Building the ultimate brand is no small feat – particularly when businesses of all sizes are competing on the same playing fields today.
We chat with Paula Sartini, CEO of BrandQuantum and an award-winning global brand expert. We explore the exciting world of delivering a consistent brand experience, the value of authenticity, using the right technology, and the impact it has on the bottom line.
- Elements of a great brand
- Purpose, vision, value proposition, positioning and target
- Start-up acceleration and potential reach
- Authenticity challenge
- Brand refresh vs. re-brand
- A compelling brand story
- Paula’s quick do’s and don’ts of start-up branding
- Get the brand strategy right – everything else will follow
- Realigning strategy and execution
- Brand differentiation
- Leverage technology
- Raising start-up capital
- The value of solving a problem
Discover more about Paula Sartini
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Voiceover: 00:00 Welcome to Working Women’s Wealth where we discuss what it takes to build real wealth in a way normal humans can understand. Here’s your host List Linfield.
Lisa Linfield: 00:09 Hello, everybody and welcome to today’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. I am joined by a fantastic female leader and CEO of a technology company today. Not only that, she started her life as a brand expert and has so much to share with us. Hi, Paula. Welcome to Working Women’s Wealth.
Paula Sartini: 00:43 Hello, Lisa. So excited to be here.
Lisa Linfield: 00:46 Great. Well, as a brand expert, you’ve dealt with huge big corporates branding. You’ve started life on a major global big top brand. You’ve done these huge big things, as well as start up businesses. What is it that one requires if you think about a brand? What are the elements of a brand?
Paula Sartini: 01:05 I think firstly one obviously needs to understand the purpose. I mean why is it there? What’s the vision? I always say that branding is really the face of the business strategy. When you think about branding, if you really understand what it is you’re trying to do from a business point of view, who you’re trying to reach, how you want to be perceived, those are the elements that one looks at in order to start creating brand identity.
Lisa Linfield: 01:31 As a startup, is it really important that you nail all of that when you open your doors?
Paula Sartini: 01:37 I think this is one of the areas that people really misunderstand. Everybody thinks there’s so much to do, and there is when you’re starting out. There are so many things to consider and worry about. Who wants to really spend money or time on the branding? It’s the biggest mistake because your branding can help you accelerate the business faster. Spending the time and potentially the money upfront really will pay off in the long run in ensuring that the business obviously reaches its potential. You never want to be in a situation where the branding lags behind where you’re at and what you can deliver for customers.
You always want to be positioned and perceived positively and ahead of where the business is at, right? The minute you’re behind, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice. You really need to consider where do you want to be, how are you going to position yourself for the next five years. It’s not a short-term decision because as the business grows, the cost of repositioning, the cost of changing things becomes massive because it’s not only just physical applications, but it’s also in content, et cetera. You want to try and get that right upfront.
Obviously, we know that brands evolve over time, but it certainly will pay off in the long run to consider these things and make sure that they’re correct upfront rather than having to change things.
Lisa Linfield: 02:53 How do you change things?
Paula Sartini: 02:57 It’s a difficult thing to change and one has to understand why you change. When it comes to brand changes, there’s a difference between obviously a visual change and a complete kind of name change and repositioning, right? The reasons why you’re changing are important. I always say unless you’re sitting in a position where the current branding, naming puts you in a negative position as opposed to a neutral position, right? The best you can hope for when you’re launching out from a brand point of view is to be in a neutral place because from neutral you can build the positive imagery and positioning and messaging, et cetera.
If you start off with something that puts you in a negative light already, so you know, we’ve had issues around the world of names that mean different things in different languages, that are swear words in other languages. You definitely don’t want to start off in a negative place. If you can achieve neutral as a starting point, then you can build into a positive light. One of the considerations would be if the naming or the branding is holding you back from a connotation point of view, an interpretation point of view, in a perception point of view from a consumer or client’s mind, then you certainly need to reconsider and look at potentially changing.
Then obviously if the branding from a visual point of view is not reflecting where your business is at or is not authentic, doesn’t really reflect the market you’re trying to reach, then you would consider that too. But change must always be considered carefully because consumers don’t like change and they like associating your brand or your business with the identity that you’ve developed. If you’re going to change, you must be very sure of what it’s going to achieve.
I mean if you think in your own personal life when the bigger brands from an FMCG point of view changed the packaging or changed your favorite shampoo label, often you get annoyed and you think, “Well, you know, why? Why did they change it?” There is resistance to change. The reasons why you’re changing must really be carefully considered. Then obviously you want to ensure that all the change, the pain of change, the cost of change is definitely going to be worth it and that you know that you’re going to end up in a better place as a result.
Lisa Linfield: 05:07 For someone who’s starting a new business, what would be the minimum that you think should be in place when you start a business?
