In February 2016 my life changed with the arrival of my first child, a baby girl called Eve. At the time I was running Hey You, a company I cofounded by bringing together Posse and Beat the Q in 2014. We had around 40 team members in Sydney and Manila and were growing at 5 – 10% every month.
I found pregnancy and the first 6 months of motherhood extremely hard. I was exhausted, emotional, and, looking back with perspective, slightly crazy. The board and I decided to bring in an experienced CEO to help run the business.
Nine months later my energy was back but I was starting to feel restless. Hey You was now running smoothly with new leadership at the helm. I enjoyed selling the product but I wasn’t needed to drive the business anymore.
On a Wednesday in November I travelled to Melbourne to promote Hey You to a pub group. An ordering app could help them sell more drinks. It was a long day, and on the flight home, asked myself, in a moment of honest reflection, ‘Did I use this Wednesday in the best way possible? Was this very best use of my energy, passion and talent?’ I imagined myself at age 90 looking back on my life. If every day is a gift, how wisely had I spent this one?
Night after night, I found myself reflecting on variations of the same question. On too many nights, I didn’t like the answer. I struggled to sleep and I knew I needed a life change.
My last day at Hey You was 31 March 2017: I had no idea what I’d do next. I had a one-year old in day care 3 days per week, and lots of time to think. I knew I wanted a second baby and that the 9 months before and after child bearing are incredibly hard. I was tempted to take a 9-5 corporate job, a plan I abandoned after a couple of early discussions.
I knew that I needed to go to put my head on the pillow at night and be proud of what I’d worked to achieve that day. I needed to start another business, and, this time, with a mission I cared about. All the entrepreneurs I respected had built long-term businesses that were, definably, their ‘life’s work’.
I asked lots of friends for advice, including Melanie Perkins from Canva who is the wisest person I know. She said, ‘Before you start a business, it’s most important to get the foundations right. The problem you decide to solve and your vision for the company are very hard to change.’ There’s much written about how to launch an MVP, test and pivot for product market fit, but very little about getting the foundations right; finding a problem and developing a vision that’ll continue to drive you for years to come.
I decided to take some time to think about the problem area. I attended the American Australian Young Leadership Dialogue in Melbourne and Washington and joined the NSW Government Innovation and Productivity Council. I read, listened and learned about the biggest challenges facing our generation. I wanted to identify a big and important change to which I’d be well placed to contribute.
The changing workforce will affect all of us. It’s clear that a large proportion of jobs will be displaced in the coming decades; wage growth has stagnated despite growing productivity; soon, more than half of all workers will be sole-preneurs – untethered from an organisation and unable to access employment benefits. Business and government need to work together to transition jobs to the new economy – otherwise the societal impacts will be huge.
It’s hard to predict what the workforce will look like in the future. But, one thing is clear – the rate of change is speeding up and is only going to accelerate further. Businesses and professionals will need to adapt, and learn new skills ever faster. Anyone or any business who stops innovating, even for a short time, will be left behind.
It’s also clear that our approach to education must change. The design of educational institutions – even the most modern training colleges – won’t be able to keep up. Suppose a college creates a ‘digital marketing course’. By the time they’ve built content, designed assessment tasks and trained a facilitator, it’s likely that some aspect of digital marketing will have radically changed. The same in cybersecurity, data, dev-ops, and even leadership. 2019 will bring new challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed. Any course with government accreditation carries an instant obsolescence guarantee, as accredited programs can’t alter their content without 12 months’ notice.
I don’t think we’re about to see an end to university degrees - students still benefit from expanding their minds through further education after high school - but I have noticed the start of a decline in the significance of university qualifications. In 2010, I met with the lead recruiter at Google for some advice on recruiting my first development team. He directed me to only hire engineers with degrees from a certain group of universities and to stay clear of candidates from others. Last year Google, along with Apple and PWC, announced they no longer require candidates to have degrees at all.
These organisations now seek people with skills and a propensity to learn and adapt. And the 50% of the workforce who work for themselves are much more focused on developing the best, leading edge skills, than on promoting themselves with a government approved stamped piece of paper.
This leads me to Zambesi. When I searched deep into my core beliefs and drivers, my primary philosophy is that ‘The world thrives when everyone can do their best work’. This would be the foundation of our new company.
At ‘Hey You’ and my earlier business ‘Scorpio’, my team and I would often run into obstacles that prevented us from doing our best work. I struggled to make the right decisions when I developed software for the first time, I made mistakes in capital raising, our marketing person needed to improve their use of analytics, I didn’t understand how to optimise our app or SEO our content, I wasn’t sure if our designer was using best-practice user interaction techniques. Was our sales team adapting to perform at their best? Were we on top of the latest cybersecurity threats? Were we using agile processes the right way and should our development team be getting more done? Was my board contributing as well as other similar boards? How did our culture and recruitment practices compare with peers? Is my business missing out on the lessons of others? And what about my own leadership?
We designed Zambesi as a structured collaboration network for professionals and business that would enable everyone to do their best work. No MBA program can equip you for the obstacles you’ll come across as you build your company or develop your career. You’ll need to constantly dip in out of learning and, ideally, access the best minds possible to assess and guide your individual situation.
We’re working to curate the best people to help you to do extraordinary work. Our signature programs are face-to-face, full-day intensives in groups of twelve people. Everyone who leads a Zambesi group is an expert with current experience: they create and own their content and adapt it every time they share it. Our ‘growth’ programs are led by Mark Baartse (CMO Showpo), Andrianes Pinantoan (Head of Growth Airtasker, formerly Canva) and Tim Doyle (Head of Growth and Strategy Koala). They teach their techniques and provide feedback and guidance to everyone in the room.
Zambesi programs are current and fluid (like the river), with the best minds in town, in a format that enables support for your individual situation. Zambesi is for people who ‘do’.
The next blog is our business story including the chaotic first months of ‘hard-core hustle’, the coming together of co-founders with a common purpose, refining our strategy and, most importantly, the arrival of a new baby boy!