Gratitude and lessons from 8 years as a start-up
ADAPT reached the milestone of 8 years this month. For any founder, the anniversary of inception triggers reflection, consideration and gratitude to have made it this far.
Eight years ago, from a managed office in Darling Park, with enthusiasm, experience and no brand, five of us set off towards a vision to create the best possible ways of connecting people at the right time for the right reasons. Then known as SE-Corp, in creating C-level events we promised to focus on what executives really needed. We soon managed to deliver and innovate where incumbents were moving too slowly.
Luckily, I had a good network and reputation. I had been in Sydney for a decade, so enough brave people bought into our vision to enable it to become a reality. Soon our events became known for delivering quality with integrity, in an industry where sadly too many local and global event companies decide to chase the sponsor dollar or delegate ticket fee and were willing to say and do anything to scalp it. Australia is a small market and reputation is everything. That means if you get it right then word spreads and rewards come to those who deliver what they promise, and thankfully vice versa.
Always our focus has been on the most important business topics and strategy of the day, to equip local business and technology leaders with what they need to succeed in their role, showing them examples of those ahead, lessons of what to do, and the pitfalls to avoid. In such challenging roles, with limited time to succeed, every executive must catch up and keep up. They enjoy the opportunity to ask questions in a safe environment, and not to have all the answers.
Our team didn’t churn, and we welcomed new talent and personalities when the budget allowed. Soon I was able to shift tasks from my desk to others and become more customer facing, in turn securing the funds we needed to better deliver our services and attract better staff. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It enabled the oxygen for us to breathe and grow, where sadly too many start-ups fail.
The fast fish
Our fast fish soon outperformed other slow fish. Our events soon became established and emerged as a preferred annual gathering for many of Australia’s busy C-level executives, across CIOs, CFOs and IT departments. Soon we were also able to offer lunches, roundtables and roadshow type events. We were able to bring speakers from abroad and thought leadership from the likes of McKinsey, MIT, Harvard, BCG and various analyst firms to bolster the value of local case studies.
As we delivered, we earned trust from our community and were then able to ask more questions of them. What are your challenges? What are your barriers to success? What do you need to deliver in your role? Who do you want to know more about? What use cases do you want us to explore? What are your business and technology drivers? How can we help?
Their replies fed back in to help us create the most useful agendas, to attract expert speakers, and to take our attendees on a practical journey with the destination of sustainable change and success. Referrals and reputation enabled us to secure and welcome even more key Australian decision makers to our events and into the community. In turn, they shared more information with us.
Our mission became to harness the world’s collective intelligence and equip the Australian C-suite with what they needed to do their jobs better, to validate or challenge their strategies and tactics, and to help them deliver on their role and their career, for their department and organisation.
As with any small business, we soon outgrew our original business plan, messaging and even brand. Our website barely explained what we did, as our service offerings were growing so fast because of opportunities coming our way. We identified the need to rebrand, and the name ADAPT emerged in a Singapore hotel while musing the incoming impact of another technology revolution.
With the rebrand, we pivoted from an events company to a market intelligence company, with a trusting community and deep understanding of local trends and challenges. Our events became the execution point to bring the right people together for the right reasons at the right time. We also identified our key differentiator from others, our people – a team that cared innately on delivery and outcomes, with a drive for perfection that meant we were always disrupting ourselves.
Meanwhile, our client base grew, as did our knowledge and understanding of their inherent marketing challenges. We became embedded in most of the local and global brands operating in our market, actively problem solving, listening and suggesting. It’s interesting how even the biggest brands have the same challenges as their smaller counterparts. How do you cut through the noise in a commoditised market? How do you explain the breadth of your services, not what you used to be known for? How can you resonate with an increasingly busy and sophisticated customer, and emerging multiple stakeholders?
Our position of trust intersecting buyers and sellers, with a deepening understanding of all sides, further empowered our ability to intelligently matchmake the right vendors and end users for a win-win. Everyone saves time and money and opportunities emerge which accelerate time to market and commerce for all involved. The outcome has been meaningful introductions leading to hundreds of millions of dollars through relationships enabled by ADAPT services, and perhaps, more importantly, thousands of hours saved for everyone.
Four years ago, our survey data sadly concurred with global reporting that Australia was becoming a global laggard, where before we’d been a leader. Productivity indexes and a reduced iron ore price exposed weakness, complacency, years of risk aversion, poor customer service and limited investment in technology. Despite years of warning and thousands of onstage references to disruption, Uber and Airbnb, real change was not coming fast enough, and the size and age of large established companies were becoming a problem rather than a benefit.
