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Three years ago Claire Kimball quit her lucrative job in corporate affairs with Woolworths to start a business from her lounge room. Suddenly she went from being at the end of a hotline for journalists, the government, shareholders and investors at one of Australia’s most renowned companies to reporting the news.
The move paid off. Today, The Squiz employs three people and is well on its way to keeping 50,000 subscribers informed about what’s going on in the world via a hugely successful free daily seven-minute podcast and morning newsletter. With the tagline ‘Your shortcut to being informed’, Kimball’s media start-up now dominates the news agenda for thousands of Australian men and women. It’s also Future Women’s partner in news.
The Squiz certainly came at the right time, as Kimball told Brooke Boney during a recent recording of Future Women’s Next Generation Innovators Podcast: “The trust that people have in mainstream news at the moment is around that 45-50 percent mark, our people rate our trustworthiness at about 99 percent which is fantastic. They really value that we’ve put it through a filter and tested it across a number of sources, the news they get then is really well verified.”
Moving into media wasn’t the first time The Squiz founder had changed course. Before Woolworths, she worked as an advisor to National Party MP Larry Anthony and was also partially responsible for helping Tony Abbott become Prime Minister.
Here are the secrets to start-up success Kimball shared with Boney, including why she’ll never lose sleep in a crisis.
“I’d seen some good [newsletters] from overseas. They were entertaining and really valuable if you were into finance or American politics or UK news, but there was nothing for me. Fundamentally I’m a fairly lazy person. There were many, many times when I really just wanted to sleep in, but I had an 8 o’clock meeting. So how do you get the shortest distance between getting out of bed and getting into that meeting and, unfortunately for me as the head of communications and then the head of corporate affairs, I needed to know what was happening in the news. What I thought was there was a really good gap in the market for something that covered Australian news at that time of day, that was updated and current and could really do something for busy people.”
“I had a six-month notice period at Woolworths, it was the worst! But there were plenty of people within Woolies who were happy to help me get set up with The Squiz. What I learned there was far more valuable to me than anything I learned at Parliament House. I was able to really tap into finance, legal, marketing – a whole range of actual functional things and expertise. [Woolworths] is a micro set of pretty much anything that a consumer business has to do, so to speak to the best operatives in the country – and put it into my little context – was incredibly valuable.”
“There’s that leap I think that many people take. It took me a while to say it out loud to people, it sounded so absurd to myself that I was going to do this. I’d probably been thinking about it for three or four years. There was something I thought would work here in Australia. But I didn’t see myself doing it. Then when I did see myself doing it, it took me a good three or four months to say out loud. I think it’s like any great secret you have, you tell people and everyone is great about it and all of a sudden it happens… It took me a bit of convincing that it was okay to give it a go. Once I’d said it, there was no stopping me.”
“Actually launching wasn’t that hard. I felt that I had a good enough support base and good advice. I wasn’t trying to boil the sea, I’m just putting out an email every day. I knew that I could get the content together, and do it in a way that would work– certainly for me. I thought if it worked for me then some other people might like it. So it wasn’t actually a really painful situation. The most difficult thing was the tech. Not my skill set, so we had those tech people who came and fixed things for you. So learning how to get a website up and running, connecting it to an email database and then sending something out everyday was probably the toughest thing about it.”
“I think that resilience definitely helps. There’s very few things [in politics] that are thrown at you that you don’t find a way to work out, one way or another. That doesn’t mean that you succeed every single time, but it certainly teaches you that you don’t take no for an answer. And that you push as hard as you possibly can to get whatever it is that you need to get done, whether that’s for your boss or for the team. The door’s not closed, there’s many more doors you can open and that’s the thing I think, just pushing and pushing. It doesn’t mean you have to be nasty or even angry, you just have to keep asking. I think that relentlessness has really helped a lot.
“I also think having that perspective out of politics about what bad days look like and how to stay on track to keep the team focused and to keep yourself moving forward, even if it was to deal with things that are difficult. I learnt that in politics in a really structured way. All that work that you put in to building that team around you, and also broadening your professional skills, really pays off in those more difficult times. I think you know when you’ve been through a few things that it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to lose sleep, there is always going to be tomorrow.”
“In my private life I’m not great at confrontation, but in my professional life I’m brilliant. I can tackle any situation. You learn those skills in politics. I say no a lot and actually in my private life I’m pretty good at not agreeing to do things that I really don’t want to do. I learned that very early for the bandwidth, as much as anything. There was nothing worse than getting to a Saturday night after a really big week and realising you had a party or a dinner that you had to go to that you really never wanted to go to in the first place. So I said no to a lot of things. Even from a very early stage. It’s an important skill to learn, to stand up for yourself, in a really positive way… I never get FOMO. My FOMO is not being on the sofa with my dog.”
Hear more from Brooke Boney’s conversation with The Squiz’s Claire Kimball by subscribing to and downloading the Future Women Next Generation Innovators Podcast.
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