Episode 009 - Faith Forster - Startup Challenges & Corporate Solutions - NOT The Rob Bell Podcast | Limeworks

Episode 009 - Faith Forster

Startup Challenges & Corporate Solutions

Stories from a startup and how choosing your investors carefully is so important.

After spending a large part of her career solving problems for huge multi-nationals, Faith embarked on her own startup in the UK with her co-Founder and Husband Sandy, solving project management challenges for large corporates. 

While political turmoil significantly impacted the plans and the startup ultimately failed, they took away some powerful lessons and invaluable insight. 

Now back in Australia, Faith's ready to embark on her next venture, and she shares her deep insight and lessons learnt from her past experience. 

We discuss so much on life as a startup founder, how choosing the right investors is so critical, and so much more. 

You can connect with Faith on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/faithforster/

Watch the Episode

Listen to the Audio



Please note, while an effort is made to provide an accurate transcription, errors and omissions may be present. No part of this transcription can be referenced or reproduced without permission.

Rob: So Faith Forester. Thank you so much for coming to have a chat today, it's really great to have you here.

Faith: Thanks for having me.

Rob: So I understand that you're a bit of a trailblazer in some regards and pretty entrenched in the Sydney startup industry and obviously the Australian startup scene. But before we get to some of that. Can I learn a little bit about where you've been and how you sort of came to doing what you do now?

Faith: Sure, it's a bit of a windy journey, actually. So the interesting bit anyway, the last 10 years, I was the management consultant here in Australia and then moved to London right as the financial crisis hit. And started working for PWC there. So that was that was very interesting time to be working for one of the big, big companies there, because the access you got to projects was insane. So literally, as soon as I landed in London, I was sent up to the Lehman Brothers administration to work on there. That was that was actually really surreal, walking to the office for the first time. It was the closest thing you'll ever find to a corporate refugee camp. It's just it's

Rob: Interesting.

Faith: The sense in the office was just just surreal. I also did some other crazy projects. I worked with one of the board members at RBS, Royal Bank of Scotland, who were one of the the naughty guys I guess they got the biggest bailout from the UK government. So I worked with the board member responsible for risk trying to help them work out what they needed to do differently. I also worked for BP after the Gulf of Mexico crisis, trying to centralise the decision making processes. I spent months working on a project in Iraq setting up new operations out there, which is actually one of my favourite projects I ever did. Until Sandy, my husband, told me that he fretted every time I went out there. And so I had to give it up after that. Yes, it did some really amazing stuff. There was a kind of got to the point where there wasn't a lot I hadn't seen. I kind of felt like I had ticked that box. I'm someone, I need to be constantly learning. So I kind of got to a point. I was just getting a bit bored. And so I had a baby and my first baby, Archie, and then started my own startup. And that came from a couple things, I guess, trying to do these sort of crazy transformation programs that if you take RBS as an example, they had five thousand people globally in their risk function who we needed to help work in a very fundamentally different way.

Faith: And so trying to engage that number of people right across the globe so that they actually chose to behave in a different way was literally impossible using spreadsheets and email and PowerPoint slides and things. And my husband Sandy at the time was working for Yammer, which was the big sort of buzz wave around collaboration. I thought that was really exciting, that I could really see the power in that. But what wouldn't it be great if we took that concept but gave it some structure so that people could collaborate to actually get stuff done rather than collaborating for collaborating's sake, so that's kind of that's what we did with our startup was called Pinipa. It was kind of like Trello, if you're familiar with that's a really this project management tool. But really, really simple. Really visual. You didn't have to be a project management expert to know what, what, what, what, what was going on. But it was designed for corporate type projects, what we called strategic initiatives, so where there's lots of stakeholders, multiple workstreams. So it's a bit more complex.

Rob: So can we chat about Pinipa for a little bit? I think a lot of us I used to, as you say, like Trello, Asana, some of those project management tools that are there, some of those we use ourselves. But you were more focused around trying to bridge the gap between different departments in very large organizations. If I'm getting that correct. And so that was really born from the experience of working with some of these world's biggest companies,

Faith: Yeah,

Rob: Really.

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: And so when was during that journey? What was the opportunity or like where where was that moment where you got where you sort of found yourself thinking this can be done better? And I have to make this happen.

Faith: The idea that this could be done better came from the fact my husband was working at Yammer, so clearly he was he and the team they were were massive advocates of this idea of collaborative working.

Rob: And I know a little bit about Yammer, but it's probably more like a cross between Twitter and Slack maybe right now, is that? We never used it, but we were involved with it.

Faith: So the original positioning for Yammer was basically Facebook for business. So it's kind of try to bring that social element into a work environment. I think where it was quite challenging for them to get the engagement they needed on the platform is you need it. You need a reason to collaborate. There has to be some sort of purpose around it. So having just this stream of stuff that hopefully people post in and maybe respond to without purpose around my day job, what I actually need to do as part of my job was a little bit challenging, which is hence why they they really became strong advocates for this idea of kind of more collaborative working in general. I think tools that have come out since like slack and Teams and they kind of recognise that, actually. It works better if it's around a team that has a purpose to get a job done is that people collaborate for that purpose and that maybe an ongoing purpose or maybe a little something like a project where it has a finite period of time.