This coincided with my daughter Sienna turning 5, going to school and triggering thoughts on the future we were shaping for her and all our children. ADAPT emerged with a clearer vision that if we can help top executive leaders, then we also help Australian productivity. A bolder drive came in the aim to deliver whatever the C-level needed to manage change and pivot their companies to survive and thrive, to better compete on the local and global stage, to build a better Australian present and future.
In 2018, ADAPT interviewed over 10,000 of Australia’s leading business and technology executives. We proudly hosted and worked alongside over 2,300 of them, generally responsible for revenues accounting for almost 50% of our nation’s GDP and employing well over 10% of the active workforce. We took them on diverse journeys to explore how to manage change, enable agility, sustain transformation, improved customer experience and lead their chosen field. Our agendas, knowledge partners and speakers gave corporate leaders what they needed to catch up, and keep up, and sent them back to their organisations equipped with actionable ideas for what to do next, this quarter, to make an impact. Hopefully, we helped to make a difference. Delegate and client feedback suggests we are the best in our field, with our small team outperforming global giants, which has warmed our hearts along the way.
Every small business must either fund itself or sell its soul since the banks do little unless you stake your home on the equation. ADAPT has been lucky enough to be in an industry that mostly pays upfront, so for years we managed to float a few months or weeks ahead of cashflow sometimes running on fumes, but always pulling through. At every stage we reinvested in our staff and products, spending everything on quality delivery and organic growth, and ensuring everyone in the team is happy.
The benefit of delivering on trust is that each year delegates spend more time with us, our information base grows, clients shift more of their budget to us, and we welcome new accounts, which in turn then expand. The benefit of delivering a great product is great employee experience, culture and retention of talent and experience, operating as a sporting team, and with minimal churn. Our employees are always my number one customer, and always will be. Many people suggest that calling your work crew a family isn’t professional, but ADAPT is certainly an amazing collection of people, many of whom who are now brothers, sisters and care for each other far beyond a working relationship. Of that, I am so proud.
Last year, we finally reached the point as a small business to have the resources to deliver on the bigger business plan. Having built so many trusted connections and becoming the interconnecting platform for relationships and commerce, we saw the gap in the market for local intelligence and insight. With so many companies relying on foreign market data and spending a fortune to try to validate and benchmark their own strategies and budgets, and with ADAPT gathering so much information from thousands of interactions, discovery sessions and hundreds of surveys conducted every week – it was clearly an opportunity.
To grasp it we recruited leading analysts and writers to interrogate our pool of data, and interpret the trends it tells and the future it suggests. We’re harnessing our community of delegates and their desire to know what everyone else is doing, We are seeking the best use cases and, examples of success to create a platform of excellence and research-based insights into what executives need to be aware of and what they need to do about it. We have captured the content across all of our events into an on-demand library and refined hundreds of hours of content into the distilled gist of suggested actions. This has enabled us to launch an on-demand platform for our advisory, research and data services which now brings all the ideas executives need, all year round, and extends the conversation beyond our events to help further empower Australian commerce.
The journey has been incredible. Pivoting along the way on market forces and opportunity built on success has meant consistent diversification and new challenges to ensure the leadership and team here never stagnate. ADAPT is no longer led by me as a single boss. Realising I was often more hindrance than help we delegated responsibilities and decision making to those in the role with far more daily knowledge and expertise. Our teams have become agile and autonomous, which in turn has enabled us the time to create our new Membership subscription start-up within our existing start-up. We have certainly listened to what the experts say at each of our events to help manage people and processes, integrate and transform to platform economics, and rise to the challenge of changing the tyres while the car is driving, at speed. And we sympathise with corporate Australia doing it at scale!
ADAPT reaches her 8th birthday milestone as a business heading towards 2020 with 35 wonderful people believing in a clear vision and mission to succeed as a team and help to make a difference and build a better Australia for everyone involved.
My eternal gratitude goes to that team of ADAPTers, those who have been and gone and those who are here today doing exceptionally well. We have a diverse collection of skills, nationalities and cultures, meshed together with care for each other and willingness to help that can’t be trained or purchased.
Our gratitude as a team extends to our huge community of end-user enterprise and government delegates, and the thousands of future leaders who don’t yet know but will soon join us. Such busy people, hammered and frazzled, chased and badgered in this crowded market. You trust us with your time and needs, and we promise to always aim for quality with integrity, equipping you with the knowledge and competencies to help you rise above.
Further, to our 200 strategic partner clients without whom nothing would operate, we hope to help improve your position and influence, grow your relationships and revenues with the faith and budgets you invest in us.
As well as embodying Jeff Bezos principles around Day One and Customer Obsession, we have two mantras at ADAPT: ‘Rise Above’ and’ Love Your Work’. Our aim, and my promise is that we will all work to deliver on their meaning for many more years to come.
Happy 8th Birthday ADAPT. Thank you so much for enabling us all to go on this journey together.
Founder & CEO