Former Kmart employee recalls four decades with Hollister retailer - Benitolink: San Benito County News

Former Kmart employee recalls four decades with Hollister retailer - Benitolink: San Benito County NewsFormer Kmart employee recalls four decades with Hollister retailer - Benitolink: San Benito County NewsPosted: 24 Feb 2020 08:33 AM PSTHaving worked for Kmart since 1980, Luzann Garcia, 61, holds the close-knit employee family dear to her heart. Garcia, who retired in 2019, started at the Gilroy location as a full-time cashier before moving up the ladder into human resources for the last 13 years at the Hollister Kmart, one of 96 stores thatclosed this month.As the HR rep for the Hollister location, Garcia met every single employee who passed through the now vacated building at 391 Tres Pinos Road. Kmart employees throughout the years included local high school students, college students, first-time workers and others with experience moving up to supervisor positions. For Garcia, Kmart served as a second home that allowed her to provide for her family. It also provided an opportunity…

“Let's talk: Startups - Dynamic BusinessDynamic Business - DynamicBusiness” plus 2 more

“Let's talk: Startups - Dynamic BusinessDynamic Business - DynamicBusiness” plus 2 more

Let's talk: Startups - Dynamic BusinessDynamic Business - DynamicBusiness

Posted: 06 Aug 2019 08:43 PM PDT

Featured | Leadership | Let's Talk

By Loren Webb

Everyone wants to know the special ingredients needed to make a startup succeed. When dedicating all of your energy, time and financial investment into founding a company, there comes a huge personal drive to make it work no matter what the odds are.

In those inevitable times of doubt and trouble on a startup journey, it's easy and understandable to start looking for that secret and magical advice that has been given to those other successful entrepreneurs you see everywhere today, and not you.

While we probably all accept that this one specific piece of guidance – that has the ability to propel us all into success similar to Musk, Jobs, and Branson overnight – doesn't exist, it's still important to learn from the experts.

That's why today Dynamic Business shares insights and tips from no less than 39 startup experts. We asked them what their secrets to building a great company are; hard-work, work-life balance, culture and great people have all made the cut, but there are also some perhaps less-expected answers to read through too.

John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack

At InfoTrack, our people are our most precious asset. Despite being much larger than a start-up and now, more developed, we still function like one. A couple of secrets, I want to share that have helped InfoTrack develop our award-winning company culture include:

  • We have a strong onboarding program with a buddy system, to help new starters feel at ease. Our 'coffee with the boss' for new starters reinforces the flat structure of our organisation. We encourage a culture of no bad ideas.
  • Each day, our teams have huddles where they can share any roadblocks, brainstorming ideas to tackle challenges. Building a great company culture at InfoTrack means striving to continually improve.
  • We regularly offer Lunch and Learn sessions and map out personal development programs for all employees.

Being a legal tech innovator, it is important that our staff push the boundaries and stay agile within a changing industry.

Heath Fitzpatrick, COO at ebroker

If you're looking for short-cuts, think again, there are no short-cuts. The secret to building a great company is all about putting in the hard-work and laying solid foundations that you can continue to build on. Have a goal, mission statement and clear plan. Do your research. Stick to your goal and don't get distracted or stray away from it. Seek advice and employ skilled professionals who complement your skill set; if something isn't your strength, find someone who excels at it. Play to your strengths, always. Build a supportive team around you who can enable you to consistently make smart decisions.

Ed Mallett, founder and managing director, Employsure

Running a business naturally comes with challenges, however, since the most important resource for any business is its people, it pays to give the issue close attention.

Becoming an employer means there are many complexities to consider. Not only do you need to manage the safety of your people, you also need to manage the relationship with them while simultaneously staying focused on growing your business.

A business that does not treat its staff fairly and safely will never be successful – after all, a fair and safe workplace sets the foundations for success.

The secret: start success from within.

Stephen Barnes, Byronvale Advisors Pty Ltd, Management Consultants

The one thing to remember in any company, no matter is small or large, is that every business is a family business.  Things you do at work impact your home life, and things in your personal life affect your work life.  Every time you answer an email or take a phone call after hours, you're impacting your family. Every time you stay back at work, you're impacting your family.  Going to work worrying about a sick child impacts your company.  My one piece of advice if bring your whole self to work. Work and home lives are not mutually exclusive, and you'll be a better person at both home and work when you understand that.

Angus Dorney, co-CEO of Kablamo, Digital Product Engineering Firm

If you're in tech, you'll need great talent which is hard to source and keep.  Top tech talent are mobile and flexible. These girls and guys embrace different communication tools and channels in order to make things happen. They work from home, from the train, or during unusual hours of the night – but they do so on their own terms. Unshackle your workforce. The worst trend is companies requiring a return to work-from-base model. Let them roam free.

Melissa Bowden, Head of HR/Innovation Catalyst, Intuit Australia

A great company is one where you have employees who are passionate about and also really believe in the purpose of your organisation. At Intuit, our mission is to power the prosperity of small businesses around the world and so, ultimately, we're helping to support people's livelihoods. And, that's what our employees feel passionate about.

Underlying our culture is a set of values. You need people who share your values and who are going to make the right decisions, even when you're not around. As a start-up, this is especially important, as there will be a lot of things to focus on in the early days. At Intuit, we hire, manage, review performance and recognise people based on values. That's what has helped us secure numerous Great Place to Work awards since entering this market.

Diversity of thought is also really important. Make sure you're bringing in people who will challenge things. This is where magic happens – and again, it's just as important when you're a start-up because you're going to be making those crucial decisions that set you up for long term success or failure.

