Amanda Gome, founder and former CEO of Private Media had a bad start to a brilliant day. Getting up pre-dawn to fly to Sydney on the red eye to sell sell sell all day in back to back meetings, she pulled up her tights, grabbed a warm jacket and headed out the door to the waiting taxi only to get out at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne and think ‘it’s a cold day today’! Oh, no! I forgot my skirt!!! Never mind, push on, the plane is about to leave and the shops will be open in Sydney at 8am won’t they? Oh, no, nevermnd, first meeting at 8:30am – Sell! Sell! Sell! And so she did all day in fishnet tights, a short jacket and without her skirt, and her ‘no skirt’ start-up story lives on…do you have your own start up story?
Gome at age 45, had interviewed plenty of successful business people and entrepreneurs in her life as editor of BRW but when she put down the phone after talking to Matt Rockman, co-founder of Seek, she thought ‘it’s time’. Now years down the track with a host of successful online media titles established under the Private Media umbrella including Smart Company, Crikey, Property Observer, The Power Index, Leading Company, Start Up Smart, Tech Company and Women’s Agenda, Amanda Gome found some time to share her insights on starting up smart with the VECCI HR breakfast in Melbourne.
Seek had a better product for job seekers and recruiters and Gome acknowledged that to Rockman. Gome was not going to give Seek a profile in BRW, a Fairfax publication no less, until it had a couple of key clients and some runs on the board but when she put the phone back down and sat back in her chair it was blatantly apparent to her that advertising dollars were about to walk out the door and it was time to jump in and get her feet wet in digital media.
Tip #1 – Don’t miss an opportunity
Having spent plenty of time towelling business leaders for missing the Internet revolution, making mistakes or missing opportunity, Gome knew it was time to get out from behind the comfort of the keyboard and plunge into her own start up. A few calls and $400K fundraising later and Private Media was up and running.
Tip #2 – Trust your gut
The early signs were there that media would migrate from print to online but the data and facts had not caught up with the trends. Gome insisted it was time and knew it in her gut to get out there and have a go at a new business media model.
Tip #3 – Don’t stuff up your message – stories matter in start-ups!
Having interviewed countless founders before Gome noticed how they used the power of ‘storytelling’ constantly to answer questions, during interviews and made sure they were there to interview new starters and share their founder(s) stories.
Tip #4 – Recruit on attitude
Ever been to an interview where the founder(s) pre-empt the interview with a preliminary chat? Then proceed to share stories, ask about family (probe for loyalty), check in if you have failed before and how you bounced back (resilience & learning) and then proceeded or not proceeded with the more formal ‘interview’? Given you are going to be a part of a small team, experience failure, learn and need to be resilient the attitude you bring to the start-up is important.
Tip #5 – Recruit for diversity – sex, age and race
Balance is important in the workplace and so is diversity for creativity. Too many men and its ‘blokey’. Too many ladies and its ‘bitchy’. Young workers can bring lots of technology and attitude, older workers can bring a lot of wisdom and knowledge – combine all these things together and you create a powerful combination to create and innovate.
Get a board of mentors – start-ups are lonely for the founders and odds are someone has been there before you and can help give you some advice to help you navigate the tough decisions. Gome used past contacts to sound out and bounce and build her thoughts as she went through the inevitable crisis’s of growth and leadership all founders face to help her make up her mind what to do in difficult situations.
You’re a tech company first, a media or XYZ company second. Bring IT in house and make IT’s mission training everyone how to use the latest technology to perform their work more effectively and more efficiently. Don’t hate the nerds – embrace them and make it their mission to bring everyone forward with them including your older employees.
Stay on focus and innovate. Sounds easy to say but when everything is going on and there is more to do than time to do it you need to constantly delegate to spend time on strategy. You also need to protect your business models by building moats around them e.g. Leading Company & Start-up Smart are moats to protect the mainstay of Smart Company.
There are always opportunities and ideas so keep your ears and eyes open next time you take a call or have a conversation with someone in your industry that makes you sit back and think afterwards – Wow! That is going to disrupt me and my industry. It might just be the opportunity you do not want to miss for your Smart Start-Up!
Dermott Dowling is founding Director of @Creatovate, an Innovation & International Business Consultancy.