Let’s Talk: Success Secrets

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Success looks different for each business. There is a huge variety in the business models that we hold up as success stories. The journey to becoming a successful company brings an even more diverse collection of stories. However learning about others’ secrets to success undoubtedly helps bring fresh and helpful perspectives to your own business.

This week we ask: “How have you built a great company?”

Craig Rees, VP – Platform Product & Engineering, Airwallex

Building a company with impact is not based on one off events. Instead, it requires constant and consistent effort, coupled with the agility to respond to an ever-evolving market. Our growth – from concept, to one of the world’s leading tech companies in just five years –  is guided by three key philosophies across all levels of the business.

Firstly, create a product or service that can work for as big an audience as possible. Your scope and potential will always be capped if your product or service addresses the needs, challenges or desires of a small consumer segment, or a single market. Under the current volatile circumstances, it is more important than ever to tap into the global economy and the opportunities it brings for business growth.

Secondly, ensure you are constantly listening to your customers for a deep understanding of their priorities – what they need today may change tomorrow, as highlighted by the current pandemic. Spend time and energy getting customer feedback outside of the traditional channels, to give you a wide range of customer views and experiences. For example, at Airwallex, we make it a priority for the management team to speak to our customers directly. This promotes a customer-centric culture across all levels of seniority. 

Finally, invest in your recruitment processes to help you hire smart. For us, setting up a dedicated recruitment team was the most effective way to source and retain top talent. They have already had a huge impact on the team with their unique skills and experience. A great team with great talent makes all the difference.

Alex Dreiling, CEO and co-founder, Clipchamp

The three top priorities in order:
1. People/Team: make sure the right people are on the bus, the wrong people are off the bus and make the ride exciting. If the team is not excited about the opportunity, product, customer, etc. we’re not going anywhere. People need to learn, be excited, want to spend time with one another, tackle challenges and pull through when it gets hard.
2. Customer/User/Product: you really need to understand them, their problems and build solutions for them. The best team in the world won’t be successful by building something the market doesn’t need. But in order to really understand the customer and build something that hits the bull’s-eye, you need the best team.
3. Execution: Having 1. and 2. in place won’t help if we cannot execute. Getting stuff done, consistently and at a high-quality is key.

Nick Frandsen, Co-founder, Dovetail 

Dovetail designs, builds and grows technology firms across Australia, NZ and the US. As an example, we’ve helped design and build Afterpay’s consumer-facing web and mobile platforms and have helped them grow by over 50x since we started working together in January 2017.

One of the most important drivers of success in our industry is a company’s ability to attract and retain exceptional talent, and we designed the firm with this in mind from day one.

Companies are getting better at investing in culture and providing flexible work options, particularly since Covid-19. But the types of experienced, entrepreneurial talent we’re looking to attract want more than to just be comfortable. Instead of a salary, they also want compensation to be aligned with the success of their work. 

The traditional ways to do this include options packages, KPI-based compensation and more. However, some of these are more difficult to implement in services companies. This is why top talent often move away from services firms and towards product companies where they can receive options packages.

Dovetail invests in the fast-growing companies that we help grow, and this investment is shared across every person on our team. This means our compensation is directly linked to the quality of our work and completely changes the relationship with our clients, from client-supplier to more of a co-founder/partner relationship. It has allowed us to both attract and retain some incredible people and create transformative results for our clients, leading to the success of our business. 

Martin Mckay, CEO & Founder, Texthelp

The first thing you need to do is find a problem that requires a solution — ideally one that a billion people have. It needs to be something you are passionate about. That is your purpose. That passion and purpose will sustain you and your team when times get tough. Then you need to think about your vision for the future — what does the future look like if you succeed? How is society changed by your efforts? What values will your organisation live by as it solves the problem? 
Before you lead a team, you need to lead yourself. Get some self-discipline and fully commit yourself — not just to your work, but also to sustaining your own energy, health, enjoyment and relationships outside of work.

It’s then about building your team. I’ve received several great pieces of advice over the years but the one golden rule is to never under-hire. Always hire people that are better than you as this means you’re pushed to the top of a pyramid of bright people. Always hire people who share your passion and values — cultural fit is important, and ensure you’re giving the team ownership and autonomy.  People work harder and give more discretionary effort when they feel they own a project.

And finally, love change — change keeps you alive in an ever-evolving world and it keeps your business young. 

Danny Lessem, CEO and Co-founder, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll


There’s no secret ingredient to creating a successful business but there are certainly steps you can take and ways of working that will help your business grow.

Listening to and learning from the customer is mission critical for a growing business. The only way you can refine your products and services to meet market needs is if you actually listen to the market. Whether it’s through data analysis or through real time feedback, understanding the customer is crucial.

Similarly, being in tune with your business and how it is tracking is another insight that can lead to success. Having a firm grasp of the state of an organisation’s finances and how that aligns with growth plans will help you develop strategies that are realistic and practical. 

Most importantly, surround yourself with people who know more than you do about their area of expertise. Drawing on the insights and expertise of other talented people can help you grow your business far quicker than if you were trying to grow it alone. 

Richard Fifita, CEO and Co-founder, Veyor

My definition of a “great company” is two fold. Internally, I believe it’s an organisation where the employees and management all have a shared belief in the organisation’s mission, and are driven each day to achieve this. Externally, it’s an organisation that clients like to work with and that people from outside the organisation want to work for.

