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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Taryn Williams on how to scale a start-up in different ways, the insane value of intrepreneurship, and curing workaholism.
Taryn is a multi-award winning Founder and CEO, who, over the course of the last 2 decades, has earned a reputation as one of Australia’s most prolific entrepreneurs at the intersection of talent, media, and technology.
Her latest project is #Gifted, a Shopify plug-in enabling brands to manage their influencer contra gifting at scale, and is already being used by some of the biggest brands around the world.
A former model, at just 21 Taryn founded WINK Models, which grew to become one of Australia's most successful modelling agencies. In 2016 she launched a marketplace platform called The Right Fit, which has over 17,000 talent and 11,000 clients making thousands of bookings a month across APAC. Taryn sold it just a few months ago.
She is also a board member, influencer and media commentator and has won numerous business awards, including being named in B&T’s Women in Media Power List for the third consecutive year.
In this episode we talk about:
- Being fully prepared for investor conversations when raising capital
- How to be an intrepreneur by leading with innovation
- Finding balance as a recovering workaholic, and
- Controlling your personal brand.
Thanks to Sam Dybac and her team at The PR Hub for introducing us to Taryn.
Connecting with Taryn Williams
You can connect with Taryn via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
The hard thing about hard things – by Ben Horowitz
“I used to say to my team, come to me with solutions, don't come to me with problems. And someone actually asked me to stop saying that because they won't always have the whole solution and they don't want to be shut down.”
On starting her first business
- I'm going to start my own agency. I'm going to pay all of our models within seven days, doesn't matter when we get paid because that's going to allow them to stay in this industry. It's going to allow them to have a great career, but we're also going to be this extension of a family for them. Because it's sort of that core age where models going through a lot of their firsts in life, like they're moving out of home for the first time or they're going through their first big breakup or they're getting their first car or their first credit card.
- The benefit for clients would be whilst they could still pay on their 90 day payment terms, that we would be able to offer them these exceptional models who would go above and beyond, do the right thing by me, do an amazing job, make themselves available. And so that our clients would benefit as well and that we would go above and beyond for our clients if they called the night before a job going, oh, emergency, we've stuffed something up, we need someone tomorrow. Can you help? We would work late to make it happen.
- The biggest mistakes I made early on were not investing in hiring other people, whether it's like a bookkeeper or whatever. Not understanding that that would actually unlock my time to be spent on things that my time and skills were better suited to and used for.
On 2 reasons for raising capital
- We had an inbound inquiry about backing us and giving us capital, which was very flattering and exciting. And for someone who had never been through it, I was like, it's an amazing idea. Take other people's money, how fantastic.
- Secondly, it gave us the ability to build the platform faster. It was a complicated and involved tech build that required a pretty substantial engineering team. And also, it was a marketplace business, so it was a platform that allowed advertisers and brands to be able to post a job looking for all different kinds of creative talent, photographers, models, actors, influencers, the whole nine yards.
- The defensibility of a marketplace business is you need to build a moat of having the best talent and having the best clients. Obviously like any marketplace, if you don't have supply and demand, then market is going to die pretty quickly. So we knew that it was a winner take most play, and so we really needed to go out, build and scale this quickly, acquire as many clients and as much talent as we could.
On being fully prepared for investor conversations
- The market is really tough now to secure funding. So we had a bit of a proof of concept and a pretty clear strategy of how we were going to grow that and what we were going to do with the money.
- Raising capital also is sometimes running before you can walk. It throws petrol on any sort of fire of problem in the business. So if you don't know how to acquire customers, giving you more money to go and spend to acquire customers when you don't know how to acquire them isn't solving a problem. You just throwing more money into a leaky bucket.
- I see a number of founders who don't have a really robust financial model and business plan. They're not thinking of things like their churn rates in the SaaS business or acquisition costs or lifetime value of the customer. Otherwise you're going out raising a bunch of cash and realising in the first three, six months actually you've just burnt through a chunk of cash, you've given up a chunk of equity in your company, you're no closer to getting to a proof of concept than you were before.
- It put a lot of rigour into the business; we now had the cadence of monthly report board reporting and had to have at all of that data at your fingertips and not just running on a gut feel. It can also be incredibly distracting spending two or three days a month preparing board packs and updating investors when you are running a high growth tech startup.
On the entrepreneural rollercoaster
- It takes a huge amount of tenacity and determination and willingness to get back up when you probably shouldn't. I think the common thread in founders is that I think objectively if you looked at what they're doing, the odds of failure are so, so high, you certainly wouldn't bet on it. And so that ability to get back up and keep going instead of quitting. So it's a really tough journey and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
- We went through this phase of startups being so exciting and so cool, attractive and small businesses not being something to aspire to. And I just totally disagree with that; you can still build a beautiful small business where you can still have a work-life balance so you can still be super passionate about what you do and that that's something to aspire to and really cool.
