Lessons from an online start-up

Three years ago, we launched an online investment service with the aim of giving consumers a solution to major problems in the investment management industry: high fees, poor transparency for consumers, and conflicts of interest from providers.

We took a big leap that required consumers to trust in putting their hard-earned savings into something relatively intangible (compared to say, a bank) and to believe in a new way of doing something.

As we celebrate our third birthday as a fast-growing, small Australian business, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons learned during this time. Here are five key lessons that other small businesses may be able to gain value from.

1. Surround yourself with the absolute best people who buy into the mission

Most start-ups fail, for a slew of reasons, but a great idea truly comes to life when all of those involved (including advisers, board members, staff and vendors) are uniquely talented and totally buy into the mission and vision of the task at hand.

2. Always do the right thing

This was the mantra of the late Paul Costello, who was a founding member of our Investment Advisory Committee. Paul was one of the most talented, decent men I’ve ever had the good fortune to learn from. Always remember that it’s a privilege for someone to hand you their money, no matter how much. Delight customers and continuously earn and retain their trust, don’t just talk a big game or put other priorities ahead of the clients who are the foundation of your business.

3. Online doesn’t have to mean impersonal

Our online service is predicated on not needing to sit face to face with each and every client (which can be daunting for people who are more accustomed to face-to-face interactions). While we meet as many clients as we can, we also put an enormous amount of energy into using a variety of ways to educate and engage with prospective and existing clients. It is the personal connection that is created in doing so that builds the trust noted above, and also informs how we continue to develop the service and invest time and money into future enhancements based on what people want (not what we think people want), which leads to…

4. Always be developing product and features that align with “product fit”

I had heard of “product fit” from IT and sales professionals, but I didn’t really appreciate the importance of what they meant. Simply put, product fit means developing a product that addresses a specific need. It requires a deep understanding of the problem you want to solve, confirming demand and then creating the right solution, targeting the right audience, selling effectively and being able to measure success (and then tweaking where needed). Listening to your clients is key here.

5. Celebrate wins with the whole team

We have aggressive ambitions – there’s no point swinging the bat half-heartedly. We’ve missed some targets at times but exceeded others with great effort and joy. Given the work and sacrifices involved, it’s essential to pause and celebrate the wins to remind ourselves why such effort is being expended.

Importantly, wins are not just “sales”. For example, a recent problem with a vendor connection was picked up by our operations team (on a Sunday), conveyed to our IT team for an immediate fix, discussed with our head of communication in case it became a material issue (it didn’t) and was quickly addressed. This is as important a win as any for a business like ours. There were high fives on Monday to celebrate how well everyone responded.

Pat Garrett, CEO, Six Park

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