PODCAST EP 22
Simon chats with Mel Kettle, Author of The Social Association.Listen Now
Simon Dell: So, welcome to the show, Cheryl Mack. How are you?
Cheryl Mack: I am excellent, thank you.
Simon Dell: And you’re down in Sydney today. But for the astute listeners in the audience, they’ll realize that your accent isn’t obviously an Australian accent. Tell us where you’re from originally.
Cheryl Mack: It is not an Australian accident. It was actually a Canadian accent. I grew up in Canada. I went to school in Vancouver and lived there for 6 years before I moved to Sydney about four years ago.
Simon Dell: Okay. Obviously, slight weather differential between Vancouver and Sydney. Are you a warm weather person or a cold weather person now?
Cheryl Mack: Definitely a warm weather person. I have acclimatized very quickly here. If it drops below 15 degrees, I’m like it’s too cold.
Simon Dell: What got you into Sydney? What got you here?
Cheryl Mack: It was just a bit of a, “Hey, let’s go and live somewhere else in the world before we settle down in Vancouver.” It just happened to be that we picked Sydney because I actually have a passport here. My parents were born and raised in Adelaide, so when my partner was like, “Where do you want to go live?” I was like, “Let’s do Sydney because I have a passport and I can just show up and ask for a job.”
Simon Dell: That makes sense, but you decided not to go to Adelaide. Have you been to Adelaide?
Cheryl Mack: I have been to Adelaide many times. Love Adelaide, great place. Not the place I’d like to live.
Simon Dell: Somewhat quieter than Sydney, isn’t it?
Cheryl Mack: Yeah, it’s just a little small. I’m a big city girl.
Simon Dell: Now, your claim to fame is that you are the CEO of StartCon. Do you want to give us the quick elevator pitch? Well, it doesn’t have to be quick because we’re not in any kind of time constraints here, but do you want to give us the quick pitch as to what StartCon is?
Cheryl Mack: StartCon is Australia’s largest startup and growth conference. We run the event, the major event, we run events throughout the year, but the major event that we run at the end of the year is our main conference. It has about 4,000 people that attend, and it’s kind of like if you were to cross a startup educational event with a music festival because it’s two full days, we have parties each night, there’s an expo with 150 exhibitors but also fun things like food trucks, and music, and demos of self-driving cars.
There’s four stages and the main stage features big, international names. So, we really focus on bringing out some of the biggest international speakers that we can possibly find. So, for example, we’ve had the CEO of Crunchbase, the CEO of Dribbble, the CEO of Moz, the CMO of ClassPass. So, really big names, and we’ve had the VPs of Growth from Uber, Pinterest, SurveyMonkey, really big companies from all over the world that we fly in to teach Australian founders and entrepreneurs how to grow their businesses and go global.
I think that’s one of the things that we do a little bit differently from most other conferences. I try to avoid… I tell people it’s not your grandfather’s conference. You’re not just going to go, and sit there, and it’s going to be boring, and you just sit at one place the whole time. There’s so much to do. There’s lunches, and a pitch competition, and a hackathon happening, and we have a corporate innovation track as well for the corporates that like to attend. So, it really is like this full-on 2 1/2 day experience that is just so much fun.
We also run events throughout the year. We ran a pitch competition across Asia-Pacific last year where we had pitch events in 15 cities, and the top 30 from those got to come to StartCon and pitch in the Grand APAC Final. The prize for that was a $1 million investment, which is the largest amount ever offered specifically for this region.
Simon Dell: Who would’ve won that? Who’s the last winner of that that you could tell us about?
Cheryl Mack: The winner from last year, 2018, was Datem Analytics. They’re actually an Adelaide startup, funnily enough. And so, yeah.
Simon Dell: Nobody fixed that? They didn’t have a quiet word to the judges?
Cheryl Mack: No, not at all. It was completely organic which is super cool. So yeah, they’re just in due diligence right now but it’s looking pretty positive.
Simon Dell: Okay. And I also noted on your LinkedIn profile that you’ve done… You do some of the interviews at these events, don’t you?
