Team at desk in busy office discussing first year in business
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Sharing the secrets of startup success: Fishburners

With a remit that includes nurturing a community of startups and entrepreneurs, Fishburners CEO Nicole O’Brien has plenty of insights and advice on the best way to get a new business idea off the ground.

Leading a community of 350-plus startups, she talks about the key elements of starting a business and the importance of a supportive network.

What do you think is one of the most critical elements to get right when starting a business?

You have to be very clear about who your market is and how you can best service them – that’s got to continuously be your focus. Everyone is operating in highly competitive environments, so you need to make sure all aspects of your business, your product or offering are aligned to your customer needs. To do this, you need to talk to people – there’s lots of desktop research you can do, but you can’t go beyond those face-to-face conversations.

It’s also important to understand what your competitors are doing, including testing their product offering and considering how frictionless the journey is. This all takes time and effort, but it will save you angst and problems further down the track. If you get this right from the start, the opportunities are there to have a successful business.

How important is it to embrace social responsibility when you build your business these days?

Whether you’re driven by profit or purpose, I think all businesses should be looking at their triple bottom line and either give back in some way or ensure their business operations don’t have a negative impact. 

It comes back to making sure you’re aligned with the values and expectations of the people you serve. The people factor is a key consideration now, and it gives you that added level of authenticity.

It’s also another compelling reason for them to buy from you or work with you, particularly for younger people, who as we’ve seen with the recent climate protests, are very socially aware.

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What do you see as one of the toughest challenges facing startups, particularly in their first year in business?

Having to do everything yourself and potentially being on your own is a major challenge. This is why places like Fishburners can be so popular – you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who are all in a similar situation. I think there’s real strength in that.

When you’re having a bad day or there’s a problem you can’t solve, having people you can troubleshoot with and get feedback from is really important – both to your success and your mental health.

For anyone interested in starting a business, what would you say is the biggest opportunity for startups today?

Technology has created so many new ways to have a business. You don’t need to have a lot of money to invest in bricks and mortar, you can create a successful business by establishing an ecommerce platform, a software as a service (SaaS) solution, or an artificial intelligence (AI) product.

It’s also transformed the way we work with countless tools that make doing business so much easier, whether it’s having access to secure payment gateways to extend your business into the online space or logistics. There’s so much technology that really liberates you in terms of how you operate and grow your business.

Of course, keeping up with it can be a challenge. A lot of people struggle with the technology side unless they’re software engineers or developers. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome, either through aligning yourself with someone who has that expertise or just by doing your research.

Since launching in 2011, Fishburners has been a springboard for more than 2,000 startups, including household names like Car Next Door. With her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, Nicole is excited about helping the burgeoning community further expand its reach and impact and potentially enabling Australia’s next big thing.

Hear from our members 

From a cinema that’s been in operation since the 1900s, to a national beer brand, our members know a thing or two about business. Hear about their journeys and challenges, and what their crucial piece of business advice is.


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