Paula Sartini: 05:14 I think people get confused between the name of the entity often and the logo itself. That’s a dead giveaway of a business that’s starting out that doesn’t really know what they’re doing. What I mean by that is a logo that actually carries the full entity name. You often see this even with smaller pop and mom shops where they actually go company XYZ PTY Limited or CC in the actual logo. I mean that’s not necessary. There’s a difference between the logo and the branding and the actual entity. That can go on the statutory stuff, at the bottom of the letterhead. We don’t need it as part of the logo.
That’s a fundamental mistake that people make when they’re creating identities. Firstly from a naming point of view, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got something that is unique. Obviously, you’re going to register it. Go through the registration process, but link to that is the basic domain. I always say when you are actually looking to start out, when you look at the naming, consider the domain. It’s vitally important. Because if you’re not going to be able to get the domain that you want, even if it’s the .co.za or the .com or whatever it is, that’s a really good reason why not to potentially take the name.
You’ve got to be very sure that you’re going to be able to get it because when people are looking for the business, they’re going to look online. They’re going to do a Google search. If they can’t find you, then you’re really putting yourself again in a negative position as opposed to neutral. Starting out you need to be able to get the domain name. You need to be able to obviously have a name that’s going to be distinctive. That’s not going to put you in a negative light.
That’s going to give you at least a neutral place to work from and not be too prescriptive because often people describe the business in the name of the business, and five years down the line the business doesn’t do that anymore because it’s gone into other markets or it’s offering other things. Now the name holds you back. That’s the last position you want to be in. Rather a name that’s absolutely meaningless than a name that describes the business too tightly and doesn’t give you room to forge ahead and grow and go into other potential offerings.
You need the domain. You need the name that’s going to work, that potentially could work in other markets. One doesn’t need to necessarily register trademarks, et cetera, because that’s expensive, but you want to do a search and make sure that if you were to expand beyond the geographies that you’re currently trading in, that you’re going to be okay, that you’re not going to run into problems. Then from an identity point of view, you don’t need a fancy logo. Even a simple typographic solution is better than a cheap and nasty logo.
We always talk about how one can tell when logos get created by some of the elements that are in them because we go through stages, we go through phases. In the late ’90s and the dotcom boom, it was about the elliptical circles and spheres, et cetera. When you look at a business and you see all those kind of graphic elements, you should know that it was developed in the ’90s. You find if you look at the evolution of brands is that over time they tend to simplify.
There’s less and they become usually quite simple, typographic, less colors, not five colors, but rather two, maximum three, and typographics that they work well when they get reduced to a small size because you know you might want to ultimately put the branding on a pin. It’s got to work on a big scale and on a small scale. Cost is obviously a factor.
Not as big as it used to be because we can print digitally now, but certainly a complicated artwork is going to cost more when it renders. I always say rather a typographic solution, so what I mean by that is just a name nicely crafted, as opposed to symbols, which easily look like somebody else’s logo. Because there’s nothing worse than looking at something and you think, “Oh, that looks like somebody else’s stuff.”
Rather a clean typographic solution. Once you’ve got your logo, you’ve got your domain, you want to maybe put up just a basic webpage, and you need your basic element so that you can start creating an identity. What is that? You’re going to need a letterhead. You need to be able to make an invoice. You’re going to need to do a basic document. There are not too many of those, but the basics must be done properly and they must stay in a good state for the next couple of years. You don’t want to be chopping and changing those things.
Lisa Linfield: 09:32 You started your very first business in this branding domain when you were 19. How did that come to be?
Paula Sartini: 09:42 Oh gosh, Lisa. I haven’t told many people about that business. Sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed. Naivety is great because when you’re 19, you actually don’t think about the implications of things. My first business I started at 19. I had no idea how to start a business, so I went to an accountant and they helped me register this CC or close corporation at the time. I actually thought that that was the business to actually get an entity registered. I mean that’s really just the legal aspect of it to be in business. It wasn’t really the business itself, but I kind of saw an opportunity.
I think I always had an entrepreneurial mindset. Growing up I was always looking for ways to kind of make money on the side. I used to bake things and sell them for a profit and do all sorts of things. This opportunity when I was 19 came about as a result of being in the sports industry. It was my first job was actually in PR. I had the grand job at the time of sending out all the press releases to the media. I used to stand at the fax machine and send 70 of these faxes a week to invite media to a launch.
I think our children don’t even understand what that means, those kind of menial jobs that we had to do. One of the opportunities was that sport was going through a transition. The big brands were getting involved in athletics, and there was an opportunity for them to be associated with the sports, but the marketing teams didn’t really understand sports marketing and what the execution would be. It wasn’t that I had thought about that business before. I spotted an opportunity as a result of an unserviced market. The brands were asking for somebody to execute and help them put up their boards at sporting events and create the collateral. They didn’t know who to turn to. I said, “Well, I understand it. Perhaps I can help you.” I kind of thought about what I needed. I was still living at home. I went home and I said to my parents that I needed to buy a computer and they said, “Well, what do you need it for?” I said, “I’m going to start a design consultancy, and I’m going to do graphic design work.” Even though I’d gone to art school, but I hadn’t actually designed on a computer before. I then found out that it would be about, and it’s a long time ago, but it was a lot of money then. It was 40,000 Rand for this equipment and these optimal drives and all sorts of things that I needed.
