How do people actually start a business?
The idea of creating your own business can seem a little daunting, especially for first-timers. Three seasoned student entrepreneurs share their first steps and their first-hand advice.
Start with a problem
“The first thing you need to do is find a problem,” said Steph Weiss, CEO of Arula, a startup that 3D prints breast protheses.
“It's super easy to come up with an idea that could be helpful, but if it's not solving a problem it's going to be so much harder.”
Sinay Salamon agrees, “While I was volunteering with adults on the spectrum, I saw that there's a lack of gamification resource. The more I dove into it, the more I saw that it wasn't just the people I was volunteering with. There was so much more to it.
“Step-by-step we tried to figure out what the best solution was.”
Ultimately, this lead to aXonPlay; a highly innovative, tailored video game startup, improving skills for young adults living on the spectrum.
Think and live in the future
That’s according to Joel Meredith, who believes that it’s all about nurturing an innovation mindset.
“You're saying ‘what products, services, initiatives, platforms, and frameworks can I create through sheer alchemy and effort, to help people walk across that bridge and enter into the future?’”
Joel, who is inspired by technology which appears indistinguishable from magic, created Melo Ring, a smart device worn on the finger which can be used to control and share music between users.
With so many potential problems to solve, is it a requirement to be very disciplined?
“I guess it's like a bicycle” says Joel. “It's much easier to balance if you're going faster. If you're just standing still, you'll probably fall over.”
“This really switched on guy told me once to ‘move to be lucky’. It applies to everything. The more you move, the luckier you will be.”
Build, build, build!
“I'm definitely an advocate of just starting to build, getting it out there and seeing what people want,” Joel continues.
“People always tell you what they want. They'll tell you if they want an iteration, they'll tell you if they don't like it. The internet will definitely tell you if they hate it!"
Sinay agrees, “I realised that everyone is very smart, and they can understand a concept, but they’re very visual. Unless they see something in front of them it's very hard for them to imagine something. I would talk to people and also show them the pictures, show them everything that I have already, and even anything else that could really resemble our product. That way you can get that extra validation and the data that you need.”
Don’t give up
When it comes down to it, there are likely to be a few tough stretches along the way in a startup journey, but Steph assures us it’s all manageable with good old-fashioned grit.
"There definitely are times that I've wanted to give up. But you just need to have a thick skin. I'm a big believer in showing rather than telling."
“If someone says you can't do it, do it and then show them.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!
Watch the full talk with Sinay, Joel and Steph
Dave: So good to see all of you guys here. I've probably met you before, my name's Dave, if I haven't met you before. We are at UTS Startups, working to support absolutely every single UTS student who wants to have a go, have a good old crack at a... really interesting and awesome companies here at UTS. Others are just having a go with an idea that they've had and everyone else is kind of in the middle of that spectrum. We've just got incredible, incredible students. So, today is about hearing from them, essentially, and hearing their stories, so we're about to do that. I would love it if you could sort of share, sort of where you've been in terms of when you were studying at University, what you were doing and then sort of how you found your way to founding such an incredible startup. Joel, are you there with us?
Dave: Can we switch over to you, is that okay?
Joel: Yeah sure.
Dave: Beautiful, all right, take it away, share from when you were studying at UTS and sort of what happened.
Joel: Yeah, absolutely. So originally I started doing a double degree in product design and BCII, which is a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, which sounds like a bit lame, but it's basically where a lot of people from different degrees come together, and work on single problems in industry. So I guess I was in my final year of product design, and we were doing a project where we were doing a radical design of an existing product, and I started developing smart jewellery. So we just got it to like a very basic prototyping stage, and I guess after I completed that I was just, I was having so much fun with it, and I really want to see where it was going, and I kind of deferred the next semester after that. Messaged a couple people from product design and the BCII degree, and then yeah, just kind of rolled with it from there. Entered into an accelerator program, met a lot of fantastic people with UTS Startups and tried to acquire some of the mentorship and talent to get it off the ground.
Dave: That is such an abridged version! [Laughter] Which is incredible. But what- can you describe a little bit more, like what is Melo Ring?
Joel: Yeah of course. So Melo Ring is a physical piece of jewellery, that controls all the music on your phone. So we're looking at control, discovering, and sharing music. So you've got your basic functionality, pause, play, skip, and volume. We've also synced up with our favourite partners like Spotify and Apple Music, Shazam, and SoundCloud, to access some, I guess more like relevant functionality, like adding songs to your playlist, throwing songs to other people with the Ring, adding things you likes, messaging brand artists, and yeah, looking at how we can kind of facilitate the entire music experience from the tips of your fingers.
