Last year I was super fortunate to attend the Business Chicks ‘Meet the Founders’ event with Cyan Ta’eed of Envato, Jacinta McDonell of Anytime Fitness and Kristina Karlsson of kikki.K.
I was blown away by this event, made tonnes of hasty notes (see below!) and immediately came home and shared EVERYTHING I HAD LEARNT with Abramo.
If you don’t know the three women, here is a very, very tiny bio for each. I absolutely implore you to find out as much as you can about them and soak up all the lessons and inspiration possible!
Born in New York and raised in Sydney by creative parents, Ta’eed studied graphic design and launched her own freelance business shortly after graduating. Later with a co-founder and now husband Collis Ta’eed, she launched the first of a group of online markets for designers and developers, now selling everything from wordpress themes, to invitation design and audio files. They personally funded the business, working freelance out of a garage to pay for the site build that was originally expected to take three weeks but blew out to six months.
Shortly after launching, the pair went travelling. Having established a business they could run from “anywhere that had Wifi”, they sold almost everything they owned in a garage sale, packed everything else into two suitcases, and got on a plane to Hong Kong.
They spent 18 months travelling while growing the business, starting with thirty hour weeks before doubling those hours as the operation got larger. By the time they returned home, they had an office in Melbourne and a number of full-time staff, including developers.
Envato has flourished ever since, now boasting a community of more than four million and a purchase every six seconds. Forty eight of its regular sellers have made more than $1 million in sales.
Jacinta McDonell launched the highly successful US franchise Anytime Fitness with her brother Justin into Australia in 2008. With over 2700 clubs and 2 million members’ worldwide, it has become the quickest growing segment of the world’s fastest growing fitness chain, and is Australia’s number one health club chain.
As well as setting up and managing Australia’s most successful fitness brand, owning 20 franchises with her brother, and being a mother of three young children, Jacinta’s entrepreneurial spirit has led to the development of several other business and personal ventures over the past 12 months, making her a true inspiration to Australian business women.
A strong advocate of using Business For Good – Jacinta established The Human Kind Project last year, which is a for-purpose foundation that enables businesses to build brand equity whilst creating social change. She and her team now work tirelessly to fund and support organisations that deliver change in the world.
In 2014, she personally raised over $100,000 for The Hunger Project Australia, which could be used to provide 200 communities with the ability to purchase food-processing equipment, provide 2,000 people with microfinance loans that are often used by communities to buy seeds/fertiliser, and train up to 50,000 rural villagers on agricultural practices.
As she set about establishing her home office, Kristina struggled to find stylish, but practical products which she had grown used to in her native Scandinavia. So she designed her own.
By combining her appreciation of design with her love of stationery, the business was born. And today devotees from around the world delight in kikki.K’s range of delicious stationery, gorgeous gifts and Scandinavian design.
From first identifying a gap in the home office market, Kristina’s journey included a buying trip around the world, and extensive market research. Findings overwhelmingly revealed that Kristina wasn’t the only one having trouble combining form with function in her home office. She discovered that while decorating one’s home in stylish furnishings and fixtures was a priority, the home office was so often forgotten. This was about to change.
In 2001, Kristina opened her first boutique in Melbourne Central, striking a chord with Melbourne’s design-conscious consumer. Over the next five years this unique concept expanded into Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.
The speed at which this young business has grown, and continues to grow, is testament to Kristina’s determination and self belief, and has not been lost on the Australian business community.
Without further ado, here are my business lessons from founders Cyan Ta’eed, Jacinta McDonell and Kristina Karlsson:
Have business goals
Kristina explained her initial goal of creating a business – she knew she wanted to work for herself, but she didn’t know what she’d be doing. Kristina did know her business would have to meet her goals of being inspired by home-country Sweden and make her $500 a week.
The audience laughed at this seemingly meagre goal, especially when you consider the Kikki.k brand’s wealth 15 years later in 2016, but I definitely felt myself nodding my head along, “A steady $500 a week? That’s the dream!”
Be tenacious, don’t take no for an answer and believe in yourself
Cyan explained that when it came to being in a lot of debt, it makes entrepreneurs hustle. When success is the only option, you just have to keep going.
Passion, resilience and sacrifice
Kristina recalled working all night organising stock and creating new designs:
“It’s not sacrifice if you love it.”
“If this was a job I would leave! But you can’t, you have to work out this hurdle. Without love you can’t sustain it.”
On credit card debt
Despite two of the three panelists admitting they were heavily in debt while starting up their businesses, they were quick to prescribe that other’s should learn that other options are available, and to do what they say, not what they did!
“Get funding! Sympathetic investors will give you stuff,”
Cyan implored, only for Kristina to counter that
“no money makes you more creative with problem solving”.
Kristina admitted to perhaps taking the easy way out because she now has the money to spend, when once upon a time she had to get creative with overcoming hurdles.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Acknowledge what they are, know when to step back, recognise when your business grows beyond your skill. Damage can be created quickly if that isn’t acknowledged quickly.
Employ people smarter than you
Launch lean to test the market – find out what customers want before investing heavily.
See staff as an investment, not an expense
If you have the right attitude, you can do anything
Hire on values over an impressive resume
People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it
Find out their mistakes, what they’ve learnt, what they would never do again
We all know that everyone makes them, but they can be hard to admit (even to ourselves!). Kristina offered the wisdom that “as long as you learn from them, there’s really no such thing as mistakes”. Cyan also offered support: “People fail constantly, they just don’t let you see that”.
On judgemental mums
Jacinta spoke from experience:
“They are a reflection of their stuff, not yours. We need to change the perception of mums who work, have nannies or don’t do the drop-off and pick-up.”
“You have to do what’s important to you. There’s no right or wrong. There’s no such thing as a perfect mother.”
Nobody really knows what they are doing, but they decide to have a go anyway.
Cyan’s parting words may have been my favourite of all:
Just get involved, network and learn.