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Business strategy

4 key tips for startup founders to rise above adversity 

- June 15, 2021 3 MIN READ
David Walsh
CIM founder and CEO David Walsh
As a startup founder, I know first hand the enormous personal resilience it takes to overcome adversity, setbacks and challenges.

During the GFC in Ireland I lost it all. With my young family, I decided to take a courageous leap of faith and relocate to Australia with only $5,000 in my pocket in search of new opportunities and a better life.

Having a background in computer science and property I spotted the gap for technology and automation to dramatically improve building efficiency, before the term PropTech was popular.

Six years ago I founded my startup CIM, bootstrapping the company with only $1,300. I worked on my startup during the day, swallowed my pride, and took a job at night paying $38 an hour to stuff satchels for a freight company to fund my vision.

CIM is now used in major airports, shopping centres and commercial buildings across Australia with revenues growing at 80% per annum for the past five years. CIM will reach $10 million in annual recurring revenue by the end of 2021.

Here is what I learned about doing whatever it takes to overcome adversity and succeed:

Don’t be afraid to fail, go back to the drawing board and start again

Opportunities exist within a crisis. The GFC was a very difficult time for me, but it gave me the chance to do a reset and to start again from scratch.

A personal or wider economic crisis, like the pandemic we’re all currently experiencing, can be used as a catalyst to be agile and innovative. If at first you don’t succeed, go back to the drawing board and start again, don’t let failure stop your entrepreneurial journey.

 

Bootstrap till you confirm what the market wants

I favour bootstrapping and organic growth in the beginning as it is the fastest way to know if you really do have a product that the market will embrace.

We’ve seen so many startups take capital first, dilute the founders profit share, be overvalued and face enormous pressure to deliver, without really confirming their product or service is what customers really want.

Before they’ve even built a solid platform, they’re under pressure to scale. Sometimes this means swallowing your pride, taking a job at night stuffing satchels or staying in your day job while building a side hustle to the point where you know you’ve got something that can really succeed.

 

Leverage gaps to build solutions to help people and the planet

There are enormous opportunities for smart thinkers and innovative entrepreneurs to come up with new products and services that can solve social and environmental issues.

Our planet is in desperate need of new solutions and approaches. Humans can’t continue to live and consume the way we have in the past, we need to find smarter and better ways to reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the planet.

We will see an acceleration in social and environmental startups coming forward with new ways to do things better over the coming years.

 

Use a compelling vision to secure an A-team

The first key hires in any startup are crucial to future success.

When you can’t fight on salary, you need to be able to articulate a strong compelling vision and mission, to attract top tier talent to galvanise around your purpose.

My first key hires, while bootstrapping the business and without much funding, were former Atlassian and Goldman Sachs, people who never had to work again if they didn’t want to.

They joined my startup because they believed in the vision and genuinely wanted to build clean technology solutions that can help save the planet. Six years on, they’re still with me and passionate about what we’re trying to achieve.

 

There are lots of sayings that get thrown at founders. Things like ‘pressure makes diamonds’ and ‘nothing worthwhile comes easy’. As a founder, you will face many challenges. Find a market niche that demands to be filled.

Believe in your vision and swallow your pride to do whatever it takes to fund your dream. And bring in the best talent you can to help you on the journey.

* David Walsh is the founder of CIM, a world leader in building analytics software.