Anthony Sochan, co-founder and director, Think & Grow

The best companies in the world have a few things in common. Great people, a strong sense of purpose, clear organisational values and fantastic culture, all of which underpins the mission. The very best companies excel in all of these areas. We find all of the things above translate to higher revenue, strong growth, high employee engagement and the opportunity to be more ambitious if it is desired.

Ben Thompson, co-founder and CEO, Employment Hero

I agree with the adage that great companies are built on great people, however a critical step that comes before having great people is having a compelling purpose. As Simon Sinek says, you need to "start with why".

If you watched the live stream of Elon Musk's brain-machine interface business, Neuralink, a few weeks ago, you may have noticed that he started by saying the whole purpose of the event was to explain their "why" so they could recruit the brightest and best talent on the planet. I have no doubt they are now inundated with top talent and are well on their way to becoming a great company.

The purpose of Employment Hero is to make employment easier and more rewarding, for everyone. We only ever recruit people who are deeply engaged with our purpose and values. That is, people who are innovative, ambitious, customer focused, team players who will own the way they achieve their objectives. We align every employee around our purpose using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) so everyone understands how their role (and those around them) contributes to Employment Hero achieving its purpose.

Finally, we make sure that as we make progress towards achieving an objective, we celebrate it. Making people feel appreciated for their contributions, no matter how small, ensures people know they are valued for helping us achieve our purpose. This also sets great examples for everyone else to follow.

Michelle Gallaher, CEO of ShareRoot

Similar to the four points on a compass, my business Northstar is strategy – what you do, who it benefits, the problem we can solve and the value you are creating. I like to use business strategy canvasses and spend time focussing on my value proposition design. The counterpoint to the Northstar is financial sustainability. Making sure I have the financial resources to deliver at each stage of the business and knowing how I will sustain the business during growth stages. My east and west relate to people and values. My approach to building a business is heavily influenced by a leadership style that values creativity, risk taking, trust, transparency, dignity and respect…dogs and a well stocked chocolate drawer. Building the right team is probably the biggest secret and I'm constantly learning on this front.

Amir Farhand, founder and CEO, Soar

Building a company takes a long time, a lot of effort and let's be honest, it's very risky. But, if you want to leverage some of that time, effort and risk, then I would say developing and expanding on building strong networks and partnerships is vital. Many entrepreneurs think that treating everyone as a potential competitor is vital in this cut-throat world of startups, but it doesn't always have to be that way.

Also, let's think about why people get into business in the first place. They see a problem in a certain industry that needs solving. If you approach your startup as an individual goal rather than a broader industry goal, you risk developing not only a very narrow mindset, but you will also be seen by your peers as being selfish and exclusive. These are not good quality traits for any leader in my opinion.

Don't forget being nice to people is paramount and if you have an inclusive mindset when it comes to networking and partnerships you will be surprised by how many people are willing to help you out. Collaborative efforts are in fact the pillars of human civilisation and they form the basis of innovation and success.

Quote from Emma Lo Russo, CEO and co-founder, Digivizer

Everything starts with a great vision – one that inspires your team and your customers to join you, one that allows you to continuously check your progress against.

Then everything you do should have your customers' success at the heart of it. We certainly believe that our customers' success is our own success.

Growing your business is dependent on the people you hire. If you hire the very best people you can find, and focus on growing them, they in turn will grow your business and give you capacity for far greater growth. At Digivizer we hire people who are smart, talented, gets things done, are infinite learners and not arseholes.  We don't look solely for degrees or previous experience – or even at all. Don't waste time hiring people to then tell them how to do things, or to spend time managing difficult people or non-performers.

Whilst your vision shouldn't change, you will likely need to pivot fast, always ensuring you have aligned a strategy and its execution.

Lisa Rickert, CEO and Founder of decorative paint company Jolie Home.

Start-up businesses can be both stressful and exhilarating so the more you can reduce risk and maximize revenue, the better you can breathe in the early days.  There are a few secrets to success that business newbies should understand.  There are different categories that you need to concentrate on: business infrastructure, operations, and marketing. Infrastructure would include setting up your ABN number, bank accounts, utilities, and staffing. With operations you need to focus on your supply chain, internal processes, and customer service plan.

Lastly, and what may be considered the most important aspect, is marketing your brand. Developing your brand is more than just selling a product. A brand has its own identity, its story, and needs to connect with your customers. Free market economies are fierce and it's not just about what your selling, but how your selling it. Customers crave an experience and a connection with brands in order to build loyalty.  Spend time on the front end asking yourself, what makes my brand unique? What differentiates my product or service from my competition? If you can't clearly answer these questions, then you are not ready to start your business!

Will Santow, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Longtail UX

Growing a startup is about the small decisions made every day. From hiring the best cultural fit to how you approach risk and opportunity.

In the same way that you need to ensure an idea is big enough to sustain the business' ambitions, you need to be prepared to walk away it if it isn't going to advance your commercial objectives. In the publishing industry, this is known as 'kill your darlings'. Its when a clever expressions doesn't advance the manuscript. A good editor (like a good Startup CEO) needs to be able to put a line through these ideas. This concept is crucial in startups. If an idea doesn't help advance your business, make a quick call and move on. Importantly too, a startup CEO must ensure there is always enough funding to get to the next destination, whether that be to profitability, a planned capital raising, or both.

