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Julie's story on... chemistry with collaborators

With an in-depth professional career in financial services, and experience spanning across the globe, Julie took a sharp pivot and returned home to South Africa and found a new home in entrepreneurship.  With a good grounding in management consulting, investor relations, operational and commercial business practice, and the like, Julie was equipped with a skillset that would set her up well for what was to come.  The first two clients her newfound boutique consultancy happened to attract came from the tourism sector and as good business evokes new business through word of mouth, she found herself serving a plethora of clients, all in the tourism and hospitality niche.  

Playing to her strengths of helping these businesses with financial sustainability, a natural next area to unlock was sustainability around ‘people and planet’ in order to bring the full business picture together for her clients.  Fast forward a few years, and a new opportunity came knocking, literally! Julie was called up to join forces in forming a think tank on how to futureproof the tourism sector amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.  Julie’s first step was to gather great minds to work as a collective with varying perspectives to come up with a solution that would help protect the tourism industry which had taken quite a beating.  Their ability to dig up this deep insight would provide the answer: there was a direct correlation between tourism businesses working on a more balanced scorecard and the ability for these businesses to weather the storms from not only Covid-19 but many other industry threats.  And as many collaborative efforts go, the outcome was revolutionary: a scalable, accessible, affordable, digital ‘sustainability management platform’, easily usable across the globe.

“It takes a lot of grit, a lot of not giving up and tenacity to really make your ideas work.  The startup world is not easy.  It's not easy to get people to buy into a concept.  It's not easy to explore and refine and get that first working prototype.  It's not easy to get funding. It's not easy to get people to try your product let alone pay for it.  Without being truly passionate about what you are doing, along with very strong and passionate co-founders (which I am privileged to have), it's easy to give up.”

Julie emphasises the need to be really authentic and real in the dreams we are chasing as it is this inherent passion and belief that is required for Founders to battle through the tough ride that is entrepreneurship.  There will always be failure along the way but we should caution on how much cheaper it is to actually embrace failure.  Julie advises us to get a prototype out to trusted users to test and to use that user feedback to iterate.   She has learnt this the hard way, that when going the other route, taking months to get the perfect feature released, it becomes extremely expensive to iterate on this further down the line.

It comes as no surprise with her fail-and-learn mentality that Julie is a firm believer in embracing upskilling.  Especially in emerging and newer fields, to really dive deep into what is possible.  The earlier we get ahead, the easier it is to stay abreast - and (like Julie), we may find we really like developments in machine learning, AI, automated analytics and so on, which bring phenomenal resolution to many challenges we face in our businesses.   

Julie talks about a key challenge for Founders around sourcing great talent, especially in tech: to attract and to retain stellar talent (not just in skill set but in a shared passion for your business purpose) and to pay them what they are worth.  The startup world is tough, not your typical nine-to-five, with no cushion to the falls when things go wrong - it certainly isn't for the faint hearted and requires talent which are in the business for more than just the pay cheque but for meaningful contribution.  We are reminded how both the ‘head and heart’ is at play when looking for the right fit talent for our businesses and how the connection needs to be a mutually beneficial one in order to really get it right, one that is bound by a purpose.  The same goes for investors, she advises us to try and find those that really buy into your passion for your purpose because they may get you to scale, but at what cost to your underlying why/reason for being.  Julie and her co-founders have been fortunate to have investors who share their passion and their purpose for the business has therefore never wavered.

A further challenge Julie speaks to is the reality of funding and the constant awareness to turn over every cent that you are spending and how best it can be used.  Being able to justify spending especially when even more funding may be required. Her approach and respect for the investors supporting their venture is untenable and we begin to understand how easy it is to put such confidence in a venture that Julie is involved in, she is a (gentle) force with an unwavering commitment and dedication to the why behind what their business is doing. 

“Founders do not always have all the answers.  Just because we started the business doesn't mean we always know what's best.  We need to try to get a really good bench of experts in the business.  A Founder is also not always the best person to run and scale the business.  This is when Founders stop loving their business, when they are the ideas person now having to run the business from governance to operations and processes and people management etc.” 

We are reminded how as Founders we are on a journey with our business but also with ourselves, understanding our strengths and weaknesses and making hard decisions to play to our strengths and find solutions to our shortcomings.  She stresses to never give up if you love what you are doing and building.  Thank you Julie for reminding us that we are human after all and finding that chemistry with the right co-founders, investors, talent and in fact all people that interact with our business, is how we get to where we are going to grow with our purpose uncompromised.

“Solving niche challenges Founders face”.

Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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