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As I accepted the NSW Telstra Business Women’s Award for innovation presented by Nokia- I took to the podium to share where I thought innovation comes from.
I shared that GoDo.com.au – the technology that we built to aggregate activity suppliers, which then we deliver via major tourism websites such as Virgin Blue, Webjet, and Lonely Planet to customers. This was the innovation that we entered as part of the awards.
Briefly, I spoke of ‘Love Loathe Lists’ and how at RedBalloon because we have always been so scarce of resources we look at how we can innovate to solve issues using technology whenever possible.
It came way before this, though – my desperate need to innovate. To make something from nothing.
In 1988 I took out a mortgage to buy my first apartment (I was working for KPMG at the time in Melbourne). I wanted to own, rather than rent and figured if I got into the market at a very young age I would always have a place to live no matter what I did. I didn’t have enough saved for a deposit – so my sister jointly invested. Also, the repayments were considerable given my tiny salary. Then the government decided to use fiscal policy to slow the economy – interest rates climbed above 16% (My sister lost all her savings in the Pyramid Building Society crash – and had not a cent to assist). We were both very scared – thinking that we would have to sell.
I got through this by never going out, every cent I earned was accounted for, I ate boiled eggs many nights of the week, and got a flatmate (we became best of friends and she is now the Godmother to my son – so you never know what benefits will come).
I learned a tough lesson at a very early age – ‘Don’t overextend’. So whilst I am an entrepreneur and take risks… I have been relatively conservative – and would never ‘put my home on the line.’ I have never forgotten what it was like to live in fear that I might loose my home.
In 1991 I met and married Peter, by then Australia was in recession (The recession we had to have – said the government). I moved to Sydney to live with my new husband – and I started work at Apple. My very first day at my new job – Pete called to say that “they were closing him down.” He was running a subsidiary of a major bank and they were pulling back to core business.
For the sake of a day – I would never have ended up in Sydney. If this news had have come on Friday before I would not have left Melbourne and I probably would still be living there.
It was a very painful road. As a newlywed, living in an unrenovated house in Balmain – with a massive mortgage. All on my small salary. We were such corporate people. I had always thought I would work for a large multinational. Pete had had a big career in accounting. But in the early 90s, there were just no jobs to be had. It was so very hard. The months went by. To make ends meet we had held garage sales regularly – selling as much as we could including second-hand computers, wedding presents and all Pete’s pre-marriage boys toys – like windsurfers and skis.
It was Robert Gottleibsen, a long time family friend, a leading business commentator, and editor in chief of BRW at the time, who was at our very humble home for dinner who said to Pete, ‘If ever there was a person who could hang up his shingle it’s you.’ So Pete did just that – started ForeSight Australia, a business advisory service in the garage, in only a few months he had moved to a small office and employed some people. It was only two years before he sold the business – and worked in it for 3 years after that.
I watched my husband create something great. There was a recession on, jobs were scarce. Watching him battle it out, build something from nothing…. and be successful was inspiring – but also a relief.
We had pulled together – (I did the marketing for his business after hours – from name to logo, promotion to spreadsheeting.) What a result. And our entrepreneurial bug was born… from there we have created many businesses. Some more successful than others.
Out of tough times comes opportunity. I don’t know if without seeing what a success Pete had made his first business – whether when I wanted to do something different and no longer work in corporate life (because I became a Mum) would I have known it was possible to run my own show.
We all need role models… We need leaders who are positive and disciplined. We need people who see possibility and work really really hard to get things done. Out of this current tough time, new great stories will be created.

These are exciting times in which we live…. even if you can’t see it at this moment.

Grow & Scale Your Business by Naomi Simson

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