Of course, I was 19 so no bank was going to give me a loan for that. My poor parents had to get involved and actually assist in securing this loan to buy this equipment. Then I obviously had a client opportunity. I got the equipment and I kind of thought, “Okay. Well, I’m kind of set to now start this business.” That’s how I started. I mean what I didn’t take into account was at the time, well, connectivity wasn’t even really an issue. It was still dial-up stuff, but the files were so big working with graphic files because it was all photos of athletes, et cetera.
There were rights issues around athletes that had to be considered. If I wanted to move a picture of an athlete, I would move it on my big, big monitor and then go make a cup of coffee and wait for it to move because it took very long, but it was a great experience starting out.
Lisa Linfield: 13:06 What would you tell your 19 year old self or your young self in terms of that experience? What did you learn? What was your biggest learning?
Paula Sartini: 13:14 What was fascinating is I had no idea how I was going to transact with clients. I remember my first invoice was quite substantial and the bank manager actually phoned because they wanted to know where all this money had come from because I was 19 and obviously I was producing on behalf of my clients and I had production costs. They just thought, “Well, where did all this come from?” I didn’t know I had to chase for an invoice to be paid. I didn’t know any of those things. But as I was doing it, there were some self-doubt that crept in.
Whilst I was excited, I thought, “Well, clearly I don’t know all the answers and perhaps I’m being naïve to think that I can do this. Maybe I need to go back into a corporate environment to learn a little bit more before I carry on doing this.” It was that little voice of self-doubt that set in, that kind of made me think, “You know what? I’m not big enough yet to do this. Maybe I must grow up a bit more before I actually formally do this.” I went back into the corporate world. I think if I had to say something to my 19 year old self, it would be to not think that I couldn’t do it.
Yes, I learned a lot going back into the corporate world, but certainly I was more than capable at 19 of doing it and of pursuing it. I think the self-doubt, we all have that little voice that comes out at some point and says, “What are you doing? You’re being silly. No one’s going to want to work with you or no one’s going to give you the work or what are you thinking?” I think it’s really just to be able to look back to that 19 year old self and say, “You know what? The voices are okay. We all have the voices,” but to rather say, “You can actually do this and you don’t need to self-doubt because you’re going to learn along the way in any event.”
Lisa Linfield: 14:50 You left corporate to start another business. How did that come up? How did you get that idea or how did that start?
Paula Sartini: 14:59 That was at an interesting time because that was during the dotcom boom. It was a very exciting time because everybody was listing businesses and supposedly making lots of money. Everybody was scrambling looking at all these opportunities and thinking, “Okay. Well, how can they start an internet business? What can they do?” At the time it was in fact an author called Dr. Geoffrey Moore who’d written four bestsellers. I mean I think Geoffrey is still in the Forbes Top 50 Bestseller List. He wrote four books, “Crossing the Chasm,” “Inside The Tornado,” “Gorilla Game,” and “Living on the Fault Line.” These books were about taking technology products to market, which for me was very exciting because I was working in corporate. I was working as the marketing manager in technology. I could see that I love technology and that the whole space was moving quite rapidly and I wanted to be in it, but I wanted to be able to assist others in terms of taking their technology products to market. In ’98, I met my business partner at the time and we went to Silicon Valley and met Geoffrey Moore. It was a great experience because Geoffrey had so much to share. He said well, he’d be quite happy for us to come and represent him in South Africa.
We started the business in ’98 to really take the learnings from Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado and teach South African businesses how to take technology products to markets. That was the essence of it or how it started.
Lisa Linfield: 16:21 That’s fantastic. The ability to see a gap in the market either comes from two things. One, which is your first company, which is a problem that you need to solve, or alternatively an inspiration that is ahead of the curve. Most people focus on either the inspiration that’s ahead of the curve or too far ahead of the curve that cost money and it doesn’t go anywhere, or alternatively they’re so focused on trying to find this pattern that they can monetize.
The fact that your first one came from a problem you wanted to solve and the next one came from an inspiration that was actually timeous as opposed to being ahead of the curve is fantastic. How did that company evolve?
Paula Sartini: 17:03 Well, the dotcom boom also became the dotcom bust.
Lisa Linfield: 17:07 Always a challenge.
Paula Sartini: 17:07 That was a real challenge because suddenly all the clients started dying or gone by the wayside. The business that we started had to evolve quite rapidly. For the first three years, we really had built a strategy consulting business where we were helping these businesses locally how to take their products to market. We were really consultants. As the space shifted and as the dotcom boom became a bust, these clients were no longer there. We had to actually pivot the business.
