132 Building a $1bn Unicorn
Lauren Hall is a technology entrepreneur who has built 5 companies to exit and is now on her way to building a $1bn unicorn as CEO and founder of iVvy, an online event organizing platform. We talk tech innovation, scaling, pivots and why successful entrepreneurs thrive on change and adversity.
Melinda Wittsock: Welcome to Wings Lauren
Lauren Hall: Thank you Melinda, it's a real pleasure to be here.
Melinda Wittsock: You know, I love when women take big moon shots, and especially when they take them from the position of a giant leap into the unknown. And your story is very much like that. You left a lot behind to be in the place where you are now, growing your current business. Tell us how all that came to be.
Lauren Hall: Well I suppose one of the things growing up in Africa, one thing is that it does foster entrepreneurialism. And obviously having built five companies, this happened to be my last company that I started I had wanted to really solve a fundamental problem in the event industry. And I set on a path in 2006 to build a solution that would bring together the entire supply chain for the event industry. And that meant that we could actually provide a solution that would allow event organizers and meeting planners to access inventory rates and availability of the whole event ecosystem.
Now that had never been done anywhere in the world. And coming out of Africa it probably was a place where I sat on the other side of the table, having organized very large events for corporations. Had really stumbled across this problem where there just was no access to any of this inventory. It took so long for you to be able to source and manage the supply chain and come back to the client, and going backwards, forwards, the process and really putting together an event. And this could literally take six weeks between waiting for somebody to respond to your inquiry, finding out if they're available, getting out costs. And this whole process was just really time consuming and labor intensive.
And I really set on a path to want to change that. And in order to do that, I had to build a platform that would automate that whole buying process between the buyer and the supplier. And when I originally did that, the goal was to take that process of six weeks down to six minutes. And in doing that, I had spent a lot of time researching the local market and found that the problem wasn't just a local problem, it actually was a really big global problem and nobody in the world had solved it.
And it's because it was highly complex and there's a lot of fragmentation in the industry, and there's thousands of vendors in every single city. And in doing that, there's a lot of complexity around decision making around price and profitability. But when I built the initial platform, it took me about two years, millions of dollars worth of investment into the tech and commercialization. And in that I had pretty much invested everything I owned. And I got to a point come December that the demand for my platform in South Africa had actually outstripped its capability in terms of scale. And that was a huge moment for me because I had now got to that point of saying, well oh my God, how am I going to deliver all of this? And I'd gone from building some [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:03:59"] for a couple of hundred people in the buying cycle of even organizers to having to be deployed to other 30,000 people.
And I knew at that point in time, we were going to have a problem in delivering it. At that time, I'd run out of funds, and I'd gone to the South African government. And gone through a six month due diligence for grant funding. And I was the first white woman under the ANC rule to be awarded $10 million from the government to re-engineer the platform because of the national benefits that would actually bring the whole country. Because I could really take an entire ecosystem of supply chain from venues, to caterers, to entertainers and their supply chain, and actually digitize it and put it on the global playing field, which has never been done anywhere.
And that was on the 29th of July.
Melinda Wittsock: So you get $10 million from the South African government. You've run out of money. And you're in that painful place where so many … It's kind of like the Valley of Death for startups, right? So many startups fail at that point where they're growing too fast for the scale that they've built. So all this is going on, and then what?
Lauren Hall: Well two days later, prior to me receiving funds, after the awarded acknowledgement I was awarded entry into Australia. Now having gone through a lot of personal tragedy, my father unfortunately was murdered and my uncle, my grandfather I come up with a very, very … Being a victim of a number of very horrific crimes personally, which I witnessed, which was a huge deciding factor for me with my two young children to just say, well I either had the choice of taking the money and continuing in South Africa. Or I could walk away from everything I owned, all the investments I made, and leave for a safer environment.
And I actually chose the later. Two weeks later I got on an airplane, I walked away from everything, and I took my two young kids and my husband and I started again. And that was probably, it was such a hard decision to walk away from the fact that I'd invested everything and I actually had nothing. But it was the best decision I could make for my children and for the fact that we could have life and safety. And that was a huge, big thing for us. And I basically came over to Australia. I had no money, no network, no job. And I just started again. And it took me a couple of months to really get onto my feet. And I knew with all the IP that I owned, and that ultimately I wanted to re-engineer it, I had to go through a process of finding the right partner who could help me develop it for a global scale.
I was very lucky within the first couple of months that I had met my co-founder [James Grigg [spp-timestamp time="00:06:55"], who had another web tech company. And when I met him I wanted to understand more about his business. I pretty much did a six month due diligence on him. And behind the scenes, which he didn't know. And then I really propositioned him to be my partner. And together we have built a very significant solution with three enterprise applications managing everything from event ticketing to all the venue function space for all the hotels and venues, to now the supplier's module, which ultimately manages all of inventory and time-based products, connecting it into a real-time marketplace. And then distributing all of that inventory out to thousands of sites. Bringing the whole industry together, and the journey has been tough.
