So, The word entrepreneur, let’s start there. Has anyone ever looked this up in the dictionary? I’d never heard the word entrepreneur when I was at school.
Never did anyone say “You! The girl that talks in class and gets kicked out a whole lot”
“You! The girl that gets suspended”
“You! The girl that is smart — but doesn’t seem to be engaged in a whole lot of this content”.
That was me. No one ever said “You know what? Maybe you should think about being an entrepreneur.”
And this is quite surprising to me because if you haven’t already picked it up, I’m from Wellington, New Zealand and I went to a really progressive school — it was called Wellington High School which is now over a hundred and thirty years old. We called teachers by their first names, it was co-ed; boys and girls, we didn’t wear a uniform. In the senior years it was go if you want and don’t go if you don’t want — which didn’t suit everybody.
We could study subjects like journalism and horticulture which was awesome, but still, the only pathway they ever presented to us in 1994, which was the year I ended high school, was that you go right through to Year 12, that you then go and get a tertiary education and then you get a job. That’s all I ever knew.
Both my parent didn’t run businesses, one was a teacher at my school, so you can imagine how mortified he was at my behaviour at times. No one ever presented this idea of being an entrepreneur.
When I have heard the word entrepreneur over the years, sometimes it’s got negative connotations, hasn’t it? Take a look at these words on the slide behind me. I mean who wants to be a tycoon? A magnate? A dealer? What about a mogul, or a big shot, or a big wig? Or even a whizz-kid.
So the use of the word “entrepreneur” actually dates back to the 1800s and it’s a French word. And over the years it has grown in popularity. I feel like in recent years if anything, the word entrepreneur has taken on a life of its own and is perhaps even over used — wouldn’t you agree? These days, I’m pretty sure when you’re growing up in New Zealand, Australia or elsewhere in the world that quite possibly, and I really hope this is true, you are told about the opportunity to go on a path of building your own business — if that’s what you want to do.
And I implore all of you too, that even if you have taken the traditional route of studying and going and getting a job. That at any time you can choose to do a “side hustle” or even venture out and start a new business. Did you know that the Colonel from Kentucky, that made the famous Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC, didn’t start his business until he was in his 70s?!
So if you want to be an entrepreneur or you just want to have an entrepreneurial mindset that’s a bit more like an entrepreneurial person — what does that mean? To me it means a lot of different things. It means to think differently and all those times I was at high school getting into trouble, struggling with the academic work, it’s because I thought differently, and I just didn’t fit the mould. So if you’re thinking of someone right now that sounds like that, whether it’s your own child or a nephew or a niece or someone you’ve taught, perhaps, just maybe, they’re an entrepreneur too.
To tell you how I came to work out I was an entrepreneur (and how it wasn’t such a bad thing and has in fact brought me a lot of fantastic opportunities in this life) let me tell you a bit about my journey. As I said, I started life in Wellington New Zealand where I was born and bred until the age of 21. I created my first business when I was 17 years old when I decided to start a newspaper whilst at school. As I said, some of the subjects at school weren’t for me — I’d never touch computers until I had to do a journalism course and had to learn how to type out my story. Then my Dad said “You should start a newspaper and you should do it on sport,” and I thought “That sounds great to me because I love sport!”
In fact at that time I was in the New Zealand team for water polo for my age group and I trained a lot. I also did a lot of swimming and a lot of surf life-saving and I won a lot of medals. I was a water baby I guess you could say. And the thing that got me really interested in starting the newspaper — we all have to be motivated by something — and for me, at age of 17, it was money.
I needed money to pay for my sport, which was unfunded. My parents didn’t have the money to keep putting in to pay for the uniforms or the trips and all of the costs associated with sport. So, I started that newspaper. And in those days, for those of us old enough to remember, it was bromide, not digital at all. And I had a lot of joy dropping off in my little red mini to every high school in Wellington, a bundle of newspapers. And because it was made by kids, for kids, they devoured it!
Then I get this business call from an American guy who said ‘You’ve stolen my idea!’ He was super pissed off at me so I said “How could I have stolen your idea? I’ve never met you, I don’t know who you are or what your idea even is!”
Well it turns out that this guy had been planning to start a secondary school sports newspaper a lot like mine for about two years. And here was me, coming along at all of 17 years old and I just started this thing, and I thought things like $200 full page ads was wonderful for putting in the bank to pay for my sport.
So he demanded a meeting with me and here I am, my first boardroom meeting as a 17 years old, with my Dad there for support, cutting my first business deal.
And you’re probably wondering what that frypan reference is up on the screen? I’ll tell you now. Years later, a guy in Silicon Valley said to me, “ you know businesses are a lot like pancakes — you stuff the first one up,” and I said, “ Oh my god, that’s so true for me!” Because that newspaper was the first business and without know it I cut that deal and it ended up being a really bad business deal when I look back. It was a wage, a small lump sum and I had to continue to work for him for the rest of the year. Which for me, was fine at the time, because I just wanted to train and get the money to go and play against Australia later that year.
