Why corporate Australia can’t prepare you for starting your own business

I worked my way up the ladder of corporate Australia but, heading towards 50 years old, there was an incredible pull to address the soft skills crisis gripping young Australians. So, I took a risk and invested half a million dollars of my own funds to launch my start-up. 

I naively thought I’d seen it all during my years in senior management and growing up in a family of self-made small-business owners, but the learning this last year has been intense and incredible. Here’s what bootstrapping my start-up has taught me. 

1. Be truly customer-obsessed

Never assume you know what your customers want and need. You must ask them and learn what they value. When your ideas and their ideas meet, it’s explosive. It’s simple, but even in the rhetoric of customer-first, many founders haven’t really asked their customers. 

2. You’re never too old to dream big and live your true purpose

When it came to actually turn my back on everything I had worked so hard for, I was afraid of failure and spending all of our hard-earned money on something with so much risk. But I could see the widening gap in soft skills that are essential for employability and to build the future talent pipeline our nation requires to remain competitive. Human skills are rarely taught during typical tertiary education, leaving many students unprepared for “the real world”. The burning need to find a solution to this problem propelled me past my fear. 

3. You’re not an imposter

I’ve heavily researched and coached others on imposter syndrome. When it came to my daily imposter syndrome moments, I had to learn to listen to my own advice. I am good enough to change the game. It is okay for me to dream big and have wild goals. My life experience enabled me to start a business from nothing and go live with an app in 10 months. When you believe in yourself, the impossible becomes possible. 

4. Self-made is empowering

I decided to bootstrap the business because I wanted to do it my way and not be distracted trying to find the right investors. Self-made means a lot of “self”. This journey has been very hands-on, and I have had to do a lot myself that I would have previously had many staff to help me with. Setting up a business from nothing, with an extremely stretched budget, means be ready to be a one-person band…that is not an exaggeration.

5. Cherish your team 

I have always been a team person. I love guiding people to their highest potential and have enjoyed every leadership role I have held. But leading my Maxme team has been career-defining. They are passionate and we have a shared purpose which helps with the creative process and when you need people to go above and beyond. I never forget to let them know how much I appreciate them.

6. It takes a village to support a founder

Just like I couldn’t do it without my work team, this would be impossible without the amazing people who sacrifice to let me live my dream and higher purpose in my personal life. My husband continues to be encouraging even as I draw down on our mortgage each month. My amazing daughters who have had such a tough year, have stepped up and taken on more so I can focus on building my startup. My mother calls me daily to remind me how proud she is of me. My father who has experience in small business and my sisters who drop everything to test my app and plan TikTok videos with me. It truly takes a village!

Renata Sguario, founder, Maxme

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