From the original onset of all the investments I made, to creating all of the technology and printing in out in our local market, to then really taking the view that I have always believed that this would be a company that I had the power to change the world. And I had it in my hands to really affect a meaningful contribution to society. And it's been something that I've had and I've dreamed to do that, and I've just set on the path to do it. We've had to raise a significant amount of capital. As of today we've invested another $15 million Euros in terms of the platform development and software development and investing growth and scale. We've now grown into … We've got offices in three countries, Australia, USA and South Africa we serve 12 countries in terms of software solutions and marketplaces.
So yeah we've moving forward in a real belief and a determination to deliver change around the world.
Melinda Wittsock: So Lauren, there's so many things that are inspiring about your story. A lot of people would have a hard time turning down that $10 million. On the other hand, you made the decision that was right for your family to be safe. Not knowing whether your business, or maybe you did know. Did you think your business would also fare better in Australia?
Lauren Hall: Well I certainly think that coming from a third world country to a first world country that the opportunity that if I could do it in that environment, that it could only be bigger and better and faster within a first world. Looking at Australia, it's a very conservative market. And I thought, well if I can make it in Australia, then I can certainly make it anywhere in the world. And that's just the belief that I had.
Melinda Wittsock: I liked how you found your co-founder. It's very, very difficult as a sole founder to really scale and grow a business, there are very, very few. And so what was it about your co-founder? What were you looking for in a co-founder? And in that six months of due diligence, what were you putting your co-founder through?
Lauren Hall: Well I think there are certain things in life that are meant to happen. And we were meant to meet each other. And it was really by default because one of the women I met out of an advertising agency said, “No, you need to meet this guy.” Because I was looking to partner with somebody within the country with my skillset. So having gone through working with engineers and building a fairly robust technology solution, one of the things I'd learned is that as you build and you look for talent, you have to find people who are better than you.
Okay, and I say that in terms of a particular skillset. Now, when I met James, he was born in building [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:12:03"] technology from when he finished [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:12:05"], he was the top in the country in Australia, and I was very fortunate to not only get him, but also my lead engineer, who was number one. And in doing that, what was really important in my assessment, is that I'm very commercial, I'm an entrepreneur. I have the ability to commercialize ideas and really take them to market and be very successful in that. I'm very strong in marketing, very strong in finance background. And I had programming background.
But what I was looking for from a skillset perspective, was somebody that was from a strong analyst, a business person that could build solutions to scale, and when I met James I went really undercover in his business really as a part of partnering with his existing solution, which was small CRM's and websites built for personal business, which is great solutions that really help bring together the work flows of the websites to your [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:13:03"] system. And having gone through that, I got a really good view of his capability as to how he ran operations, how he built the tech. Things that I was looking for from a development perspective. And once I'd done the six months I said, “Right, I've had enough.” He had no idea, absolutely no idea that I was doing this due diligence from inside out. And I said, “Alright, I've had enough of this stuff. This is my IP, here's all my source codes, here's everything that I wanted to do. Let me know, you have 24 hours to tell me whether you're going to be my partner or not.”
And that's what we did. He had a look at everything, he says, “Right, let's do it.” And yeah we've been partners eight years and like everything we are absolutely yin and yang. We are like as you would say, oil and water, that when we're on the same page we're so good together because we actually have incredible strengths, both of us. And when we're together we're absolutely a formidable team. And I think that that's one of the things that you have to find, especially as a female founder, is you have to have balance with yourself and with your team. And you've got to recognize what you're really good at, and also what you're not good at. And you've got to fill those gaps so that where you fall down, you have somebody picking up for you. And where they fall down, you pick up for them.
And that's really critical to the success of a partnership.
Melinda Wittsock: Interesting going back to the story though, that moment in South Africa where you realize, oh my goodness the business can't scale. There's way too much demand for what you had built. And I'm intrigued by this because I think sometimes as women we can think too small. We don't necessarily go for moonshots. What was the reason that it was difficult to scale? Was it that you had lack of team or talent? Or was it something inherent in the technology? Was it a decision that you'd made that was kind of inadvertently limiting?
Lauren Hall: Well originally it was built on an ASP classic, which should've been actually in a “.net”, which as technology has developed you have new languages that actually support better development and better architecture. And I trusted the engineers I had, however, they didn't think the way that I thought. And I had some real frustrations because it was everything that I had put forward in terms of what we needed actually wasn't done the way it should've been done from the onset. And I think that's … When you go through a process of learning and some failures, it better prepares you for the next.
