Putting Everything On The Line
Partner in Housman Weir Investments Bardia Housman compares the startup lifestyle to the Grand Slam.
Mick Liubinskas If you had an idea for a new business, what would be the first three things you would do?
Bardia Housman After my first exit I did a startup in the enterprise search/knowledge management space that failed miserably, I couldn’t even get one customer to agree to a free trial installation. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in those 2 years (2002–2003). The biggest of all is was to not have any pre-emptions on what the solution should be to a customer problem. Ultimately the best thing to do is to constantly speak to customers and ensure the voice of the customer is being broadcast to your team. The first 3 things I would do is to first speak to a handful of customers to validate my early ideas. Then after achieving certain product goals I would speak to a bigger group of customers and so on. When I finally started Business Catalyst I was genuinely scared of failing again and wanted to prove to myself that I could build a real company and to do that I needed customer input and validation throughout the journey.
Mick Liubinskas What is your preferred balance of wild and crazy vision for the future or critical, objective hold on today’s reality?
Bardia Housman Going back to my 20’s it was all about wild and crazy ideas with no ceiling on the possibilities and outcomes. I distinctly remember the many hours my first cofounder (Michael Mak) and I would spend talking about big ideas. Since then whether it was the one failed startup or my age (42 now), I’ve played it safe. Ultimately Business Catalyst was a safe play that was about how well we could execute.
Duncan Anderson That did you learn about startups from your years running co-working spaces?
Bardia Housman This an interesting question. My foray into running a coworking space wasn’t actually very long but I did learn a few things along the way. In my opinion building a great startup is no different to playing grand slam tennis. You have to be content with no quality of life, putting everything on the line and giving it everything that you have. Given the open nature of coworking spaces I could see who was burning the midnight oil each and every day, and just not those who would be there for the sake of it, but those that you walked past and could see them being consumed with their work and be completely unaware of who was around them. This really stood out as it took me back to early days of Business Catalyst: day in, day out, morning, day and night. There were times I’d justify to myself that staying at home on a Friday or Saturday night to code vs go out to dinner or drinks was the right thing to do.
Mike Baukes Given all you’ve done, What is your proudest business achievement and why?
Bardia Housman I recently gave a talk to a bunch of engineering students and the topic of conversation was success stories. When I started to plan my talk I realised that the things about the past that brought a smile to my face were not the exits but the journeys I shared with my cofounders and employees. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with 3 amazing cofounders (2 in tech and 1 in real estate). Without sounding cheesy the ups and downs, 1000’s of beers, and journeys I’ve shared with each of them are my proudest moments.
Jackson Delahunt You’ve built multiple companies that have been acquired, an outcome vastly more likely than an IPO (2015 in North America saw 234 IPOs and 13,831 M&A deals). If a founder pitched you their startup and their goal was to be acquired, would this be a red flag? Is aiming for an acquisition rather than IPO a positive or a negative in an investor’s eyes?
Bardia Housman Back in 2006–2007 I was doing the rounds in Sydney trying to raise our first round for Business Catalyst. The very last slide of my deck said that Adobe was a natural acquirer of my company given my GTM and channel I was building. I think as an entrepreneur it’s important to be able to tell a story to your investors of what the journey may look like for the business, but beyond that I think it’s premature to spend too much time speculating on the exact outcome. Investors are excited by big addressable markets that provide huge gains. I think it would be bigger red flag if that wasn’t articulated to me at a pitch.