Cheryl Mack: Yeah. I mean, I’ve become a bit of a speaker around the circuits. I interview lots of founders and I used to run StartupGrind in Sydney as well as I started the Vancouver chapter back when I lived there. I ran events every month where I brought in a really successful founder, entrepreneur, and interviewed them in front of an audience. We record that. There’s some of them online on YouTube. But yeah, I end up being kind of the go-to person to interview founders.
Simon Dell: This is my concern, is that you’ve done 400 interviews and I’ve done… You’re #51 of mine, so I’m kind of feeling a little bit inferior in terms of interview technique and things like that. If you could make some notes and let me know later on if it’s good or bad, that’d be great.
Cheryl Mack: Will do.
Simon Dell: What got you into the whole… Because you’ve got a background in marketing, what got you into the whole startup scene back in Vancouver? What was it that attracted you in there? Was there a single trigger or something that happened over time?
Cheryl Mack: The single trigger would probably be being born. I was born into it. My parents had their own business, so I grew up in the startup world. And back then, it was not like — startup wasn’t really a word but my parents had their own business and I was taking apart laptops for them by the time I was 8. So computer services, so my dad’s an engineering-type person. So yeah, I was born into it. I didn’t really have a choice is kind of the joke, but when I graduated university, I did for a fleeting moment think that, because of my marketing background, I should become a brand manager, which was like the role to get as a marketing graduate.
Back when I was graduating, so I did some of those interviews, decided it wasn’t for me, and then I joined a startup and started working on their marketing automation, building their automation, working myself out of a job and then going onto the next startup. So, I did that for three years where I worked for three or four different startups during that time, and then I started working for a SaaS company that’s a little bit bigger.
Their marketing manager, they’re about 100 people and they provide SaaS offer for US associations. So, as their marketing manager for about a year as well before I moved here. I think my education and then going into just straight out of uni, I started working at startups and really kind of feel that entrepreneurial kind of getting into the startup ecosystem and of course starting the Vancouver charter of Startup Grind in Vancouver, brought me into that world as well.
Simon Dell: Aside from dismantling laptops for your father, what else did… And I presume you put them back together again afterwards, but what did you learn from watching them run a business?
Cheryl Mack: It’s hard. It’s hard. I’m lucky because I got to see probably the lowest point in running your own business, and that was… That’s when I was maybe like 10 years older or something. We booked to go on a vacation somewhere. We were, I don’t know where we were, maybe a couple of hours away, at this resort, and I think the business was struggling a little bit. And so, they hadn’t given everyone raises that year, and we were on this vacation.
I remember very distinctly sitting at the counter when my mom got this call to say one of the employees had essentially rallied the rest of them to say, “Oh, they’re on a vacation right now instead of giving us a raise. Let’s all quit.” She had essentially three or four of the 10-person team quit while we were away. One of the things that I had actually taken initiative of as a kid with the support of my parents, was we had started this summer camp. It was called Smart Kids and it was basically a bunch of kids coming together to learn how to use computers. It was a camp, and my parents ran that. It was born out of my idea but my parents were running that.
So, because these people had quit, my mom had to call a lot of the clients that they were serving and say that we couldn’t do it, but she also had to call all of the parents of the kids who had booked into our summer camp to say that your kids can’t come to camp this week or next week. That was pretty devastating for me to watch as a kid, to see the business already struggling a little bit and then that kind of happens. Things went a little bit downhill from there. I distinctly remember being… We could afford lots of fun things when I was about eight.
Around 12, it went from leased cars, brand new leased cars every year to, what’s the used junk box we can buy to get us around? It went from whatever you wanted… My parents didn’t spoil me, but it went from you can get whatever you wanted to ‘No, we can’t afford that.’ That was just directly because of what happened with the business. Who knows whether it was specifically that lady’s fault. Just running a business is hard and I got to see that at a very young age.
