This is the second part of a two-part series. Read part one.
On November 28 I was invited to be a guest of the NBN on the Enterprising Women panel, hosted by the National Press Club of Australia. Alongside my fellow panellists Olivia Ruello (CEO, Business Chicks) and Mikaela Jade (Founder, Indigital) we discussed the topic of women in business and leadership, specifically female entrepreneurship in rural and regional areas.
A recent study by the NBN found the number of women starting up their own businesses in areas that are connected to the NBN has gone through the roof. Now a 2.3% lift doesn’t sound like much, but that’s actually twenty times the pace of growth that’s happening in areas that are not as well connected. Technology is empowering women to be more financially and professionally independent, and to strike out on their own. Here I reflect on the day’s events and share some of my key thoughts and take-outs from the day.
The importance of having strong female role models
I had strong role models from very early on. My mother worked for the Monash University Maths Department on one of the early computers in Australia. And every day she’d go off to work in her suit and work on this computer. And then she went to work with one of Australia’s great entrepreneurs, Lyndsey Cattermole. And so, I used to go as a young girl to these work events and for me, it was my normal. I just didn’t know there was anything different to that reality. So it was always expected that I would go to university; that I would have a career. When it came time to doing something different, my father had been a small business owner and I thought, ‘right, I can do that too’. And I knew I could do it because I had seen it.
Persistence in the face of resistance
I find that some people just don’t take me seriously, and that really bothers me. And I prove them wrong most days.I am often misunderstood, or underestimated. . We serve a customer every minute at the Big Red Group. We turn over more than $100 million a year. And we have a strong growth trajectory.How about our contribution to our community and commerce and tax and the thousands of small businesses we support?
But I have a role, and my role is to sit forward, ‘lean in’ as they say. My role is to respond, and I have a request of every woman – that, if asked to stand up, speak, or comment to the press that you take that as an opportunity and do so. Perhaps even offer your ideas, thoughts and opinions outside of your immediate circle – to add to the broader conversation – and everytime this demonstrates leadership. .
I have heard women say “I don’t want to ‘big note’ myself”. It’s not for you, it’s for your audience – your insights are a gift to others. If given the opportunity and then we don’t take it, then we will never get to where we need or want to be – balanced voice in every realm..
Making that first sale
It was two months and four days before I made the first sale on RedBalloon. I launched the RedBalloon business in 2001 in the first week of October, which was three weeks after September 11. And I’d given $25,000 of the family savings – all the family savings – to an outsourced web developer and he came back with a website that was, quite frankly, terrible. But I thought it was fabulous. I used to ask people the question, ‘did anybody see our first website?’ One day I got the response that yes, they’d seen it while studying multimedia at UTS – their lecturer had shown it to the class as an example of the worst website he’d ever seen.
So I turned the website on, and nothing happened. And every day, my then husband would go to work and come home and ask, “How is the project going, sweetheart?” I’d say, “no customers today but maybe tomorrow”. This went on and on. I got so desperate I would tie red balloons around my briefcase and walk through Martin Place hoping someone would see the URL and find the website. But hope isn’t a strategy. Finally, I got my first customer – it was actually order number 14 because I had done 13 before to check that the website worked and there was nothing wrong with it. I this first customer, Damian Chown, and I said, “Hi, I’m Naomi Simson. I’m the chief experience officer for RedBalloon. I like to call all of my customers to find out how you experienced the website.” And he said, “Oh, it was crap.”
I invited that very first customer, Damian, to the launch of the Big Red Group in July 2017 (left). You never forget your first customer and how important it is that you deliver on your word. And so, when I’m even talking to my team now of 120, I say – “Never, ever take the customer for granted. They are here, but in this moment, they might go somewhere else
If I knew what I know now
I write for LinkedIn and they asked me to write 600 words on advice I would give to my younger self. So I started writing and when I got to 10,000 words I started to think I had a problem. Then I got to 25,000 words, and I took it to a publisher and they said, “There’s a book in that”. And that was my first book Live What You Love. So my advice to my younger self would be to give up the fear of following you dream. Live with passion and live with purpose. Know that purpose is about contributing to others and that true happiness comes from what you give, not from what you get.