One of the things that clients had always said that we kind of listened to but not really was, “Well, you know, consulting’s great, but why didn’t you guys implement? Why didn’t you actually help us implement the stuff that you’re telling us to do?” Because on paper everybody can be quite be clever, but it’s in execution that you see whether their strategy actually works or not. Clients had asked us to implement and we thought, “Well, there’s another natural opportunity to rather offer to these clients the opportunity to help them implement,” because they were looking for results.
Strategizing was fine and it was okay when there were budgets available, but as pressure mounted on these businesses to actually perform, it became about execution. We pivoted the business into an execution business and actually shifted it from a strategy business into a design consultancy business where we actually creatively executed on the work that we’d strategized.
Lisa Linfield: 18:34 Was that mostly in branding or was that mostly in sales and return on investment through sales?
Paula Sartini: 18:39 A lot of it was in marketing. The work that we were doing from a strategy point of view was really crafting go-to-market strategy. What that involve was coming up with the plan around who the target audience would be, what the compelling reason was for people to buy the product, what the whole product look like, because especially in technology, people get quite fixated on the actual technology and forget that there’s a whole host of services that are often necessary in order to consume the product.
Identifying the periphery services and making sure that the product was holistic was often part of the strategy, who the competitors were, and ultimately the positioning of the business. That we found we spent a lot of time trying to get the positioning right because it doesn’t come naturally to people. It is the single most important element in order to create that differentiation is being able to be very clear in your mind as to what the positioning should be in the marketplace. In other words, what’s the market you’re serving? What’s the real reason why people will buy your product or service versus somebody else because there’s always an alternative.
In a vacuum, you’re offering can look amazing. But in a competitive landscape where there’s a lot of choice, if you don’t stand out uniquely in a differentiated way, people get confused. Whilst you might get frustrated and say, “Well, why didn’t they buy this from me? We know we can do it better. Our product is better,” it’s about how they perceive it. If they’re not seeing that clearly in their minds as differentiated better, that the value proposition is different, then obviously they’re not going to choose your offering. The positioning is really the part where we spend a lot of time trying to get right.
That positioning became the brief really for the execution of the creative work. I think that’s often when people are starting out that positioning is not clear and that’s why they get frustrated with the executive or they’ll brief somebody and say, “Please make me a logo.” What they get back is just pictures. They’ll say, “Oh, but I don’t like it or it doesn’t quite do it for me,” and it’s so frustrating if you’re actually the creative person on the other end because you’ll say, “Well, explain to me why it doesn’t work for you.” Often the fault doesn’t lie in the creative. It lies in the definition of what this positioning needs to look like.
If the positioning is right, then the creative really solves itself. It conceptualizes itself literally. That positioning work became the basis for the business that we built was helping people to really get their positioning right and ensuring them how that translated creatively. Through the success of doing that, we obviously built a business that would then execute creatively on a whole lot of things. We became really trusted advisors to these businesses to help them execute. In many instances, the solution that they needed was not a creative one.
It would be a sales solution or maybe we said, “You know what? In order to go-to-market successfully, maybe your reps need new cars,” or the solution wasn’t always a cookie-cutter solution. It was about taking that go-to-market strategy and really being able to apply and execute in a way that worked and being able to measure whether it was working or not. That’s how we built a creative agency that really in a very short span of time people have asked me, “How did it became branding agency of the year so quickly when you didn’t come from the space?” I explained that it’s because it was strategically led.
We were coming from a strategy point of view and we were getting the positioning and the strategic work right and then the rest became easy.
Lisa Linfield: 22:12 Towards the end of this company, you developed a piece of software that helped people create brand consistency. How did you even come up with that idea given that you’re so far into strategy and how this translates into target audiences and all this kind of stuff and then you developed a piece of software?
Paula Sartini: 22:33 I think for me there are two things that … I’ve tried to analyze what really makes a business successful and I think they’re two key things. I mean obviously I’m a marketer, so I really believe strongly in good marketing, but the second thing is around innovation. I think people get confused as to what innovation is. Immediately when you use the word innovation, people think, “Oh, it’s some radically clever idea that no one thought about.” Most of the time innovation is really about solving something that really matters to people, but in a simple way and potentially someone else may not have solved it that way, but it’s often something simple and mundane.
It’s in the execution that it becomes really innovative. The idea for this product really came from the frustration that I had at seeing all this great work and this creative work and then seeing it fall flat in execution. I just thought there has to be a better way. People spend a lot of money, they’re spending a lot of time creating these amazing identities, logos, branding, et cetera, and then when it gets in the hands of other people as it must as the business grows, you’ve got lots of employees, each one interprets differently, starts stretching, squashing, shoving, and the intent, the positioning starts getting diluted.
I really felt that if it was going to get diluted in execution, it made sense to really find a way to ensure that that wouldn’t happen. That’s how the idea was born was to say, “Well, you know what? Who’s actually using this stuff in a day-to-day basis? How are these logos, how are these brands actually executing on basic things like their letters, like their PowerPoint presentations, like their emails?” Not complex stuff. Simple things. The idea was really around how do we create a simple way to solve that, but it was born out of a need and a frustration.