Nick Bell, cofounder Removify, serial entrepreneur

Speed & people were key drivers in building my first company, WME. I am now responsible for a global group of nine digital agencies, with over 1,000 people, so we continue to make, quick, semi calculated decisions that have contribute to growth. Yes, we do make the wrong decision at times, but if we do, we stop reassess, fix and move forward quickly. My advice is to never allow ego to dictate your decisions, as ego often kills companies!

I firmly believe a great company is full of absolute game changers, people who join and instantly transform your organisation for the better. Over the years we've employed 20 – 30 insanely talented people who influenced our extreme growth. It's cliché, but great people make great companies!

Aaron Smith, founder KX Pilates

For KX Pilates, the secret to our success is the people. Our franchise owners and trainers are rockstars in their own right. They are the smiling faces that represent our 'Kaizen' philosophy of 'continuous improvement' to the tee.  Their number one goal is to always have their clients walking out of studios sweaty, smiling and feeling like they belong. KX is a true experience and the dedication of our franchisees ensures the KX brand is consistent across the country.They are true brand ambassadors who go above and beyond for clients day-in day-out and provide an exceptional, personalised client experience.

Kym Atkins, CEO, The Volte

The secret to a great startup is surrounding yourself with great people, both colleagues and mentors, building a team with a good cultural fit with the company, upskill in areas relevant to your industry and work really really hard!

James Gilbert, Director of APAC, HubSpot 

The secret to building a great company is to prioritise growing better over growing faster. To do this, you need to view your business as a flywheel with customers at the centre of everything you do, not a traditional funnel, where they're simply the output of your marketing and sales strategies.

Invented by James Watt, the flywheel is simply a wheel that's incredibly energy-efficient. The amount of energy it stores depends on how fast it spins, the amount of friction it encounters, and its size.

The flywheel model is an efficient and effective way to think about growing a business. It's about focusing on creating a remarkable customer experience and delighting existing customers to the point that they become your strongest marketing channel, effectively applying 'force' and spinning your flywheel.

Startups that understand the influence of their existing customers in their growth trajectory will grow better (and be more likely to succeed in the long run) than those who view their customers simply as an output of their marketing and sales funnel. The goal should not be to grow fast at any cost, but to grow sustainably, with a customer-obsessed approach.

David Burt, Executive Manager of the CSIRO ON

The secret to building a great company is the strength of the foundation that it is built on. For new ventures this means the founding team – who are they, why do they want to build a company together, and do they have a shared vision of what success looks like? If the founding team is wrong then the chances you will build a great company are also low.

That's why in the CSIRO ON Accelerate program, we focus on working with founders pre-incorporation, before the business is started. This means that we can help the founding team ask all the hard questions up front and ensure that they start from a solid base – or that they don't start at all.

ON Accelerate helps startup founders bring together teams full of passionate individuals who have been leading research in their respective fields for years, whether that be robotics or food processing, to lead the charge on the development of game-changing products and services. This united passion for paving the way forward in new industries is crucial to establishing a great new company culture for each new venture.

Darrell Hardidge, CEO of Saguity and author of The Client Revolution

There is no such thing as a great company without a great team, and a great team builds excellent customer loyalty. Customer loyalty is the direct result of great teams, and that is the direct result of great leadership. People don't leave companies they leave management, and the opposite occurs when it's powerful. There are many cases where a business is in desperate survival mode, and the team are what brings it back to life. They do whatever it takes to serve customers and work crazy hours. They do this because they believe in the company and its leadership. Team loyalty is the same as customer loyalty, and they both are critical to the success of a business. As Winston Churchill said, " we build the culture and then the culture builds us". A great company is founded upon a culture of integrity and it always starts at the top. Be the leader that others want to follow and you will unstoppable. If you have to highly pay them to do it, its destined to fail.

Alan Manly, CEO of Group Colleges Australia and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur

The secret to building a great company is that there is no secret. The combination of bravery or foolhardy endeavour, measured risk taking or a gambling, cleverness or too smart for your own good plus of course the ability to attract folks who you can inspire to share your vision is a good start. Add that to plain long hours working smarter than the average and you should are on the way to building a great company. How great depends on your own measure. If you are achieving something better than if you had not tried then you are on the way to building a great company.

David Sharrock, Managing Principal of Sharrock Pitman Legal, and author of Fighting for Enterprise Success

No doubt about it.  A great company always has great people on board. That is the key to business success. In great companies, the leaders will be providing highly effective, inspiring and passionate leadership to talented, fully engaged, high performance team members, with the company delivering exceptional product and service to truly delighted customers. To do so,  leaders and team will be motivated to build a  company that really stands out from all other companies of the same type and in the same industry, fuelled by a relentless passion for that company to become 'world's best' by being obsessively customer-centric.

Carrie Kwan, co-founder and MD, Mums & Co

Being in their shoes – having an intimate understanding of your customer's journey is important – knowing their anxiety points, their celebration points and everything in between. Then making sure the team, whether in finance, IT development or community management, understands that journey and who the team is all serving.

Collaboration – surround yourself with people more intelligent than you, and attract the best talent that you can afford (or convince) to get on board. You're a collaborator until you're my competitor! Invest and build in mutually beneficial partnerships to help you along with your vision and grow as fast as possible.

Hard work and purpose – plain old hard work and putting in the hours when and wherever needed, which is easier to do when the work is purposeful. Being out of my comfort zone and working with so much unknown means I of course also apply my resiliency building behaviours, thoughts and actions.

Believe in yourself, be self-confident and self-advocate. These are indeed the attributes that you, men, women, and the younger generation need you to have. You have a voice, you can share stories and information, speak up and be a catalyst for positive change.