I believe we have achieved this at Veyor, and we’ve also learnt the importance of cultural fit along the way.

Outside of everyone being clear on the mission, we’ve learnt that as founders, you need to be clear on the culture you want to attract and create, and ensure this is factored into the hiring process from the get go.

We made the early mistake of rushing hiring to keep up our product velocity and didn’t pay enough attention to cultural fit.  This resulted in a few clashes and at times, the team not working as one. Hiring can be a time consuming process that impacts everyone, so it pays to get it right the first time.

Once the organisation is culturally sound and humming internally, then naturally you produce a far better product and present more positively to people outside your organisation, whether it be clients or potential employees. 

By placing a greater emphasis on “cultural fit”, we’ve subsequently built a great company and kicked major goals in the process.

Bill Fry, Managing Director, EVE Investments 

Success comes down to three key factors: unique premium products that will resonate with target markets worldwide, having a well-established distribution network to scale quickly, and a passionate team that can help drive you forward and reach new heights. 

At EVE Investments, we have made it our mission to help provide access to the world’s best natural organic products and help enrich the lives of everyday people. That is enabled by each of the three critical success factors I mentioned that has allowed us to continue to grow and produce unique, natural and organic products with a global reach and application.

As a vertically integrated producer of raw honey, organic tea tree oil and nutritional products, EVE’s operations have remained largely unaffected by COVID-19, with sustained sales growth and strong interest in key export markets like China and the US for our uniquely Australian organic honey and tea tree products.

Importantly, at EVE Investments we have a strong belief in the products that we produce and are very focussed on product innovation to ensure the provision of unique product offerings to our consumers.  

Chris Dodds, Managing Director, Digital at Icon Agency

Every business is different but there are common strategies for success. Ones that have worked for Icon Agency – a strategic creative communicationsand digital agency based in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, include:

  • Taking calculated risks where you see new opportunities
  • Empowering your colleagues with permission
  • Finding purposeful work that draws in like-minded talent
  • Diversifying your services to spread risk
  • Collecting and analysing business data to identify risk early
  • As a leader, listening and modifying your approach based on individual and collective needs
  • Encouraging empathy and open communication from all levels of the business
  • Continually learning and adapting to change.

Joao Mello, Head of Technology, ipSCAPE

Success is something all companies continuously strive to achieve and in the fast-paced world of technology how to achieve it depends on your goals. As an Australian technology company that powers the contact centres and customer experiences of companies around the world – I would attribute our success to having a strong product-market fit, a clear vision for the company and the right team to execute. 

Our product-market-fit was strengthened by COVID-19 which made remote working a requirement for contact centres. As a cloud solution, ipSCAPE was able to quickly help customers work from home to ensure business continuity.  

Our purpose is to help businesses and government organisations, create exceptional customer experiences. We succeed in this vision because of our strong local team who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

Jonathan McFarlane, Co-founder and CEO, PlaceOS

At the heart of PlaceOS’ success is the team we’ve built. On a rollercoaster journey with plenty of ups and downs, and especially in the last few months of uncertainty, having a great team and culture around me to enable us to come together and problem solve has been key. Together, we’ve been able to develop ideas now being implemented in some of the largest projects in the world.

Another part of building a great company has been our ability to be specialist generalists – we understand how everything comes together for our customers and partners and we can communicate to coordinate it all. In that, we’re always looking at ways to scale – both in our technology and our business model. Having that scalability allows us to adapt to anything that comes up. All of that comes back to our team. Building a great company starts with the people you have supporting you, and their ability to see the bigger picture and where you can go next.

Marcus Marchant, CEO of Vistaprint Australia and Founder of Bondi Joe

If you want to build a strong company foundation you need to set core values. Having a strong value system in place from the bottom up will create a professional environment. Secondly, as a leader, you need to have a realistic vision for the short and long term. With this vision comes the third component of strategy. Your business strategy needs to include a thought-out plan of how you will achieve your desired company culture and team members. Finally, the fourth component to build a great company is to have a three-year plan for the future. Of course, nothing will ever go perfectly to plan. However, having a plan for the future will keep you inspired.

Magdalena Varley, National New Business Manager, Belgravia Health & Fitness 

Having a strong understanding of our long-term goals has helped us build a successful business by aligning and making the right short-term decisions. Whether that is regarding staffing, lease negotiations or other, our whole team has banned together during this time to make sure the businesses are successful in the long term. Another aspect of what makes Belgravia Health and Fitness successful is the diversification of our business. We keep a close eye on the market seeing what is trending in overseas markets and how we can do something similar in Australia all whilst making sure it has long term potential. This is how we have not only created products such as gyms or focused on the adult market but kids entertainment also.

Ben Lucas, Director, Flow Athletic

Hire for culture:

We have focused on hiring good humans that fit our company and community culture. We care less about education and experience than we do about values and culture fit. There is nothing we can’t teach an employee but we can’t teach someone to be a good human.

Servant leadership:

Yes, theoretically I am the boss and my staff work for me. But how our business has gotten ahead is that I have focused on how I can help my staff. How can I help them be better? What can I do for them to find meaning in their work and provide a world class service? I work for them, they work for the clients so the business works for us.


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