Challenges of a Start Up from a Start Up perspective!

One of the most exciting things for us is to meet new people, learn about their ideas & listen to what they have to say. Recently we talked to Richard Harris, Australia from the Start Up AURTRA about the challenges he faces and we truly enjoyed his pragmatism.

Gernot: Richard, thank you for your time. You work for an Australian Startup that operates globally. Tell me, what kind of challenges do you have.

Richard: I think the main challenge is to understand the differences between markets and the value your product can deliver. Startups have the small company problem that no one knows you. For a startup, the product can be flexible and respond quickly to market needs. There are no constraints of brand or company history. Unfortunately, startups also mean limited resources to build an affordable product which matches a large multinational market. The reason why startups can be successful is they can be more responsive than a big company, however you’ve got to build the right product early. You don’t get a lot of chances.  

Gernot: What’s with your home market – Australia. Is it a priority for you?

Richard: We use Australia as a test market. The electricity networks and the large energy users (our customers) have similar characteristics to potential customers in Europe and the America’s. I don’t even think about Australia as  Aurtra’s market because it is too small to build a sustainable business with a population of only 25 Million. There are really two big challenges for startups in Australia.  First, even if you have a product that really resonates, the customer base is so small that you never achieve sufficient volume. Second, a small market means even small failures can be catastrophic. If you make a mistake  everyone knows and you’re out of the market. It’s really delicate. That’s one advantage of large markets like Europe and the USA. You can try a few things, make some adjustments while you optimize the product, and still be successful.  Years ago, I did a US Startup. During the early stages, we made a misstep in a part of the market with a product which was not finished.  In Australia, it would mean you’d never be able to sell another product because the entire market would find out and the company would be tarnished. In the US, we went back, fixed the product, re-released it and went on to be successful. Importantly, no one ever referred to that bad experience and it didn’t hold us back. The experience made us a better company and product in many ways. On the other hand, the US so big there is a lot of competition and it’s sometimes hard to differentiate yourself.

Gernot: As you said before, you have different markets, you must deal with all the different customer needs and with different cultures. How are you dealing with that as a small company?

Richard: We spend a lot of time travelling and talking to customers from every corner of the globe. Even before we built the first prototype, we spent time to determine whether the problem we were trying to solve was sufficiently critical and sufficiently widespread to warrant embarking on the journey. It is vital to talk to enough diverse customers early to find the common traits between them which makes a widely applicable solution.  

Gernot: So the main thing is to keep in touch with the customers and markets.

Richard: Absolutely, it’s much more important than sitting at the desk and trying the invent the solution in isolation, even assuming you understand the user at the coalface.

Gernot: What would be interesting too is, what it means personally for you. A lot of different places, different cultures, time differences. Travelling all the time…

Richard: Actually, it’s fun. I don’t mind travelling but travelling by itself is a pretty lonely experience. Sometimes you feel like you only get to talk to taxi drivers, check-in and wait-staff. The upside is it’s really interesting meeting the customers, hearing their concerns, looking at different requirements and understanding their needs. So while I’m here, I’m discovering how you work here. It’s much better than being in the office.

Gernot: And the exchange with your team? Because your headquarters is in Australia?

Richard: That is hard. You have to have a team that is almost self-managed. People attracted to a startup are different in mindset from big company employees. They are also often young and ideological and buy in to the vision of growing the company. Finding team members that can set their own priorities, be inventive, and self-motivated is a big challenge, but it is critical to success.

Gernot: So there isn’t much face-to-face communication within the team. How are you dealing with this?

Richard: Some people manage others really actively and closely. Working for me, you need to be much more independent. Some like that and they really blossom but others do not. It doesn’t really take long for the people who don’t work in this mode to realize and move on and that is best for all.  An interesting phenomenon about a startup, as compared to big, slow, safe companies, is that making a mistake is almost unavoidable. If you not making a mistake every so often, you probably aren’t getting enough done fast enough. Startups must run really fast and we have to try a lot of things and sometimes it just won’t work. You must accept, adjust, and move on.

Gernot: Thank you Richard! Just a few final sentences to the future of AURTRA? What do you expect?

Richard: Well, AURTRA is basically an IoT play and it seems to us that there is a big international opportunity for optimizing the electrical transmission and distribution industry using such modem technology, together with smart and relevant analysis. I find that exciting and am looking forward to the next few years working with companies throughout the world towards that goal.

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