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How to transform ideas into a business

Great corporate smiles, chaps 

Got an amazing idea that you believe will make you richer than Mark Zuckerberg, but not sure how to transform it into reality? Luke Janssen and Oliver Palmer were in a similar position when they created the personal media technology company Tigerspike; it’s since been listed in Deloitte’s Fast 50 for six years running and in Forbes’ top 100 companies to watch. This is what they’ve learnt…

LUKE JANSSEN, FOUNDER AND GROUP CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

You don’t realise how hard it is to take the plunge of starting a business. It’s like jumping off high rocks into water, something I loved doing in Sydney Harbour. You wait on the top for ages looking at the water thinking of reasons not to jump. But then when you jump you wonder why you waited for so long.

Don’t underestimate how hard it will be; you will work significantly harder than at any other job. You don’t mind doing it, but it will affect your life; you will see family and friends less, and if you have a relationship it will be strained and may end, which mine did at the time. There are big sacrifices to make. 

In the early days the company is your baby, but at some point you have to let go. You may eat cereal for a year as you make no money, sleep is a distant memory and you do everything from sales to project management to finance and HR; but as it grows you have to let it go. If you don’t find other talented people to take it forwards it will only ever be as big as you yourself can make it.

Give autonomy to your team. Provide a framework and direction for the company, but leave great people alone to succeed. That is very hard and is the reason that most businesses don’t grow – the traits you need for taking the plunge and starting a company are not usually the same traits needed to grow a company beyond a certain size.

I often have proud moments. Recently I saw one of our top guys present in Kuala Lumpur to a room of senior executives of one of our top customers. He owned the room and was confident and inspiring. I remember nine years ago when we interviewed him as a university intern in Australia, we hired him and he had to work for us for free. He was pretty green then but is now one of our top people in Singapore, and seeing him come all that way makes me proud and happy.

If you have an idea for a business then share it. When people say “I have an idea for a business” but then won’t talk about it or want me to sign an NDA I know that their business will never happen. The idea counts for less than 10 per cent; it’s the execution and making the idea happen that is worth 90 per cent, and we frequently see people overvaluing their ideas. They hide them away like seeds that they don’t want stolen instead of sharing them and getting help to grow them into something amazing.

At the end of the day you just have to go for it. The worst that can happen is you fail, but that’s a big learning experience. It’s much better than looking back and saying, “Damn, I wish I had done something with that amazing idea I had.” 

OLIVER PALMER, FOUNDER AND HEAD OF INNOVATION

Setting up on your own is hard.  Tigerspike is the third business I have been involved in from the start and having great co-founders is definitely a plus.

Passion beats expertise every time. No matter how good you are at something, you’ll be even better if you are passionate about it. I love technology and am constantly amazed at what companies are doing in the mobile space. I am forever grateful that I get to be a part of that as well.

Take any advice with a pinch of salt. People will always colour what they say to you based on their own experience. If they self-funded their company then that’s the best way to do it; if they went out and got venture capital, then that is the only way to go. Listen to all the advice you can but your way is the only way that will work for you.

I honestly don’t have regrets. I know that sounds flippant, but everything I might have regretted at one time or another has ultimately turned out well. From quitting a job so that I could work for Tigerspike to going into debt to fund the business initially, it has all worked out in the end.

My proudest moment has to be overhearing one of our youngest developers on the phone to his parents, telling them how excited he was that he had seen someone on a train using an app that he had worked on for Tigerspike. He was so enthusiastic and it made me incredibly proud to hear the way he described the company and what he did. 

You have to have a thick skin to run your own company. There is no right way of doing things and someone will disagree with you no matter what. The best thing to do is always just to get on with things and not to worry about what other people might say. 

Tigerspike: the lowdown

•  Personal media company set up in 2003 by Luke, Oliver and chief technology officer Dean Jezard

•  Phoenix platform created in the same year, underpinning the company’s phenomenal growth

•  Builds apps for blue chip customers such as Shell, The Economist and Standard Chartered

•  Offices in Sydney, Melbourne, London, New York, Singapore, Dubai, San Francisco

•  Set up the Innovation Lab in 2008, acting as a centre of excellence in personal media to develop, among other things, IP, patents and drive development of the Phoenix platform

•  Took a minority stake investment of US$11m in 2011 from media and digital company Aegis Media, adding financial support and reputable third-party endorsement

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