So when we built our solution here, we built it in a PHP with a scalable database structure. And we built our own layers of technology off the AWS backbone, running off the Aurora layer so that we could scale as a very highly robust, multi [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:18:36"] system. And we've got three major data centers around the world that we've got mirrored environments within every country. We're built to handle high volume transactions. And I think you go through a lot of these learnings and pain points and you suffer through it. But you have to get through to the other side. And I think you meet people that you have expectations that they will deliver and they don't. And then its how do you navigate through those really challenging times.
And I had to go through it. And [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:19:05"] help me better prepare for what I was looking for to really deliver everything that I have done to date.
Melinda Wittsock: It's so interesting because we all rush, especially in the boot strapping, the early stages of a startup and technology. We rush as fast as we can that minimum, viable product and getting market input into that product. And the MVP isn't necessarily a scalable thing. So it's pretty hard to get out of this without some sort of technical debt. And knowing when to slash and burn, and when to build on what you have, is tricky.
Lauren Hall: Well I think one of the things you've got to do, particularly in tech is you've got to be extremely agile. And you've got to be able to know how to pivot, and you've got to be able to release fast and you have to be nimble to be able to re-iterate and release the gain. And I think that's something that we've got now. We've got big [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:19:56"] teams and we run sprints every week, and we do have a 500 release of the year on product. So we're very, very agile and by building all of this ability to work really fast and do these quick releases that you could also react to things that may not necessarily be perfect, but you can move very quickly.
And I think it's your approach to development and it's your approach to building an MVP, we bring not only a live environment, we run testing environments where we run all our [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:20:27"] testing before we release. So we've built all these structures quite differently to what I had done in South Africa. But I think that the learnings I [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:20:37"] from there have certainly helped in terms of the way we do things. And I've got an incredible team and they know what they're doing and they come with building good scalable architecture, and that's the backbone of your success. I've always been a big thinker, and I dream big, and I believe so much in what we deliver. You've got to make sure that the team behind you can back all of that up.
Melinda Wittsock: Well that is very true, and a very, very big part of a successful CEO and founder's job is really the team. Is building that team, building that culture, hiring the right people. How do you, Lauren, find the right people for you? Any advice that you can give to women in technology scaling up? There are too many horror stories about women hiring the wrong teams or the wrong engineers or having some management issues with that. And I know you have a programming background. But what are some of the things to look out for? What are some of the mistakes to avoid? What are some of your secrets in building that great team?
Lauren Hall: Look I think that with anything in terms of teams, there's a couple of metrics you've got to make sure. Firstly, can they fit into your culture? It's attitude over skill because if they are willing to be all in, pull up their sleeves, knowing from a young company that's moving very fast that it is going to be [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:22:15"]. It's not going to be somebody that's going to be totally corporatized. You have to look at their willingness to participate. And that's other cross roles, okay? It doesn't matter whether it's HR, whether it's operations, whether it's support or sales. People that are really wanting to put their fingerprint on the world. And I think part of understanding that is very, very important as part of the recruitment process.
Skills are second when you come back to people's experiences, and I think you've always got to look through multiple means of resourcing. You're not going to only look at recruitment companies. You're going to go from friends that know people that would be prepared to recommend them to join your team. And you go through the normal [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:23:00"] processes, but I think your first and foremost is do they fit? Second, can they do the job? And three, do they want to be here for more than a year? Because I want people that are here for the long haul! And yes you're never going to be 100% correct. You will always find that it can be very challenging, especially in new markets. I think you also put a lot of … Rest a lot of your input on people that you know. I've been very fortunate, I've been part of the EY women winning program for Asia Pacific.
And they have been an unbelievable support network for me in terms of opening your markets, helping us with the high caliber individuals, opening the doors to new customers, and just guides in the investment world. It's just been very incredible. And through those types of potential programs where you meet people that are really willing to work with you and help you accelerate. They know people and I think leveraging those opportunities are really important because it's really people who know people. And people buy into people, not just product. Product is the solution that you're enabling things to take place, but you have to have a great team. And you don't always get it right. I think … You've got to hire slow, but you've got to fire fast.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]When you have a pain point that is big enough, you can commercialize it because people will want to solve it and they're prepared to pay for it. #WomeninBusiness #WingsPodcast @LaurenHallCEO[/tweet_box]
And I think if you don't take that approach it can cost you a lot of money making bad decisions. And getting through that churn to make sure that [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:24:29"] and really getting them invested in the dream. I think is really critical to your success. If you don't do that right you just generally don't get the buy in. And I think there are a lot of things that you can learn along the way.
Melinda Wittsock: This is so true. So this is your 6th company. You've taken five other companies from startup to exit, which is a phenomenal thing. So congratulations on that.
Lauren Hall: Oh thank you.
Melinda Wittsock: That's huge. And so what were some of the lessons that you learned along the way? What were some of the biggest lessons from those other startups?
