4 Inspirational startup founders (who you might not have heard of) and what we can learn from them

Oct 27, 2017

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We know how Jeff Bezos got started, and we know how Facebook grew into its first office space in a dorm room. What about all those lesser-known startup founders though? The ones who’ve quietly persevered but don’t get onto the cover of TIME Magazine?

The following 4 startup founders have inspiring and humbling stories to tell, and set a great example for future and current startup founders from every kind of background.

Michelle Kennedy, founder of Peanut

It was poor UX that encouraged Michelle Kennedy to develop an app aimed at mums looking for new friends. The former Badoo deputy CEO found that apps aimed at mothers just weren’t cutting it, as if the creators didn’t think mums cared about UX.

To combat the loneliness that often comes with isolated motherhood, Peanut connects mums with similar interests and similar aged children, encouraging them to form groups and meet-ups. Vogue calls it “Tinder for mom friends”, and its UX is very carefully considered — you can use every function on the app with one hand.

Kennedy faced a lot of skepticism during development, with one associate asking her “don’t you want to do something sexier?” This was just further proof to the founder that “keeping conversations going about motherhood…is of paramount importance”.

What we can learn from her

Michelle Kennedy’s startup journey shows that you have to fight for your idea sometimes. Despite her doubters, she knew that there was an audience who needed Peanut and didn’t patronise them.

The tech world doesn’t cater for every audience perfectly; there are still some crying out for an app or product that really works for them.

Ryan O’Connor, co-founder of One Tribe Apparel

These aren’t just harem pants and boho-inspired accessories; One Tribe Apparel is one of few fashion brands to collaborate with bloggers and Instagram celebrities from 16 different countries.

O’Connor used his background in SEO to generate 40% of sales from Google search, but admits he slipped up when he outsourced the new company’s PPC, making him realise “I need to learn more about each marketing channel before I outsource it”. Now, he subscribes to that commonly held startup founder adage — no one cares about your business as much as you do.

When giving advice to other startup founders who are short on cash, O’Connor suggests they start with their social media following, something that’s helped to build up One Tribe’s international reputation. “You’ll already have a captive audience that trusts you and getting those initial sales will be much easier”.

What we can learn from him

No one has exactly the same skills you have, so it’s important to utilise them in your business wherever you can. O’Connor shows that knowing your area and plugging away slowly in the background can make your ascent much easier in the long term.

Louise Broni-Mensah, founder of Shoobs

Investment banker by day, hip-hop artist management by night. It’s definitely not an easy way of life, but it helped Louise Broni-Mensah learn to deal with music execs, bookers and venues.

Shoobs is a booking marketplace and self-service platform for nightlife and events. Broni-Mensah found the act of searching for a night out and the booking process didn’t link up well. Many events were still relying on old-fashioned flyering, so she created a better way to do things.

Getting funding for Shoobs was tough. Broni-Mensah found that “people are biased towards a formula they are familiar with…investors can be more inclined to back a founder that is similar to one of their past successes”.

What we can learn from her

Like a lot of solo startup founders, Louise Broni-Mensah is willing to understand every part of her business, particularly when she’s not comfortable with it, and she can make independent decisions. She’s an example of how experience is nothing without self-belief.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, co-founders of Witchsy

Gazin and Dwyer went down an unconventional route when they were developing their alternative art marketplace, Witchsy — they invented a colleague called Keith Mann.

Rarely taken seriously, the co-founders found developers and graphic designers (mostly male) “took a condescending tone over email” and were sometimes “slow to respond”. Not what you need when you’re trying to develop your own ecommerce site. After one too many patronizing emails, they created Keith and used him to communicate with outsourced associates. According to Dwyer, “Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else”.

Using Keith helped Gazin and Dwyer to take Witchsy from strength to strength, and also highlighted a major issue with “tech bro masculinity”.

What we can learn from them

Whoever you are, or however people respond to you professionally, there’s wisdom in circumventing traditional routes and doing things your way. Keith Mann might not be real, but he helped Gazin and Dwyer get what they wanted, and some great press coverage too.

No one said disrupting an industry would be easy — it’s unwise to shy away from the gritty reality of founding your own startup business and all the challenges it involves.

Reading other people’s stories can inspire you and fire you up, but it’s how you sustain it that’s the really tricky part. Tell us what you think…

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