Sam Bashiry, Founder, Broadband Solutions

The secret to starting a successful business is having a goal and the way you go about executing it. You can't forge a path to get somewhere if you don't know where it is you want to get to.

You need to clearly understand your vision and identify what differentiates you from your competitors so you can seamlessly deliver that. Both good and bad competitors will influence how you run your business, so pay attention.

Additionally, use your strengths and highlight them when you're talking to potential clients, networking is your best source of marketing which is critical for a new business.

Finally, when you get to the stages of building your workforce, it's important to choose people who understand and believe in your vision, having the right team is a huge asset.

Colin Anson, CEO and Co-Founder, pixevety

Growth and potential are intensely important during the early stages of start-ups with pivotal questions being 'when is the right time to hire and who?'. New clients are exciting, but every client gallantly garnered adds to the working day, meaning more people are required to maintain service levels – essential for repeat business and recommendations. Don't approach your hiring decisions solely based on your budget. It's about the type of people you hire, their level of empathy, adaptability and skill set, as well as the level of commitment to the team, culture and the business. Make sure you, as the CEO, are part of the hiring process and share your vision and passion. Share your 'founder story' so new hires understand the 'heart and soul' behind the company. Healthy start-ups should always plan for growth, take that leap of faith when it feels right, rather than hope for it or react to it!

Alex Zaccaria, Co-Founder of Linktree 

If you look at any successful company – from disruptors like Stripe or Slack, to huge companies like Shopify or Amazon – it's obvious the secret to success lies in how you engage with your audience.

We started Linktree to solve a problem that we believed was uniquely our own, but it's growth and success, from that starting point three years ago to now having nearly 3 million users, is built on meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users.

Once we started looking deeper and prioritised functionalities that would benefit the widest user-base, everything sort of fell into place. We've managed to build a product that our users want to talk about which is the best kind of marketing.

It also goes without saying that having a solid team behind you from day one is essential, the Linktree team is a testament to that. In just three years, our small team has grown what initially started out as a side hustle to a global platform with leading market share.

Angus McDonald, Co-Founder and CEO at Cover Genius

The business world is becoming increasingly more global, and companies need technology to power that international scale without losing the localised customer experience.

Customers have more options than ever to choose from, so servicing them best needs to be the first priority when developing any product or service. A customer-first approach means you must be open to doing things differently to address customer pain points and overcome challenges, such as allowing payments in multiple currencies, as well as adding personalisation, simplicity and transparency to the experience. The journey needs to be as simple and smart as possible for the customer.

Mike Robins, CTO and Co-Founder Poplin Data

Building a great company takes hard work and perseverance. Co-Founders need to be able to wear multiple hats without losing light of the overall strategy.

Here are my key learnings:

People are your biggest asset – Over invest early in smart people who have a passion for knowledge and learning; know when to build your team from the top down versus bottom up.

Use data to make important decisions – it's easy in a small business to default to making gut decisions. Be ruthless with making data based decisions on everything from finance to clients, but be sure to always consider the context of the business when making these decisions.

Never stop building culture – core to Poplin is our Friday afternoon games day where the whole team gets involved with everything from video games to board and card games. This isn't just for fun; we have a team of diverse thinkers and it really shows when we challenge ourselves in this way. We also aim to collaborate and solve problems outside of a purely academic context to strengthen our skills as a team. Fun fact; our Chief Strategy Officer is the former Australian Street fighting champion.

Encourage education – the importance of challenging and growing your team is paramount. Allow them to self serve information, make mistakes and go to as many learning and conference events as possible.

Be transparent – successful teams shouldn't have secrets. This builds trust and loyalty.

Adrian Przelozny, CEO and founder, Independent Reserve

Perseverance is key and value is cumulative. Although it sometimes may not seem that way, every little thing that a founder does early on in the life of a business adds up and ultimately creates value which may only be realised years later. Starting a business is hard and requires a lot of patience and commitment to do what might seem like thankless tasks. It's easy to get lost in the day to day operational activities when a founder needs to wear many different hats, but it's important to step back periodically, relax and try to see the bigger picture.

Founding a company is an exercise of stepping far away from your comfort zone. This is difficult at first but it's surprising how I've now developed a tendency to embrace it and even seek it out. Throughout my journey, I've had to learn a wide array of new skills. I like to think I am now fairly competent at things I never imagined I'd be good at. Over the past several years, I've had a much better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses.

The key to success is not giving up and keeping things in perspective. The path from A to B is often not a straight line and there will be hiccups along the way. The trick is to stay calm, trust in your vision and carry on. To borrow a phrase from Ray Dalio's Principles which I'm reading now, pain + reflection = progress

Dr Anastasia Volkova, CEO and Founder, FluroSat

At FluroSat, our mission is to feed and clothe the world through efficient resource redistribution in high-impact crops. Building a company from ground-zero to attempt achieving this is not an easy feat, but our recent announcement on the successful funding round backed by Microsoft's venture fund, M12, and other prominent investors has proved that we are on the right track and we intend to stay ahead of the curve.

Here's how we're doing it:

  • By staying aligned to the market – We listen closely to what our end-users and customers want. We've found early adopters of the vision for our technology and what it can achieve.
  • Persevering with our "why" – Achieving any goal requires an understanding of why we are doing it. The "why" is why anyone in the ag industry should care about what we are delivering.
  • Hiring right – Having the right people onboard the team is crucial as this means that we will have the best chance of success together. Whilst the "why" will affect everything in our company, hiring the right people who share the vision will take the business forward.