Simon Dell: Have you done anything to help you bulletproof yourself against those challenges that they faced, or is it just the cycle of life just goes on, and you make the same mistakes, or you are faced with the same challenges that they were faced with?
Cheryl Mack: Early on when I was in university, I did start a couple of ventures, none of which were particularly successful, one of which actually lost money and I ended up having to repay my investors who were my aunt, and uncle, and my mom and dad with my own money which I did. It wasn’t much, but I learned a lot. This other one which was selling glowsticks was… I wouldn’t say wild.
Simon Dell: That’s a classic rave, early-2000.
Cheryl Mack: I wouldn’t say it was super successful, at least I didn’t lose money on that. But since then, I really haven’t gone 100% in starting my own business. Everything I’ve done… I’m a great business builder. I help a lot of startups in terms of mentoring, and just advising, and supporting, but I cannot tell you the last time I really went hard on just creating my own business 100% full-time. That’s probably just a realization of, that is a really tough situation to jump into. It’s not something that I’m willing to do right now and not in the foreseeable future. So, everything I’ve done has been backed. And so, that’s how I protect myself.
Simon Dell: That’s a good point. Do you see similarities occurring with the startups that you talk to, or you work with, and all those kind of things, that you see back from the same sort of things that you see from your parent’s time as well and try and prewarn them?
Cheryl Mack: A hundred percent. The difficulties you face don’t really change. The technology and the environmental factors change, but at the core of it, hiring the right people has been a huge challenge when my parents were starting their own business. It’s still a challenge now. Getting investment, cash flow… These are not things that, maybe the way you track your cash flow has changed, but a business’ cash flow is something that hasn’t become less of a problem. It’s very similar.
There’s definitely a lot of similarities and there’s a ton of things that I do tend to talk to founders about. Early stage founders, I tend to talk to them a lot about picking a co-founder because you find a lot of these business entrepreneurs who are like, “Oh, I have this great idea and I’m really working on it, but I need a tech co-founder to build it for me.” That’s the most typically thing. They’re just super quick to like, “I just need to find somebody to work on this.” And I’m like, “You need to really think about what that means. You aren’t getting into bed with this person. You’re pretty much marrying them for potentially the next five years. You don’t just want to pick someone to build it if you’re not willing to pay them. It’s a very different relationship if you’re just going to hire somebody to build this thing for you, but if you really want a tech co-founder, you need to understand that they’re investing their time. They’re going to be your co-founder, and you’re going to need to live and work with this person.”
I warn a lot of people about that. Other ones, I talk about run rate all the time and you’d be surprised at how many startups can’t tell me what their run rate is. They’re like, “Oh, I want to raise money.” I’m like, “Okay, when are you thinking?” And they’re like, “Maybe five to six months.” And I’m like, “Okay, what’s your run rate? When are you going to run out of money?” And they’re like, “We’re kind of self-funded. We’ve got four people on the team.” And then thankfully, some of them get to the six-month period, haven’t raised money, and they figure it out, and they keep going. But a lot of the time, others get to the six-month mark or even two months later and they’ve run out of money and they’re like, “I got to go back to work because I ran out of money to work on this startup.”
So, just managing, knowing how much money you have and when you’re going to need to raise if that’s the route you want to go is really important, especially at the early stage. At the later stage, it becomes much more about the team, and the people, and building culture, and running sustainably. At the early stage, when you’re five, ten people, things can be a little hectic. You can run some red lights. You can skip over a couple of things. But when you start to get to the 50 to 100 mark, you really need to start putting some processes in place and paying attention to who you hire because this is when you’re getting serious. You’re a real business here. You’ve probably taken some money and the people really are the most important part of your business. Most people don’t realize that. They think it’s the product.
Simon Dell: One of the questions I was going to ask, but given your background in marketing, given the startups that you’ve worked with, and obviously because we talk a lot about marketing here, and I know this isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer: What are some of the things that you see that businesses do from a marketing perspective that makes them more successful? Again, as I say, I know one solution doesn’t necessarily apply to all businesses, but are there some basic things that people should do well?
