The concerns keeping Australian startup leaders up at night

- January 29, 2019 7 MIN READ

Of course startups are always working hard, but it’s generally agreed upon that not as much gets done in the business world between, say, Melbourne Cup and the 26th of January, after which the last stragglers come back to the office from leave after dropping the kids back at school.

With the end of the holiday period officially upon us, it’s time to get back to business as usual. As we get ready to properly dive into the work year, with a state election in NSW and a federal election on the horizon, we asked a couple of Australian startup CEOs what they’re working on and what concerns might be keeping them up at night in 2019:

Des Hang, CEO of Carbar

You can steer company culture, but you can’t fully control it. So out of all the things I can cast doubt on, I tend to worry about whether I’m doing enough to cultivate culture at Carbar.

It’s not an issue you can just throw money at either. Hiring the right people to manage your teams are just as crucial as any offsite or activity.

There are so many incredible places to work, and it makes attracting the best talent difficult. But I hope that we’ve gotten the mix right, and will be in a position to bring in the right people to help us grow this year.

Will Richardson, managing director of Giant Leap Fund

The pace of change in our industry keeps me awake at night, and one of the ways we cope with it is to use Applied as our hiring platform. Here’s why:

While some principals stay the same, the way we assess companies for funding has changed significantly over the past few years. We expect it to continue to evolve.

The only way we can safeguard for this is to have faith in the team that has been assembled at Giant Leap. Smart hires keep up with change and help grow both personally and professionally. They also constantly deepen our relationships with our investors, ecosystem players and various experts to challenge our thinking.

The challenge is distinguishing signal from noise including in the hiring process which means being aware of our blindspots and biases. We use hiring platforms like Applied which are built on deep research to help remove bias in our decision making to hire new team members.

Natalie Firth and Ainsley Johnstone, cofounders and co-CEOs of ThinkTalent

People – it’s always people. Things move so quickly these days — there is more competition, and market demands mean you have to be flexible and adjust so quickly — that making sure our people are happy and motivated becomes the main priority.

We speak to a lot of business owners and executives every day, and we’re always hearing about how employees are simultaneously the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge.

Workplace stress has become such a prevalent issue over the last few years, and as a result the role of leaders is changing to reflect that. For us, it’s important that we effectively manage stress and ensure psychological safety for our staff.

In addition, being female leaders and mothers also means we’re always conscious about getting the work-life blend right for ourselves — and our staff.

Here at Think Talent we focus on ensuring that individual purpose is aligned to the organisational purpose, because the the end of the day, it’s always people who make the business work.

Justin Cannon, cofounder and CEO of Cooperate

As a business owner and CEO, one of the major issues that keeps me awake at night is hitting my forecasted revenue line.

So much hinges on being able to bring in that revenue with the right gross margins, because all the other levers you can pull as an executive team need a viable level of revenue to be effective.

If the gross margin you have left drops significantly from plan, it can render all other business tactics near useless.

So the number one thing I do is focus on marketing effectiveness because it is a significant variable cost that directly effects a business’ ability to bring in revenue as planned.

We have all heard that classic line, “I know my marketing is working, but I just don’t know which half.” This is one of the serious blind spots all CEOs should be trying to fight against.

Once a business has clarity on where every marketing dollar is being spent and if it is working towards its intended customer focused purpose, not only do you protect against the downside of missing your planned revenue, you open up the possibility to make the half of marketing that doesn’t work, actually do its job.

This will help businesses and CEOs smash forecasted revenue and profit targets, and that is what we all want to achieve as leaders.

Trevor Townsend, CEO of Startupbootcamp

CEOs should be concerned with maintaining their innovation agenda in the face of external uncertainty.

Top CEOs are concerned about a global recession in 2019. However, in the face of these external factors, CEOs are also concerned about new competition, creating new business models to adapt to disruptive technologies and how to maintain and attract top talent, who enviably want to work in high growth disruptive companies.

Innovation budgets are often the first place that CEOs and CFOs look for when finances are under pressure or things are uncertain, but dropping these initiatives during tough times can be a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Innovation needs to carry its share of budget cuts. However, the innovation process itself should be strengthened as a core method of reducing unnecessary costs and processes within an organisation. Learning and implementing the skills and mindset of lean innovation may well be the key to survival, and may well deliver the business model innovation that will enable the business to emerge from an uncertain period as stronger and better able to compete in the market.

How Startupbootcamp mitigates the potential impact of innovation budgets being reduced is by ensuring our corporate partners are provided tangible and measurable results that illustrate the value of investing in innovation. We also look to work with companies where disruption is already underway and the innovation imperative is, do or die!

In short, CEOs should focus on ensuring that their innovation function is part of the ‘answer’ to the question of how to face an uncertain 2019.