Lauren Hall: Look, I think every single one of the things with one of those startups that I created, I wanted to solve a problem. Whether it was curing spina bifida in babies with my pharmaceutical or whether it was my manufacturing arm, which I used to manufacture all the martial arts training gear for the whole industry because as a competitor in Taekwondo, I wanted to level the playing field because South Africa was under sanctions at the time, and we couldn't access certain products and services because of the trade sanctions that were on.
Every single thing I ever did was about solving a problem. And when you have a pain point that is big enough, you can commercialize it because people will want to solve it and they're prepared to pay for it. And I think that's a really, really fundamental part of whatever you're creating whether it's technology, whether it's a service, or a solution. That you've got to be solving something. And you also need to know that once you know that people … You test and measure everything. You've got to test your market, you've got to understand your customer. You've got to know what they're looking for so that you can prove commercial viability. If you don't do your research and you don't understand your customer, you will find it extremely difficult to be able to commercialize your product or solution.
And I think that at the end of the day it's more about what does that journey look like? I like to set a goal and work backwards. I'm building a billion dollar company, and I'm mapping my milestones to achievement. If somebody is planning a million dollar company, if I get there, what do I need to do to be able to build that funnel, to get my conversions, to create my revenues and to build my funnel to profitability? Always have a very strong pathway, and set your goals that are realistic and go out and hit every one of them because that is how you build a company on excellence.
Set them, be objective, be realistic, surround yourself with a great team. You get a lot of learnings around where you take shortcuts and it'll end up costing you a lot more in the end. Making sure that you actually set your own dreams because I think most people limit themselves because they think that they can't do these things. And we generally set the limits on ourselves. And I believe that a woman particularly lack confidence. And they don't dream big enough. And I kind of call it the four C factors. A woman, if they have confidence, and courage, okay, which are two really important factors for their success. I think that's really critical. Thirdly they need community. They've got to have people around them that support them because being an entrepreneur is tough, okay? And there are times when you want to throw in the towel and you just need somebody to lean on that can just keep pushing you over, and keeping you motivated because most people fail 1% before success.
So that community is really critical. And then, depending on that company and how much capital, they have to have capital. And capital comes in many forms. It's not [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:28:13"], but you have the right capital at the right time. Not taking money when you lose control of your business. Taking the company where you build your milestones, where you build your evaluation pathways so that you still have something that you own at the end of the day that is going to drive your success and keep you motivated to deliver whatever you're dreaming to achieve. And I think if you've got those four fundamentals, then really anything is possible. I look at what I've done and I entered with nothing and I started again. And we're a multi-million dollar enterprise going for world domination. And it's just because we believe. I believe that I'm actually purpose-driven. I'm driven just by money. Money is the output of solving a problem. I think that you've got to be purpose-driven. And I think that for me, it's all been about driving to global change and empowering everybody because I can make them visible and I can make the world better.
And I can automate them and help them make more profit and employ more people, which [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:29:16"] you have those long tail of effect in the economy for years to come. And people are all driven by different things, but I think fundamentally make sure you have a good purpose because purpose drives value.
Melinda Wittsock: Yes.
Lauren Hall: And I think those are really important.
Melinda Wittsock: Oh it so surely does. So just going back to your four C's and the confidence and courage part. So these are not something that necessarily you can just snap your fingers and get. Where does that confidence come from? Is that an earned thing? Because women struggle with this so much. So to say to a woman, “Hey, be more confident.” How does a woman starting out in business or re-inventing herself as an entrepreneur, manifest that confidence?
Lauren Hall: Well I think it is a very hard thing for women because generally they've always thought themselves never worthy. It's a thing that people wake up and they go, “Well I'm not good enough.” Because this is something that through life has been somewhat indoctrinated in women that we've never been as good as a man. But it's just one of those things that over time you come out thinking, well I don't know if I can do this, and there's always this self-doubt. I think you have to surround yourself with people that encourage you. You have to have men and women that support your initiatives and help you believe in yourself. Because belief is the most important thing. And you only have yourself to blame if you fail because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody else can believe in you.
It is the pinnacle point of whether you get team to follow you. Whether you get investors to back you. Where you get customers to support you. And that comes with an unwavering belief. A tenacity, a ferocity in your ability to want to believe in what you're doing. And if you get that right … And it comes with support. I think that it's not something that you get overnight. I think I've been one of those people that regardless, I've always been somebody that I will go out and do it because I'm setting my goal and maybe my martial arts background paid a huge influence in that. Because everything in life you have to earn. Every belt you got up, and I got to my second [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:31:37"] and I got to [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:31:38"], I am a woman that I don't want to fail. It's something that's innate in my DNA. I refuse to fail. I always like to win. I like to be number one. And that's how … I programmed that across all my companies. I've programmed it across me and my personal goals, and all awards and I want to be recognized for what I'm doing.
