The spark of an idea often provides the drive to get a business off the ground, but as four successful female founders revealed last week, the most valuable trait any aspiring founder can have is endurance. “The founder journey, it’s a marathon not a sprint,” Adore Beauty founder, Kate Morris, told a packed room on Tuesday at the FW X Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Talks in Melbourne. Morris was joined by Matcha Maiden founder, Sarah Holloway, Liven co-founder, Grace Wong, and Sidekicker co-founder, Jacqui Bull. FW editor-at-large Jamila Rizvi led the panel discussion as these four impressive women spoke about the value of learning on the job, tweaking as you go, and staying ahead of the game.
And maybe the most valuable piece of advice was shared during a discussion on protecting your wellbeing while you’re busy racing toward your dreams. “The way that you have to think about it in terms of looking after your own mental health and wellbeing so you can stay in it is to go, ‘OK, I’m the most valuable resource that my company has.’ What needs to happen for this valuable resource to be protected, so that this resource can continue to add value over the next five, 10, nearly 20 years in my case,” Morris said. “You have to look after yourself enough to stay in it. You work hard, right, but you’ve got to be able to hang in there. For me, I probably dropped a lot of things out of my life. Because for me, it just gets to be a little too much. I don’t really do dinner parties any more. If we go on holidays, it’s to one of the same two places we’ve been to before because it’s just really easy to organise. On weekends I like to organise zero activities. All I do is hang out with my kids. That’s pretty much it. That’s what sort of keeps me sane and on an even keel. Just kind of refining your life down to the things that are really important.”
Here are the other key pieces of wisdom from the evening:
Sarah Holloway: “In anything you do in a new business – in a new phase or a new product or a new market – you tend to want to do it all straight away. Launch with all your SKUs or launch with a warehouse or launch big bang kind of stuff but that will blow all your budget before you’ve tested anything out. So go slowly, be willing to refine, be willing to be really adaptable,” said the Matcha Maiden founder. “The best way to learn is to do it on the go because the market changes so fast, that if you just sit down and do everything in theory and research it and be ready before you launch, you’re going to launch and all of it will have changed by the time you actually get there. So the best way to market something is to test it on the go and then tweak.”
Grace Wong: “You have to learn how to unlearn actually, and learn again. This is the skill that a lot of people don’t know how to do because they think that they know. It’s actually the skill of learning to unlearn and then to learn. So when you don’t know anything, don’t panic… You just have to know, ‘I am going to make it and there is no Plan B. Just Plan A,’” said the Liven co-founder. And her advice to retaining staff may have been the highlight of the night: “This guy is still our CTO and ever since he’s been headhunted by Alibaba, Facebook. Everytime I tell him, ‘If you’re in here, you’re the head of chicken, if you go there, you are the tail of dragon.”
Jacqui Bull: “‘Be alert but not alarmed,’ I guess is the phrase. What I’ve learned over the years is that there are always going to be problems, there are always going to be changes in the macro environment, there are going to be micro changes. You just have to get really good at problem solving, and as Grace said, hyper-learning. You’re constantly learning,” said the Sidekicker co-founder. “There is no set and forget. When I first started the business I remember thinking we were going to build the website, go live and then that was it. We would have a tech business. My god, the millions of dollars that we have spent on technology, I look back and think I was so naive. It is just constantly learning and making sure you’re ahead of the game. Essentially, you have to be ahead of your competitors.”
Kate Morris: “Cluelessness is a great virtue. Because, you know, all the things that you don’t know can’t put you off. If you knew at the start, all of the things that you would have to go through, all of the things that you didn’t know and all of the things that you were going to mess up, and all of the times you were going to sit and cry in your car because you thought you were going to run out of money, you wouldn’t do it,” said the Adore Beauty founder. “But you don’t know. So you go, ‘Well sure, I’ll give that a crack. Why not?’ There’s some bliss in ignorance to some extent and what I used to tell myself when it all seemed a bit impossible was, ‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ And I thought the worst thing that can happen is that I was 21, and I would be 25 and I’d be unemployed and I wouldn’t have any money. It was like, ‘What have you got to lose!?’”
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