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Here are 5 key business lessons I have learned from 20 years of building start-ups

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Barry Lehrer

I’m the founder of a tech start-up. I’m also turning 57 this year.

That’s not something you see very often these days.

It’s assumed that if you’re not an ambitious Millennial or an IT whiz, you’re too behind the times to launch an innovative, marketable and successful tech start-up.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fresh ideas coming from young minds and how much the start-up scene has grown and changed in the past few of years. But at the same time, 58 per cent of start-up founders are first-time founders, which means they don’t have the benefit of experience.

That’s why it’s important not to dismiss the insights that age and experience can bring. Having that background behind you is actually an enormous advantage when it comes to launching start-ups, and there are invaluable lessons to take away.

Here are five key things I learned from 20 years in the start-up and small business scene:

1. A great idea isn’t enough

Just having a great idea doesn’t guarantee success. That’s the problem many start-up founders face – they’re ambitious and have a fantastic idea, but beyond that, they’re lost.

I’ve found one of the best ways to ensure a start-up’s success is to have an invested interest and passion for the cause, but also the experience to back it up.

I started DiffuzeHR because I saw a problem in the SME space. This insight came from my two decades of experience running small businesses – first-hand, lived experiences. I saw the pain and suffering SMEs were experiencing in terms of recruitment, HR and legal compliance, and decided something needed to change.

2. Experience helps with funding

I wanted to provide an easy-to-use application to help remove one of the key HR problems SMEs face, but I wasn’t coming at it with a beginner’s mindset. I could understand the ins and outs because I had been in the SME space for many years and knew first-hand what was plaguing employers.

Ultimately, having the experience helped with funding. With a solid background and experience in various disciplines, from marketing, to sales, finance, production, recruitment and general management, investors had confidence that my idea and proposed plan was worth investing in.

This was knowledge which couldn’t be replicated by someone fresh out of school, only by someone who’d spent considerable time at the coalface of multiple SMEs.

Don’t worry if you are a first-time founder, though – have someone on board who does have that experience, and it will go a long way.

3. Don’t fudge it, find help

“Surround yourself with people who are better than you.”

That’s a quote from Howard Schultz’s book, ‘Pour Your Heart Into It’. I read it many years ago, and yet that single comment still resonates with me to this day.

When you’re launching a start-up, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t have a particular skill, find someone who has the skill set required instead of sticking your head into the sand and hoping everything will be alright.

Sometimes, you’ll have to be creative in sourcing help. The world of start-ups can be a very lonely place, especially if there’s limited money and you can’t employ the best people to help you. However, you do not always have to pay to receive advice – by finding like-minded mentors and confidants, you can receive clear and unbiased appraisals and assistance.

In the long run, it pays off to have a team of experts to go to for advice rather than trying to do everything yourself.

4. Learn how to balance risk

Learning how to balance risk comes from doing and understanding what you do. This takes time, and the series of highs and lows that it will take you through is something anyone launching their own start-up needs to prepare themselves for.

This is where I found my age and experience helped. While other start-ups founders were testing new waters, dipping their feet into the cold, I realised I already had the industry knowledge needed to take risks – but calculated, considered, and educated risks.

The person who has helped me with this lesson was my wife. As an extremely pragmatic person she has taught me to consider the full implications of any decision I make and the associated ramifications – to both the business and my family – before I jump into the river.

5. Know who your supporters are

Launching a start-up is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition – because you need to take big risks, you also need to make sure you have the support to do this.

My biggest support network is my family. I am extremely lucky to have a family who has allowed me to live my dreams, and I fully appreciate it.

Launching any start-up is hard, but with the right idea, the right motivation, the right team, and the right support, anyone can launch their start-up to success, whether they’re 15 or 55.

I’m now following what I’m passionate about in life, and not letting any naysayers get the best of me.

It’s the right time to find opportunities from hardship and create something nobody else can.

Barry Lehrer is the Founder of DiffuzeHR, an HR tech start-up which is transforming the way SMEs approach HR by giving them access to an easy-to-use, cloud-based system (and the smarts) to ensure compliance and take the pain out of managing their HR administration. DiffuzeHR helps SMEs by allowing them to minimise risks, reduce legal fees, decrease time spent on admin, attract and retain staff, and leverage best-practice, industry-specific HR and legal expertise in a way that is simple, easy, and efficient. www.diffuzehr.com.au

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