Thriving in the Uncertain World of Startups: A Message From the Other Side
By Naomi Simson, Co-Founder, Big Red Group
Way back last century I thought it would be a great idea to leave my safe, secure and (relatively) well-paid corporate job to start my own business. I had worked for big corporations with big budgets, formal planning processes, accounts departments and IT help desks. In startup land you have none of these things, and there is no one to ask about anything.
Last century we did not have Google or Siri; Einstein or Albert; there were no YouTube ‘how to’ videos, or any of the cloud applications now available for startups for everything from designing logos to accounting software. There was no such thing as social media and there was certainly no Shark Tank giving aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase their new product or service to a team of potential investors and customers in the form of a national TV audience.
A lot of people wonder what it's really like to ‘chuck it all in’ and start your own business. For me, it meant working from the front room of my home on a second-hand turquoise iMac. What did I decide to achieve in the early stages of my business? The answer… “Oh everything!” From coming up with a name to working out the business model, and understanding how big the market might be. I also had to discover whether anyone else thought it was a good idea, and if they would actually part with their hard-earned cash to use it.
I am often asked what would I do differently if I had my time again. The reality is that there were many painful, and expensive, lessons (especially in the first 90 days) that just have to be learned. You can learn a lot from reading, or from other people and mentors, but there is nothing quite like learning from your own mistakes—no matter how costly.
You can learn a lot from reading, or from other people and mentors, but there is nothing quite like learning from your own mistakes—no matter how costly
We’ve maintained this ‘fail fast learn fast’ entrepreneurial spirit and mentality at the Big Red Group, parent company to RedBalloon, Redii.com and Marketics (Albert AI). Permission to try and (sometimes) fail is part of our DNA—so much so that my co-founder and business partner David Anderson has often been quoted as saying, “I’d prefer to make twenty $50,000 mistakes than one $1 million mistake”.
I started my business to make sure I was able to feed and educate my children, and work from home at the same time so I could be with them. Being profitable and making money are clearly two important goals for any business, but quite frankly you can often make more money working for someone else. If money is the major motivator, then I would seriously question if that is enough of a reason to start your own show. In those early years, financially I would have been much better off staying an employee than going it alone. Money was definitely not something that was around in my first 90 days. In fact, it took two months and four days just to make the first RedBalloon experience voucher sale. No cash coming in; just a deep belief in what I was doing.
Above all else, if I was starting my time over again with a new business, it would have to be something I am deeply passionate about. I would need to clearly see how it makes a difference to others and how it improves the world we live in. I would definitely look for something that is unique or innovative. I would not open a ‘me too’ business that does not have clear differentiators, which is what I said to most of the businesses that pitched to me during the filming of Shark Tank Australia.
I have always been very clear on why I do what I do everyday; I know the value I’m adding and I know our story. At the Big Red Group we shift the way people experience life, and this keeps me incredibly focused every day. If you have passion, a clear purpose and are persistent, it is far easier to engage people in what you are up to (a good dose of positivity will serve you well too). I will never forget the single-mindedness of the first 90 days; the need to learn so much so quickly and to be my own help desk.
Being an entrepreneur, founder or small business owner is a brave thing to do—it is not for the faint-hearted. I can assure anyone on this path, or considering walking it, that it does not get any smoother. Failure or disaster could be just around the corner, no matter the size of the enterprise. This is part of the reason I wrote Ready To Soar; How to turn your brilliant idea into a business you love—if you are thinking of starting a business please invest in your success by reading it. I want founders to be wide-eyed and informed as they take the plunge into the thrilling world of business ownership.