Cheryl Mack: The first one that a lot of people tend to forget is: Talk to your customers. Really go and talk to them. It’s super easy at the early stage, it’s a little bit harder at the later stage. But if you stop talking to your customers, I guarantee you, you’re not going to get very far. A lot of people have ideas around, “I want to build this. I want to build this.” Great. Go ask your customers if that’s what they would want. Pick up the phone and talk to them. I, without fail, every year, the first five to ten people who buy StartCon tickets, I call them up and I’m like, “Hey, how is the process? Why’d you buy your ticket? Did the platform your work? Can you access your ticket? Did you get the right emails? Are you excited for StartCon? What’s up?”
It just keeps you in touch with your customers and keeps you being able to deliver what they want. It’s a really, really sustainable thing. It’s also really, really easy to do. A lot of times, they are super happy to hear from you. A lot of the people who buy StartCon tickets, when I call them up, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, the CEO of StartCon called me? That is super cool.” They’re like, that’s amazing. It’s a very easy one to do and I highly recommend to talk to your customers, even if they’re not even your customers yet. If you have an idea, go talk to the people you think you’re going to sell it to. That’s number one.
Number two is simplify. You might have a product that is for SMEs. That’s a very, very broad audience when you think about it. The people who are more successful actually narrow their focus. I find it’s tough for entrepreneurs and founders to do this because they see the big picture. They’re like, “Everyone can use this. It’s going to be amazing. We’re going to have this huge audience. The SME market in Australia is like billions of dollars alone.” But the ones that I find are more successful, especially in the early days, are the ones that are actually able to focus in on a niche. Even if it’s not the ultimate niche that your company or customer group that you think are going to use the product, being able to focus in actually allows you to do your marketing so much better.
Instead of saying SMEs, let’s pick a digital marketing agency. That’s an SME. They’re trying to grow. Let’s pick digital marketing agencies. And then your landing page goes from ‘the best SaaS product for SMEs to grow their business’ to ‘the best platform for digital marketing agencies to connect with their customers.’ And the minute you do that, and you focus in on a particular audience, all your messaging suddenly becomes super easy because you just know exactly who is going to use it, and how they’re going to use it, and what problem you solve for that group.
Once you’ve conquered one, you can pick another one and do it again for dry cleaning businesses, or do it again for marketplaces. You can just have all these different messaging reach these funnels and it makes your marketing so much easier. I recommend focusing and narrowing your audience, and I find that the ones who narrow their audience are a lot more successful particularly in the early days.
Simon Dell: I’m just going to touch on that one because I’ve just read Seth Godin’s recent book called This is Marketing. I don’t know if you’ve read it.
Cheryl Mack: I haven’t read that one, no. I read some of his other books.
Simon Dell: You either like or you hate Seth Godin. You fall into one of those two categories. And a lot of people say if you’ve read one Seth Godin book, you’ve read them all. I took a lot out the last one when he talks about that very, very narrow market, just concentrating on the smallest viable market possible with your product and taking it to them first because that’s a better… I’m really doing a bad job of paraphrasing his entire book here, but it’s about focusing on that very, very small viable market and getting them buying into it for you before you try and show it to the rest of the world. I definitely recommend the book. I’m still a Seth Godin fan. It’s interesting that you’re saying the same sort of thing there as well. Any other points from a marketing perspective that you think would be useful for people from a starting point?
Cheryl Mack: Testing is always a good one. If you’re going to spend money, particularly on paid advertising, try to think of ways you can test that channel before dumping a ton of money into it. If you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got $10,000 to spend on marketing this year,” rather than saying, “Okay, I’m going to put $2,000 into Facebook, $2,000 into LinkedIn, $2,000 into Twitter, $2,000 into Instagram influencers, and $2,000 into something else,” it’s much better to say, “I’m going to put $200 into each of those, see what results I get, and then decide which channel I’m going to put more money into and which ones I’m not going to put more money into.”
