Top Tips from Start-Up Founders & Entrepreneurs

Dreaming of being an entrepreneur with a successful start-up or two under your belt?

The COVID-19 pandemic might be a time of great turmoil, but it may also be the right time to finally pursue your true ambitions. Whether you’ve lost your job or you’ve finally got some downtime to focus on your business idea, this could be your chance to launch a new start-up.

After all, Australia is built on the backs of people who have made their mark on the country’s economy and society through hard work and innovative business ideas. With the right advice, you could be one of them.

We spoke with 10 successful start-up founders and business experts to get their top tips for young entrepreneurs. Here are some of their best start-up tips.

#1. You can’t do it alone, so don’t.

The most common piece of advice among our interviewees relates to surrounding yourself with people who can help and support you. These people include:

  • Mentors
  • Like-minded peers
  • Employees
  • Personal supporters (family/friends).

For James Burnett, who co-founded ORIGO Education with Dr Calvin Irons, having a mentor is essential – but it might take some searching to find a worthwhile advisor.

“Speak to people who have been there and done it before … don’t listen to people who have never done it,” he recommends.

“Unfortunately, you will probably have to seek out the former, whereas there is any number of people in the latter who will give you unsolicited opinions.”

James also spoke of the importance of having peers (his co-founder) and a personal rock (his wife Michelle).

“I would have stopped years ago if not for her ongoing emotional support,” he says.

Shuey Shujab, who founded Whitehat Agency while he was technically homeless with little more than a laptop and phone to his name, also feels that keeping the right people around you is paramount. For him, the key is having a healthy variety of peers.

“I surrounded myself with people 10-15 years ahead of me in business, as well as peers who had also recently started,” Shuey explains.

“That really helped me to see different perspectives – from the start of the journey, to the middle and end.”

Shuey also stresses that you should hire as early as you can, focusing on people who complement your own skillset.

“I wish I had hired my first employee much sooner than I did,” he admits.

“Once I had someone on my team, it really helped to have that other person to bounce ideas off, as well as help with delivery of the work.”

“I’d also say it’s important to make sure this person is really good at things that aren’t your particular strengths.”

#2. Market fit is essential, and it’s not binary.

Ensuring your product or service addresses a real need is the key to making sure your business is viable.

Nicole Sidoti, who runs graphic design agency Popdot and mentors young entrepreneurs at the Sydney Startup Hub, puts it simply:

“If no one will buy your product or service, you don’t have a business,” she says.

“Do some testing and research to be sure you have an audience.”

James Morrell, CEO of Muval, agrees and points out that market fit isn’t a matter of yes or no.

“It’s not binary,” he explains.

“Product market fit is a continuum that you progress along by listening to your customers and continuing to make them happy.”

“Keep iterating and finding new levels of product market fit, and your business will thrive.” – James Morrell, Muval

Justifying your market fit requires more than just a feeling that people will want what you’re selling. James Burnett can vouch for this. When asked what he’d do differently if he had a chance to go back and start ORIGO Education again, one of the things that came to mind was “[using] data to drive decisions rather than [his] own gut or instincts.”

There are plenty of ways to source this data, from reviewing industry reports to running consumer surveys. But perhaps the best way to get this information is…

#3. Speak to customers as soon as possible – and value them forever.

You can spend hours locked away in your office, wondering what your customers think and feel about your product. Alternatively, you can spend a few minutes talking to them, and find out firsthand.

For Sharon Melamed, founder of Matchboard, this one’s a no-brainer. She recommends collecting as much feedback from your target market as possible.

“Never underestimate the power of speaking with customers,” Sharon says.

“They will tell you what they want, what they don’t want, and what they would be willing to try or buy.”

“If you truly listen to customers and not make assumptions about their wants and preferences, you already have an advantage.” – Sharon Melamed, Matchboard

Don’t just listen to your customers, though. You need to treasure them. This is true for businesses in all stages, but it’s especially pertinent for new brands trying to find their way in the early days.

“Paying customers are harder to find than most entrepreneurs imagine,” Sharon explains.

“Early success in acquiring customers is important to get momentum and ensure sustainability.”

William Brook, CEO of Brookfarm, also recognises the importance of cultivating a passionate fanbase, which has been hugely influential on the success of his business.

“We also attribute Brookfarm’s success to our loyal customers, both locally and further afield,” he says.

“Because we aren’t available in the major supermarkets, our fans are passionate about finding the products we create.”

If your start-up’s distribution is similarly limited, building a dedicated customer following can make a big difference. The key is creating a brand and a product that people are willing to go out of their way for.

Keep reading in Part 2 of our entrepreneurial advice series. In part 2, we look at:

  • Picking a niche
  • Automation
  • Branding consistency
  • Getting started without funding.

We hope these entrepreneur tips from successful start-up founders have inspired you on your own journey. If you need some help with the financial aspects of launching your own business, check out our Commercial Loans, overdrafts and Everyday Business Account .

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Any advice contained in this article is general advice only and does not take into account your objectives, financial position or needs. Before making a decision to purchase or continue to hold any financial product, please consider whether any advice is appropriate for your circumstances, as well as the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Financial Services Guide.