Want to tap in to the best startup advice from entrepreneurs who are out there doing it? Welcome to ‘500 Founders’ where we ask innovators from around New Zealand for their top insights for first time startup founders.

Deb Gilbertson – Founder

Te Kaihau

“Entrepreneurship is like parenting.”

“Making your business happen is more like parenting than a planned process. There is a creative moment of passion … followed by nine months of vaguely getting ready. And then the great day arrives, full of hoopla. Within two hours the questions start – How do you get the baby to feed? Is that a normal cry? And so the parenting journey begins as you give it a go, iterating between getting it right and getting it wrong, peppered with asking friends, experts, and Doctor Google.

The journey is relentless. For 20 years you throw your heart into it, take the knocks, and come back for more. Why? Is this because your kids are a great retirement plan? No! It is just because ….

There is a deep commitment that goes beyond logic. You will throw love and effort into your own child, but the superior genes of the test tube baby parked outside the science lab is of no interest to you. Growing your child is an expression of who you are.

I have worked with thousands of new ventures and found success did not come from finding the best idea, entrepreneurship courses, great science, business planning, or venture capital. In the end success looked like parenting. It’s a heartfelt journey of experiences that draws in the support and resources when needed. Growing your business is an expression of who you truly are. So, who are you?”

Richard Liew – founder

NZ Entrepreneur Magazine

“Learn about lean startup methodology.” 

“If you are working on a product, service or business model that has not been done before, the principles of lean startups can help de-risk your ideas and increase your ability to launch something that the market actually values – rather than just something you think the market will value.

Not knowing any better, the way most businesses start is that the founder comes up with an idea, falls in love with it, asks a couple of friends or family members whether it’s a good idea, and then just starts building it. (I did this several times myself before learning there is a better way!) They invest all their spare time, effort and money to build their product, agonising over their name and logo, put up a website, rent a store or office and get everything ready to launch. Finally, weeks, months or years later, the big day comes. They announce to the world that they are open for business and then… they wait to find out if they were right about what the market wanted and how they wanted it delivered.

Yes there are always exceptions but for most founders that use this “build it and they will come” strategy, what happens next is… nothing. Or very little. Hundreds of customers don’t magically appear on opening day. The ones that do show up don’t buy the things you thought they would. Word of your launch doesn’t go viral. And the founder is left wondering what went wrong and how, after putting so much hope into their big launch, they are going to turn things around.

If you are making a simple product (e.g. making crafts at home and selling them on an e-commerce site) the cost of simply making your product and then trying to sell it may be minimal. If you get it wrong you may have simply cost yourself a little time and a modest amount of cash. But the greater the complexity and cost of bringing the product to market, the greater the risk.

Lean startup methodology is not perfect, and we can never eliminate all of the risk, but even if you are launching a business into an existing market with a proven demand and an established business model to follow, the assumptions that lean startup will force you to address BEFORE you launch, will give you a far more powerful startup pathway than simply building it and hoping for the best.”

Laura Nixon – founder


“Love solving the problem you’re working on. Become an expert. Because you’re going to have to immerse yourself in it completely!”

“I didn’t start out thinking I wanted to be an entrepreneur, or to have my name up in lights – I just wanted to make a really good toothpaste that wasn’t contributing to more plastic in landfill or washing up on our beaches. 

I think if you can hold onto why you started, it helps put the day to day demands and challenges into perspective. Having a clear idea of your values, and why you’re doing what you’re doing makes it so much easier to make day to day decisions.

Solving your unique problem is like a journey. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to get everything right from the start. So being open to change and new innovation is essential to turn your start-up into a proper grown up business.”

Amber Taylor – founder

ARA Journeys

It is ok to say “No”.

“As early-stage founders we tend to say “yes” and agree to a potential action because we think we need that partnership, relationship, or new deal. But not every person you encounter has your best interests, or that of your company at heart. Not every investment offer you receive is going to offer you an equitable outcome and, in some circumstances, it is more beneficial to say “no” or push back a little. A smart person will see that you share their interest in obtaining a good outcome, and they will not put their (or your) success at risk. Reckless people will stick to their guns and be inflexible.

The truth is, there are a number of reasons to say “no” and when you learn to do this politely, you leave room to say “yes” to opportunities that are a better fit for your business. Not knowing how to  politely say no, can lead to resentment, overwhelm, and burnout. Give yourself the time and space to decide what opportunities are right for you and have a plan on how you are going to respond with a polite no, if necessary.

So, before signing on the dotted line ask yourself if this is the type of person you want in your corner. Backing yourself and having the confidence to say “No” when a person or offer does not align with your values and mission, will save you a lot of heartache further down the track!”

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