Rob: So it's more about objectives and and outcomes and and project purpose as opposed to just here's a collaboration tool, go collaborate.

Faith: Yeah, exactly, yeah, exactly. And so that was where we we were trying to give it a little bit of structure to help you actually deliver an outcome. But the scenario is that we were talking like dealing with you could have hundreds through to thousands of people who were interested in what it is you were trying to achieve. And so the normal structure you have around projects like that is the project team does all this work. And they might they might run some workshops, they might do some communications to let people who are gonna have their jobs changed as a result, let them know about it, or maybe give them an opportunity to ask some questions. But it really is the product team, you know, creating something and then throw it out, throwing it over the fence. So the idea that of what we were trying to do is kind of make that something that's more collaborative in nature and visible in general so that anyone who's interested in what the product's doing has the opportunity to see and contribute at any time. And it becomes more of an ongoing sort of organic lowered sharing of ideas and trying to work together to achieve the outcome rather than this whole us versus them thing between the project team and everyone else who whose jobs it was going to impact on.

Rob: Did you see a lot of when you were working in these big companies post GFC, which were basically in tatters as a result? Did you see real clear evidence of a lack of collaboration and communication? Is that or was this just trying to solve a business challenge that maybe had a part in those GFC problems. But, you know, it would help make better companies in the future.

Faith: I think it's always been. There's always been a good intent, and there's fields like change management, which is was my background. Who whose job it was, was to help make sure that was the case, that they were talking to people and engaging them and trying to understand what this meant for them and bring them on that journey. I just felt like the tools they had available at their disposal to do that were really limited, like creating PowerPoint decks by nature. That's a one way process. You know, people go into a meeting saying, we want this to be collaborative, please ask questions. But then they talk at them for 40 minutes. And so it's kind of like, well, actually, if you if you had a tool where you know, the thinking in the you. Yeah, it was it was more visible to more people that could make a big difference in actually genuinely working in a collaborative way rather than just saying it before you, before meeting or whatever.

Rob: Yeah, of course, because I think when we think around, you know, multi level communication and and culture in particular, we really think about start ups and and, you know, the Google stereotype of a communal meals and slides down the escalators. But like, how important is getting that communication and that culture right in these bigger companies, especially in a in a change management sort of scenario?

Faith: I think I think I personally think it's very important. That was why I was in that field. I think. Companies vary in the level to which they appreciate that that's important. One of things I used to say when I was in the field was, you know, the way you change then sets the tone for how you're gonna operate or work in the new structural new world that you've created. So how how you manage that situation through that change is really important to then reset the culture. Afterwards, but that. Yeah, often that wasn't necessarily what the priority was at the time. I think that's something that I guess having had experiences I've had since and running my business and things. I think it is important to kind of. Have a realistic understanding of actually what's the business driver behind this? What do you actually try to achieve? What are the priorities? Because you can't do everything, do everything well. And using that to then make a better assessment about actually how much do you invest or what type of tools do you leverage.

Rob: Sure. So obviously that's helping drive the purpose and the idea behind Pinipa. What was it? It was VC backed to get, was that a seed round or a series A round? Can you give us a little bit of understanding around the how that process happened?

Faith: Yes, show. Yeah, we were VC backed. That was our seed round. So we kind of got to the point where we had a handful of good customers and reference reference cases.

Rob: And we should probably name drop a few of those sites, say Microsoft Linkedin some other names that you can possibly rattle off.

Faith: Yeah. So it yeah, they came after the seed round, actually. But at the seed round we had Cancer Research UK. We had National Grid. We had one of the big retail chains in the UK. Well, one of the local governments, local authorities. So we had. And we're also talking to American Express at the time with that. In the end, that got blocked for security reasons. So, yes, some really great customers at the time. We were raising investment. After the investment we then also had Microsoft, Linkedin, NHS, GlaxoSmithKline, PWC, Capita, a few others.

Rob: No, it's no small feat in its own right.

Faith: Yeah, it helps. I think when you're in a place like London where a lot of those of those those companies are headquartered or have big presence. Yeah, we did. We definitely did well in terms of credibility from a customer perspective. But in terms of raising our investment, we had largely funded it ourselves. And it kind of got to the point where my husband, Sandy, was my co-founder. We were both now working on it full time. So we've gotten those customers on board and to be supporting them and really needed to be out to pay ourselves.

Rob: Sure.

Faith: And so we did we did raise money. In terms of that process. It wasn't it wasn't something I'd ever done before. And so I guess in creating a tech company, I knew that was something we would have to consider at some point. And so I'd made the effort to really learn about how that process worked and things we needed to be aware of. From from pretty early on in creating the company, it is raising money like that in the tech scene is very much an exercise in networking. So it does take six months to raise money. It takes that long to sort of get around and meet all the right people and build a relationship and demonstrate that you're actually delivering against something that is making progress. And it's not it's not something you should do lightly. Like you, you don't want to raise money until you absolutely have to, because it costs you money effectively and business is giving away ownership in your business, but also the further the longer you can wait, the further along you can get the business, the better valuation you're gonna get. So you'll get more money for the same energy business or you'll give way less of your business for the same amount. Yes, certainly with with our fundraising, because I was a female founder at the time, those very few female investors and I had a child, this started as my maternity leave project.

