Lessons from founders.


18th January, 2019

5 lessons for startup founders from WeTeachMe’s Masters Series

Building a business is the kind of journey that teaches founders important lessons along the way. Many of these lessons they’d prefer not to have learned the hard way.

For that reason, there’s a lot of value in hearing from a seasoned founder’s time in business.

Each week during last year’s Masters Series by WeTeachMe, two well-known entrepreneurs would share their story and their insights.

Out of that came many pearls of wisdom – crucial lessons for aspiring founders, entrepreneurs and even established business owners.

These founders have ‘been there’ and ‘done that’. They’ve built businesses from nothing, scaled, made mistakes and experienced many rewarding moments.

Here are some of the absolute gems we heard over the past 12 months.

Invest in yourself first and the business rewards will come – Nathan Chan (Foundr)

Amid the constant hustle of building a startup, founders sometimes forget to put their personal development first.

They’re so focused on business growth or solving problems that they neglect their own learning.

Nathan Chan, founder of Foundr, implores other startup aspirants to avoid this mindset.

Chan believes you have to “make that investment in yourself”.

“The more that you level up and invest in your own knowledge and mindset, the faster you can grow the company,” said Chan.

Whether it’s reading a classic startup book like Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, listening to Jason Calacanis’ ‘This week in startups’ podcast or completing an online digital marketing course – it’s crucial to invest in yourself.

Chan believes that “the growth of your company is a reflection of you as a founder and how much you know and how much you’re learning”.

If you put that work in now, you’ll see the business dividends in time.

Stay lean early on – Emma Welsh (Emma and Toms)

When founder Emma Welsh reflected on the early days of Emma and Toms, she realised that “we weren’t nearly thrifty enough. We hired people too quickly”.

Early growth is difficult, so it’s important to stay lean and save costs where you can.

Welsh stresses that “it’s so hard to get money coming in the door, it’s so hard to be profitable that we would have been a lot better off if we haven’t hired some of those people and done more ourselves”

This can also apply in other areas like being careful to maintain a reasonable marketing spend. There’s always a lean way to stimulate early growth.

Growth doesn’t happen overnight – Ben Cohn (TaxiBox)

Founders are naturally ambitious people. They strive for quick growth and instant results.

But the reality is most billion-dollar businesses weren’t born overnight out of a garage.

Taxibox founder Ben Cohn reminded us of the need to stay focused even if growth isn’t happening as quickly as we might imagine.

“Baby steps along the way. Nothing in the last seven years that we have been running has been done with major steps, everything has been tiny, tiny, steps”.

Incremental growth over overnight results in more sustainable outcomes in the long run.

For proof of this, you only need look as far as some of the tech businesses born out of the dot-com bubble that have since gone bust.

READ: What startup founders can learn from the collapse of Appster

Look to your peers – Georgia Beattie (Corporate Venturing Australia)

Chances are if you’re experiencing a business problem, someone else has been in that same situation before.

Corporate Venturing Australia chief executive Georgia Beattie prompts founders to look towards their fellow startup community when they encounter problems in their business.

If anyone would know about the importance of community, it’s Beattie, being the former chief executive of Startup Victoria – the independent, not-for profit body for the Victorian Startup ecosystem.

Beattie states that “the thing about startups is everyone shares”.

“So, you ask an entrepreneur: ‘What did you do in this situation?’ or ‘I’ve got a problem and they say ‘Yes’ and just give you a complete download of how they solved a situation that was similar,” said Beattie.

So get out and get among the startup community, attend events to meet founders and network or just ask a fellow founder for a coffee to chat.

You never know what insights you may gain from this.

Character over experience – Ben Trinh (Life Ready Physio & Pilates)

“You can train competencies, but you can’t change character,” said Trinh, founder of Life Ready Physio.

It’s astonishing how often this lesson comes up when founders talk about hiring – yet it’s still a common error.

A candidate can have the ideal skillset or experience, but if they don’t have the right character, it won’t work out.

Trinh stresses the need to create time for reflection and time to “define your core values”.

“These are the values that won’t change no matter how big your business gets,” he said.

It’s crucial, especially when hiring your first employees, that they all buy into your vision and values.

So as you set about planning and growing your startup concept for 2019, keep these pearls of wisdom in mind so that you don’t have to go through the same pain unnecessarily.