Dave: It's incredible, and I know that you've demoed this with people and they
find it quite surprising... Where did you sort of even find the field that you wanted to work in? Was it something you found in product design that you, you like to create?
Joel: Oh sorry, say that one again I think you cut out a bit?
Dave: Yeah, when you were sort of studying product design, was it was it already sort of a feeling that you had that you wanted to create something?
Joel: Yeah I guess, I guess, always I was kind of like, I loved the tech space, I think. Like Arthur C Clarke, like any sufficient technology indistinguishable for magic, and I kind of wanted to get into like, facilitating some of the magic again. So I guess going through the product design kind of Bachelor degree, I was very keen on getting into the product space. And I guess like when I did make that decision to defer, like one thing I try and tell people is like, not every startup has to be like this huge like multi-million dollar like company, like that's like a lot of pressure right? And there's a lot of like different ways of going about it. I mean, I purely like got into this just because like I was having a lot of fun doing it, I wanted to see how far we could push it, and to be honest like at the end of the day, if one person buys this Ring and says "that's cool as shit!" like that's like enough for me, you know? Like everything else is extra. And for me I kind of felt like that alleviated like a lot of the pressure and stress and stuff. So I feel like if you are in University doing something you really enjoy, and you find yourself wanting to push it further than you feel like you can in the academic sphere, like please, like leverage UTS Startups, like leverage Dave, leverage Kat, Lourdes, like all these amazing people and see like, where you can take it in the real world. And I think chances are like, almost any idea, like good or bad, like you can find like ten thousand users for. So at least sell to those ten thousand users and maybe like re-evaluate after that.
Dave: Yeah, really, really awesome. I think one thing that like stuck out for me when you were speaking, was the whole creating magic with technology that is indistinguishable, or creating magic that is indistinguishable from technology. Was there something that inspired you particularly?
Joel: ..."Ben 10" a lot when I was growing up [laughter] Kind of like, all the, all the spy gadgets, I guess like we see so much like, like pop culture, like fiction, we see like all these really cool people envisioning like, the way the world can look, and I think one way, one way of like looking at a startup right- I think if you want to be an entrepreneur right, like you need to live in the future, and you need to like, if you want to be a good entrepreneur or like a wealthy entrepreneur, like you need to predict the correct future, but it's about predicting these futures and then every startup is essentially just a bridge between where people are today and where people are in that future, and you're saying like, what products, services, initiatives, platforms, and frameworks can I like, create through like, sheer alchemy and effort to help people like, walk across that bridge and enter into like, my future, or THE future. And I think if you're creating tech in particular, you've got like a huge opportunity to facilitate like these, like, vast creative worlds, that like, we couldn't, you know previously, we didn't previously have access to. And the barrier to entry now, even in hardware is just so low, like you can create a website in seven minutes, like you can create apps like, not knowing how to code, you can pick up an arduino off the shelf and prototype mvp in two days. Like the barrier to entry's never been so low. So if you find something you enjoy, like just get out there and like start building. Like just start making stuff, and then putting it out there, and like chances are, like other people will be inspired by your story, other people will be inspired by you, and at the end of the day you're gonna start having a real world impact on real people's lives.
Dave: Yeah. I mean you probably don't know this Joel, but you have helped us significantly in the company that I'm working on at the moment, in that you suggested a particular software to us to use.
Joel: Oh Framer?
Dave: Uh we used- no we used Thunkable, wasn't that you?
Joel: Maybe not, I'm not sure. I'll take credit though!
Dave: Yeah yeah, take credit because I feel like it was you. But essentially like, what you're
saying is true, there's never been a better time in terms of the tools that are at hand to create, I mean you're talking about spy gadgets and things like that, and it's kind of funny that it's really is like that in some ways. Like the, the thing that you're creating and that you're working on is so inconceivable in some ways from a few years ago when we all just had Walkmans. So yeah, I think that comment... so articulate and so true. I want to come back to Joel in a sec to talk a few more, about a few more ideas. But I wanna, have we got Steph around?
Steph: Yes I'm here, can you hear me?
Dave: Yeah we can hear you, hello! I think Sinay, we're still waiting for Sinay to come back I think, or Lourdes will let me know. But Steph, I am so glad you're here, and we'd love to hear about your story. So, you started studying at UTS in FEIT?
