There are many lessons to be drawn from the stories behind this year’s entrants in SmartCompany’s Hot 30 Under 30. But perhaps the most important is that for every piece of advice given, a completely opposite course of action might be appropriate under the right circumstances.
This year’s list contains entrepreneurs who have brought deep experience in meeting a market need. Others have had no market experience whatsoever. Some have succeeded by sticking to one idea relentlessly. Others have thrown a bunch of ideas at the proverbial wall in order to find one that sticks.
Ultimately, the path to success comes down to the quality of the entrepreneur, the decisions they take in the moment, and their ability to make those decisions work for them.
Here are six lessons that can be drawn from this year’s Hot 30 list.
1. Have a vision
BigCommerce co-founder Mitchell Harper says he and his business partner spent five years trying numerous ideas in their previous company Interspire before finding one he could turn into a multi-million dollar business.
“We just kept launching different products, and at one point we had seven different products,” Harper says. “But then we were focusing on trying to make seven products good, whereas competitors on each of those products had one product they had to make great, so they were killing us.”
Had BigCommerce not been a success, Harper believes he would have kept trying different ideas until he found one that could do what BigCommerce is doing.
“For me the worst outcome would be having a smaller business only doing a few million in revenue after 10 years of work that you couldn’t sell,” Harper says. “I wouldn’t have liked it to get to that point – I would have figured something out somehow to get the growth that we have.”
“And that comes back to having a really big vision. If you have that vision and what you are doing isn’t working, change your approach as many times as is necessary until you are on that right path.”
For Samuel Yeats however, success in his managed hosting business Ultra Serve has come from persevering with a business that he has been building for 12 years.
“Focus is really the key thing,” Yeats says. “Stick to the products that you know. Over time we have looked at other things, but the more focused you can be… that has benefits all round.”
3. Make the most of your experience
Some entrepreneurs had direct experience in the industries which they are now revolutionising. David Kruse’s time spent as a media buyer for Spotlight set him up to create his own agency, while Ben Neumann’s experience in food catering led him to spot an opportunity in beverage catering.
But Leigh Williams had never worked in the logistics industry before starting eStore Logistics. His background had been in IT consulting – a factor they freed him from the traditional thinking that constrains his more seasoned rivals.
“I established that logistics was really an information systems and processes-driven industry,” Williams says. “But the way that processes and systems work for orders going to Myer or Safeway is a lot different to having thousands of little orders for one item.”
So Williams used his knowledge of IT systems to write a comprehensive information system for managing his warehouse.
“We’ve put our work into the system that we have developed, which enables us to create a customised solution for each client we bring on,” Williams says. “And we can implement within one to five days, whereas big plays will have a three month lead time.”
For Kruse, it was his exposure to media buying from a client’s perspective that led him to want to build a different kind of media buying agency.
“I had never worked in a media agency before I started a media agency,” Kruse says. “The beauty of starting from scratch is you can build the right teams, structure and process, and you don’t get stuck with the legacy stuff.”
4. If you don’t have experience, bring it in
Daniel Erez also had limited exposure to property development before starting Newground Property, but realised quickly the need to bring that experience in.
“I have a five person advisory board that is made up of independent people from legal, corporate, finance, development and construction backgrounds, that are all far more experienced than I,” Erez says. “We meet once a month and I report to them, and they provide me with the guidance and perspective that only comes from experience.”
5. Use technology
A common theme among young entrepreneurs however is the use of technology to streamline and automate processes. It is this investment that enabled Craig Somerville to take Reload Media from 300 to 500 clients last year.
“We invested early in Reload Media’s growth in a custom-built project management system, which has been built from the ground up for the offerings that we provide,” Somerville says. “There was nothing in the market at the time, so we built our own. And what that allows us to do is scale very effectively.”
Systems and processes have also been vital for Martin Hills and his textile fashion supply chain business Launch Initiative, to ensure both smooth deliveries for clients while keeping costs down.
“We’re always developing and innovating our processes and systems,” Hills says. “When an issue arises and we need to modify the process, we are always putting new systems in place.”
“You’ve got to move with the market and move with your clients. If you are going in one direction and are your clients are going in another it’s not going to work.”
6. Keep in mind that things won’t always go smoothly
Sometimes even the best systems and processes can’t beat nature. The 30-year-old founder of digital marketing agency OneFatSheep, Rupert Deans, came within minutes of losing his life when the building that housed one of his biggest clients collapsed during the Christchurch earthquake, just 30 minutes after he left it. That event destroyed his company’s Christchurch operations and hit almost 70% of his company’s client base.
“Through this time we still maintained operations and grew our business in Australia and New Zealand, due to having what I consider the future of creative and technical business models, being virtual, agile, collaborative and highly innovative,” Deans says.
Dean’s failed to make our list this year, and won’t next year – not through any act of nature, but for the fact that he is already 30 and won’t qualify. But his tenacity embodies the spirit of all young entrepreneurs.
“One Fat Sheep is on the way to turning over our first million, and this coming year is going to be huge for us,” Deans says.