- The other is being an employee and being intrepreneurial. There is absolutely so much value in that and that you get the best of both worlds. You get to have commercial support around you of a larger organisation. You get a salary which you don't get in a startup, and you get to go and explore something, a creative idea that hopefully your company will back and adds value to the organisation and then you get to virtually be a founder.
- We saw it a little bit with Tech Reset of the markets in the last eight months. There has been a call for businesses to be able to get themselves to cashflow positive and to be able to prove out the unit economics and find a sustainable business model.
- I do like that we've seen this shift away from the sort of glamorization of the Gary Vees and this hustle culture and I work every hour God sends and I sleep four hours and it's just not sustainable and it doesn't build. Sure there's periods in all businesses, whether you're an entrepreneur or an employee where you have to go through those periods for sure where you have deadlines are due or something crisis at work, but that shouldn't be the norm. And I think it doesn't build for sustainable businesses and a great working culture.
On shifting away from her CEO role
- It's been really challenging because I definitely was/am a workaholic and it's all I've known and there's a real easiness of hiding in what you're good at. I'm good at work, so I do work. It's a lot harder to do things like meditation or take time out for yourself or focus on friendships or relationships and building new skills in areas that you maybe don't thrive at.
- But I couldn't go through the journey that I had with TRF again; I was literally working seven days a week for five years and I didn't want to do that, nor could I do that. And so I had to be really clear in building a great team around me and being very transparent with all of our key stakeholders about what that would look like, what my role would look like and what I wanted the company to look like and building a business model also that sustained that.
- How am I going with building a better balance? I've started colour coding my calendar in, okay, how much of this is things that I do? So a lot of the boards that I'm on, I do because I thoroughly enjoy learning and being exposed to new things and being able to give back some of the things that I've learned over my time. How much of it is day-to-day work, how much of it is mental health balance, yoga, Pilates, acupuncture, self-care things, counselling, and how much of it is connection? So spending time with friends, going to cultural events, really trying to get a bit of a balance, certainly not something that comes natural.
- If you recognise a problem or opportunity within your organisation, that could be done better. I think finding a way to advocate for change in that area, in a way that understands probably the broader ecosystem that you're working in is so powerful and so beneficial. And I think if you do it well, no manager or company owner will blanket turn down that conversation. It's all in how it's presented.
- I think if you identify it and you build out a business case for it and you present it and say, I'd love to spearhead it and here's why. Managers and businesses love data. So I think if you can go to them and say it's going to reduce churn by 10% or it's going to increase customer loyalty by 15% or our average cart value or whatever, here's a business case for it. I would love to spearhead it. Would you back me? I don't think anyone will blanket walk you out the door and say, not interested, thanks for coming. And if they do, then maybe it's not the right organisation for you if you want to be intrepreneurial.
- So many organisations now building out innovation hubs and trying to build in this sort of culture of creative thinking and risk taking into their organisations because it's so hard to find. And often the challenge can be then isolating that project from the systemic corporate culture, which is why I often recommend build 'em as tiger teams. Try and isolate them from that. Allow them to work in a true startup methodology, give them dedicated resources and let 'em go.
On personal brand
- It's about thinking about how you want to be perceived in the next chapter of your career and what does that look like from the events you engage in, the content that you create and share the charities that you're engaged in, how you present yourself.
- The reality with personal brand is that you have one, whether or not you choose to control it.
On selecting executives for her team
- I need to know they're adaptable. I need to know that they've got high EQ. I know that they need to know the communicator and so much more than that. I need to know what their world looks like outside of work and because it is incredibly demanding being part of a startup. I always say it's like a marriage. You spend more time with that person depending on the role you do with your spouse than they are going to see their families.
- I really take the process of spending a lot of quality time together. It's a lot of coffee dates, it's a lot of lunches, it's a lot of walking meetings to feel each other out and see is there going to be an alignment here?
- It has to be that sort of vision alignment, cultural alignment, life alignment. I’m not saying that you have to see eye to eye on everything. In fact, I advocate for the exact opposite. I want someone who is willing to challenge me and can bring a different perspective and build a better product. Otherwise, we don't need 10 more of me for sure. We need different ways of working and thinking holistically to see that we're sort of aligned on what the journey to get there is going to look like and the visual you’re trying to build.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Firstly, know that you're not alone. I wish that I had known that and spent less time feeling like I was battling on this journey that no one else understood, or that everyone else was just crushing it and having an amazing time, and I was the only person riddled with self-doubt and wondering how I was going to make payroll at the end of the week.
- It doesn't matter if you're not a founder or an entrepreneur. Everyone goes through these moments, and I think the more that we speak openly and honestly about it, the better everyone's journey will be. So know that you're not alone.
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