Chasing start-up success
What do AHALife founder Shauna Mei and The Entourage founder Jack Delosa have in common?
- Research shows that Australia’s start-up community is filled with young, well-educated people.
- The Entourage is a school for innovators and disruptors aimed at those who don't fit in.
- Jack Delosa’s biggest challenge has been the pressure of running a high growth, innovative company.
By Alexandra Cai.
Brought to you by American Express.
Research shows that Australia’s start-up community is filled with young, well-educated people, with the bulk of this group only starting their businesses since 2014. According to the 2015 Australian Start-up Muster Report, 65.8% of business founders in Australia are aged between 20 and 40. A total of 41.2% have postgraduate qualifications and 50% have no previous start-up experience.
One rising Australian start-up star is Jack Delosa (pictured). Delosa is founder of The Entourage, an entrepreneur education business with 300,000 members globally, that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs build companies now collectively valued at more than A$47.5m.
Delosa started his first significant venture in 2007 in his early 20s with MBE Education, helping entrepreneurs raise money from investors and sell their business.
He is currently focused on growing The Entourage. As a school for innovators and disruptors, Delosa says the business is a place for those who don't fit in.
“I really know this audience because I am this audience,” he says. “What enabled us to get to where we are is speaking to the hearts and minds of our consumers and bringing them a community and suite of programs that enable them to start and build successful businesses.”
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Delosa’s biggest challenge has been the pressure of running a high growth, innovative company.
"In his book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull points out that US animation film studio Pixar views discomfort and ‘things not working’ as a sign that they are doing something original,” Delosa says.
“In the beginning of any movie if it all works too easily, they take a step back and ask what they are doing wrong. At The Entourage, we have come to recognise the discomfort of originality as a reassuring sign that we are doing something truly unique.”
"What enabled us to get to where we are is speaking to the hearts and minds of our consumers."
The business has since expanded into other markets with The Entourage Growth Fund, which invests in start-ups, and The Entourage Beanstalk Factory, delivering entrepreneurial training to corporations.
“With Beanstalk we’re working with top Australian companies, universities and government agencies to help them rethink how they create the future,” Delosa says.
Shauna Mei: International inspiration
Looking beyond Australia's borders, New York based Shauna Mei has a start-up success story that can inspire any budding entrepreneur. Mei co-founded of AHALife, an online portal of global artisanal products, in 2009 with business partner Sachin Devand. AHALife is presently pursuing a strategy of aggressive customer acquisition and improving the personalisation of its shopping experience. AHALife’s technology platform is built on data that provides a personalised shopping experience.
“A lot of the products and brands we stock are things people don't know exist,” Mei says. “So we use this technology to present those products to the right people at the right time. It's like every person on AHALife has a personal shopper suggesting products for them. Data makes it possible to do this in a scalable way, and we continue to improve our capabilities here to create a 'sticky’ customer experience.”
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“We chose to stay true to our long-term vision rather than generate more revenue in the short-term."Shauna Mei, founder, AHALife. As part of its acquisition drive, AHALife recently launched a gifting app that allows people to send gifts globally by SMS in less than 60 seconds.
“The app capitalises on the continuing growth of mobile shopping by solving common problems people experience when choosing a gift and sending it,” Mei says. “The app has proven to be successful, delivering double the conversion rate and approximately four times the engagement rate compared to the website.”
Committed to the cause
The biggest AHALife challenge for Mei has been having the patience to stick to a long-term vision, rather than being tempted to change the business model for short-term gains. That vision is based on empowering designers, artisans and innovators to thrive online, and creating a community that celebrates and protects creativity. It is a highly complex problem that requires time and patience to solve.
“We chose to stay true to our long-term vision rather than generate more revenue in the short-term,” says Mei.
“Looking back, we know we made the right decision, as many [competitors] have either disappeared or aren't doing very well.”
In February 2017, Mei stepped down as CEO of AHALife and parted ways with the company she co-founded. But she recalls listing AHALife on the ASX in 2015 as a milestone achievement for the business.
“We raised A$20.4m when we listed via a reverse takeover, and that has enabled us to accelerate our growth exponentially since then,” Mei says. “We continue to focus on growth through customer acquisition, while maintaining the customer and brand experience. We are really focused on becoming a much bigger business so we can deliver on the mission statement, which is saving and protecting creativity.”
This article was originally published by American Express.