Launching a new startup can feel like leaping into the unknown, and taking the biggest risk of your life. But after some soul searching and some help from her friends, that’s exactly what Cynch Security founder Susan Jones did.
Six months ago, Jones quit her day job to work on Cynch full time. At the time, her husband had a contract job. Six months previously, he had no job at all.
Speaking at Girls in Tech’s Catalyst Conference in Melbourne today, the founder explained many of her friends at the time told her she was crazy, brave, and doing something they would never be able to do.
“On some days when I heard that, that was the most wonderful thing I had ever heard,” she said.
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But on the tough days, “what you hear is ‘you’re different’, ‘you’re wrong’, ‘you shouldn’t be doing that’”.
According to Jones, she doesn’t look like a risk-taker, and for a long time, she wasn’t one.
At the event, she told a personal story about her twin sister, who has a serious intellectual disability.
When she set out in her career, “I decided that I not only needed to succeed enough so that I could be happy for one person, I had to succeed enough for her as well”, she said.
She embarked on a career as an insurance broker, and quickly rose up the ranks as a young professional.
But “trying to live a life that is not true to who you are is really not satisfactory”, she explained.
“You never really enjoy the moment and your successes.”
Although she had always felt she needed to live for the both of them, she started to realise “it was just an excuse I was giving for not taking risks”, she said.
“I realised I needed to change things up.”
For any prospective founders considering whether or not to make the leap, or enter into the unknown, Jones advised taking a look at why you don’t want to take that risk — and considering whether it’s a reason at all.
“If you think you have someone in your life that is the reason you’re not taking risks .. start recognising that actually [they’re] just an excuse, and you need to live your own life, and your own truth,” she said.
Don’t be too proud
Jones left her insurance role to join Australia Post. Although she admits this was a relatively minor risk, it was a big leap from the career she had always had planned.
Soon, she was working across risk management, commercial management and digital and cyber security, and realised her real passion lay in “those areas where business and tech intersect”.
She found she enjoyed working as a kind of translator between technical people and business owners “who need to channel these things into numbers and dollars”.
So she started working on Cynch as a side hustle.
As it happens, this became “really bloody hard”, Jones said.
She and her co-founder were working nights, weekends, and even taking annual leave from their day jobs in order to fit in enough sleep.
“And I knew it was not going to be enough … so I quit.”
The co-founders had a vague market strategy, and a rough MVP product.
That was 15 months ago, and since then, most days, but at least once a week, “I’ve had moments of absolute isolation and loneliness”, Jones said.
“My friends simply cannot understand what I’m talking about.”
As her friends are chatting about their own corporate lives and the “bullshit politics” within large corporations, she’s talking about having to write a social media brand guide, or the challenges of raising funding.
“It makes for a really lonely existence,” she said.
In order for founders to manage this isolation, Jones has a few tips. First of all, she said, don’t compare yourself to your friends, or worry too much about what they think.
“I spend far too much of my time thinking about how my life and my decisions compare against my friends. What are they going to say? Are they going to be supportive?”
Every time, she said, her buddies amaze her with their outpouring of support. Along with the congratulations and awe at her bravery. In fact, one powerful comment has always stood out for the founder.
“One friend said ‘if it all turns to shit, and you end up homeless … you can come stay with me’,” Jones said.
Her friends would be there no matter what, Jones realised. The worst thing that could come from launching a startup is “your ego will be bruised and you’ll have to get another job”.
Finally, Jones outlined the importance of asking for support, and giving it too.
“Don’t be too proud to ask, particularly when you’re taking life-changing risks,” she said.
Founders will need as much support as they can get, she added. But also, when someone asks you for support in return, be ready to say the right thing.
“Giving platitudes like ‘you’re so brave, I could never do that’ is not actually helpful,” Jones said.
She advised attendees to be the person offering up their spare room.
“It’s a hell of a lot more helpful,” she said.