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What Happened When Startmate Mentored… PRIMER

What we learnt about our business after four mentoring sessions with Startmate gurus

By Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

When we started PRIMER, our business plan consisted of one goal: Cover the cost of our childcare (which, with six kids between us, was significant).

This is not, of course, a business plan, but neither did it reflect our belief in the business. We knew there was an audience for PRIMER – we just didn’t know much else.

Three years later, we’ve reached that initial goal (thank goodness), and our business has evolved to encompass both PRIMER and a content agency, studio PRIMER, which produces content for a range of excellent clients. This growth has been hugely rewarding and exciting, but also responsible for a host of new worry lines.

Like parents of a new baby, we’ve gone a few rounds of competitive tiredness recently, and on more than one occasion Fliss has consumed a family-sized packet of Skittles at 11pm in a bid to stay awake long enough to finish a story.


Obviously, working ourselves into a sugar stupor is not sustainable

So, when Startmate offered us four sessions with four different mentors from their Accelerator, we jumped at the chance. From a PR supremo to the co-founder of non-alcoholic beer company Heaps Normal, these mentors offered to lend us an hour of their time to advise on everything from building a great culture to the best ways to engage a wider audience. In return, we’d write about the experience. Here’s what happened next.

Kate Dinon, managing director of strategic communications company Character + Distinction

Not only does Kate Dinon have the most beautiful office in Melbourne, she has a client list that includes some of the most exciting companies in the tech sector – Culture AmpStockX and Deliveroo, to name a few. So we were fully prepped with questions to squeeze the most out of our allotted hour of Zoom.

First up, PR. One of our aims this year is to grow our PRIMER audience. “So, where are the women you want to reach?” asked Kate, in response. “What are they reading and how will you engage them?”

As journalists, we’re accustomed to asking questions, rather than answering them –- but it turns out Kate’s approach was shared by other mentorcoaches. We knew our business better than anyone; their role was to help us to work out the path forward. Within half an hour with Kate we had a list of different avenues to pursue, writers to approach and partnerships that might help build our community.

Where are the women you want to reach?

Kate also generously shared her one-page plan for her business (turns out that effective business plans don’t have to be pages long), as well as some of the initiatives that help her to attract the best talent.

Once a year (or at least, pre-Covid) every team member undertakes a ‘Character Study’, an all-expenses paid trip to a cultural event anywhere in the world. Previous trips have included the Monocle Quality of Life Conference (this year, in Paris) and SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Our next question was whether she was hiring right now.

Andy Miller, co-founder and CEO of non-alcoholic beer company Heaps Normal and an alumnus of the Startmate Accelerator program

Anyone who knows us, knows that we are often in a rush (Anna in particular walks, talks and works really fast; Fliss is often just running late). Ideally we would be rivalling NewsCorp by now, so we were keen to ask Andy – whose company raised $8.5 million in capital last November – about attracting investment.

Like Kate, he questioned whether there was urgency to move quickly to take on investment, or if we could continue our organic growth. For Heaps Normal, investment was required to keep ahead of competitors moving into the non-alcoholic market, but “investors were chosen ultimately for their strong connection to the mission”.

Adore Beauty founder and investor Kate Morris had founded a consumer brand and scaled it, while Simon Griffiths’ Who Gives A Crap combined social mission and profitability.

Here at PRIMER, we’re just about to make our first hire and Andy advised taking time to develop good systems for employee engagement; he uses Slack and regular “all-hands” meetings to ensure everyone at Heaps Normal has all the information they need to work well. Anna and I have since started a daily 9.15am catch-up, and we’re transitioning to a content management system for workflow. Small steps.

We were also inspired by Andy’s dream of creating a “culture of care”. All Heaps Normal employees can access Frankie, a platform that plugs into Slack and enables them to access professional counselling in anything from financial to post-natal issues, no questions asked.

Craig Davis, co-founder of Sendle and Chief Evangelist of Upside Founder Programs

Craig’s philosophy in his meeting with us can be summed up in three words: Know Your Audience. (As a successful marketer, who was once the worldwide Chief Creative Officer for advertising agency JWT, he knows the power of a pithy phrase.) “You need to analyse your metrics across every channel – website, newsletter, social media,” he says. “What are they sharing? What’s your highest converting channel? You need to measure everything.”

This would enable us to work out any disconnect between what we thought our audience wanted and what they actually read. So if you, dear readers, start seeing a spike in Kardashian stories, you have only yourselves to blame.

We also needed to find our “North star” – the main objective for our business this year – and ensure every decision took us one step closer to reaching it. The idea of focussing on one goal was useful, but also confronting: a steely focus on one goal meant sidelining others, at least for a while.

You need to measure everything

As we overran our allocated time, Craig offered us a second session to talk about running a purpose-led business. Sendle is Australia’s first 100 per cent carbon-neutral shipping service and a registered B Corp, and its values are the five Hs (humble, honest, happy, hungry, high-achieving). Articulating our values would make hiring decisions – and arguably every decision – easier.

As we both started making word lists in our heads, Craig suggested an exercise: we each had to create a list of people we admire – alive, dead or fictional – and what we admired about them.

Anna admires Ted Lasso’s sincerity; Fliss’ list included Amelia Earhart, for her courage and sense of adventure. (And extended periods alone. Bliss.)

Colette Grgic, Head of Startup Ecosystem in Australia & New Zealand for Amazon Web Services

At the start of our Zoom, Colette intimated she’d been on calls for the past seven hours – but she still managed to give us an hour of excellent advice. More practically focussed than the other coaches, her focus was goal-setting (the classic, but still crucial, “Where do you want to be in five years?” question) and task management.

So, she encouraged us to make a list of all of the tasks we were uniquely good at (so many!) and all of those that need to happen in the business (also so many…). That’s everything from financial management (down the minutiae of invoicing) to resizing images and creating client documents. Then we had to score ourselves. Tasks we score poorly in? Earmark for outsourcing.

Practical exercises such as these might seem obvious, particularly if you have a background in business, but to us they were really useful. Too often when you’re working in a business – your own or someone else’s – you’re so caught up in getting the work done that you forget to consider its purpose, and yours. Colette, and all of the coaches, helped us to take a look at our business holistically, which was invigorating for us and PRIMER.

If you get the chance to work with this extraordinary team of mentors through Startmate, we’d recommend taking it. Then maybe ask for a job.

This story is a partnership with Startmate’s Women Fellowship

Applications for the next cohort of 100 women close on March 13. Find out more about the Women Fellowship here


BY Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

Fliss and Anna are the co-founders of PRIMER

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