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Sixteen Aussie entrepreneurs reveal their top focus for 2021

Smart Company, 8 January 2021

It goes without saying that 2020 was one of the most disruptive, eventful, innovative and surprising years the business and startup community has ever experienced.

And while I think I speak for many when I say ‘good riddance 2020, hello 2021’, it would be a waste to head into the new year without hard lessons learnt and a plan in place.

So, in the spirit of learning from mistakes, taking risks and moving forward, we asked 16 entrepreneurs what their biggest focus is for 2021.

Here’s what they had to say.

Graham Hawkins

Founder and CEO at SalesTribe

First, content marketing. The winners and losers in 2021 and beyond will be determined by their ability to cut through all the noise and ‘get attention’. 

Old sales tactics will no longer open new doors, and businesses are now having to find smarter ways to engage with smarter buyers. Content is the answer, and a big part of this will hinge on your ability to create a highly visible online presence, a share-of-social-voice. 

Content is no longer king, it’s the whole royal family, and high-quality, targeted content is the catalyst to the most important thing that every business must create-conversations with prospective buyers.

And second, leveraging data. In the last two years alone, an astonishing 90% of the world’s data has been created. Business and sales success will also hinge on your collective ability to leverage the immense amounts of data produced every day about customer tastes and preferences, with their informed consent. 

Buyer intent data and sentiment data is now being created, compiled, synthesised and disseminated in greater amounts than the world has ever seen before. 

Learning how to leverage all of the data that is now available is central to creating competitive advantage in 2021 and beyond.

Lloyd Ernst 

CEO at Cloudstaff

Our biggest focus next year remains the same for each year of the last decade: our people. 

It’s clear that to remain operational, changes need to be made.

Starting with a remote working option for staff. Earlier this year we struck a deal with a local telecoms company to ensure that all our staff that wanted to work from home, would have a fibre connection, in a campaign I’ve dubbed OfficeFlex. 

Now those working from home will have at least 50mbps to 500mbps, so staff can work remotely or come into the office as required. 

Their security profile travels with them whether they are working from home or in the office.

We are also keenly waiting for the commercialisation and adoption of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet. For context, when I used satellite internet on my rural Queensland farm 20 years ago, the technology was much slower, hugely expensive and located 5,200km above Earth. For areas where 5G is not available this opens up a range of options which should not be underestimated.

I also think that open-plan offices will be a thing of the past. We’re already moving to protect our people with smaller six-person suites. Each suite will have independent aircon and dedicated water fountains, should the worst happen and we need to quarantine any worker. These will feature improved acoustics and soundproofing through non-parallel walls. 

If anyone wants to hear the evidence for this, find me on LinkedIn.

Flexibility will be key and having the right tools to support that will be paramount. We’re already using Presence, a people management platform for our offices across time zones and continents. 

Collaborative software will be commanding a lot of the early VC investment in 2021, I suspect.

Look after your people and they’ll look after the rest.

Aaron Hornlimann

Co-founder and CEO at Elenium Automation

My focus is to scale the business into those additional sectors where our technology can be applied, such as hospitals or shopping centres, while continuing to support our airport and airline customers, giving passengers the reassurance that it’s safe to fly again. 

I think Australia is in a unique position to recover reasonably quickly from this global pandemic, to do things differently, and learn from the lessons COVID-19 has taught us.

But we have to focus on the positives. 

If we think too much about the damage that has been caused by the pandemic, and continue to have a negative mindset, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

We have to think about what a post-COVID-19 world will look like and not pretend that things will go back to the way they were.

Jenn Donovan

Co-founder of Spend with Us

Our biggest focus will be building a community that people can’t wait to belong too.

From our community of sellers, to our community of sellers and buyers in our Facebook Group ‘Buy From a Bush Business’, we are 100% community-focused.

We want people in our community who are building rural small businesses to have their products in front of as many buyers as possible, but also have the opportunity to tell their story and have that story as part of their business, to attract more buyers who engage with them, and get to know, like, trust and buy from them over and over again.

We want to build a community of small rural businesses who support each other, have the opportunity to support their offline communities, either financially or in-kind, because they have the time and resources to do so, which they might not have had, except for belonging to our community.

Belonging to a community that will support you, encourage you and help you, is fundamental to business success, and no less in rural areas, compared to the rest of the world.

Ash Denman

Co-founder and managing director at Greenpoint Media

To not sink back into old habits, and to ensure we take the lessons of this year with us into 2021. 

I think it’s going to be super important to make sure that as a business owner, you step back, and actually look at the things that changed last year. Whether it be remote work, new opportunities, or even lost ones, we must reflect, focus on the positives, and really make the changes needed to see them imbed into your life.

It’s easy to let old habits creep back in. 

But I’m truly excited to work differently this year and get closer to the ‘work where I want when I want’ goal, while making sure we continue to focus on growth and our team culture in a more remote context. 

Andrea Kowalski

General partner at Tidal Ventures

Observability. It’s debated which changed behaviours from 2020 will survive post-pandemic, but my view is a sustained shift has occurred in the way people work, regardless of whether office downsizing reverses or people renew their co-working memberships. 

Hurdles were overcome in 2020 by necessity, which had people of all different positions and generations learn how to work asynchronously and effectively. 

I think the future holds a hybrid of the past and present working models and will pose a new challenge to organisations: how to observe company productivity, individual professional development, employee health, employee mental health & engagement. 

My view is there is a requirement going forward for organisations to deploy observability principles across a much broader set of stakeholders to build a representative and holistic picture of how the organisation is doing.