Steph: Yes I'm still studying.
Dave: Yes that's true. So what, like take us through, walk us through what happened.
Steph: Okay I will start from the very beginning I guess. So when I was in Year 9, UTS came to my school and they pulled all- I went to a co-ed school, and they brought all the girls into this room and they made us build boats. And whoever could, whoever's boat could hold the most marbles won like, credit- they didn't win anything. And I literally walked out of that room and I was like "who on earth would ever want to be an engineer?" like that was so boring. Flash forward to finishing school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I sort of found biomedical engineering at UTS and it was the only Uni that offered it, sort of, just itself at the time. So I didn't go to any Uni open days, I just went to that one. I went in the room, I stayed for five minutes, went home, got into the degree and yeah. I just always wanted to help people but I really like maths and I really like solving problems, so I was like, that seems like the best thing to do. So I did that for, I finished, I would have been in third year, and I was complaining to my friend, I'd just finished my internship and I was like "oh, I'm literally not doing anything to do with engineering besides for studying, like, I really want to do something". And my friend was like "you should meet my other friend." And I was like "oh yeah yeah, whatever". Went to Europe like every other girl on their Uni break, and just hung out there. And then I got back and I was like "you know what? I'm gonna do something today." And I reached out to this girl that my friend introduced me to, who ended up becoming my co-founder. So, she really needed a tech guy, or more of a tech girl for her startup, and I'm pretty techie, so I was like "yeah let's join." So I joined on to Arula where we 3D print breast prostheses for women who've had mastectomies. And within a month of joining the team we got offered a free trip to America, which was crazy, and ever since then my life's just been a massive crazy journey, filled with no sleep.
Dave: I hope that you get to have some downtime and some sleep. But it's also very exciting what you're doing. And I feel like everyone loves to undersell what they do, but can you just give us a little snapshot? Like what is Arula? You 3D print breast prosthesis, but like what- where is that at the moment?
Steph: So. So, we 3D print breast prosthesis. So the crazy thing that blows everyone's mind and it's probably the worst, the most awful stat in the world, is that one in nine women worldwide will develop breast cancer, and that stat's just getting higher as it speaks, as unfortunate as it is. And if a woman can't get a reconstruction, which surprisingly only about 40% of women do get a reconstruction, they essentially are left with a mastectomy, and just feel like they've lost something that's a part of them. So, that's where we come in. So, breast prosthesis are things that slot into your bra the easiest way to explain them is like chicken fillets for girls, or the little things that are in the push-up bras. So we make full breasts that they can put into their bra, each one is customised and we're trying to make them as light as possible.
Dave: That is so incredible. So Steph, like sorry to ask, how old are you?
Steph: Oh, I'm 22. [Laughter]
Dave: What do people say when... run, and what you guys do? Like what are some of the reactions that you get?
Steph: Probably the craziest story was Suri and I went to a pitching competition in Adelaide, and we decided to go out to a bar, and there was a football team from Victoria there who having their end of year party. And one of the guys started chatting to me and he's like "so what are you doing in Adelaide?" cause we told him we were from Sydney. And I was like "oh we're pitching our business" He's like "there's no way you have a business." And I literally handed him my business card and walked away. It's like, people, find it kind of mind-blowing. I actually had a conversation yesterday with my friend, she's like "what do you say to people when people ask you what you do?" And I'm like, "I have no idea". I literally, to every single person I meet I tell them something different. Some people I tell them, I have a lot of jobs, so I- some people I say I'm a student, I'm a bartender. And then I barely ever say like, I'm a startup founder. It's kind of a little thing that my close friends know but I keep it pretty private.
Dave: So a "closet startup founder" [laughter] It's so cool! I, already you are like so inspiring to all of us, as are our other speakers as well. And you know I, I can't believe I get to work with all of you guys and, and hear what you're doing. But, we'll come back... more questions. But we've got Sinay back, which is really exciting! The Northern Beaches might have beautiful weather and sunshine, but they do not have stable WiFi. Also neither does UTS today which is annoying, but anyway. So Sinay, if you're here can you just give us a little glimpse into, yeah, what you studied and how you became an entrepreneur?