Vlado Bosanac, founder and CEO of ASX-listed health tech MyFiziq

The greatest secret to building a successful company is to create the right team. A team that shares your vision and will create the right culture within your company. Your company culture should say not only who you are but who you aim to be.

The second most important secret is to protect your intellectual property right from the start. The world moves very fast and before you know it you will have competitors. Wrap a fence around your ideas however you can and seek the right advice on how to do this. Use a good solid NDA with a non-circumvention agreement.

Thirdly, when it comes to marketing, don't underestimate the impact of blogs, podcasts and other smaller digital media platforms. It's worth taking the time to create your own content and build your brand.

Alexie O'Brien, COO of Tell Me Baby

Identify a gap in the market with a real problem that needs solving. You can create a product with the best technology and design – but if there isn't a need for it, you won't succeed.

Discover your 'why'. Having a future-focused vision and mission that is more than what you do everyday will inspire your team to deliver results and overcome challenging times together.

Have a clear strategy and roadmap that you share openly with the team. Through this you can identify your team's strengths and skills that will help move the business towards goals. Giving them different tasks to own will keep them motivated as they are held accountable for delivering against certain KPIs.

Apply values that can be authentically embodied through the organisation – and hire great people aligned to those values. Create an environment that relies on everyone to contribute to culture from the top down, and people will be less likely to use it as a weapon.

Create an environment of transparency and honest communication. When staff feel empowered to contribute their ideas, and their feedback this will create a collaborative working culture that delivers great results.

Brad Jenkins, Head of Leisure at Lewis Land Group

Our company success is based around two key elements: staff and customers. Building a great business is all about people, and we place a huge importance on looking after yourself and your customers.


Have clear expectations of their roles and be flexible in meeting their needs. You want your people to be the best versions of themselves when they are at work so they are focused on delivering to the customers.


Know the customers you have and identify the ones who you don't. The growth of your customer base is endless if you can narrow down to the fundamentals of why they spend with you. Continue to adapt to new trends and service opportunities to discover new types of customers and target audiences.

Tink Taylor, Founder and President, dotdigital

To build a great company, it's important to have a clear picture of both present and future. The business world is going through a paradigm shift, therefore it's imperative to be realistic about how and what your new venture can do, but also be nimble with the changing times.

I believe the three key aspects of any successful venture are, to connect, empower, and communicate. But companies should also be open to change, and this demonstrates their commitment to innovation.

Since dotdigital was established 20 years ago, the functionality and capability of the platform has significantly evolved, it got deeper, wider and broader, yet the perception of what we do had stayed the same. We recognised this, and as a result, recently rebranded from "dotmailer" to "dotdigital."

Ultimately, everything comes down to the team, building a strong team, respecting and motivating them constantly is key to grow into a great company. Promoting a positive and driven culture enables both personal and professional success among the team members. While our business has changed dramatically since our founding, one quality remains as we continue our commitment to customers, innovation, partners and employees.

Mac Wang, Head of Growth ANZ at Stripe  

Infrastructure, while often overlooked, is an important part of business success. Stripe research shows  that modern technology stacks are key levers of growth for businesses, helping companies:

  • Optimise developer time: Two-thirds of Australian businesses report developers spend more time addressing technical debt than on strategic projects. Infrastructure can help with that ㄧbusinesses that adopted a modern technology stack found it helped them accelerate product development.
  • Speed up internationalisation: Regulatory and compliance issues are some ofthe biggest barriers to global expansion. Outsource this pain ㄧsoftware platforms like Stripe can abstract these complexities for you, while also providing reliability and support when scaling.
  • Build fast, secure and frictionless experiences: Research shows that seamless experiences, particularly in payments, are central to the customer experience online. Infrastructure can alleviate the challenges of building your own.

While these aren't necessarily secrets, they are important considerations for any business looking to start, scale ㄧand compete ㄧin today's internet-driven economy.

Fiona Boyd, CEO, ipSCAPE

Having the right product, the right market opportunity and the right team to execute is essential to building a successful company. Underpinning it all, you need a great culture and it is crucial for a startup founder or CEO to set that tone from the top.

Kieran O'Neill, Hometime CFO & General Manager

At Hometime, our focus is on our people and building a culture that they are proud to be involved in. We champion a remote working environment, and in order to implement this effectively, trust is integral. We need to rely on our team members and distil confidence, without having to watch over their shoulder each day.

To foster talent and inspire our team, we promote from within, coordinate employee meetups, carry out cultural initiatives, and provide a space to collaborate freely; which are just a few ways that we build our company culture. Keeping a focus on our people helps us maintain a clear vision for the future and provides a strong base for continued growth.

In order to help us scale, we've built a dispersed team across four countries and five time zones. To ensure we all work effectively we have adopted remote working practises from industry leaders such as Base Camp and Zapier. This involves modern processes for weekly goal setting, internal communication and cultural initiatives that empower staff and results in an engaged team.

A combination of great people and best working practises has been a key driver behind our explosive growth since launching in 2016.

Sabri Suby, Founder and Head of Growth, King Kong

If you're a service-based startup, the product is the people that are inside your building. The quality of the inputs into a system will determine the quality of the outputs, so you need to ensure your team is happy. Retaining the right culture while growing your business is challenging, but it's the culture that will help you achieve initial growth. Hire good talent who are the right fit. You need an engaged team – a place where you have people rallying together, agreeing on a strategy and really trying to make things happen. Show them where the company is going, what that company is trying to achieve, and how they contribute to that plan – rally your team and get everyone to buy into the same mission. It's too easy to be heads down concentrating on business success, but it's vital that the small wins along the way are celebrated together.

