The DNA of great start-up leaders


Kath Purkis, founder of fashion start-ups Le Black Book and, more recently, Her Fashion Box, agrees that in the early stages of setting up a company it’s crucial to identify tasks and opportunities that are going to be most beneficial in the long term.


“I’m currently working on my second start-up and it’s definitely easier the second time around.”


“Networking and having business mentors also helps boost confidence in your vision,” says Purkis.


“And if you’re moving from being an employee to CEO, it’s a simple transition if you are passionate, committed and willing to do anything to reach your business goals,” she adds.


As the CEO of a start-up, it’s essential key stakeholders such as customers, staff and competitors believe you have the ability to be a top rate leader.


This can be a challenge, given the business and its model is often unproven and sometimes the CEO doesn’t have previous leadership experience.


Helyar-Moray says convincing others of your leadership skills becomes easier as the business becomes more successful.


“We’re part of the Microsoft High Potential Program and we were a finalist in this year’s Sydney Business Awards, plus we have had a huge amount of press coverage.”


“Once you have some runs on the board, suppliers, customers and others will be more convinced of your ability to deliver,” she explains.


Purkis adds: “Once you start talking about your start-up and the vision with passion, it’s infectious. People, whether they are customers or staff, will get excited about your business once they see things start to happen. People love to hear your story.”


As for how to place yourself front and centre in your business, Helyar-Moray’s advice is to outsource as many of the non-core tasks as possible.


“There will always be mundane tasks you have to perform. But outsourcing some of this so you can concentrate on your areas of expertise is one of the ways to cement your leadership position.”


Says Widner: “Cede control early and find people to work with who know more than you. Then give them the freedom to do an outstanding job.”


Top tips for improving your leadership skills:

  • Surround yourself with people who will share their experiences and give you great advice. Set up a formal or informal advisory board.
  • Invest in your leadership skills: talk to as many leaders and attend as many seminars and conferences on leadership as you can.
  • Find a mentor from whom you can learn about leadership.
  • Read leadership blogs and books. You may not be able to meet Richard Branson, but you can read his books to get his take on leadership.
  • One of Widner’s tips is when bringing people into the business, give them an equity stake. “The probability of success increases with lots of owners.”