“Wouldn’t it be cool if…”
This is one of the thought processes Fiona Anson, from Workible.com recommends for entrepreneurs.
“Take the should away. Apply lateral thinking. How could it work differently?” said Fiona as she kicked off her fabulous and comprehensive talk How to Commercialise Your Business.
The Business Model Canvas (summarised here by Alex Cowan) also talks about exploring ‘what if?’ scenarios as a starting point to challenge the stifling status quo.
““What if” questions help us break free of constraints imposed by current models. They should provoke us and challenge our thinking. They should disturb us as intriguing, difficult-to-execute propositions,” said Osterwalder & Pigneur, authors of Business Model Generation on page 140.
Fiona, talking on 11 February 2015 at StartNest (a co-working space in Crows Nest, Sydney), captivated all the attendees with her story and tips.
Fiona started Workible with her business partner Allison saying they limited experience in Human Resources. They had an idea, found there was a huge potential market, and made it happen through sacrifice and working really, really hard.
This working hard involved understanding very clearly the pain points in the market. They identified that there was a very clear niche they could service: jobseekers and employers that wanted quick turnaround placements in industries such as hospitality, retail, office, travel and tourism.
Fiona emphasised the need to do your homework. Is there really a market? You might have a product, but who will pay for it? Who else is maybe solving the problem?
How do you find out what the problems are? You need to ask your potential customers! Then you need to conduct comprehensive market research: what’s the size of the market? Locally? Globally? Why are you different or better to others already serving your target markets?
I really loved this part of her presentation as I’m currently studying a Marketing Management subject at uni and me and my fellow teammates are currently tackling our group project, a marketing plan for a new product launch.
Her story about running breakfast events encouraging attendees to let it all out and talk about their problems was great :). Fiona and team would run these events, talking face-to-face with customers and then would go away and solve their problems.
So simple eh!?
What were Fiona’s other tips?
- Get the product to market fit right. Know the big pain point to make the product to suit.
- “Assumption is the mother of all f*%k ups!” — establish who is really making the purchase decisions.
- Build a great team around you making sure you have some/someone with: business experience; industry experience or knowledge; and management skills, especially strategy, vision, ability to adapt.
- Figure out how to make it pay eg. revenue model, freemium, pay per use, subscription. Really focus on figuring out price. (Fiona did admit that she’s not sure they’ve got price right yet; it’s very tricky, particularly in a multi-sided platform.)
- Get clear on the steps: idea > proof of concept > minimum viable product (MVP) > market validation (ie. people paying) > commercialisation / ramping up.
- Embrace exploring feasibility and don’t be afraid to fail. Fiona did say that unfortunately in Australia the ‘failure’ culture is still a problem whereas in the US it’s a lot easier to try things and if they don’t work, bow out. She did say though, ‘There’s a fine line between optimism and stupidity’!
Importantly, Fiona talked about funding – the most important factor in ‘making it or breaking it’. She outlined these options:
- Bootstrapping: put it all in.
- FFF = family, fools and friends.
- Angel investors: individuals who like to fund startups. Sometimes high net worth groups get together for example, in Sydney and Melbourne.
- Grant money. In New South Wales the Department of Trade Investment provides a few different grant Fiona recommends. Minimum Viable Product program $15,000 and Collaborative Solutions Fund. Innovate Australia (was Commercialisation Australia) has its Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme and the R&D tax incentive providing 45% refundable tax credit for eligible research and development (R&D) expenses.
- ASSOB (Australian Small Scale Offerings Board) helps connect entrepreneurs to investors (and is based in Brisbane).
- Venture funds, Venture Capitalists.
The investment in Australia into startups is seen as generally pretty appalling but 2014 was a ‘massive year’, with total VC investment rising nearly four-fold year-on-year to $516 million, according to Business Insider.
Wondering if the social platform approach had resulted in any issues bubbling over to controversy, I asked Fiona and she said that the only problem they’d had in the early days was struggling a bit to get the balance between open jobs and jobseekers right. In the cases where they couldn’t deliver, they did whatever they could to satisfy customers and didn’t charge until the customers valued the product.
One last tip? Ok 🙂 Fiona ran us quickly through pitching saying there is no magic formula.
Focus on these three things: problem, solution, how you’re going to do it.
Thanks Fiona for sharing your honesty and truly inspiring advice.