Sinay: Cool. Hi guys, sorry about that. So I actually studied medical science at UTS. I really wanted to go into a place where I can combine science and working with people. I really
enjoyed the system... [Audio & video cuts out]
Dave: Oh no! We're still, okay we're still struggling. And also my internet connection is "unstable". What a great day for zoom! [laughter] Okay what we might do is, I wonder if I can get Sinay to call in. Maybe? Okay, that's what we'll do instead. I will get onto that. But, at this point I know that we've had a few questions there, and one of the questions that we've had so far, which is an awesome question, is around co-founders and team members. I know we've, I mean the startups world is rife with words that are sort of, I guess "lingo" and not everyone is straight away on the same page. But when we talk about co-founders and team members I guess... early days of a startup and, and co-founders like Steph was talking about before, essentially refers to, I guess, the people that are at the, at the helm of that company, or building that company from the concept stage. So Steph, if you're around still, are you there? Oh, beautiful. Yeah so, elaborate for us a little bit on the, the thing, cause Suri is you know, a lot of people know Suri and have seen her talk about Arula before. But like, sort of what's the situation... leading the, the company?
Steph: Ah, of right now?
Steph: So Suri actually had to step away from the business a few months ago due to personal reasons, so for right now I'm a solo-founder. And it was quite, quite a shock. Those who know Suri, know Suri is the complete opposite to me. I am super quiet, I like to just get on with my work and, and not talk much. While Suri is this like amazing, out-of-this-world character who can just talk about anything and everyone will listen. So yeah, am I missing part of the question? Sorry, no- that was it.
Dave: Like, I mean you're, you essentially came on as a co-founder though? Like, what did that look like?
Steph: It was pretty crazy, I remember the first time I met Suri. And, she's kind of gave, like Suri is such a positive person, I remember her looking at me dead in the eye being like, you know, "if you join on, like you have to be in it, you can't go for grad jobs, you can't go and do your second internship for Uni, you have to- you're in it." And at first I was like "oh um, I really don't..." I'm such a floater, like I, I like to do lots of different things. And I was like "oh..." and then I thought about it, and like, business has never really been something that I ever thought I would get into. I did commerce at school but that was about it, I, I still don't really get business. And it's something I never really thought about, but then after hanging out with Suri a bit, and I'd come in, and I'd do little things here and there, and we'd bounce ideas off each other for a few months. I kind of worked out that actually this kind of makes so much sense for me. I never saw myself working as an engineer on like one little part of a medical device, and sitting at a desk a desk all day. I kind of always saw myself doing everything. I like seeing everything, like doing everything, so it kind of just worked out in the end.
Dave: And so you would say that it's not necessarily that the concept or the business idea that was your side of things driving that, it's more the getting in and just like, okay, where do we start? What do I have to do? And just building something from nothing?
Steph: Yeah I am like an ideas guy. I will literally, even now, like when people come and tell me their startups or a lot of my friends now come up to me and like, tell me like really random ideas of businesses that could work. I, my mind just like gets turning and I can think of three different markets they can expand into, they can do this, this, and this. And that's kind of where I excel, is I, I'm really good at seeing the big picture and stepping back, and I think it's because I'm a, I'm a listener now rather than a talker, so I think that's something I've learned along the way.
Dave: And so do you think that, so for people out there who struggle with ideas, like they don't necessarily have an idea but they just want to get involved somehow, like what, what steps would you suggest? Or is there, is there anything they should start to read or think about?
Steph: I think the first thing you need to do is find, find a problem. It's super easy to come up with an idea that could be helpful, but if it's not solving a problem it's going to be so much harder. It's more of a- and I spoke with Suri about where she came up with the idea for Arula, it wasn't, she wasn't out looking for, for something to start doing, it was more a chain of events that led her to realising that there is an actual problem. And I think that's what's best, is all the best startups solve a problem.
Dave: Yep, yep, fantastic. Hey Joel?
Dave: Joel, I was wondering if you could help us out with- thank you for posting these awesome links- but yeah, how do we go ideas shopping? Like where do we find, I guess, how do you evaluate or even find ideas? So I mean, we're talking about Melo Ring, which is what you're working on, and there's definitely a market for wearables and technology and especially like, entertainment, and the intersection of all of those things...
Joel: I'm sorry that last like five seconds cut out for me, might be my WiFi.
Dave: No no, it's okay. I- the question is so how do we know if an idea is worth pursuing? Like how do we find that?
