Alison Deans GAICD was an advisor on Adam Theobald’s first successful cafe app startup — now she’s an investor and mentor for his next big venture Ordermentum. Stuart Ridley reports.
When we were rolling out [the cafe ordering mobile app] Beat the Q (now Hey You), a lot of our cafes said, “It’s great our customers can place and pay for orders on a mobile, why can’t we have that convenience with our suppliers?”
So I did what every crazy entrepreneur does and tried to solve the challenge with a sledgehammer. I attempted to get the consumer app to also work for B2B, because on the surface it looked very similar.
When I tested it I found that the supplier and buyer needs were very different. Andrew Lowe, who was running coffee roaster Toby’s Estate, had some strong ideas and we spun Ordermentum [a wholesale app] into a new business together. Then when I told Alison, who was one of the advisors to Hey You, that I was setting up Ordermentum, she said, “I would really like to invest in the business.” That was a huge thing. Having a person of Alison’s calibre interested was a huge vote of confidence. She has an unparalleled pedigree in online business: she was a market leader at eBay and eCORP in Australia, so she understands customers from several perspectives. She understands the operational side, she knows what it’s like to be a CEO and she’s a smart investor.
I’ve never known anyone quicker to understand a graph. Instantly, she has 10 interesting insights that change my thinking. Her instinct on the revenue streams for the business was very different to anyone else’s and, ultimately, she was right. I love her commercial smarts but also her compassion. She never beats around the bush, though she’s always very friendly.
Our conversations can shift from the markets to work-life balance. I try to model a lot of the things she teaches me, including how she manages her time so she can be with her family. I hope soon I can be as good as Alison at balancing commercial and family perspectives.
What really interests me is how brilliant she is, especially by asking me the tough questions on the topics I need to be challenged on. I’ve learned how to ask the right questions of the board too. In previous businesses, I made some big mistakes by sitting back in a room of smart and successful board members, expecting them to tell me what to do. It’s crucial to have smart advisors on your board. Although, to really benefit from their experience it’s about bringing the right topics to the right people when you’re ready to act. Our “test, learn, improve” approach might be unconventional, but it’s working.
Alison Deans GAICD
As an investor, you look for a founder you admire, respect and enjoy working with. Adam already had a good insight into the problems suppliers and cafes face with orders and I liked his ideas to start solving those problems.
I like founders who are deeply engaged in and really understand their customers’ domains. And when you look at the more financial side, businesses that have a potential for a network effect tend to be quite nice business models.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time with businesses that have evolved their networks, so I understand the dynamics that contribute to growth and how you defend them. I learned pattern recognition during my undergraduate studies in physics and maths, and then I spent eight years at McKinsey & Company dissecting businesses, doing cohort analysis on what happens in the adoption curve for different customers. I also learned a lot about dynamics in marketplaces at eBay, which was a hyper-analytical business.
In all the businesses I have worked in, it’s how those businesses changed the way customers get things done that’s very cool. Ordermentum takes the ridiculously manual processes of ordering and linking to invoices and automates them, freeing up businesses to do the things they are really good at. Adam is great at focusing on the three or four things for each customer that will give them the best results.
To get momentum in a marketplace matching buyers and sellers, you need positive dynamics on both sides. Adam fundamentally understands the challenges each side faces and he’s solving them. He looks at adoption curves, how customer usage evolves over time, and what happens to the buyer/seller relationship if you add another layer.
Adam has a great balance of clarity and questioning. It’s much easier to empower people when you have that clarity. He has confidence, IQ and smarts, but also the humility to listen and learn. He really cares about people and what he can do to help them.
He’s learned a lot about leading businesses through high levels of change and ambiguity in really complex environments. He has the balance of being clear versus being open, so he’d be really useful for other businesses going through growth.
In the time I’ve known him he’s grown a young family. Sometimes when people have kids they suddenly realise what really matters in life. I think Adam already had a good sense of what matters.
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