David Boyd, co-founder of Credit Card Compare

There is a steep learning curve when doing anything for the first time, let alone something as complex and unpredictable as launching a business. In those early days, I wish I grasped the importance of cash flow. Things like spending too much too soon, handling outstanding invoices and placing too much confidence in the growth of the business have taught us many lessons. If I can offer one golden nugget of wisdom it's this: consider your cash flow from day one, then–when the timing is right–ditch your debit card in favour of a business credit card. It was an invaluable tool that helped us manage cash flow and protect our business. Today, we utilise our expenses to earn points to fly our staff around the world in business class seats. A win-win all around!

 Dai Williams, Chief Growth Officer at SiteMinder

I could detail at length the need for a solid go-to-market strategy, a defined and tightened funnel, agreed metrics and processes, and established feedback loops. Equally, a product that unquestionably fills a void would make the list as, in the absence of anything else, it's what your business will fall back on.

However, at the risk of sounding cliché, the best kept secret to building a great company is really its people. The truth is, in the early days, it's all about survival. You're a small team with big dreams and so you feel every win almost as much as you feel every loss, and you feel those together.

As a leader of a startup, make sure you:

  • Build a connection with your team as they will take you forward. Make everyone feel like they belong and are adding to your company's success.
  • Let data lead the conversation, not emotions. You won't always agree on things and that's good, but you need to park your own bias.
  • Learn what to say no to. This requires discipline, but you need to be diligent in your decision-making and remember it's a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Hire the right people at the right time and never lose sight of your DNA.

Richard Watson, Country Director at Twilio

Successful businesses are powered by the teams behind them. And when it comes to startups, those working in the background can either make it or break it.

When building teams, it's important to incorporate values into the selection criteria. Startups need to hire people who have the ability and attitude to be able to embrace & live the company values.

It's also really important to use understandable wording when you describe these values – such as 'no shenanigans', rather than 'have integrity'. They need to be understandable to everyone in the team. For example, it can be difficult for some employees to understand how far they can push the line when it comes to words like integrity, but they will always know when they are up to shenanigans.

Why and How to Build a Startup – Chapter 4: Pitch! - EU-Startups

Posted: 07 Aug 2019 12:40 AM PDT


Editor's Note: The following is the 4th chapter of the book "The New Prince", a collection of essays on the counterintuitive lessons Marco Trombetti, founder of Translated and VC firm Pi Campus, learned by building and investing in startups. We agreed with the author to publish all 12 chapters through a guest post series. Check out the previous chapter here.


Pitching an idea is easy, if you know how to do it.

Most of the people who have pitched me their idea have failed to do it properly. Learning how to properly pitch is one of the most important skills a founder needs to develop. It allows them to find investors, to attract great co-founders, to recruit the best employees, and ultimately to fine-tune their idea.

There is a simple reason why pitching is so hard: we very rarely pitch ideas, and when we do, nobody gives us feedback on the pitch itself – at best, we receive feedback on the idea.

That's why I do something different when a startup pitches to me as an investor: rather than discussing the idea, I try to give advice on how to pitch it. Founders generally know more about the problem than me, and I have realized that working on the pitch is a faster way to make progress.

The ideal pitch contains all the information that an investor needs in order to decide, and nothing more. I have no experience in later-stage pitching, but I estimate that I have seen about 1,000 pitches from early-stage companies. As a fast but lazy thinker, I get very bored with redundant information and frustrated by missing key information. All this has led me to spend a lot of time thinking about the ideal pitch, the one that could convince me to invest in the shortest amount of time possible.

I suggest using these 5 points: Problem, Solution, Market, Traction, Team.

If founders are well-prepared when it comes to these points, the time can be used efficiently. We can have a more open discussion on how to solve the remaining challenges and make the startup a success.

Point 1: Problem

Here, you have to describe a pain point that the user perceives and is willing to take action to alleviate. You also have to say how people today are solving this pain point.

The two important words here are "perceived pain". Users should be willing to pay a premium or invest time to solve this pain point. Pain points are everywhere, and they are not just physical: vanity and laziness are pain points that have inspired some of the world's most successful startups.

Bad examples of problem pitching are: "People need insurance for their computer, at the moment they don't insure them, so here is our innovative computer insurance" or "People are scared of losing data, at the moment they don't back it up, so we are offering a cloud backup".

We can agree that these are potential pain points, but they are not perceived by the user. The fact that users are not solving the problem in some way indicates that they do not perceive the pain, so they are not willing to take action to solve it. If car insurance wasn't compulsory, many people wouldn't bother getting it. This is practically the opposite of the urgent need for action that you are looking for. Losing data is a pain, but again, it is not perceived by users; in reality, people don't make the backups that they should. Many founders often say that they want to address the pain by making users perceive it. They take inspiration from the fact that large monopolists are able to create perceived pain points. But managing a monopoly and creating a new company are completely different. Trying to create a perceived pain point as a startup is by no means a good strategy. If we were in 2007, a good example of problem pitching would be: "sharing big files via email is limited in size – people currently use FTP servers, but these are too hard to set up for those who aren't tech-savvy".

Point 2: Solution

Present your solution. Make sure it is clear how your solution is addressing the pain point and, most importantly, why it is a bettersolution than those currently available.