It’s really easy to do with paid because you can just take a small section, put a little bit of money into it, and see what your results are. So, it’s easier to do with paid. But this principle still applies to other channels that may not be just directly paid as well. You can say, “I’m going to try to work with three or four influencers and see where I get to before launching this whole plan about targeting hundreds of influencers and get them to promote my product.” You don’t know if that strategy is going to work yet. So, trying to test things out a little bit before you put a whole bunch of effort into that particular strategy is always a good thing to do, and I do see a lot of companies are very successful with that kind of small iterations testing phase.
Simon Dell: I’m going to ask you now, because a lot of people really get excited about the startup space. Obviously, that’s why StartCon has become so big after all these years. Back when your parents were starting a business, as you said, the idea of a startup didn’t really exist. It was just running a business. And I saw my father do it as well for three to four years and really struggle with it. When you see all these startups, when you see all this new technology and you’re exposed to all this, what’s the most exciting thing for you? What’s the most exciting new technology or new ideas that you kind of regress a little bit into an excited child about?
Cheryl Mack: There’s definitely been a ton. I get excited about tons of the founders who come to me pitching their ideas or talking about their startup. I do get excited for a lot of these founders. I think the ones that I get really excited for the future about are the ones that are making things more accessible for the average person. So, there is tons of education, medical stuff, things that people would normally have to pay lots of money to access. The startups that are making that process easier, more convenient, cheaper, more accessible, those are the ones I’m particularly excited about.
Because when we make services more accessible to the general masses regardless of your income, social status, location in the world, then we elevate everyone and we are working towards a better future for the entire world because everyone gets the chance to have opportunities that everyone else has. You start to see less restrictions, less gaps in terms of income, wealth, et cetera, and I think those are the most exciting startups that I get really excited about. To me, it seems like we’re building a better future.
Simon Dell: Interesting you mention education there. I’ve been following an organization in the US called Lambda School run by a guy called Austen Allred. They’re running a system where you can go and get qualified in things like programming, the more modern degrees, that sort of stuff, and you don’t pay them back until you start earning a certain amount of money. There’s a lot of people that are looking at this, because this place is churning out all these people who would’ve never been able to access traditional education or that sort of level of traditional education, and they’re moving straight into great software jobs, great programming jobs, all those kind of things with great salaries without having this burden of massive…
I mean, they’ve still got a burden of debt hanging over them but it’s only being paid back once they reach a certain level that they’re able to pay back.
Cheryl Mack: I think there’s a lot of different structures around education that lots of different countries and organizations are trying and it’ll be really interesting to see what comes out as the successful ones in the next couple of years.
Simon Dell: Is there anything you’ve seen in the last few years that you’ve looked at and gone, “No, that’s never going to work” and they’ve proved you wrong?
Cheryl Mack: Not really. I rarely actually say those words, and the reason is this: It’s really generally not about the idea, it’s about the person and it’s about the execution. There are definitely ideas where I’m like, “That sounds stupid” but I would never tell them that and I’d say it in maybe different words. I’m like, “Look, I don’t know anything about that. It doesn’t make sense to me but if this is an area that you know you’re passionate about and you see the value, I would encourage you to go for it. Try it. See if you can make this work. What do I know?”
And the thing is, I firmly believe nobody really knows anything. So, if somebody is telling you that idea is dumb and it’s not going to work, don’t listen to that person. There’s literally nobody in the world that I would tell a founder to listen to if they said ‘Your idea is dumb and it’s never going to work.’ I wouldn’t say definitely throw your life savings away on that idea, but I would say don’t listen to that person, go try and see if you can get some traction here. Go talk to some people. See if that’s actually a problem that they want solved and that they would be willing to give you money for.
If not, you move on. So, I try not to tell people that. I might think it internally, but more likely what I think is you’re not the right person to do that. People come to me with tons of ideas and they’re always asking me, “What do you think of this idea?” My answer is what I think shouldn’t matter, first of all, about your idea. But when they explain things to me, a lot of the time I’m like, “That sounds like a great idea.” But maybe they’re pitching me something for the travel industry and I’m like, “That sounds great. I would definitely use that, but what’s your experience in the travel industry? Have you worked for a travel agency? Have you traveled the world? Have you done anything in that space?”