Ben Thompson, cofounder and CEO of Employment Hero

Employment Hero went from 93 to 136 employees in 2018. This has meant a big change in our business processes. Lots of people involved with one product, with lots of opportunities being actioned across different departments, means learning how to collaborate effectively. Our left hand needs to know what our right hand is doing, so to speak.

In 2019, we’re introducing OKRs (objectives and key metrics) to the business. This will help us understand how people are working cross-functionally and highlight how many interdependencies our different teams have, and then get them working better together. OKRs also help with supporting flexible work, remote working, working from home and with different geographical locations.

Hugh Stephens, founder and CEO of Sked Social

The thing that keeps me awake at night is understanding what sustainable growth can or should look like. We aren’t the kind of business that can sustainably grow revenue 600 per cent year-on-year without an eventual implosion.

However, we do grow at a decent clip each year (whether measured by headcount or revenue). So what does sustainable growth mean? Is it something about the amount of time that the founder spends on the business? The number of customers or employees we have? What should a ‘good month/quarter’ be compared to a ‘bad’ one?

And finally, how do I make sure we are building the right team based on what the business needs now and in the near/mid future?

Unlike a venture-funded business, we don’t hire for 12 months in the future, in reality it’s more like six months and that time difference is slowly decreasing. So how should we be structuring teams across departments to get the best outcomes for customers?

Haggai Alon, CEO of Security Matters

I am used to sleeping for only four hours a night – and have done this since childhood. The real thing for me is why I stay awake at night. Being based in Israel means that one o’clock in the morning is when the Australian market opens.

As we have a large shareholder base in Australia, there is a need for me to be awake and accessible. For me, it is more about how I stay awake in those hours between 11pm and 1am, before Australia comes online.

When most are sleeping I may go for a run or work in the garden – I’ve even set up some lights to allow me to do this. When it comes to actually sleeping, I don’t have too much trouble. Once I’m asleep, that’s it until I need to be up again.

Andrea Myles, CEO of the China Australia Millennial Project

The #1 issue which keeps me awake at night is whether or not Australia will capitalise upon the meteoric rise of China. Economists say this rise has delivered the single greatest economic shock to the Australian economy in its history, yet less than 10% of Australian businesses trade with Asia. Today, China’s economy is 2000% bigger than ours and growing at approximately 3x the rate.

According to our Chief Scientist, our exporting companies innovate, but Australia’s innovative companies tend not to export. This means the Australia startup ecosystem is leaving billions of dollars on the table simply because we don’t yet know how to navigate China’s complex market, where other nations are streaking ahead, despite the Chinese consumer market having a stronger appetite for all things Australian.

For businesses and leaders struggling to stand out, I suggest exploring what’s going on in your field in China, identifying the strategic complimentary partnerships possible and running far and fast with it while our competitors in China, the UK and US are distracted with domestic politics.

Adrian Przelozny, founder and CEO of Independent Reserve

At Independent Reserve, our philosophy has always been to put the customer at everything that we do. What keeps me awake at night is the challenge of designing a company culture that ensures every line of business thought process starts with the customer.

One of the most important aspects of servicing our customers is response time and providing 24/7 support even during the public holidays. While the banks sleep, we don’t. As our user base grows, we’ve had to adapt and improve our processes rapidly to ensure response time and resolution management are not compromised.

Late last year, Independent Reserve was recognised and debuted at #17 in the Australian Financial Review’s Fast Starters List for 2018. This recognition validates all the hard work and passion we have put in to create a trusted and regulated trading platform for cryptocurrencies in Australia and around the world.

We know our success is made possible by the dedication to our customers and there is pressure on us to continue to deliver clients the best trading experience.

Rudy Crous, CEO of Shortlyster

Like many other startup CEOs, one of the biggest issues that keeps me awake is talent.

Whether it’s being able to quickly identify the right talent, hiring talent faster to avoid good candidates from receiving multiple job offers, or building an optimal company culture to retain existing talent.

The issue is there is a very limited talent pool in Australia and now more than ever, companies need to have solutions in place to overcome this challenge because who you hire can make or break your business.

Darren Winterford, founder and CEO of EdApp

We currently have fantastic engineering talent at EdApp and we are at the forefront of leading tech like Machine Learning and other mobile technology.
Potentially the biggest issue is how to continue to attract top talent in the face of some of the restrictive immigration policies currently being discussed by various western countries.

We will continue to require leading minds to help us build out our product offering, but any restrictions placed on the free movement of talent would be limiting, especially since we have a global brand that has offices in Australia, the USA, and the UK.

Image: City of Melbourne/That Startup Show/Photographer Wren Steiner