Anatomy of a Start-up

Anatomy of a Start-up


There’s no instant fix, switch, magic wand, or guardian angel which will make your start-up business an instant success. Darren Tonkin, Founder of Storyboard, gives advice to potential founders about the planning involved.

Read about Darren’s remarkable journey to create the popular App, Storyboard.

Look inward before expanding horizons

Start working on yourself from day one. Darren advises, “If you can build that discipline and structure into yourself, that will flow on into your business.” If you feel you’ve got weaknesses, e.g. procrastination, then work on that before you start. “Strengthen yourself, then dig in. Get accountability, tell your loved ones you’re doing it, because they’re going to help drive you.”

You should already have a road-map on how you’re going to grow it, because growth is the number one hardest thing in any start-up.

Power of the user name

First thing is get your user name. “Figure out your user name across various platforms because you never know which platform is going to be the next big thing.” Darren says, “signing up and getting your user name is like getting a domain name. I went out and got the domain names, user names on platforms that are dead now.” The right user name is really powerful and it costs you nothing except singing up with your email address.

It’s all about timing

If you need to allow one year to chase, “you need to know you can fund yourself personally for one year and the business”. Begin your start-up while you’re doing your day job and then roll back to four days a week, spend one day on it, then roll back to three days, etc. Keep doing it until your business makes enough money so it can pay you and sustain itself—that’s when you start transitioning.”

Failing to plan = plan to fail

The Brisbane entrepreneur combats the difficulties of building the business with active planning. “I know where I want to be in six months, but each step getting there is really hard”. As Founder, Darren plans for each micro-level of the day. “When you’re working for someone you’re being told what to do. You’ve got that clear direction. With tech it’s not so clear.”

Every evening Darren plans out what to do for the next day. “In the morning is when I’m most productive but I have decision fatigue because I’m constantly making decisions”. Darren makes sure he’s organised during his most productive time. “I know what I’m doing for the first four hours so I can get in and bang it out. I don’t have to make a decisions like; ‘Should I be going over statistics or analytics?’ You lose 20 minutes minutes doing that, then you’re unproductive from the get-go.”

Doing your business homework

If you haven’t done your homework before you get to school you can’t learn from your mistakes. Research before meeting with professionals like lawyers, consultants or accountants, “if I’m going to talk about a legal matter, I’ve researched the legal matter so I understand it. If it’s a meeting with an accountant, I’ve already done the books as much as I can so when I get in there I’m learning something. If it’s with a business plan and with consultancy I’ve done as much as I can and they help me correct and fix it.”

Professionals and mentors

Getting mentors and the right professionals around you is crucial. Do comprehensive research before going to professionals for help.“If you’ve done your own accounting, it will end up possibly being only a couple hundred dollars rather than a couple thousand.” If you’ve got your business plan organised, “then instead of taking five hours explaining to your consultant what’s in your head they can already see it. It speeds things up and makes things clear for both of you.”

We all like other people doing the work for us, “if you can get out there and do it, you’re also going to inspire the consultants, the mentors, the accountants to do more because they see you actually putting something into it. I’ve heard of horror stories of friends who have spent $50,000 and all they’ve got is a video and landing page to show for it. We could do that in one day for $200.

It’s not always the professionals with the best ads. It’s not always the people who speak the most or have the biggest following on LinkedIn. It’s about the people who are willing to get in there and do the grunt work with you.

Not founder material? Be a first employee

Go and work in a start-up by doing an internship. Storyboard offers internships through the Universities. “Go and learn it first and you will see it’s not all guns and roses and learn the bottom side of things. Founders are celebrated, but first employees and second employees are just as important.” For example, Elon Musk didn’t create the rocket for the SpaceX launch!

Not everyone is meant to be a Founder because “it’s a hell of a ride.” However, if you have a passion to be involved with innovation but don’t feel you have 100% commitment to be a Founder, then be one of the first employees. “Take the risk, come along and say; ‘I want to work for you for six months for little to nothing but I’d like options to get equity’. Come on board and take that risk. Spend one month doing it, or whatever period of time, and get that real life experience. It’s more than you could ever be told or taught.”