Faith: And so it was really important to me to have an investor that understood what it meant to be a parent and that this this was something that needed to work around that particular when it was a husband and wife team. And there was one prominent investor in London at the time Eileen from Passion Capital, who had four children. And so I specifically wanted her as my investor. And so every every one I met. I said can you introduce me to Eileen? Can you just me. Eileen? I finally came across someone is like, yeah I spoke to her last week. How have you do an intro. And so I met her and she became non-exec director, our lead investor, and then had others, other angel investors come along as well. Eileen is was is very, very prominent in their London tech scene. So she was on David Cameron's business advisory group. She still does work for tech. But the Treasury in the U.K. and the mayor of London are promoting their take the tech scene globally. She's been called the queen of tech, but she's. She's amazing. I love her. Like the.

Faith: The guys would tease me that I had a womance instead of a bromance.

Rob: I haven't heard that term, but I really do like it.

Faith: Yes, she is. She was awesome. And that that really mattered at later stages in the company. Because with tech businesses like things absolutely will go wrong. Without a doubt. And I knew that she had my back. One hundred percent. And particularly later on, I found out I was pregnant with the twins. Yeah, I rang her like I was devastated. I was just like, oh, my God. The worst thing is what has happened. And she's like, that's amazing! And I was like, no no no, but there's twins, she's like, don't worry. You will get through this. We'll work it out.

Rob: So so how important is it? I think when he uninitiated, such as myself, when it comes to venture capital, think you'd basically cast a wide net and try and get money from anywhere. But I think you're demonstrating how important it is to know who you want to invest as much as you want to demonstrate in return.

Faith: Absolutely. It's like getting married. Yeah, you have to be really, really careful about who you bring on as your investors because they're gonna be on that journey with you for a while. And it's not going to be a smooth journey.

Rob: And obviously, you were married to or are married, sorry to your co-founder, Sandy.

Faith: Yeah, yeah.

Rob: How does that play in as well if you have investors and co-founders, is there a magic nugget for finding some synergy there?

Faith: I think, um, so I was part of a network of female founders in London. Eileen kind of introduced me to so though there was a lot of very successful women running tech businesses, like some some, you know, were unicorns already had done exceptionally well. And we were a few was had dinner one night. And the two of us, interestingly, were both Australian and both had co-founders that were our partners or husbands. And the other two weren't Australian, which would be expected in London. We had this sort of interesting conversation where the other two were like, there is just no way I could work with my husband or partner. Like they just would never happen, like it would be a disaster. Whereas to myself, the other lady was like, well, you need your business partner. Again, it's like being married, like even you need to have absolute trust in that person. And I couldn't think of a better person to do it other than my husband. And it just so happened we had really complementary skills and that really worked in that situation.

Rob: And so that's certainly going to help.

Rob: No doubt, when there's a slightly different and complementary skill sets, because it does that help retain a bit of a divide line down the middle.

Faith: Yes, it does. It does. I started a tech company with no tech background like it was it was crazy thing to do. So having him who knew tech was my safety net? So that was really important. But it does have other implications in that it does make it harder to switch off at times. It's kind of convenient as well because you can have a chat over the dinner table and not at some problems that you need to. I think the biggest thing for me was the risk that we took on as a family and that we were both not working, trying to get this business going. We still had to pay mortgage. We still had to pay daycare fees. And when things were sort of a bit rocky with the business, it's not just business, it's on the line. It's your personal financial situation as well. So that put a lot of pressure on.

Rob: And so I understand from the understanding I've got of of Pinipa and some maybe even your own words that described it, that you actually built the software twice over.

Faith: Actually, three times in the end.

Rob: Can you give us a bit of an insight into how that came about?

Faith: So we actually had a third co-founder early on. Like I. So I sort of put together some user stories and some screenshots in PowerPoint of what I wanted. And ask some guys. About building it. And they came back saying it's going to cost X amount. And I was like, look, there's no way we can pay that kind of money. At most it would be half that. And they're like, Oh, that's OK. We can do it for half. And I was like,

Rob: That was easy.

Faith: Clearly I have it articulated. What I need well enough here is because you don't just halve it. And so we then kind of put put the project on ice until I actually went over the startup tech conference and met Charlie. He became the co-founder because I felt like I needed someone who could translate to Sandy. My husband as a tech background, but he's in sales, so we couldn't tell developers what to do. So I felt like we needed someone who could kind of translate that. When Charlie came on board, he was still working full time. And so we outsource it to some guys in India. And that that worked really reasonably well. And then it got us to our first customer. But we were trying to work out like, you know, knowing what I know now, we went about it all the wrong way. Like. Yeah, we'll try to work out what we're building as we were building it. So the product we ended up with was was a mess. And so we then brought on our own sort of back end developer, and it was easier for him to start again than to try and work through their code. So that was the second time. But even at that point, we still only had one customer using it. So we still hadn't properly validated. What the products needed to do. And so we built it again, much better. This time it looked much better as well. We bought on our own designer and suffered again. As only sort of later in that journey, I discovered what you x user experiences. This is all like quite a few years ago before this stuff was so

Rob: Of course.

