Our 10th birthday gift to you: 10 tips for start-up success

It’s been a busy decade for the gemaker team. We’ve paused to celebrate our achievements and compile the following list of the top 10 things we’ve learned along the way, which we’re calling the ‘gemaker ten’.

Groundwork: Remember the ‘five P principle’: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. I lined up my first contract before leaving secure employment, so the business had momentum from the beginning.

Early customers: Your first clients are priceless because they’re willing to give you a crack! Many of ours – like Smart Services, UNSW, Alkane Resources and CRC for Low Carbon Living – were led by managers who’d worked with us in previous roles with other companies. They knew us, so they trusted us.   

Marketing: It’s as important as your technology, product or service. Recognise and respect this early. What price will people pay? How can they access your product? Do potential clients even know it exists? Communication must always be clear.

Awards: Applying for and winning awards has been vital to the success of our business. The increased profile and credibility attract new clients and external validation motivates the team by rewarding their efforts and achievements.

Knowledge: No one knows all the answers. Not even the boss! Humility is a key attribute of good leadership. Knowing this is a strength, because you build a team of experts who bring complementary skills, experiences and perspectives. Continuous learning makes the company stronger, which is why we have invested heavily in professional development for the gemaker team.

Ethos: Culture starts at the top and permeates through the company. When I went to the US on a CommBank Women in Focus study tour with leaders from nine other potentially high-growth businesses, I had a lightbulb moment. Culture defines your values and impacts how you treat your customers, suppliers and team. Our culture is inclusive, collaborative and non-hierarchical.

Review, regroup, respond: Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. We interview clients at the end of each project to find out what we can do better. This has improved the quality of what we produce, how we market ourselves and the tools we use to do business. We thank those who’ve given us constructive feedback because you’ve helped us to grow.

Teamwork: Working together without egos is important. Our team is a mix of professionals with their own expertise, and their contribution is always valued. A ‘can do’ attitude is core to the business.

Ecosystem: It’s important to give back to your ecosystem, as we are stronger as a society when we share what we’ve earned and learned. We firmly believe in giving back to our team, families, community and sector. This can be through knowledge, in-kind services, mentoring, sponsorship, or cash.

Networks and partnerships: Partnerships with organisations whose values align for a common purpose are win-win. Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia is a terrific example – we support each other to grow the tech transfer sector. Nurture your networks and be generous in introducing people to each other for their benefit, rather than yours.