A bad example of pitching the solution is: "we will create an innovative cloud storage system that will cost less than an external drive thanks to our compression technology".

You are not addressing the perceived problem described above (sharing large files) and you are not saying why this is better than an FTP server.

A good example would be: "With our software, you can right-click on a file of any size and get a link that you can share. We will store your files in a secure cloud, eliminating the need to set up your own FTP server".

Point 3: Market

Take the number of people using the current solution today and multiply it by the price of your solution. This is called the TAM (Total Addressable Market).

A bad way of doing it is thus: "Market research company X estimated cloud storage to be worth $12 billion next year. It has a 16% compound annual growth rate". This actually tells the investor that he should put his money into a stock fund for cloud storage rather than into your company. It is safer, and he could potentially get a 16% return every year.

Some time ago, a company building a marketing software system for grocery stores in Italy told me that their market was estimated by a market research firm at $2 billion. The startup was building a solution at $1,000/month, and there are 10,000 supermarkets in total in Italy. Their total addressable market was therefore $120 million, not $2 billion. Their estimation was out by 16x, and there was no way to build a unicorn while sticking to their initial plan. When they realized, they felt like they had wasted a year of work on the wrong problem/solution. You want to avoid this, and it's easy to do so.

At this early stage, investors want to know the number of people who perceive the specific problem you are solving, and if that number is big enough to produce a unicorn. If your calculations reveal a small market, don't waste your time with the next few points: take advantage of this discovery and adapt your idea. If you feel that addressing a larger market makes your pain point more diluted and less acutely perceived, change your idea and start again.

The right way to pitch the solution is as follows: "1 billion users use email to share files, 100 million of them tried to attach a file larger than the limit multiple times. We charge $5 a month, so our total addressable market is worth $6 billion."

Point 4: Traction

Traction is about showing that, over time, an increasing number of users want your solution.

A company that starts with $1 in revenue in the first week and growth of 6.7% week over week will have a $1 billion/year runway revenue in 5 years. With this point, you want to show that you are that company.

Ideally, you want to show a nice graph with weeks on the X axis and revenues, orders, interest or users on the Y. Obviously, revenues are the strongest indicator and users are the weakest, but they can all serve the same purpose. If you have a product with a high sales price and your weekly data is too sparse and inconsistent, you may want to do it by month instead of by week. Weeks are preferable if possible, because they communicate your high resolution and speed.

Most entrepreneurs tell me that they need money to build a prototype to show traction. They also assume that there shouldn't be a slide on traction for a new startup. This is definitely wrong and, to be honest, it defines mediocre founders driven by building up what they want as opposed to great entrepreneurs obsessed with solving problems. The latter always have a persuasive slide on traction, and it is often the strongest point in their presentation.

The reason why this is so hard for many people is simple: most people hate discovering that their initial idea is wrong, and they try to mitigate this risk by building something with more features so that the probability of failure drops. This is the single most important psychological behavior that will prevent your startup from being successful.

Great founders are motivated by discovering why their idea is wrong rather than by receiving encouragement.

They try to sell their solution before it exists to validate their hypothesis as soon as possible. They quickly adapt the idea and try to sell it again. These are not monthly cycles: they happen in hours, sometimes even in minutes with great founders. When there is no interest in their idea, they ask people what they would buy instead and redefine the idea based on this input. I don't know any great founders whose first idea was their successful one. They are successful founders because they iterate faster than anyone else, not because they generate better initial ideas.

Before you build anything, you can show traction. Here are some examples.

For internet services, selling to users 1-to-1 is always the best option to start with, but you can also show traction by recording a video of what you are going to build and adding users to a wait list. Invest $50 in marketing per day or post it on a social network and measure how the wait list grows over 2-3 weeks. This is how Dropbox did it. Afterwards, they raised $15K to finish the first release of the product, and when they were approaching 1m users they raised $1.2m in funding to keep growing. Today, Dropbox is the most successful storage solution in the world. They raised almost a billion, but that was a consequence of their traction, not vice versa as most people think.

When it comes to hardware products, most founders will say that they need a lot of capital. Wrong. Instead, you can hire an industrial designer to produce a photorealistic image of your product. If you're targeting consumers, run a pre-order campaign (e.g. Kickstarter or Indiegogo). If you're targeting businesses, visit them in person and let them sign pre-orders.

Some companies will need billions to create their final product. If you want to change the world by bringing back supersonic flight for consumers (e.g. you want to build the new Concorde), you may think you need a lot of money to get started. Again, Blake and the team at Boom Supersonic raised the minimal amount of money needed to leave their jobs and focus on Boom. They created a nice rendering of the plane and calculated an estimated price. They went to visit airlines and asked for non-binding letters of intent (an LOI looks like this: I will consider the possibility of buying X planes at price Y, if you can really make them). After going through several iterations with the airlines, Boom Supersonic got $5B in LOIs within the first 3 months without having to build a single plane. With those LOIs, they raised $5m from investors (including me) and started building the plane. With a more advanced design they got $20B of LOIs, allowing them to raise $33m to proceed with the construction, and when they hit a bigger milestone, some LOIs were converted into firm orders. My humble guess is that they will be the next Boeing, and it's all because they were fearlessenough to visit customers with just a rendering.

In short, you have no excuses: if you don't have traction after a few months, there is something wrong.

Point 5: Team

At this point, you want to show that there is no better team in the world to address this specific challenge.

The key elements are that you understand the problem better because of X, and the execution of your solution is state-of-the-art because of Y.