Faith: Well known.

Rob: Yeah.

Faith: So we by that stage we had six or sorry customers that had actually used it for projects and we had a lot of feedback that come back. And so we took that on board and redesigned the product again. And I had kind of agreed to a front end redesign. But as it turned out, the guys in actually rebuilding the whole thing again, which actually caused a lot of pain because it took far longer than we expected and cut right into this sales period for the year. And so it basically put us in this is just afterward raising the money. It put us under a lot of financial pressure to get the sales. Next year.

Rob: Because I think people assume that when you've raised some money, regardless of a seed round or getting further into it, that it's basically, you know, you can do whatever you like and just focus on it and get it done. But it can you riff on that a little bit like that? The business still must go on. This is just a springboard.

Faith: Yeah. So when he raised money in the tech world, generally raising for 18 months. So if you work out what your cost base is going to be to do what you think you need to do to build the business in that 18 months. And that's how much you raise. For us like it, yeah, there's a lot of things I would've done differently in hindsight, but I think generally things take you twice as long to achieve what you will achieve anyway. But when you then add into that an enterprise sales cycle, which is at best six months. That becomes really difficult, it's actually trying to because you have certain expectations of sales or revenue that you're gonna hit at the end of that 18 months to be ready for a series, A stage. It's all about your numbers. And so we needed to be getting revenues that were kind of up towards the million dollar mark to be out of raise series A round the back of that. And so, like rebuilding the product takes out a big chunk of the time that you want to be selling, to be out, to get up to those kind of numbers. So, yeah, you still need to perform as a business. I think that's one of the difficulties around the tech startup scene. Certainly what I saw in London, I think Australia's better is that it is a business. You're building a business. It's not a game.

Rob: And it's not just money for nothing. You need it produce tangible results.

Faith: Absolutely.

Rob: And it's I mean, it it sounds like you approached in a really considered way with sort of a minimum viable product to get it to market rather than spend years designing that. You know, let a perfect version was there. When did you realise that maybe that first version wasn't going to get you to the next round of sales that you wanted to get?

Faith: The first measure is more is more a judgement on the amount of effort it would take for us. To do what we wanted to do with it from then vs. start again. So it's kind of like the tech debt that we headed had accumulated just because of the way that we'd gone about designing and building the product was just too much. So that's why we started again.

Rob: So is that why you would you classify that as almost like a mini pivot in terms of the software itself, that sort of was it a ground up?

Faith: I think that I wouldn't read redesigning the product I wouldn't call a pivot. I think the pivot is more and your purpose and focus and who you selling to. Yeah, I think I think it was just a judgement call at that point or ends, could this. Could we get to where we want to go next with this as our base?

Rob: So just kind of wouldn't serve out those future plans and then, you know, ultimate and ultimately it was a do it now we'll find yourself having to do it again later with even more cost.

Faith: Or even like what we wanted to do now would take us at least three times as long. So do we just cut our losses and start again? Or do we keep trying to persevere?

Rob: And so when when sort of Pin-Up came to the end of that road, was there a like did you have a realization there that maybe it wasn't gonna pan out as the hopes and dreams had

Faith: Yeah,

Rob: Said it was going to?

Faith: It was deadly. Well, when so when we rebuilt it the third time and that really, really ate into our sales period is in the I should explain in the UK, because the summer summers in the middle of the year, it creates really distinct sales cycles. So basically, nothing happens in July, in August. So you have to sell by July or wait until next year, because by the time everyone comes back from holidays in September, they're just trying to think finish things off before Christmas. So you've only got you know February through to July, basically just sell. And so we were supposed to release the new product in February. It ended up not being ready until May. So that new sales were gone for us, which meant we had one more window to get the sales we needed to position ourselves for another investment round. I found out I was pregnant in October. For the next sale cycle, so

Rob: Yeah ok.

Faith: That like,

Rob: I can.

Faith: Yeah. So it's kind of a, oh my God, how is it going to work? Kind of situation. But we were already cutting costs and stuff, trying to sort of extend our runway anyway, knowing that we were in this sort of position. But that was when I had had this conversation with my my investors. And we like we we did a few things, which I think were fundamentally important and and things I regularly advise other startups on now. So it took us too long to find product market fit, mainly because even though we had all these great name customers that were so varied in what they were doing, like local governments versus retail vs. utility companies or tech companies, like their needs were quite different, which was giving us a bit of difficulty trying to work out where to prioritize our focus for the product. And so we went through an exercise called The Ideal Customer Profile, where we looked at all of our different potential customer segments and prioritized them based on density to purchase in the product market fit. And out of that, we decided that consultancies were our best target because they, you know, in terms of managing stakeholders and managing these big complex projects, they kind of knew that problem better than anyone. But we couldn't have really targeted them to start with because we needed proof before we they would work with us. But yeah, so we decided to focus on consultancies.