Joel: I mean I guess there's like so many metrics you could apply right? I mean you can you can look at like, what I just posted, like Jobs To Be Done theory. Like is there a job that somebody's trying to do that they feel like they can't currently do? And like, does your idea
solve that? Is there a problem? Is there just a huge market? Maybe you whip up like, something like a small like video or some renders, and you put them on the internet and you see like, is it, is there a high demand for it? But then there's also like, is it something like, you want? Like sometimes that's enough of a reason to make something. And I feel like a lot of the startup founders I've spoken to particularly in the product base space, will have like 20 products around them that like they've made. So for example like, I mean ages ago like I could never find a to-do list that I liked, so I just you know like, made one, like for me, that I guarantee like nobody else would find beneficial, it was like, the worst app in the whole world but it was like, it worked for me. And I feel like if you just get used to like making things for yourself or others or family or friends or communities, you start to get into this like building mentality. And I, I think like when you build something that people want, like people will tell you that they want it, and that's the kind of validation that you need to go forward. So I guess if you can hit any single one of those metrics on any of your ideas, that's enough of a reason to pursue it, and worst possible scenario, you learn heaps.
Dave: And what, okay... people are starting to sort of churn through the ideas and maybe they, they're starting to see a few opportunities, or as Steph mentioned like, problems to solve. So, like how, how do we get support? Like, were your family and friends sort of supportive of you wanting to start working on a startup? Is that- so maybe from Joel, like do you tell your parents like "hey I'm working at a startup" or a bit like Steph it's like, "I don't want to tell anyone"?
Joel: Oh no, I guess I just, I guess I viewed it, and I still kind of do view it as like a project. It's just like a side project like we're working on and yeah, I was super happy- I mean I wanted to get like everyone's kind of thoughts. I mean, like the more group mentality you can have in innovation like, the better. So if you tell like a million people you're gonna have a lot better like grasp on like, the problem space in the product and ideas are moving forward, than if you tell one person. I mean, yeah don't go, like don't go sharing like PCB schematics with China, but anything short of that, like everyone's just gonna, everyone's gonna help, you know, everyone's got like a cool idea and if you don't agree with it you're still one step closer, you know what I mean?
Dave: Yes, well okay. That's a great point. And this is, I'm gonna throw to both of you Joel and Steph. I know we're working on getting Sinay back on the call by the way. But, for both of you guys- anyone who wants to answer this: okay so you've got an idea or you're sitting on something that you think has got promise, do you tell people about it or do you keep it secret? Like, what's the best way to do that?
Steph: Do you mind if I go first Joel? I'll say an idea that I came up with one day at work and I know that there is a startup working on this. Is, I have a friend and she is literally allergic to everything, and I don't know why but we literally always talk about her allergies, like to do with like everything. And I was like "why are EpiPens so big?" Like, if you've ever seen an EpiPen they're like this big, it's like surely there's a way, and you can only use it once, I was like surely there's a way to, to make it smaller or make it reusable. And so I spoke to her and she's like "that's such a great idea" she's like "you should have seen the bag I had to take with me to Japan everywhere we went because you don't know what's in the food!" and then I just went and started talking to other people I knew who had allergies and, and everyone's like "yeah that's such a great idea!" So, you sort of get talking to people that could give you a great opinion. Like, it's always great to talk to your mum but like, my mum would never say anything negative. If I came up with the worst idea ever she'd be like "that's such a great idea Steph! You're so sweet!"
Dave: Yep. So you've got, okay, you've got maybe the opposite problem to some people where their parents are like "okay, but get a job as an accountant first" [laughter] Or, you know "finish your engineering degree" or whatever it is. And, and obviously we are at UTS and we advocate for you to finish your degree, for sure.
Steph: We'll see.
Dave: ...Like Joel, you just mentioned it's a side project. Like, is it possible to build a company and you know, study slash work slash have a normal life?
Joel: Yeah, definitely! It's like, all things right? It's like, it's like a priority and, the more time you invest- the more time you invest in something the more that can happen. So you, if you invest 100 hours a week into your startup like there's more things that can happen. But if you invest, you know twenty, ten, five, one hour a week into your startup, like there's still things that can happen it's just like, statistically less likely. And I think, long term, like most founders I've spoken to have wanted to work on their startup full-time. And there's just obviously like circumstance that begins to impede that, like you've gotta eat and pay rent and all these kind of like variables, and finish your degree if that's something you like want to do. So I think it's just about allocating the time where you can and then setting yourself up for success. So like how can I schedule out time? How can I maximise my current workload? How can I outsource like, grunt work that somebody can do like offshore for like a really low price? How can you like maximise your time to maximise your hours to give your chance like the best possible chance of success?