And I believe that if you don't believe in yourself, that's when nobody else will follow you. So it is a process of sometimes also getting a mentor I think could help a lot of women. Talking through having a sounding board, validation. I think that through your journeys in life that you get these little points of validation and those are those little hope hooks I call them because they kind of give that little pat on your back, yes I'm on the right path. Yes I'm on the right, yes I'm doing good, yes I'm going to get there and I'm going to make it. And every additional award you get or every different customer you acquire or every new investor you get onboard is just another point of validation. And you have to celebrate those wins along the way because it's not just the end goal, it's how you go along your whole journey that really determines your pathway to success.
And not everything's perfect. Business is tough. You have to keep going and you've got to have resilience that most people don't have. And it comes with hard work, a lot of your own introspection, a lot about how you see the world, and how you see it for yourself. And for your children. And what type of world do you want to live in? And how do you want to make that for you and the people around you? And I think that it's not something that's just conquered, it's a process that you go through. But you have to number one, be able to believe in yourself.
Melinda Wittsock: So interesting that you mention the martial arts. So many women that are very successful entrepreneurs have a background in competitive sports of some kind, whether it's team sports, martial arts. In my case it was competitive figure skating, and where literally you fell down and you kept falling down until you learned how to land all those jumps. You have to keep getting up again. And there's something about that, when you do sports as a kid I think that not only provides you with that competitive nature, but also just the confidence to fail and get back up again and just keep going.
[tweet_box design=”box_08″ float=”none”]Failure is only failure when you're not prepared to get up again. #WomeninBusiness #TechEntrepreneur @LaurenHallCEO[/tweet_box]
Lauren Hall: Absolutely. I think about it, I was born with a hole in my heart and people used to tell me, “Lauren Hall, you can't do sports.” And I said, “I'm not going to be told I can't do something.” And from a young age I always wanted to compete. Like I said, when I commit myself to something it's heart and soul. And when I got into my martial arts, I wanted to be number one. I wanted to be part of the South African national team that went to world championships. I did, I competed on the international circuit for five years as the best in my country.
And part of that whole process is about what is the worst thing that can happen? You can fail. Get up again. Failure is only failure when you're not prepared to get up again. Okay, and I think that that's one of the things marital arts teaches you, you get in that ring, you're going for the fight, there are winners and losers. But the person who loses, that person's not prepared to get up again. And I think that's why I suppose part of life is nothing's perfect. You have to learn to never get obstacles and challenges. And if you don't keep crying … For me it's a world to never give up. It's [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:35:21"]. It is part of my DNA, it's tattooed on my back. And every day that I feel like I want to throw the towel in, I have to say to myself, and again and go, this is my core, is not to give up until I get there.
And that is something really important for anybody. I think competitive sports, athletes that have had that background in sports, and you look at the statistics around the world, women that have been in competitive sports generally are exceptional business owners and CEO's. They will deliver huge value and they're generally very successful. So I think that there's an essence to being a competitive person early on in life because I think you take the essence of that into your business world. As well as into your family. You encourage success through being competitive, and making sure that you win. And none of us like to lose when you're competitive.
Melinda Wittsock: That's true. And so what were you like as a little girl? Were you always entrepreneurial? Or did this come later in life? What were the influences on you when you were very small?
Lauren Hall: Well I think that my father played a really critical role for me because when I was nine years of age and I was living in Chicago, my dad was a very high flyer corporate man running a public listed company out of state. And I was young and I said to him, “Dad, can I have $10? I just want to go down to the shop.” And he gave me the [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:36:50"]. He was the one who goes, “You know, money, you can't just take it and spend it. You have to know how that money is going to make you $10 for every $1 you make $10. So until you tell me what you're going to do with that money that's going to bring back more value, I'm not going to give it to you.”
And now at nine years of age, I was like so stricken thinking to myself, how can he do that to me? All I wanted to do was go down to the shop and get some nail polishes and do a little girls things that I thought would be great. Well that actually set me on a real path because I said “Well, I'm not going to have anybody tell me I can't have what I want.” And at nine years of age I started to do a paper route. I sold cards door to door. I babysat four children. And my life started when I was nine from very young, to not feel that I had somebody else who had control over my life.
And I never asked my father for any other thing. From when I was very young and I paid my own education, I worked four jobs to do that to fund it at night and I did six years of study. Funded everything myself until the day he died. And I think that that was just something I took upon myself as a very person that I didn't want … Somebody who gave you money, I always felt had control over your life. And I suppose for my being a control freak I didn't want somebody to have power over me. So I set that on for me from a very young age. And set up my first company when I was 17.
And that's just the way I've been. And I think that that's something that I continue to do to this day. I just know that it's encoded in my DNA. I think I've been a born entrepreneur. And I see things very differently. I definitely believe … I can sometimes be that square peg in a round hole because my approaches to things are completely different to most. But I've always believed that one day I will change the world. And it took me 40 years and five companies to do that. And it's never one that you've just got to keep believing you can. I feel like sometimes it's like Thomas the train going up that mountain. Just keep going.