Faith: Again, we did we did reasonably well. It was much better having that narrow focus. Then had, you know, a proper list of Target customers who would go after. And it was as is based on you pretty well anyway. So that worked really well for us. We we had we talked all the majors, we had pilots sort of in the pipeline with all of them or almost all of them. We had two enterprise deals on the table with ones that had use it and got low value out of it. So that was kind of coming into March the next year. And so I had spoken to my investor and said, look, you know, this is what we're gonna do. We're going to focus here. You know, we're doing these things with the product. Yeah. We need to get this revenue by July, basically. This is do or die, basically it will work, and it would go great or it won't. And so be it. And she was like, yep, that's what you do. That's that's fine. And that was this is when I was I just found out I was pregnant with the twins. And she said she sort of stopped me, she's like, you know, you don't have to do this. I said, look. What. What do you mean? She's like, if you want to just walk away, that's okay. Which is like that shows the value of having a female investor. And I was like, no way. It's like we've done that. We've been through all this pain and gone through all this effort to get ourselves in this position, like there is no way that I want to give up at this point, not know whether or not it could have worked. So she's like, yeah, fine, go for it. So that that was actually a really great conversation to have because like, I was then 100 cent committed and we we did everything we could to make that work. And it was looking really good. It's like in March the next year, Arabesques actually gave us a bit more money to make sure I had the right team in place to cover me while I took some time off with the twins. But then Theresa May decided to call a snap election and basically just walked because consultancies in particular went because that came out of the blue. No one was expecting it. And so the consultancies, a lot of their revenue comes from government, which then shuts down through the election period. And so they just clamped down on any any cost. So all of all of those deals went off the table.

Rob: And there's no way to predict that kind of external factor, right? No amount of preparation is ever going to cater for something like that.

Faith: No. Yes. Bit like Covid now. Yeah, so that that they again killed these sales for us. And so we did. We did have a bit of money, like we had been quite smart in trying to manage our costs and things. So in theory, we could have cut back further and maybe gone another year and seen where it went. But. I like. I was done emotionally, like I was just burnt out. Done and I had twin babies.

Rob: Yeah, of course.

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: So ultimately, you made the call. And you can't found yourself back in Australia. And I understand that you fired off KPMG upstarts as a founder. Can you. Some of us will know the KPMG brand. Can you give us an understanding of how that comes about when it's, say, partnered with a global consultancy?

Faith: Yeah, well, he had an accounting firm as well, that actually as I went around and did different talks, people would come up to me and I just can't believe an accounting firm would be doing this kind of thing. I said, well, actually, the accounting part of the business is only 20 percent. Now, look, what those firms do is so much greater than just numbers audits and tax. So that came about. I got back to Australia and sort of had coffee with anyone who would talk to me and says, hey, look, this is me. This is what I've done. Where do I fit this market? Basically, I can I I knew consultancies, I, I knew that world. And I kind of figured for the type of work I do at my level, there would be a big investment for one business to take on someone like me to do that, whereas that risk would be spread, I guess, when it's when you're working one of its firms. And so I was chatting to to. I spoke to most of those firms, actually. But with KPMG. Ken, who became my big boss. I had a chat with him and. Yeah. We just had this really great conversation. They'd sort of told me that these are the sort of things they do in innovation and they said they kind of looked at me and said, look, if the right person came along, you know, we've got this idea, we would do it if they're the right person. Was there. And so they said, look, let me have a chat and come back. And so they messaged me days later saying, come in and meet Ken.

Faith: And I was like, yeah, it's fine, but what are we talking about? And so they said, look, we we we'd like to set up a competitor to BCG Digital Ventures. So we said work with corporates to help them build new products as a way of driving new sources of revenue. And I like. I love what BCT Digital Ventures do. It's amazing. I like, freaked out about the idea of me actually starting something like that. Like, are you crazy? So my way of reacting to that was just to ask a whole bunch of questions. And it wasn't. The very last question I asked was where does it sit in the business? Is it part of consulting or why different? They said, oh, no, we should explain that. That it's it's actually in a separate part of the business. It's our investment center. So we give things three years until we decide whether or not they're viable. And that was the difference for me. It's gone. If I if I had that time to build it as a business, then I was like, yes, I can do that. But if I was going to be given, like, tough revenue targets from day one, then something like that needed investment. So that was what got me excited about it. And then having had that conversation with Ken. I basically interviewed him and I was like, you realize you going to have to do this and this and this and this. And he's like, yeah, yeah, yeah, we know it's okay. We can do it. And I'm like, okay, so let's go for it.

Rob: What's essentially like it, like interviewing an investor all over again, right?

Faith: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rob: Yes.

Faith: Yeah, I suppose because you're investing your time in your career. Yeah, it's an important decision, I think, to make that we take steps in your career.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely.

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: And so during that phase and and over the last few years, you've become a real entrenched member of the startup community in Australia. How much has that corporate experience and even that time with KPMG played into how you advise and mentor startups?