And they’re like, “No, my sister just ran into this problem and I think it’s brilliant.” And I’m like, “Probably is, could be a great idea. Are you the right person to execute that? Nope.”
Simon Dell: Conversely, what’s something that you’ve seen recently that you would put your money into?
Cheryl Mack: So many.
Simon Dell: You can give me a couple. I’ll be interested to hear a couple.
Cheryl Mack: One that I got particularly excited about recently is actually, funny enough, and this isn’t a bias at all, is another Adelaide startup. The reason is because they are making mini microscopes that fit onto your phone. The applications for those are just endless. I sent one to my dad who is an engineering professor, or an electrician professor back home in Canada. I sent one to him and he’s using it to teach his students to help them see the little circuit boards more closely. They’re being used by farmers who have little tiny specs of bugs on their crops that normally would need to be taken as a sample, sent off to a lab, and returned back to see what bug it is and how to actually treat your crops.
You then just take a picture of your microscope on your phone and you get that analysed in minutes. Why I’m particular excited about that is if you think about what the Raspberry Pi did with computers a couple of years ago, it’s this $35 computer that you can get and build anything you want with it, they’re kind of like the Raspberry Pi for microscopes. So, this microscope is $20, it attaches to your phone, and the opportunities there are really endless. It comes back to one of those startups that I say are making things more accessible for the average person and improving life for people. They can take that thing to Africa and diagnose skin conditions just by enlarging the skin right there on site without having to send it off to a lab. That one I’m particular excited about.
Simon Dell: What’s that company called?
Cheryl Mack: It’s called Go Micro. I’ve seen some cool stuff in the payments space. I think payments still have a long way to go. I really like what SafetyCulture are doing in terms of making things safer at the workplace with a really simple, easy-to-use app. Some of these things, it seems obvious when you think about it, but just the execution needs to be there. You can come up with a great idea. You can say, “This is obvious. Why isn’t anyone else doing it?” But if the execution isn’t done right, it’s never going to get anywhere.
Simon Dell: It’s funny. Coming back to what you said before, I think there’s a lot of opportunities in niche businesses but they need people that have experience within that niche business to be able to actually, first of all, just notice that that could be improved. I remember working years ago with a guy who was in the welding industry and he’d come to me and said the welding equipment needs to be testing every six months. That’s part and parcel of Australian regulation and it’s apparently the same sort of regulation worldwide.
But a lot of people who are going around testing welding equipment are still doing it with a clipboard and a piece of paper. And then obviously, they go back to the office, they write up all their notes, they enter them into the computer, they create an invoice, all these kind of things. And he’d created an app which did everything that the test required in about half the time on sight and then automatically produced a report, sent an invoice, et cetera. Anybody that was testing welding equipment could get around and do twice as many every day and then have no issues in the evening where they’re having to sit and write all these things up. But unless you’re in the welding industry, you’d never know about that.
Cheryl Mack: It doesn’t count to just hear it from a friend who is in the welding industry and then you go. Those rarely work.
Simon Dell: Yeah. I met a guy yesterday who exports fish, and he was a little startup, just works on his own. I said to him right at the start, “Where did this come from? Why are you exporting fish?” And he goes, “It was completely out of the blue.” And I always take that sort of thing with a pinch of salt because I go, “You don’t just one day start exporting fish.” But it turns out he’d been a spearfisherman. He’d be a champion spearfisherman for years. So, for years, he’d been killing them, and now he was breeding them and exporting them. It was funny, because he hadn’t drawn the link between the two.
