Returning from a week of mentoring startups in Lebanon taught LaunchVic’s Con Frantzeskos a lot about the Middle Eastern startup ecosystem, and he says the global approach of its early-stage startups is something more Australian founders should aspire to.
Frantzeskos labels it “a national disgrace” that Australia has not produced a large number of well-known consumer brands and says while the country has produced successful brands with a business-to-business focus, including startup success story Atlassian, there’s significant room for improvement when it comes to startups operating in the business-to-consumer space.
Frantzeskos is a founding board member of LaunchVic and founder of Melbourne growth consultancy firm PENSO. Earlier this month he hosted a series of marketing masterclasses in Beirut, Lebanon, as part of a United Nations-backed initiative to support Middle Eastern startups participating in the Elevate accelerator.
Established by UNICEF and startup training program AltCity, the Elevate accelerator provides funding, training and mentoring to startups working to address one or more of UNICEF’s seven critical challenge areas, including education, health and nutrition, and social policy.
Frantzeskos says his time working with the socially-minded Elevate accelerator teams gave him invaluable insight into how many Middle Eastern startups start building a global company from day one.
“The shame and the biggest difference [between the two ecosystems] is that there are very few Australian consumer brands that anyone knows from anywhere in the world,” Frantzeskos says.
“That’s a thing I’ve always thought is a national disgrace.
“The Netherlands is a country with a very similar population, and it has a huge number of household brand names. Be it Unilever or [Royal Dutch] Shell, there’s a vast number of consumer brands [in the Netherlands] but for some reason Australia doesn’t have that same aspiration,” he says.
Frantzeskos says in Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million, having a focus on going global from day one is “really crucial” and that “there’s something really wrong with our mentality” in Australia because “we don’t aspire more to have a consumer-based export focus”.
“The thing that really impressed me about my time in Lebanon … was that it [global expansion] wasn’t even seen as, ‘It would be nice’,” he says.
“It was seen as, ‘There’s no point building a startup unless you’re going to have at the very least a regional or global export focus’.”
“Ready, Fire, Aim”
During his time in Beirut, Frantzeskos talked startups through building brand narratives and utilising marketing to spur their global growth.
Sharing these key teachings with StartupSmart, Frantzeskos says for startups who are having trouble articulating their many services, or struggling to define what their core offering is, one technique is to draw up a “ladder of benefits” that describes every value-add a startup provides.
“Build a complete ladder of benefits for everything that your startup could do, then look at each of your key stakeholders and which messages would be valuable to each of them,” Frantzeskos recommends.
He says startups should target each tier of their stakeholders through individual marketing campaigns, to show which messages and offerings are most popular and worth pursuing.
This “test and learn” approach is Frantzeskos’ way of driving action and results with marketing, rather than “sitting around having a lot of meetings” to “try and guess what the market wants.”
“Put it in the market and let the market decide,” he advises.
Frantzeskos says this “ready, fire, aim” approach is one that startups should be employing to test hypotheses, build minimum viable products, and validate their value propositions.
“You’re actually using marketing to validate the products and the business at the outset, rather than the end,” he says.
When taking this action-first approach, Frantzeskos says fear that “I might be getting it wrong” will often hinder a startup team from testing their products in the market, when in reality, rejection and failure are key methods of learning.
“It’s really important to express your ideas in a form consumers will either accept or reject,” he says, adding that “it’s better to test an idea and find out [it doesn’t work] now, rather than seven years down the track”.
“Get a hypothesis in mind, shoot, learn from it and then aim,” he says.