Faith: Actually, I haven't been as entrenched in the Sydney art scene as I would like. Mainly because I was yeah, I was busy with my job at KPMG and we were working with corporates. So I made the effort to to take on submental roles. We started Chalke Financial Services and also Tech Ready women who help female founders that is just starting out and non tech female founders in particular, which was my background. I think the experience of trying to work with the corporate. I found quite challenging in that not only have you got all the all the reasons why start ups could fail, but you add on top of that all the political challenges of a corporate and then on top again, all the political challenges of being in one of those firms. And it just it was just so frustrating. Then every angle. So we had like we did some great projects across a number of different sectors. But in the end, I just kind of felt like the value that you got from trying to work with those companies outweighed the benefit of actually kind of trying to get some products launching into market. Way too early to say. So I kind of took the opportunity to take redundancy when it came up. But in terms in terms of advising startups like I do, I love it, I really do love it. I am whenever I've had the option to either in my capacity at KPMG or into the personal voluntary type roles I've done. It's hard to explain, but when you've been around the block a few times and you've got the scars on your back, you just have this innate sense of kind of going or you ask a few questions, gonna go, well, that's your hot spot. You thought about that. And I just I had. And the startup scene. There are a lot of there's definitely a dark side to the startup scene there's a lot of people who hang around who are trying to get equity or money for doing very little.

Rob: Sure.

Faith: But then there's also, like I had some of the most amazing advisers in my business wouldn't have gotten to where it was without those people. So I think that's really important. If you have that experience and you can add that value to those companies that you do do that. So pay it forward.

Rob: Because you mentioned stone and chalk, and for those who aren't familiar, it my understanding is that it's a coworking space, but it also tries to bring together mentorship, investor and and like startup incubation. Can you explain a little bit or is there evidence of, like, how well that can synergize and accelerate things?

Faith: It's been proven actually globally. So there has been a lot of research done on why certain cities, certain areas around the world have ever really thrived in the startup scene and. So is a lot of evidence around the fact that having having those support structures in place really helps. Having had a unicorn come out of that city before makes a huge difference as well, because you get all the the implications around funding available, talent being available. Stuff that comes from that, so. So it is stone and chalk was kind of the first big step that Sydney or the New South Wales government took to to create a startup scene and support network as a way of kind of trying to promote innovation. I think there are not many cities around the world now that aren't they don't recognise the need to have a thriving tech sector.

Rob: Sure. Yeah.

Faith: That's a huge, huge growth lever for the economy in general. I think I saw some figures from Tech Nation in the UK that was adding to 17 percent, 17 percent of the growth in jobs is coming out of their startups in the tech sector.

Rob: Yeah. OK.

Faith: So this is an incredibly important part of the economy. It's something that does need to be taken seriously, well-supported. I think Australia still has a way to go. To be comparing to some of the other cities in the world in that respect. But there are there are some really positive things happening.

Rob: And because there's certainly no lack of ideas coming out of Australia, I think it's it's really just how we incubate those and send them on their journey.

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: And is that what you see the value as a as a mentor and being involved in that startup scene? Is that where you find the value?

Faith: I think the value for me is that I do genuinely get a buzz out of those conversations, I'd like I. I do genuinely love being able to help others who have been in the similar situation that I've been in because I valued it so much. I think that the startup scene in Australia is, you know, some of the tech coming out of here is amazing because. Yeah, unlike in the U.K., and I think to a greater extent in the US, there is so, so much funding available and so much buzz around the tech scene that you have people building tech that doesn't really solve a problem. They're almost like their solution looking for a problem. Whereas in Australia, because we haven't had the luxury of huge amounts of funding being available. A lot of the startups have had to bootstrap in and find themselves through revenue. And so they've had to have that really, really tight focus on solving a genuine problem from the start, which. Drives a better solution. So I think a lot of the products that are coming out of the startups, they're doing well, are doing well because they solve a genuine problem.

Rob: So there's always a bit of natural selection in the in the idea before it gets to that stage.

Faith: Yeah, it's certainly not the only thing. It's a lot of things that can go wrong on that journey as it as I told you of my story. But but that's it's really important to have that as a strong starting point.

Rob: And I think it's an important lesson in business of any age that, you know, investment doesn't make everything automatic and it still takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. Market research, testing, trialing. Was there any unexpected lessons that came out of that process?

Faith: Of getting funding, oh, my startup journey in general. I have. I think get with funding. The points I made around it is like getting married. You need to really carefully select who your investors are and not take money from anyone who'll give it to you is. Incredibly important. A very good friend of mine is a female founder up in Queensland, was taken, taken some money from one of the prominent investors up there and she's had a really difficult time. That investor, I think, as women in particular, and the fact that you're probably going to have children at some point, you want investors who are very understanding of that situation to support you no matter what. Think from a business perspective. So I am now starting to work on my own start up again. Ridiculous it might feel at times. I've take a lot of those lessons on board with the way I've approached it this time round. So I'm being really clear on the problem that I'm solving. You know, we are still it's very early stages, but

Rob: Doesn't even have a name yet.

Faith: It doesn't have a name yet. But we have worked through our ideal customer profile. We've we've looked at our potential customer segments and prioritized those. I've just finished doing interviews with five customers out of each of those segments to help us refine what the problem is, what their needs are at the value proposition and what the offering needs. Now, we're using that to then work through our business model and starting to explore sort of the high priority areas that we know are critically important to make the whole thing succeed. Without this actually isn't a tech proposition anyway. But all of that needs to be done before you even think about what the tech looks like. We're in this situation. You know how you actually bring that offering to life.

