Don’t make assumptions about what your target market wants or will be willing to buy. Go out and get feedback from as many people as possible.

 

Sharon is a multi-award winning Australian entrepreneur and Founder of 3 business matchmaking platforms. After a successful corporate career spanning Sydney, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo and Tel Aviv, Sharon founded Matchboard in 2012. Matchboard – a free-to-use website where companies can enter their needs and get matched with “right-fit” suppliers – was crowned Australia’s “Business of the Year” 2018 and named by Westpac as 1 of Australia’s top “200 Businesses of Tomorrow”. Sharon was named Suncorp Innovator of the Year 2018, and she was also bestowed LinkedIn’s PowerProfile status for having one of the 50 most visited profiles in Australia. Sharon has a double honours degree and University Medal from the University of Sydney, and speaks five languages – Japanese, French, German, Hebrew and English.

Where did the idea for Matchboard come from?

I wanted to solve a problem I call “search engine blues”. It’s that feeling of overwhelm and frustration you get when you type a few words into Google to try to find a supplier of a service, and you get hundreds of thousands of results back. Where do you start? I thought if you could enter some filters – like service required, budget, timeline, location, industry experience – you could narrow down to a handful of suppliers. So that’s the platform I set about developing with Matchboard.com.au. Think of it as a B2B version of an online dating site.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Every work day is different, as I’m overseeing the matching of buyers and suppliers across a huge gamut of business services. Take yesterday: we matched a small business looking for a digital content writer, a council wanting call center software, and a pension fund after a customer experience consultant. I get an adrenalin rush every time we make a match! In the morning, I went for a swim. Under the water, with no distraction, I find incredible moments of business clarity. But the truth is, as much as I love my business, I can’t wait for 4pm when my kids come home from school. I’m home nearly every day for that. Between 4pm and 9pm I’m hopping between homework help, housework and – when my teens don’t need or want me – work emails. I always finish the day with an online scrabble game (I was a Scrabble champion in my younger years), and time with my husband.

How do you bring ideas to life?

They say it’s all about the execution, even if the idea is average. I think you have to be passionate about an idea to implement it well, you need that burning impetus to make it work. The idea should reflect your “why”, your purpose – it’s not good enough to be in business just because you want to make money. So in the businesses I’ve founded, I’ve always been crystal clear about why I’m doing it and that’s propelled me forward.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m excited by the resurgence of trust in business. If you think about most online marketplaces, there’s a lot of trust going on – think about trusting strangers to rent out your home to on AirBnB, or trusting someone on the other side of the world to send you a product on ebay. My business is based on trust (we trust suppliers who we match with buyers to report their wins to us so we can take a success fee.) Humans crave relationships of trust and I find it fantastic that the trust economy is blossoming.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

It’s not for everyone but for me, working from home or other remote locations makes me super productive. I don’t get distracted and I don’t lose 40 minutes each way on the commute to an office. The time I save allows me to spend more time with my family, which I value more than anything.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Start a side hustle while you’re still at school. Dabble and experiment with lots of business ideas before you get “serious” as an adult. This experience will be invaluable and will give you a taste of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Work / life balance – people say it’s impossible to have it if you’re a busy entrepreneur. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it. I disagree and I believe I’ve proven that it’s possible to run a great business and be a great Mum.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Speak to customers. Don’t make assumptions about what your target market wants or will be willing to buy. Go out and get feedback from as many people as possible. It’s hard to go wrong in business if you truly listen to customers and action their insights.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The strategy I’ve used is brand-building – building my personal brand and my company’s brand as a trusted advisor and subject matter expert. This plays out in high domain authority for your website, tens of thousands of social media followers, 5-star Google reviews, lots of customer testimonials, and invitations to speak at industry conferences as the expert. The strength of your brand will draw customers and help you grow your business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Expanding Matchboard to the UK, I tried twice hiring a country manager and failed both times. The first guy resigned after 6 months due to health issues, and the second was headhunted. I couldn’t afford to take the risk of third time lucky, bootstrapping the international expansion from my own pocket. After months of soul-searching, I came up with a new model, similar to a franchise, where an overseas business partner licenses the rights to our platform in a given territory. This way, we get paid a fee rather than incur the risk of hiring and retaining an expensive Country Manager. We launched our first licensee in the UK on Jan.1, 2019.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

HireAnegotiator.com! Whether you’re going to buy a new car or an expensive rug for your living room, wouldn’t it be great if you could jump online and hire a negotiator who would split the savings with you?

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Best $100 was taking my daughter to a series of entrepreneur pitch nights. Exposing teenagers to the entrepreneurial world early makes them realise what’s possible, encourages creative thinking, and provides a role model if they show interest in going down the entrepreneurial path.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I write a lot of emails and “Quick Parts” is a little known function in Microsoft Outlook which allows you to quickly create commonly worded emails, without having to copy and paste from somewhere. It’s saved me a huge amount of time.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Deep Thinking by world chess champion Garry Kasparov is an amazing book about the future of the human-machine relationship, something we all need to grapple with.

What is your favorite quote?

“As one door closes, another opens.” This is something my grandmother used to tell me and it’s stayed with me throughout my career giving an optimistic lens even in the bad times.

Key Learnings:

  • If you’re trying to come up with a business idea, think of a frustration or problem you experience, for which there’s no obvious solution.
  • Don’t be afraid to do things differently, whether it’s having a virtual team working flexibly from home, or following your gut instinct to trust your customers and suppliers.
  • Only persist with an idea if you have evidence that customers love it and will use or buy it.

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