Melinda Wittsock: Honestly, listening to you Lauren Hall, it's hard to believe that you won't go change the world. We were talking about confidence and courage and all of these things, which you have exhibited all through your life. What do you say to a woman who says, “Wow, well she has it all figured out. I don't know if I can ever be like her.” Sometimes women listen to other women, and think, “Oh well okay.” Or just other successful people, right? And they think, “Oh okay, well it's easy for that person.” Right? You know the phenomenon I'm talking about though, right?
Lauren Hall: Yes.
Melinda Wittsock: And so share with us those moments because in honest truth, I know this because I'm a serial entrepreneur as well. The outside world, it always looks like we're succeeding at all moments of the day and everything's great. And we do have these successes, but there are those kind of heart stopping moments, right? So share with us one of those and those down points because they do exist in everybody. Just a moment like that and how you get out of those. If you could break it down, because I think it's so important for people to kind of hear really successful women entrepreneurs talk about that, demystify, de-stigmatize it.
Lauren Hall: Absolutely. And I think that there are many a moments. They're not just one. I don't get off with women when they turn around and go, “You've got everything, and I could never be like that.” And I go, “yes, get off your ass make it happen. You are the only person that controls your destiny. And nobody's destiny is the same as yours. Okay, and if you don't give something a go, you'll only have yourself to blame.” Because it doesn't matter, when I go back and I've built every company I built from nothing. I had no cash; I had nothing. I started and I built it step, by step, by step. So I believe that no woman should have an excuse, okay? Because it's easy to point fingers, oh you've done that, you've don't that, and [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:41:12"] well my God it has been 16 hours a day, seven days a week, no sleep, total sacrifice. You give up your health, you give up your family, you do everything because you're so invested in that journey of success.
But at the same time there are so many moments when you feel like you cannot go anymore. That the tank is empty, okay? And many a time you'll feel like you want to throw in the towel. I had a scenario where, the company was only two years old here in Australia. I brought on a shareholder with a small investment that part of their investment criteria was that they sat on my board, okay. And in doing that became my chairman. And him and I, he was a 60 year old man that was really particular out of the corporate world that actually didn't understand startup. And that the type of pace that you need to operate and the things that change all the time and not everything's a straight line. And you might approach, you have to get to certain milestones. You have to pivot, and then you've got to get there. And when I went through this, I got to the point that it was going to be … We got to blows that I actually had a dysfunctional board, okay. And it was going to be either me or him that went.
And it was the most devastating moment for me because I had invested everything. My life, my house, my whole everything had been put onto this business. And to get to a point where I thought, well there had to be a solution. So I thought, well the only way that we could actually do that was to buy them out. So I didn't have the funds. I had to go out into the market, find a new investor, put a strategy together that could buy not only one, but all four investors that came in together out. Restructure my board, okay? So that I actually had a fully functional company. And that was, my God, that was probably one of the most difficult moments in my life where a man was telling me I was completely useless. That honestly he would do everything to make me feel worthless.
And that I was almost entertainment in his world because that was so … And it made my life a living hell. And in doing that I had to get through one of the most difficult situations, restructuring it, putting in new board members. Buying out new … And we had so much on the go at the same time in building product and trying to get revenues on the board, while having going through this. So not everything is what you see through rose speckled glasses because the trials and tribulations that you go through in building a company are second to none.
You are faced with obstacles not only from internal staffing and challenges and product development, but you've got conflicts with shareholders and managing relations and managing expectations, okay, which is huge. And I'm very open in sharing some of the challenges because I think women have got to understand that when you stick together, and when you come together in more support of each other, you can achieve so much greater things. And when you go through somebody that can just help you navigate through some of these challenges, you need to do that.
And I think that to me that was a very low point in my life. Having walked away from the money and got into a new country and I knew nothing and I went, “Now what? I've got literally a month to put money on the table to feed the kids.” I've had those moments that are like most people will go, “My God, how did you do that?” And I go, “You just do. You just do.”
Melinda Wittsock: You just do. I've had those moments too. I've had those moments too where literally you're down to nothing. And you come back, you figure out a way. My daughter's school, she goes to an all-girls school and the motto there is “find a way, or make one.” And I've just adopted this girl's school motto. It's great because you can do anything that you believe that you can do. And it brings us around to your other C, talk a little bit about the capital and a really important lesson that you shared of make sure you have the right investors. Make sure that you share the vision of the company and all of that. It's kind of going back to what you were saying about team members. It's the same thing with investors.
So we talked a little bit about the confidence, the courage, the capital, the community part of it. Yes, we all do so much better when we have other people around us that understand us as entrepreneurs. And most people who are not entrepreneurs, have a really hard time really understanding. From afar, it looks maybe a little bit glamorous or whatever. But it's very, very difficult to find true connection with people who are not also themselves entrepreneurs. And your friendships, marriage, dating, all of that.