Well I did what I was asked, and I learnt my first very good business lesson. Which is, if you decide to go into business with someone, or whatever it is you decide to do as an entrepreneur, make sure it aligns with your values. In this experience, his values and my values did not align. And it didn’t work out. At the end of the year we parted ways and that was the end of my first business.
For the next seven years, from age 21 to 28 I travelled the world and I supplemented my travels with travel writing, so I guess you could say I was a travel blogger before it was even a thing. So that’s my second tip on becoming an entrepreneur or creating an entrepreneurial mindset, you need to create your own opportunities. People aren’t necessarily going to say “hey, you should do this” sometimes you’ve just got to think “I want to do that. How can I make it happen?” Then make it happen!
Fast forwarding in my story, I fell pregnant on the pill, in London, and I had to work out what to do next. By this stage, I was the editor of a newspaper at age 26. So, I was doing pretty well with the career thing. But to fall pregnant on the pill unexpectedly in London, certainly made me re-think life and what I was going to next. We ultimately had the child, and for a while there we stuck it out in London trying to make things work, but when it became too hard we decided to move back to where our family lived, which was Australia.
So then, a few years pass, I find some work in Australia and then I have a second child. So now I have a 3 year old and a newborn at home and I think, “How am I going to earn money now?!”
So I start another business! Working from home around my two kids were the humble beginnings of my third business, The Creative Collective. And actually, I didn’t mention that in between my “pancake business” (the newspaper) and my career in London I also started an online business selling t shirts called “Tikanga Teeshirts”. Tikanga means “culture “and Tikanga O Te Wa – these are Maori words I’m using — means fashion. I created that business because I was really proud of our indigenous culture and language in New Zealand. Though I am not Maori, I was brought up with it. And I wanted to share with people that I was a proud New Zealander and here was our culture. So the teeshirt business I started in 2002 with no capital. I put up a website up after teaching myself HTML, and four years later, sold it for five figures. So that was a good outcome, doing the full cycle of the business, certainly better than the first pancake.
But the third business, The Creative Collective, that’s where it all really started. I got a logo designed by a friend, I got that printed in an A3 format and laminated, put it up in the study and BOOM we’re in business! I then threw up a website (now we’re really in business), I made a business card (hey everyone, I’ve got a business!)
In those days it wasn’t very common for mums to work from home — or it didn’t seem like it was. I didn’t have many peers to call on. But it’s become more and more popular now and I think that that is wonderful, that parents who choose to stay at home and raise children can still earn an income and do something they love.
Now today, The Creative Collective has 12 staff across offices on the Sunshine Coast and Newcastle and about 40 contractors. I own a commercial building that we operate out of on the Sunshine Coast and we have clients all over Australia and even some international ones. It has a spinoff company called The Training Collective, where we teach people digital skills. And importantly, we’ve had a lot of fun with it all.
Now there’s a great metaphor out there about what it takes to be an entrepreneur that I’d love to share with you.
An entrepreneur says to a mentor, “be my mentor, show me what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”
The mentor says, “Okay come meet me down at the water early when it’s really really dark and cold out”.
The entrepreneur meets the mentor and on arrival the mentor says “Walk with me” and fully dressed heads straight into the water. The entrepreneur says to the mentor “Wait! I need to get undressed. I’ll get wet…”
The mentor says “No you don’t just walk in your clothes”.
So they enter the water, which is really really cold, and are up to their knees in their clothes.
The entrepreneur says “Oh man this is uncomfortable! What are we doing? This is horrible!”
The mentor smiles and gently says “that’s right, just keep walking”.
So they keep walking deeper and deeper into the water, and I could really elaborate on this story, but the point is, they walk until they’re up to their necks, and the entrepreneur at this point is really struggling to keep his head above water because his clothes are wet, he’s freezing cold, and everything is weighing him down.
“I hate this!” he again complains to the mentor.
“I want to get out! I can’t cope! I’m going to drown!” he yells desperately to the mentor.
And when he gets to this point, the mentor says, “My friend, that is what it takes to be a an entrepreneur. You’ve got to be ready to get out of your comfort zone. You’re going to swim into un-chartered waters. You’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’ll sometimes feel like you’re sinking. At times you may even think you’re drowning, but you’ve just got to keep going. You’ve got to try and swim even when things are weighing you down.”
So that’s another tip I have for all the budding entrepreneurs out there. You’ve got to be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and make it work!
My first step to get out of my comfort zone, was entering a business award. I had been in business just six months with The Creative Collective, and I thought “Hey, I need to market my business, or give something a go here to get the word out there about my business.”
So I throw my hat into the Small Business Champions Awards, and I couldn’t believe it. I won! I won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Queensland in 2007.
