5 key lessons I have learnt as a 24 year old startup founder

Age is just a number people say. But in startup land, your age can either break your business or become your biggest asset.

For anyone who knew me during University, would know I graduated without a plan.

It was 2016.

I was in my final year of a Bachelor of Laws and International Relations degree. Most of my friends were already offered legal graduate positions.

My situation was a bit different. I didn’t have one offer.

Not because I was some underdog with a story that I got rejected 100x for positions as a graduate lawyer. Actually I graduated with Honours.

It was because I never even applied.

So at the end of 2016, I was a 21 year old graduate of two degrees with no employment offers and no idea what I was going to do.

Graduated from Bond University in 2017 from a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and International Relations.

At the time, my ex-boyfriend was running a digital marketing company. So he offered me a position to help him build his startup.

However after a big breakup, 7 bottles of wine and the realisation that couples should never professionally work together, I was left with NO JOB and STILL NO IDEA what to do with my life.

I never chose the startup life. I truly fell into it after I felt I had no other choice.

When I first started building Adzurra, I didn’t know what tech was, what a startup did, how to raise capital or who even was responsible for building software (I now know it’s software developers but what the hell is a software architect/engineer?)!

I am now 1 and a half years into my startup. We have built our MVP, secured angel funding and onboarded over 50 clients onto the platform. We have just launched our Android (download here) and IOS app and we’re now raising for our first official seed round.

Me at SOSA in Tel Aviv representing Adzurra for the Australian Landing Pad Program with AUSTRADE.

The story becomes quite standard after that. So instead of boring you with the details…

Here are my top 5 lessons that I learnt in the last year and a half as a young, first time, sole non-tech founder.

1#: THE TRUTH IS, OUR AGE IS OUR BIGGEST ASSET AND OUR BIGGEST DOWNFALL.

As a young startup founder, we’re met with the biggest struggle. We have youth on our side (minimal personal commitments ie mortgages, families) which investors LOVE but we face a lack of WORLD + BUSINESS experience.

There’s really no workaround for a lack of experience. I’ve tried to compensate it with hiring great people and reading every startup book under the sun.

However, at the end of the day, you WILL make mistakes and you WILL learn from them. No book will prevent you from making a bad hire or stop you from implementing an awful marketing strategy.

The trick is….

Make sure you don’t dwell on the mistake too much and you understand what went wrong and power through. If you spend days thinking about it, you’ll realise that you could have spent those days trialling things that ACTUALLY work.

As I always say…. I have never learnt from any of my successes. I thank the team and move on. But I sure have learnt from my mistakes… I think about the mistake and make sure, I never do it again.

2#: OUR WEAKEST MOMENTS BUILD THE MOST MEANINGFUL PART OF OUR CHARACTERS.

Breakups are hard. It’s even harder when you’re professionally lost and you can’t see a path to purpose to inspire you to get out of bed in the morning.

That’s what happened to me. At the weakest point of my life (no job, a broken relationship), I fought so hard to bring purpose back into my life…and came up with the idea of Adzurra.

I probably wouldn’t have acted on my idea unless I was so low in self-esteem and had a sudden increase of spare time. And this is something I hear from other entrepreneurs.

Whether it’s a broken relationship, a lost mortgage, a failed marriage, a death in the family or even something as simple as ‘hating your job’….most startup founders (prior to founding their startup) experience an EMOTIONAL CATALYST.

So the lesson is…

Although it’s the worst feeling in the world at the time, use that part of your journey to build the most meaningful parts of your character.

Perseverance, determination, the will to fight through internal struggles, understanding emotions, ability to self-reflect and understanding your mistakes are all important traits that will serve you well in your startup journey.

3#: BE KIND, BECAUSE ATTRACTING TALENTED EMPLOYEES WILL BECOME ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES.

This is fact. Hiring talented people in a startup is one of the biggest challenges for any founder. No matter how well connected or experienced you are.

This is especially true when you have no startup experience, you may not be tapped in into the community, have no expertise to interview tech talent and no network to draw experience from.

This was me 1 and a half years ago….

So my tip is….

Join Facebook startup communities and start conversations. Go on Linkedin and search people with the skills you’re after. Go on Meetup.com and attend startup events.

And once you do find potentials…be kind. As a startup, you won’t be able to offer high salaries to top talent. So all you have, is your kindness, character and passion to give.

People will gravitate around people they like. Some will even take a low paying salary just for the sake of working in a startup with a strong, caring and passionate team.

I see so many founders speak about their team as if they are below them (especially if they are not co-founders), disregard their team’s input and advice or the worst — pit their team against each other in the name of meeting deadlines and achieving greater output.

My opinion is, never underestimate the power of being a good person. If you fail to be a kind and considerate boss…someone they respect as well as can have a drink with, your team won’t be your biggest cheerleaders. If so, you have already failed as a founder.

4#: DON’T TAKE THE WORD ‘EXPERT’ SO SERIOUSLY.

This lesson is pretty straightforward but is still something I get fooled by. The word ‘expert’. There are so many experts out there, whether they are a Google Ads expert, SEO expert, Facebook Ads expert or a ‘Life Coach expert’.

When you’re looking for help in marketing or tech, make sure you assess their credentials, ring up references and truly gauge their character as a person. If they say that they are an expert in blah blah blah…run! Chances are, they aren’t.

In my own humble opinion, no one is an expert in anything.

As a startup founder, I don’t even fully comprehend my own business… and my whole life revolves around it. 24/7. The idea also came straight from my brain, formed by my own thoughts and experiences.

So how can someone be an ‘expert’ on Facebook….when Facebook, as a startup, changes everyday…just like all of our startups. So if you’re looking for help, don’t take the word ‘expert’ seriously, no matter who they are…and ask for data to back their words up.

5#: NEVER THINK YOU’RE LESS SMART OR THE LEAST EXPERIENCED PERSON IN THE ROOM JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE YOUNG.

Finally, the greatest lesson I have learnt is that although we’re young, we have so much potential. When we enter the room, chances are, we’re the youngest… but never forget, we have every right to be there.

This is something I constantly struggle with… I always think someone who is older than me, is instantly smarter than me. This may be because I was brought up by an Asian mother who always recites ‘respect your elders’.

But the truth is… I have given advice to other founders (10+ years older than me) on how to improve their product, increase client acquisition and also refer them to the right tech personnel that they may need for their own startups.

Compared to other professional industries, where the older you are, the higher you rank (ie based on experience of years), in the startup world, it’s about how far you are in your startup life cycle, in your own business.

Also, the best part of the startup community is that everyone can learn from everyone, regardless of age. As there is no set road map, and each one of us is paving our own paths….everyone is willing to help each other to get through the tough times.

AND THAT’S IT! I hope you guys found value in the lessons I have learnt from the last year and a half of building my startup.

If you have any questions, send an email to sharine@adzurra.com. I am more than happy to give valuable insight to the world of startups. And if you’re just looking for a drinking partner, I am there too! 🙂

An eCommerce app marketplace for independent fashion boutiques, to shop online or in-store from.