Five weeks to create something special
In July last year I almost had a revolt on my hands. I had just told my staff that we were going to launch a sister publication to SmartCompany on September 1.
“Five weeks??,” they squealed. “It's impossible. You can't build, design and launch a new publication in five weeks.”
“You can't set targets, develop an advertising brief and get the sales team selling advertising partnerships in just five weeks.”
“You can't find journalists who can write fantastic content, set up editorial systems and processes, devise marketing and SEO strategies and set up financial reporting systems in just five weeks.”
“You can’t register IP, develop a brand, trademarks and market position in five bloody weeks. You can't get large companies to sign contracts in less than five weeks especially in a segment that really doesn't exist.”
“It's not like advertisers wander around saying they want to talk to start-ups.”
“Oh yes we can,” I told them. And my reasons were this. Firstly, the publication had been mulling around in my brain for four years.
When I started SmartCompany, there was nothing to read about starting up. It was so hard, so lonely and so daunting setting up my own business that on a regular basis I thought I was nuts to do it.
And if I found it so hard with my networks and my knowledge given I had been writing, researching and studying entrepreneurship and management for 25 years, then how bad was it for everyone else?
I also knew that if I started smart, I had a much greater chance of success. But who tells you what's dumb?
I desperately wanted to read a great publication every day that could teach me how to start smart, show me the start-up scene, reveal great case studies, tech tips and give me the news but provide context too. Are the banks lending? Are there new grants? What are the new tax changes?
So I registered the name StartupSmart and vowed that once SmartCompany was established we would create a fantastic publication for people starting up or thinking about it.
There was another reason I knew the five week timeframe was achievable. I have fantastic staff. I knew they could do it.
And I was also confident we could create a new advertising category. After all, when companies start-up they actually have a bit of money.
They need new phones, chairs, computers, offices, staff, software, servers, printers, lawyers, accountants, consultants – you name it they need it.
And if we are happy with our provider at the start, we stay with them, which means it’s a great market to reach for advertisers.
We worked frantically for five weeks pulling it all together. We recruited great journalists led by Oliver Milman and three quick acting companies signed up for a partnership: ANZ Bank, Officeworks and Servcorp.
A year ago to this day, I sat nervously at my desk. It was 8am and I was waiting for the first newsletter from StartupSmart to arrive.
When it did, it was everything I hoped for back in those lonely days. I often imagine, as I arrive at my desk and open StartupSmart, all the entrepreneurs and those struggling in those first few years getting their daily hit that will keep them inspired all day.
We have had great editorial highlights, breaking stories including Myer facing a legal battle with a start-up designer, controversial changes to RMIT’s entrepreneurship course and RedBubble caught in a row over “pro-Hitler” t-shirts.
We covered which new companies were getting the big breaks, such as Sydney start-up BigCommerce landing $15 million in the US, and brought news of new help for start-ups, such as Startup Weekend, PushStart and Startmate.
And we reported for start-ups straight from the Canberra lockup on budget night, resulting in a huge traffic surge.
We have had pollies shouting down the phone at us and readers ringing in just to tell us what a difference we made to their lives.
We have expanded faster than expected in the past year. Our target was to have 10,000 receiving our newsletter every day. And we have nearly 13,000.
Our target UBs was 50,000 and we have 70,000. We have 1,700 Twitter followers and 1,440 Facebook.
Our target was to have maybe 10 advertisers in our first year. We had more than 90 companies seeking to reach the start-up audience and many of them returned for repeat campaigns.
Through the year we introduced our StartupSmart Awards and invited the cream of the start-up community to celebrate with us at Crown in Melbourne where we rewarded the top 50 fastest growing start-ups.
We also launched into education in response to the clamouring need from our readers and introduced short courses, webinars and eBooks.
Some things have really surprised us. I thought we would have a lot of university readers. I also thought we could tap into all those over 50-year-olds who are setting up their own businesses.
Not so. Our readers are mostly between 30 to 50-years-old, who have worked at large corporates and want to grow a big business.
Uni students often think they know everything, so no surprise there. But where is the wave of over 50s who can't get jobs and want to start their own businesses?
What also surprised me is the number of women reading StartupSmart every day. Over half our readers are women!
Most business publications are lucky to count more than a quarter of their readership as women. To me this is the beginning of a major generational shift with paid parental leave and technology providing the right ingredients for women to embark on their own business instead of returning to the corporate world once they have children.
Lastly, aren't we lucky? Every day we come to work with the belief that we are helping a whole new generation of entrepreneurs start-up smart.
These start-ups create large numbers of jobs, they create skills, contribute to the nation – and their employees – wealth and they change the business landscape.
We are helping politicians understand this important sector of the economy and large companies to provide start-ups with better products and services.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this great first year, and there are many of you. Our wonderful team of employees led by James Thomson and Oliver Milman, alongside a start-up community of advisers, mentors and columnists.
Now on to year two...