Lessons Learnt: Building My First Tech Start-up
Back in the early 2000's, my life was crazy with study, and working two part-time jobs, not to mention my lively social life.
One of these part-time jobs entailed working at one of the largest hosting providers in Australia where I was managing a handful of clients who ran small and medium-sized businesses. At this time, it was uber exciting to work at the forefront of Internet technology. The dot com bubble had yet to burst.
However, when it did, without warning, the hosting provider I worked for filed for bankruptcy and announced it was about to cut services. Employees were dropped like lead balloons. There was little prospect of finding new jobs in the fledgling industry as other Internet-based companies started to shake at their foundations.
As you can imagine, at this time I was fielding frantic calls from customers who wanted to know what they could do. Even though it was early days of the Internet, some SMEs were already using the Internet as an integral part of their business. As such, they depended on the hosting infrastructure that my previous employer provided.
Considering myself a problem solver, I gave my word that their businesses would not be disrupted. And figured out a workaround.
Instinct told me that this was a massive opportunity. Before I knew it, I was securing racks at some of the largest data centres in the U.S. and signing up clients.
Finding and signing up clients was easy at the beginning. Referrals from happy clients kept me growing. By the second year I had also secured a few racks in Equinix Sydney, which is now the world’s most powerful Internet infrastructure system.
Data was expensive. Super expensive. Selling wholesale at $750 a mbit. Trying to make a profit was hard without overselling. Which of course was a big no-no in hosting in the 2000’s.
So hedging my bets, I decided to do a U.S. style system of bandwidth by the gig — instead of up and downstream.
And it worked. It helped demystify the speed vs data issues that had plagued Australian ISPs over the years. And it made it easier to do the bandwidth measurements at end of month.
Of course, during my time running this hosting company before I exited in 2007, I learnt some very valuable lessons — good, bad and expensive.
While some of these lessons have shaped my future and have given me the confidence to pursue an entrepreneurial career path, others incredibly expensive!
Drowning in paperwork
In fact, one of my biggest mistakes was not investing early in an accounting and customer relationship management system.
At the end of every month I’d spend an enormous amount of time consumed with paperwork and chasing invoices, and wondering where all the money went from the month before.
Another major problem I can see now with the benefit of hindsight is a lack of trust. Trusting people to help me and work with me and take the load off. I think the biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is to think you can and have to do it all yourself.
Work on your business, not in it
When I look back now, it was clear I needed multiple people with skills to help me run the day-to-day operations of the business so that I could focus on what I do best. There’s so much truth in that well-worn phrase about working on your business, not in it.
This also leads me into my third biggest problem. I treated my start-up as a hobby and continued to work a full time job. I loved my day job as I was on the pointy end of the digital revolution in search marketing and was working and learning with some of the biggest brands in Australia.
I needed the day job to fund my start-up. At that time tech start-ups just weren’t all that sexy and I certainly didn’t have the experience to seek out venture capital. Instead, I’d spend my last $500 in the bank on marketing my business, in the hope of doubling returns.
Was I profitable? Probably. I always had money in the bank until the end of the month when I paid for all infrastructure and suppliers.
Did I have great customers? I sure did. They were all great and reputable businesses that are still going strong. Many have listed or have sold their businesses to rivals.
As I venture into my start-up inflowlive.com, I have already established the foundations and software to support growth. I’ve also secured great talent that are 1000% times smarter than me.
As I look back, I know that while some factors in business will never change, you need to take heed of the lessons you learn along the way to guide you and to help you from making the same mistakes again.