If you could turn back time would you do anything differently? Hindsight can be both a negative and positive thing- we learn from our mistakes but we also wish we didn’t have to make that mistake in the first place. But, founders continuously grow and learn as time goes by and mistakes are often the best ways to learn important lessons.
Dynamic Business asked founders what they would do differently if they turned back time?
Phoebe Netto, Founder, Pure Public Relations Perspective:
I would have not been reluctant to promote my expertise and the benefits my business brings. So often craftsmen, creators and practitioners are thrust into the role of growing a business when all they really want to be doing (and all they know how to do) is what they’ve been trained to do. Being that practitioner who started my own PR business, almost ten years ago now, I can wholeheartedly affirm that not only can you be taught to sell, you can learn to love it. Especially when you see the benefit your business can bring to your customers or clients. If I could turn back time, I would have learned that sooner.
Reuven Barukh, CEO, Live group:
I would invest in core systems from day one. We’ve recently invested in improving our CRM, marketing automation and ticketing to streamline our sales process and better leverage data. However, had we invested in these systems early on, not only would it have saved us the headache of needing to migrate data now, it would also have given us better quality data from the outset.
I would also develop a customer retention strategy early on. When you’re starting out it’s natural to focus on customer acquisition. But even if you acquire customers easily, without a customer retention strategy it can be easy to lose them. We’ve made this a big focus over the last 18 months by offering Qantas Points promotions, gifts, refer a friend programs and other incentives which have reduced attrition by seven percent. Had we introduced this from the beginning, however, our customer retention would be even better.
Stephen Barnes, Byronvale Advisors Pty Ltd, Management Consultants:
There are three things I would do differently. Firstly, I would get someone else involved in my business not necessarily as a part owner but as a trusted advisor and a person to support and coach me. Starting a business can be quite lonely and isolating and having someone to bounce my thoughts off would have reduced that lone-wolf feeling and also made it easier to maintain motivation and passion. Secondly, and something a tell my clients, is to think as a business owner rather than a practitioner right from day 1. Work more on your business rather than in your business. The third thing would be to systemise the business. This helps enable you to get others to help you and lets you focus on the things that create the greatest value, allows you to take time out of the business, and to again work on your business rather than in your business.
Sabri Suby, Founder, King Kong:
My digital marketing business, King Kong, has been running for four years and before that I had other businesses, and there is nothing that I would change. Without some failure, you never get to the really good stuff.
If you went back and changed one thing you don’t know what knock-on effects that one change could have to the success of your business. Every decision along the way has resulted in the successful business I now have. And I would not want to change anything to make things easier, because the struggle and hard work is what makes us better. For example, bootstrapping helped me appreciate every dollar that goes in and out of my business and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Finance expert and author, Vanessa Stoykov:
If you could turn back time in my business, I would have managed my cashflow very differently from the get-go! When I started I was 26 and only had $14,000 to my name, and I spent $10,000 of that on an blow out launch party with lasers and purple cocktails… Managing my money wisely was an important task that I had to learn quickly, and luckily I did. Unfortunately I’m not the only one who learnt money lessons the hard way though, and finance isn’t a topic that comes naturally to a lot of people, so I’m a big believer in helping people learn to make better financial decisions today to help them improve their futures (both in business and life!).
Linda Simonsen, CEO, FuturePeople:
The 5 things I’d do differently if I could go back in time would be; Learning to tune in and listen to my intuition – it’s always right!; Finding, coaching and engaging a future successor at the beginning of the journey to avoid ending up being the only key person tied to the business; Investing in my own personal and professional development to grow as a leader; Learning about, and practising, emotional intelligence much earlier on – as it is critical to being an effective leader and engaging others around your vision and journey, plus, it is beneficial for building resilience in and outside of work too; and lastly, Prioritising my own well-being above all else. I thought that working long hours, being the last woman standing and doing the heavy lifting when others couldn’t was my job as an entrepreneur and leader. It’s only when the toll of this couldn’t be ignored that I understood the importance of making sure I was taking care of myself first and foremost.
Tim Bos, Co-Founder, Keaz and ShareRing:
One common mistake that founders make when building their business is that they jump at any revenue generating opportunity, even if it distracts from their core business goals. We were faced with these opportunities many times when building our car sharing business, Keaz, but we managed to avoid these mistakes by bringing on board an outstanding investor board, legal advisor and tax specialist, who helped guide us through these distractions and other pitfalls we might have faced had we not kept our focus.
Noah Abelson-Gertler, CEO, ShareRoot:
Businesses need to remember to build more and focus more on the unique value propositions they hold within their platforms and as a company. The alternative is to try and play catch up with competitors and build what other companies already have, which is never the correct move.
Business leaders need to strike an effective balance between networking and everyday tasks and responsibilities. Networking is crucial — some of our largest partnership deals and advisor appointments have been a byproduct of networking — but you cannot do this at the expense of face-time with your team and time at the computer getting on top of your workload. While it is a constant juggle, measure the results at a reasonable cadence.
Mel Flanagan, Founder, NOOK Studios:
Nook is a small creative technology company working on revolutionary open government information and data services, and social impact projects. We mostly do project-based work which means revenue comes through in peaks and troughs. A few reasons for this are; erratic project cycles, forced hiatuses when waiting for contracts, and seasonal slumps such as pre and post-Christmas when decisions grind to a halt.
In our ‘down’ time, we focus on research and development of our own projects. However, the funding gaps are stressful and a distraction, feelings I think most small business and start up owners can relate to.
There are now so many more options outside banks and easier ways SMEs can access much needed gap funds. I’ve used RateSetter for personal loans twice now to inject funds into Nook, once to ease the financial strain waiting for a government contract to arrive, and the second for a trip to connect with international collaborators which led to fantastic connections and opportunities for investment. It would have been interesting to see whether getting a loan sooner would have made a greater impact on our productivity and growth.
James Coyle, Chief Customer Officer, SuperEd:
At SuperEd, we’ve had a vision of the future with regards to retirement income and helping people make decisions around that. We created a unique engine that encompasses that vision and our ethos has been to distribute it to like-minded businesses with whom we found real synergy. The one thing that we should have done differently is to spend more time understanding it better from their perspective, particularly when it comes to engineering the user interface of our engine. We weren’t sufficiently painting that picture for them in terms of how our engine could run or making it easier to visualise its potential from the first step. It’s easy to overestimate people’s ability to see what you see with your vision for the startup and how you’re going to execute it. Not all businesses or prospective partners can necessarily realise the full potential of your platform and what it’s capable of, you have to help them visualise it. Often all they see is the initial stages of the engine rather than what it can deliver at scale. If we could turn back time in our business, we would have spent a lot more on the frills and packaging which is the ‘wow factor’, making the interface really appealing, and then slowly revealing the full power of our engine.
Prajit Nanu, Co-Founder & CEO, InstaReM:
An entrepreneur’s journey is not easy, or not as easy as I had imagined. Over the years, I have endured exhausting long hours of running a rapidly-expanding start-up. I’ve had to endure broken friendships, heartbreaks and a lack of family-time. If I could turn back time, I would of made more time for my loved ones, instead of investing all my time in to the business. The success of a business is important, but its good to step back a bit sometimes, and make time for family and friends on your business journey.’