The raw truth about startups

A-rollercoaster-ride-001Last week I was privileged to speak to a group of aspiring entrepreneurs at Sydney University.  The Uni’s startup up program, Incubate, brings together students with bright ideas who are looking to start their own businesses, particularly in the technology space.

A panel of four women-led tech startup founders spoke to a room full of bright eyed and bushy tailed women who were all, I’m sure, looking to hear about our stellar successes and our blueprints for growth – but what they heard was something completely different.

Overwhelmingly, each one of us spoke about how hard it was to have your own business, how much tenacity was required and how much we’d each put on the line for our businesses.  They also heard how passionate we each were about riding the rollercoaster – in fact, more than one of us referred to the “addiction” we had for our own businesses.

I found the stories fascinating – from one Founder who had no intention of starting her own business only to be found smack-bang in the middle of it, to another who had one that had been overtaken by a major US business with exactly the same model but tens of millions more in funding.  She had pivoted now into a business that supports women in startups who lack the technical background they need.  The third was a non-tech Founder who now baffled us all with tech-speak, the result of being immersed in her business and a couple of years of “in the deep end” learning.  Now she’s up with the best of them and partnering with some major tech companies in the US who need her back-end storage solution.

And then there was me – a Co-Founder who, with my trusty business partner-in-crime launched a recruitment tech business with no idea about recruitment or tech – but with a problem that no one else was solving.

We spoke about ideas, passion, attitude, determination, challenges and fears with what I thought was raw honesty.  No sugar-coating here.  But we weren’t complaining.  Rather we wanted to encourage these ladies into thinking that anything is possible – but it doesn’t come without pain and suffering.

We obviously said something right because none of them seemed deterred.  Over drinks afterward one woman asked me what I idea I thought she should pursue.  My answer – something you’re passionate about it.

For me, it’s not that I’m necessarily passionate about recruitment, but I am passionate about helping people get work – because without it, none of us can survive (unless you were born with the proverbial silver spoon).  I’m especially passionate about getting kids into work, possibly because I’m a mum but more probably because I think we owe it to them to give them opportunities to excel.  (There’ll be a whole other blog post coming on that topic!)

There was also discussion about whether or not the women in the group would have gotten the same raw stories from men in startups and the only man in our group thought not.  Why is that?  Is it because men have more fear about admitting failure?  Is it pride or ego that stops them from being honest enough to tell the warts-and-all stories?

As a startup you look to others who have been there, done that for guidance as to the way forward.  You read books, you watch videos, you listen to podcasts about the road to success, yet there are very few stories about the real journeys.

Ariana Huffington wrote about her story of collapsing from exhaustion in her quest for success in her recent book, Thrive.  It was a raw and honest story.  Would something like get written by a man?

Similarly I once heard the Founder of Healthy Habits – a sandwich fast-food franchise that sold to a major franchise group – tell her story of success, and how it broke her in many ways and how she was still recovering.  Again, it’s not a story you’d typically hear from a man.

In the very early days of Workible, we were told by someone that successful businesses had a way of reinventing their path to success – and they seemed to carefully omit the trials, tribulations and failures along the way.

I love our business, I love what we’ve achieved and continue to – but it hasn’t come without a stack of personal cost to both Alli and I.  When we’ve “made it” (and we will) into the league of major Australian success stories, I’m sure we will be mindful that would-be entrepreneurs need to hear the whole story – not just the good parts.  Yes, it’s a roller coaster – but then I’ve always loved them.

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