Co-working spaces and meet ups

There are plenty of networking opportunities and great co-working spaces in Brisbane. There’s River City Labs in the Valley set up by Steve Baxter from Shark Tank. “They’re really into their SaaS (software as a service) and that sort of tech”. Fishburners in the CBD, Little Tokyo Two, Universities and the State Library also have excellent resources. “There’s QUT’s Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) where I’m based which is creative tech, “they do stuff that’s similar to us. They have photo-sharing, all the way to clothing, e-commerce, design, and these places have networks and mentors.” In these areas you can have access to lawyers providing pro-bono work and give advice. There’s also advice with accounting.

“You can access a lot of free early-stage knowledge through these networks and you can start trusting people who are already trusted through networks.” There are a lot of good resources out there. has meet ups where you can listen to topics of interest. “Learn from those places. Definitely start talking to other founders and reach out.”

Hustle to show you’ve got the moves

Founders respect hustle because they’re hustling. “If someone sends you an email, you send them an email and they don’t reply, you start writing them off. So keep hustling! If I don’t reply then come back a fourth time, come back a fifth time. Keep doing it. Eventually I’m going to respect you for actually giving a dam.”

Be smart, if you’re reaching out to a Founder make sure you spell the company name right and research their product. Make sure if you’re going to someone for advice that you’re not going to look silly. “If you’re looking at spaces and building Apps then reach out to me. But make sure you’ve been onto my App, had a look and if you reach out to me with feedback then straight away you’re going to get advice.” It’s about reaching out the right way. You can do that to any Founder in the world. “I’ve spoken to billionaires and CEOs all around the world.”

That’s how I do it. I hustle in. I keep reaching out as many ways as I can. They all respect the hustle.

Learning isn’t always taught at school

As well as being a QUT graduate, Darren says, “I did the university from the back-seat of my parent’s car. For 18 years I sat there and listened to what they discussed. I was learning about the struggles they went through with business and accounting. Everyone can learn something from listening to their parent’s talk. My parents, (my mum, my dad, my step-dad) are very big mentors in my life. When I have questions and ideas I run it through with them.”

Know who you’re selling to

It’s key to know where the monetisation comes from. Big businesses in the tech spaces target the youth, “trends get picked up quicker with the youth”. But a 13-year-old doesn’t have one dollar to spend. However, a 35, 40 or 50-year-old does. Darren says, “If we can understand and talk to the older generation, for example, if my mum really wants something, she will spend $50 or $100 to get it. Kids have to go through parents, so I have to sell it to the parents. I need to realistically monetise because if I’m selling a trip or trying to promote you to go to a place—it’s not going to be the 13-year old. That’s why a lot of feedback from my parents is strong, because they’re the ones willing to spend money.”

Slow down to speed up

Sometimes people want to rush their product out and they’re not good at listening and taking suggestions on board. “You need to get that market feedback and then focus in,” advises Darren. Putting it out on social is key. “I used my own Facebook network and a lot of my friends shared stuff.” The Storyboard beta testing lasted one year.

It’s building the mechanism and doing it an affordable level until you’re ready to really push that button.

Being myth-taken about an overnight success

Beware of the myth about overnight tech success stories. Billion-dollar company Instagram had humble beginnings with Burbn in 2009. After intensive development and repackaging in 2010 it took off after 13 weeks and attracted millions of users. AirBnB is also looked at as an overnight success. However, AirBnB Founders raised investment by selling cereal complete with catchy jingle. “They were out of money and they sold Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s during the election. It was a novelty item and that’s the way they raised their investment.”

If you’re a potential Founder with that spark of an idea, we hope these tips will help you on your personal journey to success.

  • Smart planning—Don’t plan to fail
  • Research and own it—know who you’re talking to and take ownership for your business
  • Support makes us stronger—build that trusting support network
  • Explore so you don’t lose sight—be a first employee or intern, learn from other startups
  • Hustle—get in there and don’t be shy
  • Learn and grow—keep learning (it never stops—so embrace it)
  • Target and test—what is the benefit of your business?
Follow our article series on startups next week. We will be looking closely at how choosing the right team is important with ‘awarding’ business development. There will also be interviews from experts looking at how investors and mentors play key roles in developing the extraordinary creative tech-talent we have in Australia.

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