I remember heading into 2020 and it felt like a year dripping with possibility and excitement…then Australia suffered devastating bushfires and then, a global pandemic.
2020 taught us to expect the unexpected and to be prepared to respond to change and uncertainty in the best way possible with limited experience, sometimes very little information, and oftentimes, less emotional resources.
Little did we know that this lesson of expecting the unexpected would be essential for 2021 as the world was forced to continue to navigate a global pandemic.
Now jump to July 2021 and I find myself writing this blog, navigating another unexpected yet expected lockdown, but with a huge amount of pride for what the #RA21 cohort of startups have achieved. Amidst the constant change and uncertainty of this year, they accomplished so much, and it was fitting to celebrate them last week at our online Demo Day.
Reflecting after Demo Day, it became clear that I’ve gained so much from working with each of our founders and I want to share just a few of these lessons. So here are my 7 lessons from working with our #RA21 Founders…
1 | MEDISTAYS & HOLDING ON!
I have been canyoning a few times, but have not yet been white water rafting. In my mind I see lots of parallels between white water rafting and startup life – there’s lots of random splashing and quite a lot of unfamiliar waters around you; you feel small and insignificant amidst the power of the rapids surging around you, knowing your small raft could fill with water at any moment.
Your job is to find the most efficient path without getting caught on rocks, stuck in eddys and without capsizing. Sometimes, you get into a fast-moving section of the river, and the small course corrections you make are just trying to keep your boat in that flow. Other times you feel like you’re frantically paddling and needing to execute on 5 maneuvers at once – paddles flying, eyes wide.
The team from MediStays found a section of the river that was moving quickly, COVID accelerated their development with hospital beds needing to be freed up to make way for more patients. The ability to access short and medium-term accommodation was difficult, but MediStays provided all-in-one solution that solves that problem. All of a sudden there was massive demand, 30-40 inbound inquiries a day – without any marketing spend.
We saw the team from MediStays execute many masterful strokes, keeping the boat in the slipstream, riding this wave of market pull. They worked hard to make good strategic decisions that would give them a better boat in the long term, all while responding to the immediate needs of their flood of customers.
Sometimes when these moments come along and you just need to hold on and ride it out.
2 | HUMANE & CREATING LOVABLE PRODUCTS
Startups have lots of moving parts and a founder’s job is to prioritise those moving parts to grow what they’ve conceived into a business before running out of money. What we saw in Humane was a team that went back to focus on the basics of solving a problem for their customers and developing a solution that they loved.
Managing NDIS budgets can be complex and Humane have a solution that families are excited by. They love the solution because it solves a complex problem for them and word is spreading as other families discover this lovable product.
Founders do well to go back to basics and to prioritise their attention on what they can do to solve a problem in a way that customers will fall in love with the solution.
3 | CURE BIONICS & LEADING WITH PASSION
When you lead with passion, champions for your cause will follow. Mohamed is no ordinary founder. Now on his 3rd startup, he has gained international recognition from the Obama Foundation, Forbes, MIT and all this before he’s even turned 30 years of age! His passion to use engineering to benefit humanity is contagious. Beyond attracting attention and recognition, it has started to attract talented individuals working with him and international advocates wanting to support his work.
When you lead with passion, people have more than a transactional relationship, they taste your vision for the future and that becomes attractive as you gain other champions for your cause.
4 | WEARABLE & CO AND HUSTLE
One of our startup coaches, Ben Reid, always used to say, “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no”. Establishing networks to distribute your products – be they hardware or software, is a constant challenge for early-stage startups. There’s only so much product you can sell to your friends and family.
One of the things we saw Penny – the founder of Recovawear and Wearable & Co – was to ask larger supply networks if they could stock her products. Yes, she got some “no’s”, but she also got some “yes’” as well. Deals on the table with large organisations with big reach and opportunities globally. All because of her ability to hustle and ask the question.
Founders most of the time don’t have much to lose by asking seemingly impossible questions that help your business grow. Just do it.
5 | SPIX APP & THE NEED TO PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE EVEN THOUGH YOU MIGHT NOT FEEL READY
Spix App started off the back of a 3 week Design-athon in October 2020, where a team of strangers came together to consider how they might make eSports more inclusive of people with disability. They did customer discovery, research, prototyped something, tested with customers and iterated. During the months following the Design-athon, the team worked to further validate their assumptions.
At all points in the journey, the team felt like they were the beginners in an advanced class, but they kept going, not without challenge, but they kept putting themselves out there.
Too often startups try to perfect their products; to wait until the opportune time; to get more assurance that they’re on the right track. But sometimes you will learn more with a beginner’s mind than you will when pretending you’ve got everything sorted.
6 | SPECKLES LEANT INTO THE NETWORK OF INTELLIGENCE AROUND THEM
I’ve probably not met someone as eager to learn as Maddy Scavone, the Founder of Speckles. She was like a wonder cloth soaking up all she could. If we put a suggestion for a potential mentor to meet, she met them. If a lead was sent her way, she pursued it. And it paid off. She’s now working with one of the top glasses designers through a connection her coach helped her to make.
A founder will never have all the answers to the absolute barrage of questions they are faced with every day. So they must increase their surface area, listen and learn more. Accelerators should do that for founders – they should dramatically increase the network the founders have access to. Yes, it’s still up to the founder to sort ‘wheat from chaff’ when it comes to that advice, but a larger surface area will ensure wider intelligence is consulted to help make those decisions.
7 | THERAPLAY.TV FOCUSED ON THE END GAME
I love the story of the gold medal-winning GB Eight rowing team who were completely underrated before the Sydney Olympics and had often finished not just out of the top 3, but often in 7th place. In everything they did in the final 2 years leading up to the games, they had one unifying question, “Will it make the boat go faster?” If it was a decision about whether to train or not – “Will it make the boat go faster?” If it was deciding if they were to go to the pub to have a drink – “Will it make the boat go faster?” Their absolute single-minded focus on that question of would it make the boat go faster was, in their mind, what won them the gold medal.
The TheraPlayTV team has a focus on what they want their vision – the end result – to be. When you hold onto that end vision, it does help prioritise the things that are more or less important. It provides focus in your execution.
It’s been a privilege for the Remarkable team, coaches and mentors working with each of the founders. We love when we learn while watching these founders create the future. So while things still feel a little uncertain as we head towards the end of this year, founders do well to hold on, create products people love, lead with passion, hustle, put yourself out there, lean into the intelligence of those around you and focus on the end game.
These lessons are only some of the valuable things I have learned from our #RA21 Founders and I encourage everyone to follow these startups. The world is better because of them!
You can rewatch and share the entire #RA21 Demo Day event below and an audio-described version of the event is available at https://bit.ly/DemoDayAD