The most convincing point for a team could be this (I have to do the full pitch, this is a startup that may actually exist one day):

Problem: many people in wheelchairs want to travel independently, but there is nowhere for them to put their bags. In order to travel at the moment, they need someone to help, or they have to rest the bags on their legs, which is far from practical. Solution: We have designed a practical luggage rack for wheelchairs.

Market: There are 5 million frequent travelers who use wheelchairs. At $200 each, this is a $1B opportunity.

Traction: We produced 20 prototypes ourselves and sold all of them in a day at full price during an event. Afterwards, we ran a campaign on Kickstarter and raised $500k from pre-orders.

Team: I am a young, passionate traveler and have been a wheelchair user for the last 15 years. I know the pain and I am motivated to solve it. My co-founder has been designing and manufacturing luggage racks for Mercedes for the last 5 years.

As an investor, I feel that they understand the pain better than anyone else and that they have everything that is needed to start solving the problem. They also don't have anything more than they need.

If you feel you are missing a key person or you have more than you need, the best time to change things is before you start.

Watch other people's pitches and review them before working on your pitch – it will help you to be more rational about yours.

"Share this essay with your co-founders and friends and ask them to test out your pitch using the features listed in this essay. If you have a pitch that sticks to the principles and survives the test, I would love to receive it before any other investor. I promise to reply with a Yes or No regarding the investment in less than a week."

Google Cloud vets launch Seattle startup Kaskada to bolster machine learning tech with real-time data - GeekWire

Posted: 02 Aug 2019 12:01 PM PDT

The Kaskada leadership team, from left to right: Davor Bonaci, Ben Chambers, and Emily Kruger. (Kaskada Photo)

After spending several years working at Google Cloud, Davor Bonaci and Ben Chambers saw an opportunity to help companies take better advantage of machine learning technology.

Their idea turned into Kaskada, a Seattle-based startup that is launching out of stealth mode and unveiling its software that uses real-time, event-based data to bolster machine learning features.

Davor Bonaci. (Kaskada Photo)

More and more companies are implementing machine learning capabilities into their workflows to serve up better recommendations, detect fraud, and other related applications that use the burgeoning technology.

But Kaskada contends that these models aren't using the most up-to-date information, resulting in stale data and poor predictions that don't accurately reflect the needs of a given user.

The startup's tools let companies implement machine learning features that fully take advantage of up-to-date streaming data.

"There is lots of evidence that this is not done as well as it could be done," Bonaci said of using real-time data. "Companies are leaving money on the table."

Kaskada has raised $1.8 million from investors including Voyager Capital; NextGen Venture Partners; Founders' Co-op; and Bessemer Venture Partners. The company, founded in January 2018, employs four people and expects to grow. In March it hired Emily Kruger, a veteran of Amazon Web Services, as vice president of product.

We caught up with Bonaci for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What does your company do? Kaskada is a machine learning studio that uses event-based data to compute feature vectors for machine learning in real time. Kaskada empowers data scientists by allowing them to discover, test, and deploy features from event-based data sources in a collaborative, version-controlled environment. By empowering data scientists we help organizations make better predictions and drive more impact from machine learning.

Inspiration hit us when: All the time — we're inspired by progress. Every conversation with data scientists and data leaders helps us refine our vision and make a better, more impactful product.

VC, Angel, or Bootstrap: VC. We've been incredibly lucky with our investors so far, which include Voyager Capital, NextGen Venture Partners, Founders' Co-op, and Bessemer Venture Partners. We are also supported by a group of angels that includes directors and senior vice presidents of companies like Google, Twitter and Yelp. Not only have they provided the working capital, but they are also meaningfully helping build the company. Their insight, personal networks, and day-to-day support have been instrumental in getting where we are today. The value we have gotten from our investors is as important — if not more important — than the funding itself.

Our 'secret sauce' is: Streaming data of course! Our team has deep experience in building distributed systems for data streams and data processing and believe we can fundamentally change how ML is practiced by helping companies harness the power of real-time data.

The smartest move we've made so far: We came to the startup world with a lot of experience in the data space which also meant we had many existing opinions and biases about it. It can be hard to listen carefully, probe, and ask the right questions if you think you already know the answer. It was important for us to forget what we thought we knew and look at the space with fresh eyes. We also had to be willing to admit when we were wrong and refocus our direction based on what we heard from customers. Putting the customer stories first allowed us to learn and ultimately make much better decisions about product and company direction than we would have made in a vacuum.

The biggest mistake we've made so far: Gauging time it will take to get to major milestones. Everything takes longer than you expect that it will — particularly if you're an optimistic person! Sometimes those same delays can end up ultimately being positive, though, as you realize a much better way of achieving the same goal.

Which leading entrepreneur would you most want working in your corner? Success doesn't depend on a single individual. We believe that building a strong team that can work together toward a common vision is more important than any single individual.

Our favorite team building activity is: Game night! We have a weekly team game night and (optional) whiskey tasting. We typically play various cooperative board games, which makes it more about winning together. Our current favorite is Hanabi.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Culture fit. Building a company is a journey requiring significant growth — both personally and as a group. We're looking for people who want to be part of that journey and actively participate in that growth. We're looking for people who would have fun participating in lively discussions as we seek to push each other and the company to be the best we can be.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick your team and supporters wisely. They will make you or break you. No other early decision is more important than that one. When you start a new company, there are many people seeking to be involved. Regardless of the role, you'll hear how much they can help you. But, there are no shortcuts; you and your team will have to solve the hard problems. Always focus on the team and the people who are committed to the long-term success of the company.


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