It’s true, I was inspired by online dating – I thought if a dating site can connect people with their “perfect match” partners, why can’t a platform equally connect businesses with their perfect match suppliers? Instead of saying you want 6 foot, muscles, dark hair, blue eyes, you get to say things like, “I want this service, within this budget, in this timeframe and I need experience in this industry” - and you get matched with suppliers that tick those boxes. Matchboard specialises in all the products and services a business needs to acquire and service customers. That could be digital marketing, customer experience consulting, sales training, an outsourced call centre, an offshore staffing provider…just as a few examples. Our service is free to use, and thousands of companies have used it to find suppliers.
The idea came from the frustration I felt with search engines. Google is an amazing resource in so many ways, but when it comes to finding the right supplier to meet a specific business need, it’s simply a broken experience. You type in a few keywords and get back hundreds of thousands of results. Where do you start? I thought right there is an opportunity to help save people time and hassle, by narrowing the search down to just the suppliers that meet the user’s criteria – like budget, location, timeline, industry expertise. I resigned from my high-flying, high-stress corporate job and 4 months later launched Matchboard. Finding the right company to develop the platform was my first hurdle – I’d typed “website development Australia” into Google and combed through 10 pages of results, but most companies I shortlisted from that process didn’t even respond to my inquiry. As fate had it, I’d booked a holiday in Israel, and there I met an entrepreneurial 20-person development company that offered to take on the job at cost – in exchange for the rights to the source code in the domestic Israeli market. With my “perfect match” tech partner sorted, I was off and running!
I pretty much knew the idea was commercially viable when I landed three clients Day 1 of launch. I got these clients through a simple LinkedIn share strategy. Fuelled by this early win, I felt fearless approaching some of the startup and business media editors and scored some free coverage which provided instant credibility. Credibility and trust are so important in a startup brand. I’ve continued to focus on social media and PR while going on a steep learning curve for content marketing. SEO now accounts for half Matchboard’s customers. A couple of years ago I started applying for business awards, as another way to build that credibility and gain free exposure. Luckily I’ve had success and award programs have been incredible door-openers.
Our bottom line has grown double digits year-on-year since we launched in 2012. I’ve plugged the profits into expansion into the UK market, and our new licensee starts there in January. Securing the Federal Government’s Export Market Development Grant (EMDG) helped immeasurably, as that funded 50% of Matchboard’s sales and marketing costs.
Bootstrapping the business has always been my preferred approach. Sometimes I see entrepreneurs whose goal in life seems to be raising money. That’s not how I define success; in fact, I think your chances of success are small if your main motivation is money. Know your “why” and let that mission, those values propel you forward. Staying true to my mission - to make it easier for buyers and suppliers to find each other – is, I think, one reason I’ve been successful.
I studied Japanese at university because, at the time, Japan was Australia’s biggest source of trade and tourism. Speaking Japanese was an immediate passport to the business world, which was crying out for bilingual Australians. I joined a Japanese company and over 15 years progressed to the leadership team as the only Westerner. The company had a successful IPO and I got a small chunk of equity. This would never have happened without my language skills.
Knowing German enabled me to leapfrog a competitor on an almost done deal with a German multinational, as I bonded with the client over our mutual love of the writer, Franz Kafka! Speaking a client’s language and knowing their culture is an automatic advantage in business.
I do believe that hating my corporate job was a good thing in hindsight! Otherwise, I would never have started my own business and would have probably just sailed along another few years in corporate. So I’d just say to other women who hate their boss or resent their employer’s lack of flexibility: take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate and consider striking out on your own! If you don’t quite have a business idea to run with yet, join the gig economy, set up an ABN, and do some contract work while you work things out. But don’t wait so long that it starts to damage your health and your personal relationships - then it can be too late.
I’ve really focused on setting a great role model for my kids, proving to them it’s possible to have a great business and be a great Mum. Some people say you can’t have your cake and eat it, but I’m eating it! I use a few strategies to make it work. One is involving my kids in my business and making them feel part of the journey. For example, my daughter helps me with the design of Powerpoint presentations and she’s attended a few meetings with me as “entrepreneur in training”. My son helps with some data entry tasks at a pre-negotiated hourly rate!
Another strategy is to be crystal clear and honest with yourself about priorities and to honour those priorities when making decisions about family v work. It’s often very tempting to follow the money and seize every business opportunity – but it comes at a price. I’ve made a conscious decision that I won’t trade important milestones in my family for the lure of another deal.
Experiment with little side-businesses, even if you do have a corporate job. This will give you invaluable experience for later in life.
A bad idea is never going to fly, but if the business concept is average to great, I think the key to startup success is sales and marketing skills. If you don’t have them, do you have the aptitude to acquire them, or can you team up with a co-founder who brings those skills to the table? You have to be honest about your skills gaps.
I still work a lot of hours, but it doesn’t feel like as much for two reasons: (1) I love what I do – it’s not a “job”, and (2) the hours are on my terms, which means lots of flexibility to work around family commitments. In terms of travel, I take my family with me on my few overseas business trips, and I manage to pack meetings into day-trips interstate. In my corporate job, if a company offsite or international client event clashed with a school concert my child was in, it was a case of, “that’s bad luck”. Running my own business means I can avoid these guilt trips and set my own priorities, which removes a huge amount of stress.
I’d say Japan. My 15 years’ working with a Japanese company inspired my “Customer first” ethos and the trust model on which Matchboard is built. We trust our suppliers to say, “Thanks Matchboard, we just converted that lead you gave us”, and from there we collect our success fees. Every businessperson I know cautioned me against this trust model, saying people are too dishonest and forgetful. But this was the model the market wanted and I had seen so much business done in Japan based on relationships of trust, I had the confidence to give it a go. Happy to say, I proved the critics wrong and people are more honest than you think!
Do it! But pick the right timing in your life, when you can afford to take a financial risk, and have support from family and friends – you’ll need it!
Image via The CEO Magazine
Sharon Melamed is a multi-award winning Australian entrepreneur and Founder of 3 matching platforms. Her journey started in 2012 when she founded Matchboard, a free-to-use website where companies can enter their needs and get matched with “right-fit” suppliers. In 2018, Matchboard was crowned “Business of the Year” at the Optus My Business Awards. And in 2017, Westpac named Matchboard as 1 of Australia’s top “200 Businesses of Tomorrow”. Sharon was named Suncorp Innovator of the Year at the Women in Digital
awards, and she also holds LinkedIn’s PowerProfile status for having one of the 50 most visited profiles in Australia. Sharon has a double honours degree from the University of Sydney and speaks five languages.