Dave: Yep, yep, I mean I'm hearing from you Joel, that you are a master at time management and I feel that-
Joel: couldn't be further from the truth!
Dave: Is it a requirement to be very, very disciplined? I mean you, you've probably got so many rabbit holes you could be going in, how do you know how to take your company forward?
Joel: I mean, I guess it's like a bicycle right? It's just so much easier to turn like, if you're going faster. It's much easier to balance if you're going faster. If you're just standing still, like you'll probably fall over. Like, yeah this really switched on Spanish guy told me once, he's like "move to be lucky." And it applies to literally everything, like grades, relationships, like networking, learnings, education, like everything. Like, if you move, like the more you move, like the luckier you will be. So I think yeah, like sometimes it's really confusing. There's always a lot of options and directions you could possibly take, but I think the faster you're moving like, the faster you'll find the direction it, is one of the correct avenues.
Dave: Awesome! Oh my gosh, there's like so many nuggets in there from both of you. And I'm excited to watch the recording actually. But I can see that Sinay is on the phone- are you there?
Sinay: Yes I am here.
Hello! Round three, thank you!
Sinay: Yes, lucky last
Dave: ...where we left off. And yeah, tell us how you started up.
Sinay: Okay so I'm not too sure if you heard me before, but I started off studying medical science and I really, I went in thinking that I might go into medicine, or just find something that I can combine science and working with people. I really enjoy, kind of outlining a problem and then trying to problem-solve it in a very symmetrical way, and kind of get the validation for it. After a very hard few years at UTS I finished and then once I was done, I was trying to find a job where I could fill in all those things that I really enjoy, like working with people and working with science and all of that, and I really struggled to find a place where I can constantly grow. And then while I was volunteering with adults on the spectrum, I saw that there's a really lack of gamification resource. And the more I kind of dived into it, the more I saw that it wasn't just the people I was volunteering with but it was so much more to it. And step by step we tried to figure out what is the best solution. And it was really interesting to see how you can come up with something from, from nothing. You can come up with an idea or- or a pre-existing idea and kind of highlight it and transfer it into something more, more feasible and more practical. Yeah. So then I decided to reach out to UTS and see how I can kind of bring that into UTS Startups.
Dave: And we're so glad that you did. I think aXonPlay play is such a fascinating startup and a fascinating idea, can you sort of give us a... doing?
Sinay: For sure, for sure. So, we are early stage startup, we started a few, maybe a bit more, months ago. We had to pivot quite a lot but basically, was all really really good, good pivots. We are a platform that's creating resources in the form of gamification for adults on the autism spectrum disorder, and we're targeting social resiliency. So basically any scenarios that could be so simple to others that people on the spectrum find really hard to, to understand, and struggle. Saying that, I mean, we all have been experiencing lots of rejections, especially now where social resiliency and social interaction is something that is so hard to, to take. We really try to teach and help people who really rely on, on a routine
and a base that is just- at the moment that is kind of non-existing. At the moment we have a team of five. We have amazing artists and game developer and, and programmers, and together we kind of really tailor, a video game that could be played anywhere, and those scenarios really introduce rejection, leadership, and relationship, just certain things that are
really hard to teach if you just need to close your eyes and imagine yourself, but within a game you can really immerse yourself and practice those skills, all the time.
Dave: Awesome, so needed as well. What, what a fantastic idea. And I guess here's a question for yourself tonight and also Joel; when you found the idea that you wanted
to run with, like what was the next thing that you did if you can remember?... You know, you've you've thought a lot about this, you've talked to some people, you've decided "okay, I'm gonna build this" Like, what was the next thing that you did?
Sinay: Joel would you like to go first?
Dave: [Laughter] Joel, you've been nominated.
Joel: So for, this is first steps right? Yeah, so in first steps I was like just start building. I mean, like there's so many different opinions on like how you can start a startup. A lot of people I guess, like one of the, like kind of generic themes that you'll see across a lot of things is like "product market fit". Everyone's like, you can have a product, if there's no market it doesn't matter, you can have a huge market if you can have the right products. Like money and like "success" kind of gets like generated from this like product market fit. Is one of the ways people depict like startup success. So I've always kind of been like, just start building. I guess like that's my background, so I've probably got like a huge bias, it doesn't mean it's the correct way to do it. But I'm definitely an advocate of like just start building and getting it out there and seeing what people want. People always tell you what they want, they'll tell you if they want an iteration, they'll tell you if they don't like it. The internet will definitely tell you if they hate it! So you might as well, yeah just like build as fast as you can, start iterating and then let the market tell you what they want.