He was like, “Oh you know, I just started this completely out of the blue.” Anyway, next question. You’ve obviously seen a lot of people speak. You’ve obviously met a lot of people. You’ve done a lot of interviews. Who inspires you? Who in the world that you’ve heard speak, or what books you’ve read, or whatever that you’ve sat there and gone, “You know what? I’d listen to this person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Cheryl Mack: A lot of people. I actually do read Seth Godin’s email every day that he sends out. I also do read quite a few books. My favourite one is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but some of my favourite books are around the businesses that failed. I think it’s really interesting to read why they failed. I read Bad Blood which is about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. That was super interesting. The smartest guys in the room about Enron, too big to fail. I think these are big stories of big failures and it’s really interesting to see what went wrong. Those are kind of inspiring in an opposite way, I guess.
Simon Dell: I did a review on my LinkedIn on a book called The Creative Curve by a guy called Allen Gannett, and he talks about the business that went up against… I’m not going to be able to remember the name of it, but there was a social network that started about two months before Facebook started by the same similar group of people. He touches for about half a chapter on why that failed and that’s absolutely fascinating.
Just very quickly, it failed. His opinions had failed because it actually had too many features compared to Facebook. They actually overthought it and launched everything at once. It was a much better product but the end user was like, “There’s just too much going on here.” Whereas Facebook was much simpler.
Cheryl Mack: That comes back to my point about simplifying. You can add more later but simplifying at the start is a really good idea. I mean, I’ve had a chance to meet some really amazing people. This year, I met the co-founder of General Assembly, a global education company. He recently sold it for $400-something million. Really, really great guy. Very inspirational. Very down-to-earth and he really inspired me to… He created something amazing that really had a purpose behind it around education. Not only that, he also runs another thing called Daybreakers which are like sober, morning dance parties which just brings amazing people together. And so, he was really inspiring for me to listen to him talk.
Simon Dell: You weren’t trying to sell him your glowsticks, were you?
Cheryl Mack: I was not, no. I should, maybe. Honestly, I was obsessed with glowsticks. I don’t know what it was. I’m like 16 years old and just obsessed with glowsticks.
Simon Dell: When we promote this episode, can I please have a photo with you with some glowsticks, please?
Cheryl Mack: I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one now. I was actually lucky my Facebook account got hacked the first year of university, and so I ended up having to start a new one. Although I was devastated at the time, it was kind of a blessing in disguise because all of my photos from high school suddenly disappeared, gone.
Simon Dell: Probably dodged a bullet there.
Cheryl Mack: Yeah. Nobody could link me to anything anymore. I wasn’t tagged in anybody else’s photos, so my Facebook history starts around second year university when I was slightly more responsible.
Simon Dell: I’m slightly more fortunate is that there was no Facebook when I was at university. I thank God for that every day, you know what I mean? That would just be the end of me. Sorry, I keep interrupting you. Tell us some of the other people.
Cheryl Mack: I know one that I met recently when I was at LA Summit Series in November of last year was Jamie Siminoff. He’s the founder of Ring. What’s interesting about that is that I’ve watched Shark Tank since forever, and so I saw him pitch Doorbot on Shark Tank season 5 or something. It didn’t get a deal. I thought it was super cool. He ended up getting money from Richard Branson later. I had a chance to really have a good chat with him at this event that I was at. He was speaking, but he sat down right next to me before he went up to speak and we had a good chat. I should also add that he recently sold his business to Amazon for $1 billion and is now a shark on Shark Tank. So, it really came full circle.
Simon Dell: That’s a lot of money.
Cheryl Mack: Yeah, exactly, but this guy was like so down to earth. I learned a bit about how he built the company, how he built the culture and just really, really inspiring in terms of what he’s done in building a company from what was essentially a product. What’s cool as well is that they are actually also for a purpose. Their mission is to reduce crime in neighbourhoods which they’ve actually been able to achieve with this product. And so, I just thought what he’s done in terms of building an amazing business that is worth a lot.