Rob: So there's some considerations that you've already had to make for a non tech offering that were totally irrelevant following your previous tech venture.

Faith: I think, yeah. I'm keen to do this differently, so I. So it is it is a retail offering. So we're looking to do

Rob: I'm happy for you to go as deep into that as you like.

Faith: It is. As we're looking to create a plant based Whole Foods franchise based food chain. I see. And so making plant based foods really, really easy, accessible and convenient so that more people choose to eat that way more often. Whether it's from a sustainability sort of carbon impact perspective or for their own health. I think that with the plant based meats that are coming out, there's a huge amount of interest in the space is a lot of people who have heard of it. And they they have good intent, but they're busy and yet their lives get in the way and this isn't their first priority. And so if you've made it easy for them to try this food and see how to eat it this way, I think that would be really powerful.

Rob: And obviously, you have some passion in this area, which I can tell from the way that you talking about it. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to this idea in the first place?

Faith: Yeah, well, it largely came from my own health journey. So when I was pregnant with the twins, I had gestational diabetes and I've had problems since basically. So I was three or four years of bouncing around the medical system in both the UK and Australia before working out what the actual problem was. But even then, the advice I've been given hasn't been particularly useful. Yeah. They'll give you medication, but actually it's a lifestyle disease. And so you need to be thinking about your lifestyle. It is kind of by accident I came across a plant based diet and is actually from an environmental perspective. We had an au pair, actually, that was living with his comments on how much meat we eat, and so we decided to get hello fresh vegetarian as a way of reducing our red meat consumption and therefore our carbon impact. And I was just so surprised that. How much better I felt? And as it turns out, red meat is actually not a good thing to eat. If you're diabetic. And so that that led me to then do a bit more research. And, you know, we watch game changes on Netflix and fork over knives, which is the two things people tend to know about quickly and got on to this.

Faith: So the guys in the US have just published a book called Mastering Diabetes, which talks about plant based WHOLEFOOD died as a way of reversing diabetes, which is incredible. And so I'm now on that diet. It's relatively new, but it does make a huge impact. But as I've spoken to people about that journey that I've been on now for almost nine months, I've changed my diet. I've been amazed at how many other people are also trying to make steps like that. They might be choosing to eat vegetarian one or two nights a week or. Yeah. It tends to be red meat first, but sometimes dairy as well. But they don't. There's also also a lot of people who know about it would like to do the right thing, but just don't really know how. So it's really just trying to help those people learn about what it means to eat this way, what foods are available. The fact that it is actually still really great food taste amazing, but also helps the environment and your own health as well.

Rob: So obviously, we're in the throes of Covid at the moment. And we've seen a huge upswing in meal delivery, meal preparation services, that sort of thing. How have you. How would you contrast what you were doing to those sorts of options?

Faith: Yes, we have we have thought quite carefully about the different options. There are some plant based home delivery options available in Australia now. There are also some great, great brands being sold through the supermarkets. But when I when I did those interviews, I spoke to these people. They may have been one or two that I mentioned them, but but but generally not. Even though they these are people who won't want to be trying this, they want to be eating in this way. They just don't have the time and energy to do that research and find that out. And so I think it's really important. To build a really strong brand around this, it becomes synonymous with plant based food. And to be that convenience is such a critical factor in this, I think. I feel it's critically important to do the retail part first to build that brand. Make it convenient. Help more people eat this type of food more often. And then you can then choose other options. I feel like that by creating that retail presence, you will actually drive the demand rather than hoping people find you somewhere in the supermarket.

Rob: Yeah, of course. And do you think obviously we've seen some of the players, such as the Beyond Burger and things start to make their way into the supermarket. Is that a really tech driven solution? Because that distribution is easy? And like, have you deliberately stepped away from some of those that exist to start with a retail model?

Faith: I think so. There was actually I saw an article recently that the demand for plant based meats has in place, which generally has skyrocketed during Covid because people associate Covid and the impact it's had with the fact that meat bats would be eaten in China lifted irresponsible consumption of meat. And so it's been one of the areas that is actually seen mega growth as a result of the Covid crisis. I think by borrowing our skills that we've done from a tech start up and apply it to the space. What we're trying to do is reinvent the whole retail experience in the supply chain. So one of the things that came out of those interviews, it's incredibly important for people in this space is the packaging, making sure that that's sustainable. So what are the things that we're looking at is having 100 percent compostable packaging and then managing our own compost to create gardens where we grow our own herbs and potentially some of the vegetables, the things that we use as well, and create that for the circular economy within our own organization.

Rob: Awesome,

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: Because I think it's one aspect of retail in particular that gets overlooked a little bit is the packaging and the waste. And is that something that you feel can set you apart, not just for the food, but for that entire footprint?