Lisa Linfield: 24:29 What did you do to solve it?
Paula Sartini: 24:30 In my head, I kind of went, and I’m not a developer, I said, “Well, surely there must be a way to use technology to actually fix this. How would we do it?” I think if there’s one thing that I’ve learned is to not worry about the how too hard, too soon, but rather worry about the why because I think the how solves itself. If you understand what it is you’re trying to solve, how you’re going to execute on that, often the answer comes to you. I really looked at the what and what I was trying to do. I thought, “Well, how can I get …”
I’m trying to get consistency on every single person’s machine so that people don’t think about what colors are they supposed to be using, what fonts are they supposed to be using. It was an obvious thing to then say, “Okay. Well, clearly it has to be a technology-based solution,” and then work backwards from there and said, “Okay. People don’t like learning new things. They don’t like new pieces of software. What tools are they using already?” In the environments I was working with, it was Word, Excel, PowerPoint, email. Why I come up with a solution that lived outside of that?
The starting point was to say, “Hey, if we could do this in the tools that people already know how to use, wouldn’t that be something that I would use?” I think I’ve always tried to do that is to say, “Well, would this be something that I would want?” Not conceptualize something for a market that I think want something, but to rather put myself in that position and say, “Well, is this a real need and would I pay money for this?” Really the idea was then born to say, “Okay. Well, let’s see how can we make this concept come alive in a simple way in an environment that people use everybody?”
That’s how we started out really with a plugin into Word, Excel, PowerPoint. That’s where we started.
Lisa Linfield: 26:10 You’ve got this idea. You’ve got a plugin into Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that helps people to make sure that the email signature is the same, the fonts are the same, the PowerPoint templates are the same and all of this. It starts off within a brand strategy consulting company. Why did you then choose to set up a completely different company that focuses on this piece of software?
Paula Sartini: 26:38 I think understanding what business you’re in seems so simple, but it’s actually not. I think when you have a business being born of another business, it’s even harder because you have the legacy of what you know and what’s comfortable. It’s really difficult to stop and say, “You know what? We are not that anymore.” The business that had built the software was a design business, was a consulting business by its very nature. It was a business that solved hours and time and that was the model of that business.
One of my other drivers in really looking at the software as a potential different business all on its own was to say, “Well, you know, the model of selling time is a very difficult business model.” I kind of looked and thought, “Well, you know, it was exciting to do this when I was 19 to kind of sell projects and time, but is this something I still would want to do when I’m 60 years old?” Having to think carefully about that question, well, I knew what the answer was.
I just didn’t know how to solve it. But suddenly this concept or this idea that had turned into a piece of software when looking at it again looked like a different business model and potentially a completely different business in itself. The business didn’t start out as a separate business. It started as a concept and it started as a product.
Then when looking at the potential for it to become a separate business, that was a very, very hard decision to actually really separate from the business that I knew and the business model that I’d understood literally from 19 all the way to 2013 when I was really looking at this as a business and to really say, “Well, you know what? I’m no longer going to sell time, but rather to conceptualize a business model that is going to live free of that and is actually going to be a software model. It’s going to be an annuity-based model.”
There’s that phase you go through where “oh, it’s so exciting. Great idea.” Then reality sets in to say, “Okay. Well, now if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to separate these businesses and treat them as separate businesses and actually leave behind the comfort of a model that I understood and knew worked.” Said to clients, “You know what? I am no longer this type of business. I am now a different business.” Even getting to the right label took time. For a long time I kind of in my mind positioned it as a hybrid. Kind of doing a bit of this and also doing the software.
Today if you asked me what type of business I ran, I ran a software company. It took a long time to be able to say that and to have the conviction to say it and to also feel confident enough that it was okay to leave the old model behind and to really be in this business. Whilst there were product reasons, there were also at the time there were personal reasons. I was married to my business partner. We divorced. We had to separate the businesses. It was very difficult. It was very tragic to go through all of that. That was also a driver in actually separating the businesses.
Fundamentally, it was also about acknowledging that this little seedling had the potential to become a business. It would always remain overshadowed by the traditional business that had been there a long time unless it really got taken out of that environment and treated separately and grown separately.
Lisa Linfield: 30:03 That’s huge important for all of us, which is unless you give something the focus it needs, it’s never going to reach its potential. Whilst it’s a side project in a company, it’s never going to reach its potential. But if it is a focus, it really has the opportunity to challenge one to grow it. Now you’re separate. You start this new business. It doesn’t have the revenue or anything. You’re a single mom and now you’ve got to raise some capital to fund this business because the challenge with technology and especially if it’s working on something like Microsoft is that it changes all the time, and the updates and the changes.