Out of this experience I realised that entering business awards worked pretty well and that I might need to do more of that because the phones started ringing, and business started coming in. I also met some amazing people at that event. Off the back of winning that award, I got offered to go on television, on a national show about different businesses. On it they depicted me as the Mum who worked from home juggling my two young ones which is exactly what I was doing at the time. That same piece came out on Channel 9, and then featured on the Vodafone website and on Qantas’s inflight TV and things really took off. And this was all from going outside my comfort zone and entering a business award.
The other things I’ve learned along my years of being an entrepreneur, is that you need to be open to new experiences, places and people. Which is exactly why I say, yes to driving three hours to speak at a Bundaberg TEDx event. I wanted to come up to meet new people and have a new experience in a new place. Through my entrepreneurial/business journey, I’ve definitely been able to do that.
For example this is me in New York, entering the International Women in Business Awards. And in that year, my kids were aged 2 and 5, the currency exchange rate was horrible and I felt so guilty leaving them to attend these awards. I didn’t win that award, but it was still so worth going and being open to these new experiences. As a result of attending that event, that night, I went night clubbing, as you do with the CEO of the whole awards. And he offered me an opportunity to promote these awards in Australia and New Zealand, which I then did for the next 10 years. And that has turned into having connections with some of the best business people in Australian and new Zealand, which has been an amazing ride as well. I think you need to put yourself out there, and remember you have as much right to be there as anyone else.
Through entering another business award program, the Telstra Business Womens Awards and winning Business Owner of the Year in Queensland, more opportunities opened up for me. I got invited to go to Silicon Valley, which if you don’t know, is the tech capital of the world.
But anyway, it was a life-changing experience to go to the offices of the likes of Facebook, to meet the founder of Eventbrite, go to the LinkedIn offices and yes, just as they say, they all have amazing offices. The Linkedin offices have a band room, so if you want to go and jam for an hour on your lunch break, you can. And yes, Facebook has free food just as they say, they all do. Three courses, day or night, any time. They also have free ice cream, free barbers, it’s a world unto itself.
So I got to this point and I was thinking what is this all about? What does it all mean? What do I do with all these connections and experiences I’m having? And then I remembered a teacher back at Wellington High School saying to me, “What do you want to be remembered for? He also said that if you are an amazing mathematician or inventor you could spend your whole life trying to work out one math equation, or to create one invention, and you may or may not succeed. But he said to me, if you’re to write one poem, one song, paint one art piece – however good or bad – it will be remembered, because it lives on. He was talking about legacy of course.
And I decided I really liked that idea. I realised I’d always had in me a burning desire to write a book. So I’ve actually written a couple. I wrote one about my grandfathers life, which I released in 2006, only a few months before my grandmother passed away so it was great to do that. And I released another book in 2014 after I won IT Woman of the Year, at the National iAward because I felt compelled to contribute and give back to what I knew which was where the IT industry was going and how much this was changing things and how we had a duty to learn more about technology in order to raise our kids in a technology driven world.
This phase saw me talk to and influence ministers, do a lot of media commentary and encourage people to teach kids coding. Which now of course today is standard in schools. And these are all things which happened in my entrepreneurial journey.
The final tip I wanted to give you today, is tapping into whatever you’re passionate about, what you love to do. So, if you do get up every morning and go to work and think “I hate this, I hate these people, I hate this place” or “I don’t feel any sense of my soul being ignited, I don’t feel joy or anything….” then maybe it’s time to change.
And whether that requires quitting your job to move into something you’re more passionate about, or initially decreasing your hours, or going back and studying or completely changing careers, or starting a side-hustle or a fully fledged business – be brave!
If you have a burning desire or something you’re passionate about doing, I say do it!
In summary, I think the entrepreneurial mindset is a way of thinking. It’s especially about the way you approach challenges and mistakes.
Now I was very conscious about putting together my talk, and hoping it doesn’t come across as saying, “Look at me I’ve had this amazing life and all of these really cool things happened,” but I have to make sure you know, there’s been plenty of hard stuff, the treading cold deep water full dressed metaphor stuff.
I’ve had the ATO call me up on a Friday and need $40,000 off me on Monday, because I had a crappy accountant who gave me the wrong advice.
I’ve had staff and friends (no longer my friends), stealing my Intellectual Property and not seeing an issue with it and starting up very similar businesses, with similar names and things like that. We have constant breaches of our trademark actually and we’ve had to go and appeal one really recently.
There’s been really tough life stuff. I separated from my partner of 18 years, and the father of my children and through this I still had to get up and go to work. It’s tough stuff. Challenges with raising teens, health issues, money issues – therehave been weeks where I didn’t even know how I was going to do the payroll. You know, amongst all this joyous life, there’s still those difficult things you have to get up and deal with.
But, if you keep finding the right people to be around, and if you can just hang in there and that cold water with those clothes on, you can really enjoy it too.