This is a product that’s in Costcos around the world now and actually has been proven with studies, particularly in the US, that having this has reduced crime in neighbourhoods which I think is one of the most important things, you talking about wanting to see a better world in the future, reducing crime in high-crime neighbourhoods is one of the things that we should be looking towards doing. He was very inspiring. I think the founders that I’ve met who realized that it’s a tough slog, the fact that they made it is really amazing and almost lucky that they could’ve been in the seat of the entrepreneurs that they’re talking to very easily and not up there on the stage. The ones that really inspires me to do good in the world are the ones that are more down-to-earth, realize that they’re giving back.
Simon Dell: My last three questions. My third to last is one normally about great brands that you like, but I think we’ve covered a lot of that off there. I’m going to change that one for pitching advice. One piece of pitching advice. If you’re getting up, standing in front of investors or you’re getting up at StartCon, wherever you are in the world, what’s the one thing you’ve got to nail?
Cheryl Mack: You got to get your passion across. You really got to get your passion across. I’ve seen thousands of startups pitch and sometimes, they’re there, they’re focused on the product, they want to talk about the features, but being able to actually get across how passionate you are about solving this problem, not passionate about the product you’ve built, but really passionate about the problem that you’re solving, your company is dedicated to in your mission, getting that passion across is actually really valuable.
You wouldn’t believe the number of founders that I’ve seen pitch who are up there and they’re like, “Okay, so look, I have this product and it’s going to save a lot of people time and money because they have this problem with…” And they kind of run through it, and it’s like, okay, okay. And they step off stage, and I’m having a chat with them, and they’re like, “Yeah. We’re just doing these amazing things and we really have this mission to help founders build their businesses quicker. We’re going to help a lot of people by doing this.” The tone of voice, the energy just completely changes when we’re talking one-on-one versus when they’re on stage.
I’m like, this energy did not come across on stage. It sounded like you were bored with your product or you didn’t even know what you were talking about. That comes with practice, I would say. The number one tip is practice. Practice a lot. Pitch to your dog. Pitch to your kid. Pitch to your mom. Pitch to the stranger on the street. Pitch to anybody who will listen to you, because the more you practice, the better you’re going to get. The more comfortable you are with your pitch, the more you are going to be able to get that passion across.
Simon Dell: We’re at the start of 2019. We’re still in the middle till the end of January. What have you got planned for the rest of the year, yourself personally but StartCon as well?
Cheryl Mack: I think we’ve created an amazing event always striving to go bigger and better. I’d love to hit 5,000 people attending this year, get some amazing speakers out to teach Australian entrepreneurs here. In terms of the pitch competition, I think we’d love to give away another million dollars in investment and equity.
Simon Dell: To another Adelaide company, apparently?
Cheryl Mack: Potentially. We’ll see where they come from. But yeah, I think we have some great things ahead. I’m really looking forward to help a lot of founders. I already mentor a couple, so just helping more grow their businesses and doing some pitch workshops and everything. So yeah, that’s me.
Simon Dell: Cool, fantastic. Final question: If anybody wants to get a hold of you, if they’ve got a question, if they want to ask you something, what’s the best place to talk to you?
Cheryl Mack: If they want to attend StartCon or just learn more about StartCon, go to startcon.com. It’s like Comic-Con but for startups, so startcon.com. Sign up for the newsletter. You’ll know when we release tickets, and it’s on November 22nd and 23rd this year in Sydney. If you want to get in touch with me, email is generally best. I do try to pay attention to my LinkedIn. That one is a little less fool proof but you can add me on LinkedIn. I accept everybody, and then you can message me on LinkedIn. You may have to try a couple of tries, but if you’re genuine about reaching out, generally, I’ll be able to pick those out of my list.
Email is alright, although I don’t want to give that out publicly. If anyone is listening and really would like to get in touch with me for a genuine purpose other than to sell me something, I would be happy for them to get in touch with you and you can provide them with my email.
Simon Dell: I think LinkedIn in the best bet. They’ll come after you there. That’s probably the safest place. You’re not on Twitter?
Cheryl Mack: I am on Twitter, yup. It’s @cmack4life.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much for being on the show today. It’s been fantastic having you here, and good luck with everything that you’ve got planned for this year. Thank you for contributing.
Cheryl Mack: Awesome.