Also, as you get more experience with it, you work out what consumers need and what you think is easy, they think is hard and vice versa, and now you’ve got to grow this business. You went and raised capital. How does someone who’s never done a capital raising of a little business all by yourself, where did you even start?
Paula Sartini: 30:59 Firstly, it took awhile to realize that I really did need partners and additional funding because when you run a business … I mean I was an entrepreneur for a long time, and I always solve these issues by myself really. I could have continued to do that, but taking a long hard look at a business and actually saying, “Well, would you rather continue a lifestyle type business,” and it’s unfair to call it a lifestyle type business, but really the business was the traditional type of project-based work that I was doing at the time would have quite comfortably covered my costs.
There wasn’t really a need to go out and raise the capital, but acknowledging that this was now becoming a completely different business and it will be a software company. That acknowledgement of okay, this is now a new business model then brought with it this additional consideration that what the business required in terms of funding to really take it to the next level in order to speed up the process would need external partners and external funding.
The first tip was to really be very honest about where the business was at and really look at it kind of what’s in all because I think we all, especially entrepreneurs, are very romantic about what we’re trying to do. We’re always very optimistic and positive and we create this vision in our head and we want to make it happen and it’s us against the world. But being able to be honest and really look at where you’re at I think is a fundamental first step in actually going out and raising funding because raising funding is not easy. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. The questions you get asked really make you think about why you’re doing it and what the business is about.
Often these are things that you think you’ve considered, but as you sit in front of a potential funding partner, they’re very direct in terms of their questioning and their reasoning. One of the other things I learned is that one falls very in love with the product or potential opportunity and one has to still maintain that objectivity and really be able to stand away from the product and really look at the business objectively like a potential funding partner would.
Lisa Linfield: 33:10 What advice would you give someone else who needs to go out and raise capital?
Paula Sartini: 33:16 The one thing that really bothered me was this incessant need for so called business plans. I think that held me back quite a bit because I thought, “Well, I’m going to be asked for these business plans.” It’s very difficult when you’re starting out because really you don’t know. You don’t know where it’s going to go. The first thing is you have to be very clear on the intent of the business, right, because that intent is what’s going to guide your potential partners.
I mean the values of the business will guide who you potentially are comfortable to do business with. The market that you’re going to serve also has a role to play in terms of who could be a potential fit. You have to be as crystal clear as possible in terms of the positioning and what you’re trying to do. Also, have the flexibility to be able to take other people’s opinions into account, but also be strong enough to be assertive and say, “This is what you’re trying to do,” because people love to give you advice and say, “Well, you know what? Why don’t you do this or why don’t you do that?”
You have to really think very carefully about the business and know with conviction what it is that you’re trying to achieve. Because if you know what that vision looks like and what the end goal potentially looks like, even though it’s never quite going to be what you thought it would be at the outset, then even just considering potential funding partners becomes a lot easier.
Because when somebody looks at it and says, “Well, you know what? We’re only interested in taking 100% of the business,” and you know what the potential is and you know what you’re prepared to compromise on or not, then it becomes very easy to say, “Well, you know what? That’s not a consideration in terms of where the business is at.” However, if you know that you’re looking for a funding partner to help you take you to the next level and what their role is going to be, then it makes that decision so much easier. You have to obviously remember that anyone that’s looking to invest also has to be able to show a return.
They’re also in it to get something out. Their objectives you need to understand and potentially how you’re going to be able to meet those. Finding the right partners is not just about going out and knocking on doors incessantly until somebody says, “Oh, here’s a check.” No one hands out a check. That’s the other thing is even somebody says yes and they’re prepared to give you money, it’s never going to be a check written out and off you go and goodbye. It’s unlikely to be like that. Funding’s probably going to be based on certain things, certain milestones being met. You have to be comfortable with understanding that you now are not at it alone.
There are benefits to having partners, but you also have to understand that you have an obligation. You have to talk to them and fulfill what their requirements are as well. That awareness and understanding around how funding works is important. I would say you have to read a lot about why do people invest, how do they value businesses. You need to have quite a good understanding of that because remember that they do that for a living. Whilst this is your world and it’s your business, for them it would just be an investment. They’ve done this before, so they’ve asked the right questions before.
Whilst you may take it personally when they ask a million questions or ask for a whole lot of documentation, it’s actually part of their process and they’re quite slick at doing it. You need to be well prepared for when they ask you for these things that you can respond as best as possible.
Lisa Linfield: 36:32 Rolling out a piece of software and being a software company is very difficult to development and developing something because it has to be able to stand within completely different environments. Also, this whole thing of how do you do a software release and how do you update it and how do you change it and all of this is a massively different thing from just developing a fruitful purpose single solution. On top of that, the world has changed even since 2013 from a place where everything is based on your computer to everything is based in the cloud.
How has your business managed all of this stuff and how have you led through that when you had neither been a software company nor understood what it takes to do this?