Faith: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's things that we can do. That then I would like to have a zero waste policy in general. So I think if there are things that we can do that demonstrates what's possible to other retailers, if they then jump on board with that. That's an amazing thing for everyone. So things like this, a startup that's just come out that does digital receipts, but it can then use the data that's collected as part of that to understand the purchasing patterns that your customers better and have a mechanism to reengage them beyond the transaction. So it makes good business sense. But actually, you're also reducing 30000 kilometers worth of paper that's used for receipts every year.

Rob: Of course, which will end up in the bin anyway.

Faith: Exactly. Yeah. I think there's just some if you if you because we don't have a retail background. You do. You're not starting with a with an existing template, you're starting from scratch and rethinking each part of the customer experience and working out how can we improve this in a way that is more sustainable?

Rob: So you're not trying to to bolt on an environmental initiative, it's really core to the business fundamentally.

Faith: Yeah, absolutely cool.

Rob: Cool.

Faith: Yeah.

Rob: I love it. So we're starting to come up on time but is there anything about this new venture that you'd love to get on the floor that we haven't discussed already?

Faith: About my new venture. Not at this stage.

Rob: Or anything else.

Faith: Yeah, we know. If we had a name, I could say follow us, but we're not quite there yet.

Rob: What's your runway for or what's your timeframe for getting this project off the ground?

Faith: So we're trying to time it with the social distancing measures being eased. So this point, we're still working through that concept. We do need to work out a name very quickly because Brand is such a critical part of the proposition and the financials at the moment. And then we're gonna start doing some pop up stores and using them as a way to sort of test test the menu and the experience. Which is interesting because that is the feedback we've gotten is this would be great in the city or the inner city areas, but in the city at the moment, really quiet. It's not many people going to the office. And that's probably going to have a lasting impact to some degree, because I think working from home is going to be a lot more acceptable. So there's things about the model that we still need to wait and see a little bit. But we will test test elements, pop up stores and then look to open stores in the later part of this year.

Rob: That's very cool. So I do have a couple of quick questions, and they do relate not just to your current or past ventures, it kind of crosses the gamut. If there was one piece of advice that stood out that you've had through your career, if you could pass on to someone looking at taking on venture capital or investment, what would that be?

Faith: One piece of advice. If he's specifically looking to take on venture capital. Be very careful about who you take on as investors. Without a doubt, but also be. I think one of the powerful things about my husband is my co-founder is he's that I'm the visionary. I get very excited about these. I'm the ideas woman, I guess, and he's the cynical realist. And it's actually a really powerful combination in that sense because you do, you know, things will go wrong. They will not all go to plan. And so I think having that reality check built in to the way you're working and what your plans are, what you're doing is really important because you do once you do take on investment, you it is added pressure to to put the business to perform. And so you need to be. Really open eyed about what that means and the stress that that's going to add to you as well.

Rob: Awesome. That's definitely good advice. And for a startup founder or a business owner who's looking to seek mentorship, is there some tips for selecting a mentor or mentors?

Faith: Think like everything, relationships really important. You will naturally find whether they have the mental title or not, you'll actually find people who you go to for trusted advice. Just because, you know, the device they give you is really valuable. I think it's it's so critically important when you do take on advice that you apply your own judgment. No one, no one understands your business better than you do. And people can make these flippant comments that, you know, could have major ramifications. If you take those on board like you could, it could destroy your business. People there are people who just don't think about what they're saying or don't understand the implications of that. So you do need to be really, really careful of that. What advice you actually listen to and take on board and act on.

Rob: Interesting. And along a similar vein, if someone was selecting a co-founder that they weren't married to and had complementary skills. Is there anything that stands out that makes that work?

Faith: Yeah, I'm going through that at the moment, actually thinking about the structure from this new business venture. I am doing it with my sister. She has run franchised businesses before. But we are. I am thinking about whether we bring on a chef or someone from the food trades as well. I think the thing to be really careful about is work with those people for a while first before you formally commit. If you can, because it is you do need to have a really strong working relationship and need to be out of work well with those people. So it's really important to work that out. I think be really clear about expectations, about equity or structure or sort of what people are putting in and what they're getting out in return. And if you do formalize it or when you do formalize it, yeah, there are some mechanisms that you should be aware of and make sure you put in place like vesting periods and the cliff in terms of how long they need to be in the business before they actually get that equity recognized to speak to a decent lawyer. Basically.

Rob: And avoid those sharks that are circling that industry.

Faith: Yeah, yeah. And there's some really great people around you just yet, take recommendations, definitely. It's in the startup scene. It's really important to build your network. And, yeah, everyone knows each other in a small city like Sydney anyway. So, yeah, it's it's well worth taking on recommendations.

Rob: Sounds good. And so obviously it doesn't even have a name yet, so it probably doesn't have a website but is there any details for people that want to hunt down what you're doing later on that you can share? Maybe, maybe not even anything.

Faith: Fortunately, no, not at this point. I guess if if. If nothing else, then follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn was probably just Faith Forster and linked in, yeah I have the same name. I'll probably be posting about it there.

Rob: Fantastic. Well, it has been a sensational discussion Faith Forster, I really appreciated your time.

Faith: Thank you. I appreciate the interview.

Find Episodes by Tag

Recent Episodes