starting out.
The speakers included Emma Weston from agriculture supply chain startup AgriDigital, Anthony Millet from housing investment company BrickX, Jack Quigley from CrowdfundUP, and Charlotte Petris from Timelio.
Here are four areas these startup founders struggled with in the early days.
1. Speed to market
“We spent a year to get to market, which is not that long, but in hindsight, I would have liked to get to market in six months or less and start getting customers earlier,” said Timelio co-founder Petris.
Petris said this is due to the word-of-mouth effect: the quicker your product is in the hand of users, the more they’ll talk about it and recommend it to others.
For Millet and BrickX, despite wanting to get to market as quickly as possible, it still took the company two-and-a-half years to get its bit-by-bit real estate investment model through regulators to retail investors.
In lieu of that, Millet tried to market it as a wholesale product — thanks to a wholesale Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) license through a major shareholder — but ran into problems there too.
“We actually did get to market a year before our main launch as a wholesale product thinking, ‘this is great, we can beta test it here’,” Millet told the conference.
“What we found out is that sophisticated and wholesale investors generally don’t have issues getting into residential real estate. We actually had pretty poor take-up, but we did get a bit of media coverage which lead to lots of people wanting to use the service once it became available to them.”
2. Hiring people
Millet also experienced challenges when it became time to hire, running into one of the common problems prevalent in the startup space: talent depth.
“The requirements of what you need from your staff can change just as quickly as it changes for yourself, and trying to find staff who have versatile enough skillsets or a willingness to change out of their comfort zones to do stuff they’ve never done before is really challenging,” he said.
“It’s not that difficult attracting people to work in fintech because there’s this utopian dream it’s going to change their life.
“But try and find people who want to come work for you because they love what you do, instead of someone who wants to come work for you because they hate their current corporate job.”
Petris found herself in a similar dilemma when Timelio was looking to hire. She advised startups to think about how their role as founder will change as new hires are made, and how this will affect employees already working there.
“We certainly hired a lot of not quite right people compared to what we thought we needed,” she said.
3. Fighting regulators
For Quigley from CrowdfundUp, he lamented picking equity crowdfunding — which he described as a “political hot potato” — as an area to build a startup in.
He said if he had his time again he would have “sidestepped that landmine”, recounted how he poured time and money in the business only to have the door shut on him.
Quigley also described his battle with regulators, saying while they’re mostly easy to work with, it can be difficult for founders to jump through all the provided hoops.
“We’ve just launched a second business in beta at the moment just done a new AFSL application, I worked straight through my honeymoon to do it,” he said.
“We got a panellist from ASIC saying you’re missing one form and your application will be pulled in 24 hours. People in Australia talk about regulators being at the forefront, but we sit there and say it could be a lot more fluidly executed from the founder’s point of view.”
4. Trying to satisfy everyone
For Weston and AgriDigital, the challenges stemmed from something startup founders wouldn’t usually view as an issue — having too many features.
“One decision we took was to build out our business as a platform and market that platform to pretty much every participant who could be on that platform. Every stage of the supply chain from, growers, buyers, processors, and end use customers and more,” she says.
“So we’ve got this gamut of customers which sounds awesome — unless you are our tech team trying to satisfy the requirements of all those customers.”
“It’s been great is having a platform that meets every one of those customers needs, but it has put our team under enormous pressure. We had to tell the team that the decision the founders took to go down this path has put this team under enormous pressure and that we were going to be a bit more careful going forward.”