News & Analysis

Owners Collective wants to be the ‘virtual accelerator’ for small businesses

- August 6, 2015 5 MIN READ

Education systems have traditionally taught people how to become small cogs in big hierarchical machines; and there is still no academic discipline that adequately trains people on how to found, build and grow a company. This is why we’ve seen an increasing number of education programmes, both structured and unstructured, popping up to help drive nascent entrepreneurs towards successful business outcomes, including Silicon Valley-headquartered Zana, Sydney-based The Entourage and Melbourne-based Peer Academy. The latest to enter this space is Owners Collective, a Sydney-based company that wants to “make small businesses a big deal”.

Founded by Sydney-based entrepreneur Pru Chapman, Owners Collective is a new business development initiative designed to help guide Australian and New Zealand entrepreneurs through the initial stages of their business. Unlike its competitors that typically charge $15,000 for 12-month programmes, Owners Collective offers a 12-week program at less than AU$1,600 ($1,350 for early bird customers). The Mastermind Series, which is hosted online and run bi-annually in February and September, covers a range of business bases including entrepreneurial mindset, business planning, relationship-based marketing and social media, finances, psychology of sales, team development, philanthropy and productivity and systems.

Chapman said the learning material is delivered in “logical, interactive steps so that our members do not get overwhelmed and give up, but rather continue to learn and build through the duration of the course.”

The cost of starting a business has come down significantly now that we can leverage cloud infrastructure and technologies of scale. Because of this, the general consensus is that there’s no better time to be an entrepreneur. Although businesses are being launched at an increasing rate, the rate of failure is also alarmingly high, with the most commonly cited statistic being 90 percent.

Chapman, who has over 15 years of experience in psychology, coaching and business development, attributes the high failure rate to knowledge gaps. In fast-paced markets, where competing businesses pop up within weeks or months of each other, it’s necessary for entrepreneurs to execute their solution and business model well. However, it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to be experts across all sectors of their company like recruitment and employee development, marketing and finances, all of which contribute to the success of the company.

It’s well-known that entrepreneurs need to be generalists; they need to be able to wear multiple hats and switch from one mindset to another, particularly in the early stages of building a business.

Although traditional education programmes, for the most part, are not delivering anything of high value, the fact that we’re technologically-connected in ways previously inconceivable means knowledge gaps can be filled more easily than ever before – that is, via online platforms.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in business. Particularly because of the online platforms we have available to us, we’re seeing startups and small businesses have an instant reach to international audiences. As such, what we’re seeing is the rise of the entrepreneur, the passion-fuelled entrepreneur,” said Chapman.

“However, what we’re seeing is that although they’re driven by passion, [many entrepreneurs] don’t have the business skills to make their project or business sustainable and profitable. That’s why Owner’s Collective came about … what I’ve seen is that there are repeated knowledge gaps across businesses.”

The Mastermind series is run by entrepreneurs – known as Mavericks – from various industries. The entrepreneurial mindset lesson is run by Krista Jane Smith; branding, marketing and social media is taught by Zoe Weldon from Seeker Lover Dreamer, a social media and branding agency; the visual branding component of this lesson is run by Tess Robinson, the owner of Sydney-based creative agency Smack Bang Designs; Dave Hodge, Founder of financial firm Vital Addition, is teaching finances; Serena Sandstrom is taking the lead on the psychology of sales lesson; productivity and systems is being taught by Pru Chapman herself; the team development lesson is being headed up by Chapman, Lara Allport from The Drawing Arm and Simon Barrett from The National Grid; and lastly the philanthropy lesson is being taught by Tatianna Alpert from the Little Hobo Project. Owners Collectives is operating on a profit-share model so the Mavericks are compensated for their time and effort.

The course is said to be intensive and requires commitment from members. Chapman agreed that the Mastermind Series is somewhat of a ‘virtual accelerator’ for small businesses, minus the cash injection, equity exchange and liability involved in a conventional business accelerator. Across 12 weeks, members will receive 20 hours worth of step-by-step video tutorials around the aforementioned topics, and will also be required to attend a weekly online Q&A session with the Maverick leading the lesson of the week. The pre-recorded videos and recorded Q&As are accessible to members for a period of 12 months.

Members also receive workbooks and access to Owners Collective’s private Facebook group if in need of additional support to resolve an issue, discuss business challenges or provide and receive feedback.

At the moment, it seems Owners Collective’s closest competitor is Jack Delosa’s The Entourage, however there is a stark price difference between their offerings. Chapman believes small businesses that are in their early stages require a much more affordable option because they’re already investing a lot of money into their businesses.

Owners Collective’s affordability – Chapman said the Mastermind Series will always cost south of $2,000 – compared to other business education programmes might raise the question of whether the learning experience it offers is of high value and whether the business will be sustainable, but Chapman said it’s all run online so operating costs are low and the post-response to the pilot programme has been overwhelmingly positive.

In the February, Owners Collective’s pilot program attracted 30 participants including graphic designers, nutritionists, lawyers and personal trainers.

“Feedback was phenomenal and proof that business owners are hungry for authentic, left of centre, and inspiring business courses,” said Chapman.

Chapman admitted that the programme has attracted more female members than male, though it wasn’t marketed to target females. However, being founded by a female, and having more female than male Mavericks, this is unsurprising.

It’s worth noting that although Owners Collective considers itself a startup, the service it offers won’t appeal as strongly to startup founders than small business owners. This is because startups and small businesses have different needs and face different challenges.

Specifically, startups require additional subject matter expertise in areas like raising venture capital, accelerator and incubator programs, data-driven A/B testing, design prototyping, UX/UI design, programming, customer identification and development, growth hacking, and so on. Silicon Valley-based Zana is more suitable to startups; even the free version offers part-by-part videos starring some of the most renowned entrepreneurs of our time, as well as other resources.

However, there is still some crossover with the content offered by Owners Collective. Chapman said startups would especially benefit from the marketing segment of the course, as well as sales psychology and team development, as those subjects are relevant to all businesses.

“[Tech startup founders are] usually quite good in their technical knowledge, so their skillset is excellent, their product is excellent and they might have a good understanding of financial modelling as well. But where they can really gain the most out of the program is through that marketing component, all because we’re really walking into an age of relationship-based marketing,” said Chapman.

“Relationship-based marketing means that we’re not interested in advertising, as in we as consumers are not interested in advertising or a one-way conversation anymore. It really is a two-way conversation, building up a relationship with your audience. It’s about being clear to businesses about why you do what you do and then building relationships from that point. So that’s the way brands are moving these days.”

Owners Collective is already plans to take its Mastermind Series to an international audience in 2016, with a specific focus on North America.

“There is a connection growing between US and Australian based businesses, with huge potential to foster a business collaborate between the two cultures. Owners Collective provides a unique insight into Australian-based businesses that can provide a direct platform for US companies to hook into,” said Chapman.

If The Entourage’s success is anything to go by, Owners Collective may achieve a similar cult-like following, especially from budding entrepreneurs.