Paula Sartini: 37:22 Yeah. Sometimes I actually have to pinch myself and say, “Am I really in a software business,” because it’s not the business that I traditionally came from. I think one of the other things I’ve learned is that businesses go through different stages and I think that was one of the learnings out of The Chasm methodology and Geoffrey Moore’s work is that what a business needs at different stages is maybe radically different. That’s often where the issue of founder syndrome comes from because often the entrepreneurial qualities that one has when starting a business are often the qualities that actually hinder the business as it gets into a more mature phase.
The development part and the conceptualizing of features, et cetera, that’s the part that I really love and drives me. Even though I’m not the developer, I certainly am the one that’s close enough to the clients to understand what it is that they need, right? Conceptualizing that stuff and creating the product is very different to having it consumed. However, in our minds we had to make sure that even though we had this great idea of what we wanted it to do, if it could not be easily rolled out, easily deployed, easily supported, then you don’t really have a business.
That’s why one always needs to be one step ahead and kind of go, “Okay. This part is great. This is the funky stuff,” and there always is that visionary market that’s prepared to buy into something that’s new and prepared to try it out. However, the big market is always kind of the [inaudible 00:38:48] market. The market that kind of goes, “Okay. So great. You have this idea. Now show me. I want to see who’s done it, who uses it, why does it work.” It comes back to the point we were talking about earlier in terms of innovation and marketing being key ingredients to success.
That innovation that gets you started, in our case, that drove the start of the business, it actually had to get to the formal stuff around deployment, execution, shrink wrapping, having a help desk, being able to have a contact center that will respond to users, down to irritating things like how do I put in my username and password. Well, you know, these are real things. Because if somebody can’t do that, then they can’t consume your product and use it in a way that is obviously feasible to roll out to thousands of people.
One of the things that I had to do early on was to think of the business almost in a franchise type of model to say, “Well, sure enough, if Paula was rolling it out, if Paula was installing, that would be easy.” But as the business grows, I may not be there or the next person might not be there, so we had to start formalizing a lot of processes and structures and documentation to actually be able to get it to the point where you can roll it out to a couple of thousand people without issues.
That’s been fun and that’s been challenging, but being able to stay one step ahead and think about how is it going to be consumed ultimately in a mass form allows you to then think, “Okay. If the person is no longer there, what do you put in place in the absence of a person to actually make sure that this happens?”
Lisa Linfield: 40:27 One of the key steps that you did was to recruit a rocket scientist, very clever development person to help you with that transition. How do you get to that point to decide to funnel all of your money into someone else? How do you do that? I’ve got a little business and I’m thinking that I really need someone, but I’m just keeping my nose above water to now try and afford someone else’s salary is quite a challenge. How did you get to that stage that you actually did make that move?
Paula Sartini: 41:00 Gosh. You know, Lisa, that was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make because the business was going okay. It was ticking along. I remember sitting down with my shareholders and saying, “You know what, guys? I want to propose a radical shift.” They said, “Well, what are you proposing?” I said, “Well, we can continue like we are growing steadily or we can change gears and make a shift with the potential of really changing the trajectory of the business.” What I proposed at the time was to really stop what we were doing, which was going out and selling people on a vision, right?
The idea of what we were trying to do was absolutely right and absolutely noble, but I had to be honest about where we’re at. The product at the time conceptually was right, but was falling flat in execution. What you were talking about in terms how high technology had changed, cloud had come into the mix and the technology itself had become old. From a concept point of view, it was great, but in execution, it was falling flat. The only answer was to really say, “You know what? We’re going to stop and we’re going to redevelop from scratch from the ground up.”
Now that was a very hard decision because financially it meant that I had to give up more shareholding in order to fund this exercise. It hurt, but I had to say, “Well, what would happen if I didn’t do it and what would happen if I did do it?” If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t give up shareholding. I would continue on the same trajectory and the business would tick along and probably be in a very similar position a year or two from where we were at.” Making this decision meant giving up shareholding, but in its place buying in brains that I really would not have had access to before.
The saying of people really make the business, I mean people take it loosely and look down on it, but really that made all the difference to say, “Right. Let’s get in the right skills, the right resources, the right thinking and bring in other points of view as well.” Because you know, one tends to get a bit myopic as well in one’s thinking when you have people who share a very similar train of thought. Getting a different completely radical viewpoint is often uncomfortable, but it’s where the magic really happens. The need to really change the outcome of where the business was going drove that.
It was hard because it cost financially, time wise, et cetera, and it was something that I’d never done before to kind of take my foot off the accelerator. For the next three months, we’re going to stop what we’re doing and we’re going to actually redevelop this product. To be honest, we would never be in the position that we are in now if it weren’t for that. That was a really hard decision to make, but one that I would do over and over if I had to.
Lisa Linfield: 43:46 You’re now in a position where you’ve got a great product. It works in the cloud. It helps companies to manage their brand and their brand properties everywhere, so that their circle doesn’t become a squashed oval and their look and feel is constant and their brand identity is great. Not only that that they create efficient, I’ve seen some of the work that you’ve done where there’s a central PowerPoint slide things that people can just pull down.