So talk to me a little bit about your community. How you built your community? From everything from personal relationships and kids, partners, marriage, and through to kind of friends and mentors on the business side. What is it that allows you to really have that community support that every entrepreneur needs to really succeed?
Lauren Hall: Firstly, I think that I've been very blessed to have a husband like I do who has given me the wings to fly. Because he's been my absolute rock. And my support because he is somebody that I as a sounding board that just has his feet on the ground and is very logical. And when I'm going, “Blah, blah, blah.” And I'm flying off the handle at one side, he'll go, “You know, it's not as bad as what you think.” And be very reasonable and very logical and very supportive of my dream. And I think that having a partner, your husband or somebody in your life that is your rock, I think is important because you're going to stand on their shoulders. And they say, you need them to sometimes carry you through these really tough times.
And that I think is really being critical to my success. And to when you find people that you can work with, I think you've got to understand that sometimes they're going to have very different [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:48:07"]. My co-found and I, we're very different people, but we are both absolutely insane heavily paced workaholics where we are driven by the same thing. And that's the outcome. And making that difference. And when you align the personalities and you can find people that can be part of your world I think that's really important. Not that it's always going to be an easy realm and people are opposites, but opposites do help build a really functional environment.
And I think as you go through life you meet friends that will come and go, but you will find those that are not threatened by you. I think one of the hardest things I found in my life is being an entrepreneur and building multi-million dollar companies from zero to [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:48:59"] and also not always being successful. People don't understand some of the trials and tribulations you go through. Sometimes they are threatened by your successes. And I find I have a very small caliber of women that are not threatened by my ability but celebrate every part of the journey with me.
When I went out to do the board buy out, and the change of that shareholder, I went out to seek for a female investor. Because I knew it would be a different relationship I'd have. And I did. And I had this woman, Renata Cooper who I met very early on and she helped me navigate through this and she's become a huge ambassador of me. And those are the type of things I think are really important as part of your journey to keep you motivated because as founders, you're the one that are driving the ship. You're the one who are taking people's money and promising that you're going to give them a result and a good return.
And when you take that responsibility on your shoulders, it's a huge burden because regardless of the fact that you're getting the funds to help you and you're free from making sure that you can deliver it, the pressure surmounts. The more money you take, the bigger the pressure on your delivery. So I think when you look around, you have to have the people that you could pick up the phone and talk to, and just have a sounding board. I have made some amazing friends of women in business that are extremely successful around the world that I can feel as confidants to me that would give me good, honest feedback and allow me to have introspection.
And I think you need those because it's very difficult for any woman. There's such an unconscious bias around the world, particularly when it comes down to [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:50:51"] raising. And that's probably why my personal endeavor in this company as a woman leading a tech company out of Australia, is to be the first female unicorn to really be a role model for all our future generations that can pave the way for women that can do it. That they have role models. We don't have enough of them around the world that have done it and have reached the stages that have earned the respect of not only their peers, but all the investors and BC's and PE funds. Because only 2.5% of women out of VC are funded around the world. I want to try and help change that status quo. And I think that if you've got the right people around you and you've got the right backing, and you are a force to be reckoned with.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]If you've got the right people around you and you've got the right backing, then you are a force to be reckoned with. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @LaurenHallCEO[/tweet_box]
Then these are the things that you have an obligation to do for the rest of our generation and the rest of our foe because not all women can do what you do. But you've got to help lead the charge to help pave the way to make it easier for them.
Melinda Wittsock: Oh amen sister. I think I couldn't agree more. It's exactly my why for doing this podcast because I think if all of us really are the change that we want to see, and we're their support for each other, and writing checks for each other, it's awesome that you have a female investor. I intend to be one ina pretty epic way myself. And as we have exits from our companies, being able to really do that is so vital and so important. The other thing that I think that you mention that is so interesting to me too is so much research shows that when men succeed, they're more likable and more admired. But when women succeed often, they're more likely to be challenged or even criticized for their success.
And so that's something that as a society, we really all need to go change. And I think a lot of it comes from us all really shouting from rooftops when we all do well. And affirming and acclaiming each other.
Lauren Hall: Yes absolutely. Yeah there's a thing in Australia called tall puppy syndrome. And I suppose that as a South African woman I'm still a foreigner living in Australia. And there's a thing where people are quite happy for you to fit into mediocrity and not be that stand out. And when you are a stand out, they want to bring you down to your knees. And I think that that's part of the culture where they don't want to be shown up. Other women don't want to be shown up, that they're not as good enough because if any it makes them feel more insecure. And when women are shining and the spotlight is on them, it's almost saying, well why should they have and I can't? And it's sad in a way because I think if women really, truly are happy for people and their successes, they will celebrate it and they will share it.
