The startup world is a wonderful place, filled with new ideas and innovation, limited only by how far your imagination can go. We spoke with Jeanette Cheah, a connector, collaborator and creator who also works in the Innovation team at ANZ whilst she was awaiting for a flight to the top tech hub that is Silicon Valley for the maiden voyage of Hacker Exchange, a tech accelerator program for Australian students and startups.
Her passion in innovation and startups is evident in her career path which is sprinkled with numerous ventures. We wanted to know, why is failure acceptable in the startup scene and what is our country lacking when it comes to propelling innovation?
You’re qualified in economics, marketing, UX, work in innovation at ANZ, co-founded the Hacker Exchange as well as the Gingerbread Demolition. How do you find time to do it all and what inspires you to continuously work on new ideas when your plate is so full?
The time thing is interesting [laughs]. ANZ have a flexible workplace policy and I’ve been lucky enough to take advantage of a 4 day working week. The policy is great because it caters not only to parents, but for people who want flexibility and to pursue their other interests. I find my time spent on side projects exciting, which means it doesn’t feel like you’re spending a lot of time on it and you look forward to doing it!
Which startups have you been a part of?
Startups and startup projects have always been part of my career. In hindsight, I recognise now there was a bit of a theme to what I was doing, and that is – trying to connect people, finding new ways to collaborate and creating new initiatives within both my corporate jobs and personal projects.
The first venture started when I was finishing up an assignment for a UX class at General Assembly, and I had a lightbulb moment to start my own career consulting/services business. Almost by accident, I had registered an ABN, a domain, built a website and that’s how it started. My partner, Will, and I also started a charity initiative Gingerbread Demolition (which we have big plans for) which is in its 3rd year and every Christmas we smash giant gingerbread houses and donate the proceeds to Save the Children.
Now I’m about to embark on our pilot trip of The Hacker Exchange, a program which helps Aussie students and entrepreneurs immerse themselves in a 2 week program in Silicon Valley. During this time, they’ll go through pitch workshops, teach them what it means to get funded and how to approach the market, and be mentored by some of the brightest minds in the industry to help them grow their tech startup ideas.
As an entrepreneur yourself, you know that mistakes are unavoidable yet necessary when it comes to building your startup. At any point of your business have you thought ‘OK this looks like it’s going to fail’. How did you come back from that?
There’s definitely been moments when you realise things are not going to go as well as you hoped. When it’s comes to those moments of realisation, I think “What can we do to make the best of what we have?”
I see my failures more so as missed opportunities, where I haven’t capitalised on an opportunity that was right in front of me and I’ve kicked myself for that.
You get better at recognising your opportunities the more you do what you’re doing. How I came back from those moments? Be shameless about asking for help. Build a tribe around you where the relationships goes both ways, and you will always find support there.
We’ve still got our Pausefest buzz going on and it seems to be that Melbourne is the place for tech startups and innovation to flourish in Australia yet still has some catching up to do with the U.S. What do you think Australia lacks in our scene which can be learnt from places such as Silicon Valley?
I get the feeling that in Australia that because it’s a small market, there’s still a bit of a scarcity mindset, where people may think others are going to steal ‘their’ idea or contact, whereas the Silicon Valley mindset is very much about the power of networks and paying it forward.
One of my favourite frameworks is the concept of abundance. I’d love to see Melbournians get better at sharing our thoughts and networks, genuinely celebrate each other’s wins, and continue to crave new knowledge. So instead of protecting our slice of the pie, we always see the possibility to make more pie for everyone! Also – there’s no comparison to the speed of progress in Silicon Valley. If you’ve got an idea, you’d better start executing fast!
The state government recently awarded $300K in funding to Girl Geek Academy. What else can be done in an efforts to support our local entrepreneurs?
That’s such great news, and government funding is definitely a key piece of the puzzle. I think there’s a bit of a knowledge and skills gap between people with the idea and hustle to to start their own venture and those with the practical tools to do so. So it’s great to see Girl Geek’s work in addressing the tech talent shortage and diversity in the industry, on the other hand, people like General Assembly support professionals making a change, and Collective Campus are trying to get young people into tech – these groups are amazing in creating support and resilience.
From a government perspective, coding has been made mandatory for some primary schools, of which I’m 300% behind! I believe in the future, coding should be like maths – foundational skills that all children learn, but that some people will naturally be better at than others. In the future, having this education infrastructure will be key in getting behind our future entrepreneurs.
Now more than ever, it seems like the startup scene is flourishing across all sectors, predominantly tech. Are people getting over their day jobs? Are our people unfulfilled?
Simon Sinek in his recently viral video about Millennials said it right: this generation wants to make an impact. And if you’re not making an impact at work, you’re going to find another way to do it. I don’t think that companies need to worry about losing all their people to startups, but if they want to remain competitive with an engaged workforce, start considering what tools and processes you might need to give your people that allows them to explore.
We’re firms believers in encouraging your team to have a side hustle. What can you learn from a startup that you can apply to your everyday job?
The skills you learn as an entrepreneur vs employee are so transferable. With the former, you learn resilience, you problem solve more rapidly and it pushes you to be a bit creative and find any means possible to get through to your customers.
You can take these skills into the workplace and help transform your processes for the better, and have a more active way of working. I’ve also learnt to become more shameless about asking for help, both at work and with my side hustles.
Connect with Jeanette on LinkedIn here.