Research shows Australia’s start-up community is filled with young, well-educated people, with the bulk of this group only starting their businesses since 2014.
According to the 2015 Australian Start-up Muster, 65.8 per cent of start-up founders are aged between 20 and 40. A total of 41.2 per cent have postgraduate qualifications and 50 per cent have no previous start-up experience.
One rising star in the start-up community is Shauna Mei, CEO and Founder of AHALife, an online portal of global artisanal products, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). The business is presently pursuing a strategy of aggressive customer acquisition and improving the personalisation of its shopping experience.
“Our technology platform is built on data that provides a personalised shopping experience. A lot of the products and brands we stock are things people don’t know exist, so we use this technology to present those products to the right people at the right time. It’s like every person on AHAlife has a personal shopper suggesting products for them. Data makes it possible to do this in a scalable way, and we continue to improve our capabilities here to create a ‘sticky’ customer experience,” says Mei.
As part of it’s customer acquisition drive, AHALife recently launched a gifting app that allows people all over the world to send and receive gifts by SMS in less than 60 seconds. “The app capitalises on the continuing growth of mobile shopping by solving common problems people experience when choosing a gift and sending it. The app has proven to be successful in engaging and converting users for AHAlife, delivering double the conversion rate and approximately four times the engagement rate compared to the website,” she explains.
Of course, the path to success is always fraught with challenges; Mei says the biggest one has been having the patience to stick to a long-term vision, rather than being tempted to change the business model for short-term gains.
“Our vision is to empower designers, artisans and innovators to thrive online, and create a community that celebrates and protects creativity. It is a highly complex problem and requires time and patience to solve it.”
For instance, about five years ago flash sales and discount sales sites became extremely popular. Mei says it could have been so easy for AHALife to change to that model, but she decided not to follow this trend because she felt it was bad for her designers.
“We chose to stay true to our long-term vision rather than generate more revenue in the short-term. Looking back we know we made the right decision, as many of these discount sites have either disappeared or aren’t doing very well,’ says Mei.
“Over the past six years we have learnt to be patient. That is the journey we have taken to get us to where we are today,” she adds.
Mei says listing on the ASX in July last year was a highlight. “We raised $20.4 million when we listed via a reverse takeover, and that has enabled us to accelerate our growth exponentially since then.”
Mei says her ambition is to be the go-to marketplace for independent designers and artisans.
“We will continue to focus on the growth of the business through customer acquisition, while maintaining the customer experience and brand experience. We are really focused on becoming a much bigger business so we can deliver on the mission statement – which is saving and protecting creativity,” she adds.
Another talented entrepreneur is Jack Delosa, founder of The Entourage, an entrepreneur education business with 300,000 members globally. Delosa says the business has helped hundreds of start-ups build companies that are now collectively valued at more than $47.5 million.
A serial entrepreneur, Delosa started his first significant venture in 2007 in his early 20s. The business, MBE Education, helped entrepreneurs raise money from investors and sell their business.
This company was subsequently sold and at the moment, he’s focused on building up The Entourage. “We spend our time developing and working through innovations that allow us to reach more people, and improve even further the quality of outcomes for those who study with us,” he says.
As a school for innovators, change-makers, disruptors, Delosa says the business is a place for those who don't fit in. “I really know this audience because I am this audience. What enabled us to get to where we are is speaking to the hearts and minds of our consumers and bringing them a community and suite of programs that enable them to start and build successful businesses.”
According to Delosa, his biggest challenge has been the pressure of running a high-growth, innovative company.
“In his book Creativity Inc. Ed Catmull points out that at [animation business] Pixar they view discomfort and 'things not working' as a sign that they are doing something original. In the beginning of any movie if it all works too well, too easily then they take a step back and ask what they are doing wrong. At The Entourage, we have come to recognise the discomfort of originality as a reassuring sign that we are doing something truly unique.”
He counts his greatest achievement as building an audience of 300,000 entrepreneurs and thousands of highly engaged students.
“We're most proud of developing a style of education that ushers business and career oriented people through an intuitive process that sees them learn and grow into the person and professional they want to become,” he says.
The business has also expanded into other markets with The Entourage Growth Fund, which invests in upstart companies. In addition, The Entourage Beanstalk Factory delivers entrepreneurial training to corporations. Says Delosa: “With Beanstalk, we're working with top Australian companies, universities and government agencies to help them rethink how they create the future.”
The company’s mission is to become the world's number one education institution for entrepreneurs.