When asked to give advice, I prefer to tell stories.

08/10/2018 1:49:00 PM

 

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3 weeks ago I was asked by a member of our board of directors, Sam Pitruzzello, whether I could be a guest speaker at one if his lectures. Sam is an accomplished Founder/CEO himself having built up his consulting business, Engage Consulting. In addition to this, he is working toward his PhD and is lecturing a course for Melbourne Uni on Entrepreneurship & Innovation in IT.

It was the first time I'd been asked to speak on a topic like this. From time-to-time I've given on-stage presentations about the logistics industry, the company's features and achievements, or sit on a panel to provide feedback on how the Gold Coast can encourage more start-ups. When Sam first asked, I had no idea whether I was even qualified to give advice to others on this topic. What do I know about being an entrepreneur? I've just always jumped into things I found interesting, then figured things out as it went along.

After over-thinking it for too long, I just decided to tell a story.

I've always loved business stories, and found management books painful. I listened to Elon Musks Biography in 2015 when I was relocating from Sydney to Gold Coast. The book was recommended to me by Audible and prior to listening I knew nothing about Elon Musk, I thought SpaceX and X-Prize were the same thing (yes.. seriously). Hearing that story, I immediately began following Tesla and SpaceX's progress with very keen interest. I also loved the book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz, which to-date I've found to be the very best book for helping to navigate the treacherous path of building a startup. The book tells a story about Ben, his partner Mark, and their 8-year journey building OpsWare (kind-of an early AWS), but rather than being written like a typical management book around hypothetical situations, it simply tells it like it was: This happened, I did X, in hindsight I should have done Y, due to Z.

The story I told (slides available: here), was simply my personal journey from University, to my first job in Sydney, to buying the freight company, to building a start-up.

While there was certainly a lot that I got wrong, and in hindsight I'd make a number of different decisions, I provided the class with two key takeaways from my own experience:

#1 Just Start

I've attended a number of meet-ups and networking events here on the Gold Coast and am always amazed how many people I come across (often the same people, over and over), who are "trying" to start. I'm not sure what's holding them back, maybe I have a particularly high risk threshold, but looking back, starting was one of the easiest parts of the journey. We found a business for sale, looked into it, trusted our guts, I quit my job, and then we kicked-off. The whole process took about 6 weeks.

No matter how many books you read or people you talk to, knowing how to build your company will only come from you experiencing it first hand. You'll make lots of little mistakes, but (as our Chairman Frank Stranges often says): As long as you get more right than you get wrong, you'll keep progressing.

I personally see value in starting as early as possible. Even in a complete failure you'll learn so much that you can carry into your next attempt.

 

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#2 Hang in there

It sounds cliche, but nothing other than perseverance is where I feel people get separated into two groups. Those who make it, and those who don't. "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" is brilliant here for showing an extreme case of just how close very successful companies can come to utterly failing multiple times. Ben and Mark just hung in there. They didn't give up, they put absolutely everything in, and they made it out the other side.

I compete in trail running races here in Queensland, generally over distances of 10-20km, offroad with hills. Almost every race, at some stage, I'll hit a point where I'm neck-and-neck with someone else and believe I'm done for. I can't keep up, he's too fast, it's over. I've found at these points that if I focus on the 10-15k I've got left to run, it all seems overwhelming. It feels like it can't be done.
Instead, in times of feeling like it's an insurmountable challenge, I simply change how far ahead I look, and set a goal which is only the next step.
Surely he must be tired too, I'm just going to hang on and find out - the longer I hang on, the more certain I'll become.

I'll admit I had one case where this approach didn't work and I ended up needing medical attention - the other guy wasn't tired. He was a professional athlete, but in general - the bet to stick at it and just get to the next step has paid off. Strangely, once I can see that they are tired and I know I'm not the only one suffering, everything becomes easier.

 

So, if like me, you're asked to speak to a classroom full of people and feel entirely unqualified for the role, consider instead telling them your story.

 

 

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