As someone who’s worked a lot in strategy and was a strategy consultant, one of the things I always say to people is you need to learn PowerPoint skills because it’s obviously one of the major kind of ways of communication. One of the challenges was everyone pulls in 16 different PowerPoint slides from 16 different presentation and you end up with fonts all over the place and stuff squiff and all of this. Now you’ve built this product that helps companies standardize and grow.
You’ve gone through a number of different versions of the software so that it’s really corporate proof and you’re in major banks and things that have technology security protocols from here to Timbuktu. If you were to pause and look back, what is your biggest personal lesson be?
Paula Sartini: 45:00 Gosh. There’s so many, Lisa. I think from a personal point of view, really what I’ve set out to do and I mean obviously I continue to grow as a person, but to really just believe and believe in one’s self and actually doing the stuff. I mean it sounds a little it mundane, but it’s true because you get tested on so many levels and then lots of times that you just think it would be so easy to just go get a corporate job. The biggest lesson has been to just persevere and maintain focus on the end goal, but to also not be completely in love with the product and rather really be in love with the customer and really listen.
I think listening is hard for entrepreneurs because we have a very fixed idea of what we’re trying to do and we want to convince people passionately about what we’re doing, but the ability to be able to just sit back and listen objectively without judgment is possibly one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. Originally I saw my clients as the people who were really buying the software from me. Now because we have a full service and we have a help desk and we’re actually interacting with the end person who actually works with our software everyday, it’s really rewarding.
At first it was challenging because I thought, “Uh, don’t they get it? Don’t they understand how it works?” But in really getting down to the detail and the grassroots and understanding and watching how people work, how they use it, therein can the biggest learnings because we then said, “Well, you know what? Maybe it doesn’t work exactly the way we think it should or perhaps we do need to tweak this and that.” The ability to constantly remain open-minded and really listen has possibly been the biggest learning.
Lisa Linfield: 46:50 As a woman in technology, there are so few of them particularly who have actually built a piece of software and lead a company, built it from scratch and lead the company and remain as the CEO and major shareholder. What is your advice to young women who are kind of contemplating the space?
Paula Sartini: 47:10 I mean it is such an exciting space. This is a space where women can really come into their own. Technology is not gender specific. As a woman, you can perform and solve problems that are agnostic to gender, race, et cetera. This is a very level environment where the playing fields are even and that’s what makes it so exciting. When I started out because I started out in a different space, in the branding space, that’s an area where women traditionally do do well in an agency environment, marketing, branding. It’s a comfortable space for women.
I went a little bit into the unknown by going into the software space not realizing how few women there actually were in the technology space. Now that I’m in it and I look around, I think come on girls, ladies, this is a really great space. It’s a space that can really fulfill women on lots of different levels because the beauty about technology is that you conceptualize, but when you see it come alive, it really is very, very gratifying. There are no rules. Because there have traditionally been a lot of men in the space, the way in which they’ve approached the problems and the solutions is different.
Therein lies the opportunity to really bring a woman’s mindset and unique abilities into the space. I think it’s a wonderful industry for women and young girls.
Lisa Linfield: 48:36 Your solution is in big corporates. Is it also applicable to small businesses?
Paula Sartini: 48:41 Oh, absolutely. I think what we spoke about earlier about listening, we’re listening hard in order to make it more and more relevant for smaller businesses. The solution already works in a smaller environment. I think the challenges that small businesses have is that they often don’t know what they need and that’s where one has to help and shrink wrap and crystallize. We’re working hard to make sure that it will work for small businesses as well.
Lisa Linfield: 49:08 How would someone get hold of Brand Quantum and your solution?
Paula Sartini: 49:12 They can go on our website. It’s brandquantum.com. They can have a look at the product offerings and also just contact us. There’s a form they can fill in and drop us an email, or they can just email me directly. It’s Paula, P-A-U-L-A, .Sartini, S-A-R-T-I-N-I, @ brandquantum.com.
Lisa Linfield: 49:32 Great. Fantastic. Well, thank you for your time and for sharing your fantastic experiences with us.
Paula Sartini: 49:36 Oh, thank you, Lisa. I just want to say I’m in absolute awe of what you’re doing. I think it’s fantastic that you have this podcast that’s going out to women around the world. I just wish you lots of luck and strength as you go on your own journey.
Lisa Linfield: 49:51 Thank you so much. I love interviewing women who have great success stories, but I have watched Paula over a number of years and I’ve watched how hard she works and how dedicated she is to making her business work. Her software is amazing and hugely beneficial for people who have a lot of repetitive tasks or broad amounts of brand material. Go over to her website and have a look. I’m Lisa Linfield and this is Working Women’s Wealth. We’d love you to visit our website at workingwomenswealth.com.
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