Jo Burston speaks to the Rare Bird Community at General Assembly, 21st April 2015

Dear Rare Birds community,

This is Jo, the founder of Inspiring Rare Birds and Job Capital. Last night I had the pleasure of featuring on a panel alongside four other esteemed Australia-based businesswomen at the General Assembly (GA) event, moderated by the Founding Editor of Women’s Agenda magazine, Angela Priestley.

It was great to see that so many of you also managed to weave your way through the cyclonic wind’s umbrella graveyards to join us for such a constructive dialogue about important business challenges. Including: turning creative ideas into practical and effective pitches, obtaining funding, exiting and marketing.

For those who, most understandably, could not make it last night, I thought you may be interested in hearing some of the most valuable responses to the key start-up issues covered at the General Assembly by the panel made-up of, myself, Openagent.com.au co-founder Zoe Pointon, and fellow Rare Bird Luminaries, 4Cabling and The Content Folk Founder Nicole Kersh, and SHOWPO founder Jane Lu.

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Key GA point 1 – Sellable Ideas…

Many people have inspiring and valid ideas, but it’s those that know how to conceptualise tangibly and communicate their idea within the market’s reality that are able to transform an idea into a feasible business project. Consumers and investors don’t buy the business model. They invest in the way you articulate what you want to do. To modestly re-quote a section of my talk that was picked-up in Women’s Agenda this morning, “When you buy an Apple product, you don’t buy Steve Jobs, you buy the idea he created and what the brand stands for. I think there’s a misconception that a good idea is it. It’s not, it’s just the beginning.”

2. Talk! Until something sticks…

Get talking. Validation of a great idea can require hundreds of conversations. Boiling your idea down into a solid, workable state is a challenging but vital process every entrepreneur must go through. Bouncing your thoughts and feelings off people whose opinion you trust and respect is the most accessible clarifying tool. While it can be frustrating, as Zoe Pointon highlighted, such conversations may see plenty of ideas thrown out before you get to something that sticks.

3. Do not be afraid to test out new methods…

Pointon shared her experience of starting Openagent.com.au with, the self-claimed, “the world’s ugliest website” that she designed herself using half a day. She explained, “The test was that if people were willing to give us their details on that website, then we were on to something good. We started to serve these people.” Jane Lu extended this discussion by pinpointing the important role that testing plays for people, who like her, have to start-up with limited funding. Jane’s intelligent advice for people in the early phase of developing their model was that, “It’s important not to get too fixated on the idea you have right at the start because you need to test it and it will definitely change.”

4. Test to your heart’s content, but remember that it is your gut that you trust…

Advice and feedback is valuable but you, as the founder, gave birth to your idea (not literally, hopefully) and it is you that will nurture that part of you to adulthood. Valuing your protective maternal instinct around all external input that you introduce your business to is central; welcome input of those around you but remember your instinct is almost always best. Sometimes making the difficult decision and take a risk is the right one to achieve your own intentions, as Nicole Kersh underlined, “When I have ideas or am thinking about where I want to go it just feels right, and you then end up learning a lot along the way. As entrepreneurs that’s what we do. We take risks. We throw caution to the wind.”

5. Networking. Be ready to pitch…Now!

You never know whose dog you may pat in the park, or meet at a networking event, so be ready to pitch on demand. You don’t know when the person who is standing in front of you is a potential investor.

6. …So always know your numbers.

Since opportunity could knock at any time it is essential that you know your financial situation, the money you need, and exactly how you would use investor’s funds. I had a mentor who said two things to me every morning: “what are your sales; and how much cash do you have in the bank?” Once you know your financial story, the rest is just your passion, your persona and your authenticity.

7. Accept investment carefully…

An important point was made when Kersh warned those seeking investment to consider and fully scrutinize the implications for your business before accepting an investment. In Kersh’s words, “It’s important to know what your non-negotiables are for investment. Remember, not all money is equal money.”

8. Involvement in business does not mean you have to quit your day job…

While it’s tempting to drop everything and start up a new business, sometimes economic circumstances make this appear impossible. There may be options to communicate with your employer just what you want to do and potentially run it on the side, or even work with your employer’s existing resources.

Starting your own business involves taking ownership of your own time and ambitions. As Pointon validly stated, “You need to talk to the people who are going to empower you to do what you want to do.”

During the fragile early stages, when income is sparse, it is very possible to test the high level assumptions of your business idea without quitting your job.

Pointon drove home the example of her first website. “I built our first website in half a day. I didn’t know much about Google Adwords, but I could learn enough to get fifty people signed up … Six months later we built our first proper website and we were well on the path of generating revenue.”

9. Doing is priority, perfection is subjective…

Searching for perfection can often halt us in our tracks and that is impractical for business. “The thing with perfection is that it’s a really high benchmark to set,” said Kersh when asked how to get around working with potential customers when you’re not 100% ready. “People appreciate honesty. In a start up environment your idea will twist and turn. Your idea that grows in the future will be nothing like it is today … If you’re constantly waiting for it to be perfect, you won’t be able to adapt to where it needs to go.” Have faith that as you build your business the standard and scale of what you ‘do’ will develop beyond the ‘perfection’ you initially sought, without you even noticing. Act and it will be good.

10. Educate yourself…

Mentorship is extremely important but sometimes the best solution is to use educational resources to help you reflect and build your abilities and confidence. When asked what books those on the panel have found particularly helpful, titles like like Delivering Happiness and The Lean Start-Up were mentioned. But Jane Lu offered something much simpler for time-poor women: “I have a hack. An app called Blinkist. It gives you a summary of books … I’ve read heaps of great books now!”

11. Create your own success and be part of the social change…

As Nicole Kersh said, the environment is still tough for female entrepreneurs, but every bit of support available for women in business sees the situation improve. “The more women that start businesses and become successful, the less men we have to rely on for funding. So please. Go out there. Start something. Become successful and be a part of the change.”

If any of you in our community found these points of discussion raised at General Assembly beneficial or enlightened to your situation, Rare Birds is holding a series of events to promote female entrepreneurship and we will keep you informed.

Thank you for reading and hope all you Rare Birds are flying high.

If She Can I Can,

Jo Burston
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