Dean Salakas

CEO at The Party People

Our biggest focus for 2021 will be on adapting to easing COVID-19 restrictions. 

For us, this means having contingency plans in place should we have to react to additional lockdowns. With that not entirely out of the question, we’ll be focused on sophisticated digital strategies. 

In addition, we will also be looking at changes in customer buying behaviour should a vaccine be introduced, and how to plan for that. 

If this is the case and people become more confident returning to ‘normal life’ it could see a release of pent up spending, and a shift from small gatherings to large events.

Sonia Gibson

Founder of Accounting Heart

Getting back to business and some kind of normality.

For me, this means getting back into a growth mindset and finding new opportunities to do business.

Laura Keily

Founder and managing director of Immediation

Since the beginning, our focus has been to bring technology and a new way of thinking to the legal industry to make justice more accessible for all. 

In 2020, we made important strides forward to do just that. We helped address hundreds of matters across court and tribunal hearings and mediations, alongside instances of private dispute resolution by mediation. 

We also completed a $3.75 million capital raise and entered into arrangements with courts and governments, including the Federal Court of Australia, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the New Zealand Ministry of Justice, to keep matters moving forward during the pandemic.

Looking ahead, we remain committed to supporting our justice system, investing in our technology, our people and our international expansion to make it easier for all to achieve a legal outcome.

Alex Zaccaria

CEO and co-founder of Linktree

In just four years, we’ve taken Linktree from a small side-hustle used by family and friends to a global company with well over 9 million users. 

Looking ahead, our aim for 2021 is to continue democratising the discovery of content and building a platform that makes monetisation easier and more affordable for anyone looking to create, curate and do business, online.

There are billions of users that sit across YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitch, as well as up and coming social networks. There is so much room to grow in the coming year and we’re committed to empowering all people, regardless of digital skills, to collate their content and amplify their voice.

Sam Arcadipane

Founder of Fusspot Collagen Beauty Tea

My biggest focus for 2021 is to get my business back on track to where I had forecast it to be six months out from launching in February 2020. It’s about ‘catching up’ and I’m literally going back to where I wanted to be in August 2020 and starting those plans now. 

The global pandemic literally forced me to change and pause many marketing and launch plans. I had to halt financial investment into the areas that became void and without a positive ROI due to COVID-19. 

I don’t look at the last seven months as lost, I look at it as a great time to review my new business and to focus on consumer insights, buyer behaviour and what has and hasn’t worked. 

So, for 2021, I know what key areas I’m wanting to focus on, and am already putting those steps in place now to start building towards those targets early on in the new year.

Jon Gregory

Founder of Vitruvian

Everything has changed, and nothing has changed, so there are powerful tailwinds to capture in 2021.

Massive stimulus is still working through the global economy and the latent demand in some sectors still to be fulfilled.

Changing work and leisure patterns will affect businesses and the economy asymmetrically.

There is a continued massive bull run in global stocks from the lows of March 2020.

The focus is on intersecting with these themes to raise capital, hire and expand aggressively, and expand into expanding markets.

Sergio Alderuccio

Director of Alderuccio Advisory

Being open to new opportunities that might initially present as a problem or challenge, and not being all things to all people.

New opportunities are more likely to present themselves if you are client-focused, because your client’s difficulties or frustrations are often the seed for a new opportunity, be it a better way of doing things, relieving their pressure or a pursuing a new market.

Business people that chase any deal anywhere are often all over the place, making their brand and offering diluted and unclear. Furthermore, they often end up serving clients that are a poor fit, resulting in a frustrating and inefficient working relationship. 

I have found it is best to know your core market and client, then pursue opportunities within that space. 

It’s hard to let unaligned opportunities pass by, especially during difficult times, but it will serve you, your team and business better in the long run.

Petalyn Walker and Rachelle Porter

Co-founders of Sustainable Wraps

In 2021, we will continue to have conversations with like-minded brands and are open to more fun and interesting collaborations. 

For us, a collaboration can be us waxing a brand’s already existing cotton fabric, or exploring having something specifically printed. 

In 2020, for example, we partnered with Kip & Co and The Good Garment, to upcycle some of their offcuts and pre-existing fabrics.

We also hope to expand our corporate orders moving forward. 

To date, corporate orders have been born out of word-of-mouth amongst our Sustainable Tribe and through networking. 

We’re in discussion with merchandise companies, and some of our hamper and gift wholesalers have taken on a corporate arm. 

We see this as a space to grow, alongside our wholesale business. 

Jessica Koncz

Founder and CEO at Eatsee

Digital menus became an important part of helping restaurants adapt during COVID-19. 

Now, we need to focus to ensure our platform continues to grow and add value for restaurant partners post-COVID-19. 

Since COVID-19, we’ve realised that our market is now global. We’ll be focusing on online paid acquisition for 2021 to see where the biggest opportunities lie. 

Katriina Takha

CEO at A-HA

Our biggest focus for 2021 is helping our business to maintain a ‘humanness’, while also putting a foot on the accelerator of growth and productivity so we can create more jobs and opportunities for everyone (particularly youth who are disproportionately unemployed and headed for a health and wellbeing crisis if we don’t get them into meaningful vocational pathways).

As we do this, we need to preserve the best of who we were and what we learnt in a crisis. 

We’ve seen that workplace culture has an enormous impact on company performance and public brand perception and we have an opportunity to revitalise culture and values to be about ‘we’ not ‘me’. 

That’s how we got through 2020 and that’s how we can be the best version of ourselves in 2021.

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