Dave: Okay so you're saying, you're suggesting you find the quickest and cheapest way to do it, build it and just get it in someone's hand? Is that what you're saying?
Dave: And I guess there are ups and downs in all of that journey but has, has there been anything surprising, sort of happened with you when you've done that? Or like, what have you found?
Joel: I think the funniest thing is like, cause most concepts like, we're like, everyone's like pretty well educated right? So when you explain a concept, like, it's very rare that somebody like doesn't understand it. Like, I've had a guy like explain like a quantum cyber security startup to me and like, I kind of, I don't understand it, but like it kind of makes sense, right? And yet you can talk about all these products, all these concepts and they're like "oh yeah kinda..." and then like the moment you show somebody, and like put it in their hand the reaction might be like completely different. So if you've got like, you've got phase one, which is like an idea, people are like "oh I like that" or "I don't like that". Phase two is like a prototype and they'd be like "oh my god!" like "that's crazy!" "I can't believe that you've got something working!" And then phase three might be like your final product, you might have like a completely different reaction again. People are like "ah nah, I don't actually want to buy it" So you always like, see this whole oscillation between like and dislike, between like, throughout like the prototyping phase. So I think like, each touch point in that process is like invaluable to the amount of data that you'll collect.
Dave: Yeah. So almost every reaction is information that you can use and leverage?
Joel: Yeah, and just like questions, start questioning why. I think if you don't have anything, if you don't have any product to show, you don't have like a lot of data that you can collect, so you can't ask a lot of those like really important inquisitive questions, that are going to be paramount to like the success of your company. So I think the more information you can collect, particularly generated by like actually showing your product, the more, like the sooner you'll start to be able to ask those really important questions.
Dave: Yeah, yeah fantastic. Um, Sinay, are you there?
Sinay: Yeah, yeah I definitely agree with Joel, and I think we try to do that as well, but because ours are quite a complex platform, and we weren't able to generate the game very quickly as we would want to, and I found that the more I was talking to people I realised, yes everyone is very smart they can understand a concept, but very similar to what Joel said, people are very visual, and unless they don't see something in front of them, then it's very hard to, for them to imagine something. So, I would literally go around and talk to people and, and also show them that in the pictures, show them everything that I have already, and even anything else that could really resemble our product. That way you can get that extra validation and the data that you need. You can also see how you can improve it, especially when our product is specifically for those- for a target market, then the more information, the more data we can actually help more people and tailor it specifically to them.
Dave: Fantastic. I have, I can see that the chat is blowing up a little bit around the co-founder question, which I love. And I should mention that we've got a few opportunities for people to find co-founders... We've also got one of my favourite people ever, Subana, who's gonna speak tomorrow actually around exactly how she would approach, sort of building a team from zero. So anyone who's interested in that I cannot stress enough, when I first heard her talk about this I was like, why didn't I hear this at the beginning of my journey? It would have saved me so much time. So please get amongst that. But just for the sake of satisfying in a, in a small way that question at this point, even though the chat there's some great stuff coming out, Steph can I just throw to you really quick? Obviously Arula cannot happen with only you at the helm. How are you building it and what sort of things are you thinking about?
Steph: Oh wow, that's a hard question. I'm essentially, I essentially wrote down, after Suri left, wrote down a list of things that I believe a two founders or three founders in a company need, to have a successful company. So it's anything from technical skills, to legal skills, to this. And I essentially wrote it down, and then I had it in an excel spreadsheets, then I had, the next column I had is what I can do, and over time I actually have realised I can do way more things than I thought I could in the, in the beginning. And then I also put down, who do I know who can do, can do these things? So for example, whenever I have a question that I don't know I can go to this person who isn't a lawyer but has a better understanding of legals than I do. Or I go to, I have a mentor who's an accountant, so I go to him and he helps me through accounting issues and things like that. So, that's what I'm doing for now. But as I said in the chat before, it really is like a marriage. Like Suri and I did a lot of things before I came on as a co-founder. I think we hung out for two, three months, which is still short time compared to other startups. And it's more just seeing how you work with them. Like a marriage you're not going to go and propose to someone on the first date, because it most likely won't work out. And so it's kind of like that, you work out what you're interested in, what annoys you, what, what you're good at, what you struggle with, ways you deal with stress, ways to do that, do you have like some secret alter ego who's like a horrible person? Like, things like that. And once you feel comfortable and it's kind of, would put your life in that person's hands, then you kind of have the right match.