And I think that it has to change over time because generally women are challenged and they are threatened and they also even when they get up to those statuses and more that is shared in terms of the global market, it's a very lonely place actually. I think that you all have a small group that will celebrate and help you and that the overall is that we have to change the way we react to women being successful because the only way we change it for all of women is to work together to celebrate those wins and to make sure that we're all doing it for the right reason. Because the more women that succeed, the more we can actually bring that across to all our younger generation to believe that anything is possible.
If you want to be an astronaut, you can be an astronaut. If we want to support women in stem, or we want to allow them to be beautiful, amazing artists that could work on a global [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:54:53"], we've got to empower them. And empowerment comes through having courage and support, and recognition. And I think as you go through life when you're an entrepreneur, I think recognition is something that's really important because it helps keep you on track. It helps validate your purpose. And I suppose that's probably part of me. I've always wanted to be a recognized businesswoman in the global market.
And I've always wanted to be that, but I look at it because if I can do it, can I be a good role model for the young generation so that I can help inspire them and motivate them and educate them on their processes. And let them be what they truly dream to be. But if they've got nobody to look up to whose done it, it makes it very, very difficult for them to be able to say that they can. And it comes with everybody, with all of us working together to help create that change.
Melinda Wittsock: I love this. This is so inspiring and Lauren Hall, I've been talking to you for a long time right now, and I could talk to you for another hour quite easily. But as we wrap up our conversation, if you narrowed it down to three pieces of advice that you would give women, just really quickly, number one, number two, number three. For women who are either starting their entrepreneurial careers or say coming out of corporate and re-inventing themselves as entrepreneurs. What would those three pieces of advice be?
Lauren Hall: Look, I would think firstly, always be prepared. I've always believed that when you go into whether it's a conversation with a customer, or whether it's an investor, be armed and dangerous. Know your stuff, know your numbers, okay? Because if you're not prepared, people see through you, okay, simple. Two, if you're looking to build a business, I would make sure that you look to solve a problem. Because if you can solve a pain point that the greater the pain, the greater the opportunity as far as I'm concerned. And you can always commercialize something where somebody needs some. It's harder to do that when the need has not been determined. So that for me is really fundamental.
And I think that in the spirit of being an entrepreneur, you have to have, you've got to never give up. You've got to never give up and you've got to push through things that sometimes seem so hard and so impossible, but you build resilience, and you build this tenacity that only comes from things which are really hard. They're not things that are given easily because it builds character. And that will to never give up is that fighting spirit that you need to carry with you to achieve your dreams.
Melinda Wittsock: Oh beautifully said. So you have an offer today for our listeners, which is very generous of you. Can you tell us a little bit what it is?
Lauren Hall: Yeah, look as part of the market we service meeting planners from the meeting technology sites so that you can have an entire enterprise registration system, as well as for venues, whether you're a hotel, whether you're a function, a venue, a special event's venue, a restaurant, because we provide all the solutions to help them manage [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:58:21"], invoicing. We connect them to the websites. So if any one of your listeners that if they fall into anything, whether they're organizing an event, or whether they're a supplier in the supply chain from entertainers, to caterers, to venues, we would be very happy for them to take up our opportunity to get a 15% discount on their total license fees for the year.
I've created a little URL, which is www.ivvy.com/wings to reference our wings podcast, which would then get them to sign up and be entitled to that discount, should they decide to utilize our technology to help them either manage their venue, or to help manage their event. So either which way, we'd love to be able to give them an opportunity to be able to leverage this opportunity.
Melinda Wittsock: That's wonderful. So www.ivvy.com/wings. Awesome. That's wonderful. And Lauren, I'll be in touch with you because of course I'm thinking now, I need to do a wings event.
Lauren Hall: With pleasure, with pleasure. I would do it in a heartbeat for you.
Melinda Wittsock: Well wouldn't it be wonderful to put all of our listeners and all of our amazing women, all of the entrepreneurs that I've talked to on this program together in one place. And so the event space is not an area that I have any expertise at all, so I will be calling you.
Lauren Hall: Melinda it's been such a pleasure, and I certainly hope that if your listeners are wanting to find venue space, if they go to our ivvy.com website, they can actually search live availability, rates and inventory of all of the function spaces and group accommodation of our platform. It's part of our change that we're doing for the world, so we'd love them to even just go in and experience and give us some feedback would be wonderful. So any opportunity that we can share it with your listeners, we'd be very grateful.
Melinda Wittsock: And I of course, and my company Verifeed will take you up on that offer. That is awesome. Lauren, thank you so much for giving such a wonderful interview and being who you are. And being the first unicorn. I really want to see that happen for you and I have no doubt that it will.
Lauren Hall: Well I'm on that path and hopefully I’ll keep my fingers crossed and we keep, as I say, focused on the dream. So thank you Melinda for all the time and the opportunity to share my story. And it's been wonderful to meet up with you.
Melinda Wittsock: You too.
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