As the mini-documentary offering a glimpse behind the scenes of BlueChilli’s SheStarts accelerator continues, the second-ever cohort of women entrepreneurs develop their businesses, and themselves.
Through the LinkedIn series of bite-sized episodes, we see the group of women entrepreneurs navigating some of the hardships and hurdles of launching a new business, while also soaking up advice and encouragement on a trip to San Francisco.
“SheStarts represents a mission that women across the world want to go on,” SheStarts director Nicola Hazell says.
“We just have the privilege of being a part of it and creating that platform for women to say yes, to go out there, to create these amazing game-changing companies, but also just to step into their own as the leaders they were always meant to be.”
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So, what more can we learn from these intrepid entrepreneurs? There are, of course, spoilers ahead.
5. Know your customer
In episode five, we see the startup founders preparing for demo day, and starting to grow their startups into operational businesses.
We see Danielle Owen Whitford, founder of machine learning for stress startup Pioneera, meeting ANZ tech area lead Leigh Gibson, to present the startup to a potential client and get some advice on the product as it stands.
“I was very, very lucky to meet [Leigh] early on, and she and I just clicked,” Owen Whitford says.
“She has been instrumental in helping me develop some of my thinking,” she adds.
At the same time, Andrèz Coco, founder of clean energy startup Knowlly, is also working on product development. Coco is the entrepreneur who, in the early bootcamp stages, inspired confidence in herself as an entrepreneur, but not in the product she was pitching.
“When I started in bootcamp … I didn’t have anything, I just had an idea,” she says.
“Now we went in a direction. It might not be the exact direction where my company will be in a year or whatever, but at least there’s something and people are responding to it.”
It’s all well and good to create a product you think is great. It’s no good if no one wants to use it.
“You can build something, but if you don’t actually test with the people you are able to, or who should be using it, you don’t really know how that interaction will go,” Coco says.
“Those assumptions need to be validated and that’s what you do with user testing.”
6. Celebrate the wins
When the SheStarts demo day rolls around, the founders are floundering to have everything ready and their MVPs working — at least as well as they can.
“In the last 30 minutes we’ve gone through three app updates,” Talkiplay founder Dr Annie McAuley says.
“It’s an MVP, so everything is supposed to go wrong at this stage. It would just be really nice if it didn’t,” she adds.
SheStarts director Nicola Hazell notes even though these are MVPs, they’re also viable businesses built within 12 weeks.
“At demo day, we’re saying look, not only have we built some technology to bring this product to life, but we’ve got a company and a CEO who are actually putting that into market to build a sustainable, scalable business off the back of this idea and this technology,” Hazell says.
For McAuley, the demo day was a success, with the adults enjoying playing with kids’ speech interaction tools.
“I’ve been wanting to create this platform to change the world, to reduce stress for parents and to empower children with their language, and today I did it,” she says.
Although all the founders enjoy some success, She’s a Crowd founder Zoe Condliffe also gets some market validation, and a potential first customer.
“Hearing from a customer that there is a legitimate pain point for them — this is why I started this company,” Condliffe says.
“Getting validation from my target customer, but also getting them to shake my hand and sign on to be potentially my first customer was very exciting,” she adds.
The accelerator process is “high-intensity, high-stress, but really rewarding,” Condliffe says.
“You’ve really got to celebrate the wins when they come.”
7. Keep an eye on your culture, and yourself
When the SheStarts founders jet off to San Francisco, it’s “about so much more than just exposing them to successful tech companies”, Hazell says.
“This is about bringing them into the place that we’re trying to change. This is where the massive problem that is the lack of women in tech and innovation was born,” she adds.
On the trip, Cisco Meraki senior vice president Todd Nightingale tells the cohort that, if everything goes to plan, “how you create the vision for your company in that first year, it will affect thousands of people’s lives”.
Creating a company culture is something founders should consider early, and a lot of it comes from the people.
Aravind Krishnaswamy, engineering director at Google Photos, advises the founders to “lean into some of your strongest people, lean into the strengths of the people that you have”.
“A lot of people tend to try to figure out what the problems are,” he adds.
For Condliffe, this means identifying what her startup is all about — the data supplied to customers, or the users who are supplying it.
“I’m not a data scientist and I don’t have to be one, but it’s something that I’m definitely looking to have in the future,” Condliffe says.
However, after meeting Aristotle Socrates, director of data science at Juvo, she accepts the data aspect will be a big part of the product — at least in balance with the user experience.
“The data that you’re getting is ultimately going to come from an end user,” Socrates says.
“So, you have to incentivise them to give the data. There needs to be a product for them,” he adds.
8. But back yourself, too
The mini-series comes to an emotional conclusion as the founders finish up the six-month accelerator program.
Condliffe admits in San Francisco “I was questioning the validity of my business”.
“But coming back, I was like ‘no’, I’m on to something. I’m doing the right thing and I’m on the right path,” she says.
“I feel like, more than I ever have in my life, I’ve found my thing. Every day I wake up and I feel like I know what I’m out in the world to do, and I’m doing it.”
Working on the data, the figures and the financial viability of the business has been a challenge, she adds, “but I can’t lose sight of why I’m actually doing it in the first place”.
For Coco, too, building a business is about having a social impact.
“It just makes sense to do something that has an impact on us — on us as human beings. That is what drove me to human-centred design in the first place,” she says.
And the SheStarts program has helped her figure out not only what the product is going to do, but who she is as an entrepreneur as well.
“It’s about finding your own voice, finding your own pace, discovering who you are as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, as a front-runner, as a thought leader, and not being afraid just to put that out there,” she says.