Dave: Yep, I mean that does sound like the perfect co-founder arrangement, I'm also worried about my own horrible alter ego screwing up future companies. So, okay, no BS. This is like, pretend everyone's out of the zoom and this is like just, we're levelling here. I want to ask each of you a question. I want to start with Sinay actually, if you can, if you can answer this. Is starting a startup worth it?
Sinay: Definitely. And I think even though this is something I'm asking myself every day, it's just the amount of stuff I've learned so far, and even if, you know God forbid this is not going to work out, those values, those skills, my ability to reach out to so many different people, to manage a team and and really teach my ideas, being able to even think of raising money or those kind of things. I would, I would forever have that in me, and I would forever have that ability to do that again, and yes at times it's really challenging and you know, you don't get that much sleep but at the same time you're so passionate about it that it doesn't feel like it's a chore, it doesn't feel like you are working for it, it feels like it's part of you. You're wanting to do this and nowhere else you'd rather be but in front of your computer at 12am and just working on stuff. And I think it is so rewarding to see to reflect back and see where you are, what you were able to achieve. Yeah, and I think even if this doesn't work out, it's been amazing.
Dave: That is, that is such an answer... Sort of Peace Prize one day or something. Awesome! Joel?
Dave: You're an analytical guy, you're a clever guy, you make good decisions, that's my assessment of you anyway. No BS, can anyone be a startup founder?
Joel: Yeah absolutely. I guess because the definition of a startup founder's so wide no matter what your skill set is I think you can add value to the world. And no matter who you are like, you are going to be the best at something or some very specific combination of things, and I think if you want to leverage who you are and be authentic and build something that can add value to anybody, you are under at least my definition of a "startup founder". So I think I just recommend, talk to people that have done it, talk to people in your field, in your space. Talk to people that are better, smarter, cleverer, and harder working than you are, and pull together a team, and just make something of value, and I think once you start that journey you'll find, yeah, the passionate energy like, follows quite quickly afterwards.
Dave: Oh mate, both of you guys need to write books by the way! Those were- we didn't prepare these guys for these questions by the way, so everyone knows. They do not have notes, they're just, they're not getting paid to say any of this stuff. That, that was incredible. I have a question for you Steph. No BS. Absolute... how you feel. Have you ever wanted to give up and if so, why have you not?
Steph: It's so funny, I literally cried for two hours yesterday being like "why is life so hard?" Which happens often [laughter]. I think there definitely are times that I've wanted to give up. I think there's a lot of people that think I have given up, which I haven't we're stronger than ever. But I think you just need to have a thick skin and I think, you know from experience I've had and previous work experience and things like that, I've been able to develop a really thick skin, and I think you just need to- I'm a big believer in: show them rather than tell them. So if someone says "you can't do it", do it and then show them. There are people that disagree with that statement, and say tell them, but I think that's the biggest thing is, I literally just need to compose myself. So I got really sad yesterday and then I went and spent $400 on clothes. It was great and I felt so good. My bank account doesn't feel too good right now, but I'm wearing new shoes and they're really comfy. And I think the best thing about that was I just needed to go and clear my head, go and do something that doesn't involve me thinking about all the problems and then come back, and, what is the easiest thing I can do that's going to push me that step forward? So as Joel was saying before, like actually get your priorities in check and at the end of the day it's what the customer wants which is most important. So whenever I feel really deflated, I have a lady on speed dial who is one of my customers and I literally talk to her for like an hour, and we talk about life, and we talk about my product and she literally ends every conversation after like "I can't wait to see it! Let's organise to see it, bla bla bla." So, yeah. I definitely want to give up like at least once a week, but I'm not going to do that.
Dave: Wow. Thank you for letting me put you on the spot guys. We are so lucky that you guys are in our, in our University, at UTS Startups, doing what you're doing. Even by just like living your life and doing what you're doing in your startups you guys are inspiring so many of us all the time. We, no BS, look up to you guys massively. And so can we all appreciate Joel, Sinay, and Steph with a little, there's probably a little reaction button that you guys can tap if you want. [Cheers in background] Or you can clap or whatever!