The Insider’s Guide to Starting a Business

Starting a business – especially your first business – can come with equal parts excitement and terror, not to mention a boatload of burning questions. Kiwi founders Chris Chong, Heidi Renata, Steve Hillier, and Glen Ford answered some of those burning questions during a panel discussion with aspiring founders on Whitecliffe’s Master of Creative Enterprise and Innovation (MCEI).

The Insider’s Guide to Starting a Business

Timing is everything
So when is the right time to start a business? The younger the better, says Auckland entrepreneur and founder Steve Hillier.

“You have a lot more scope for failure when you’re young. If you’ve got an idea that you think might have legs start thinking about how it’s possible. If you can get that first thing that you can sell to customers and start making money, then you can build your confidence to the point where you might be able to jump into it fulltime.”

Chris Chong, founder and director of Redcactus Design, is a perfect example. He started the award-winning brand and packaging design firm 30 years ago when he was in his mid-20s, and it’s still going strong.

“Yes I was pretty young, but I knew the time was right,” says Chris. “ If you think the time is right, jump at it. You can only but try. When you’re young it’s great - if it doesn’t work you just go and do something else, if it works you do it for the next 30 years like I have! If you wait until you’re in your 40s with kids there are a few more risks.”

Founder and chief energy officer of INNOV8HQ Heidi Renata agrees, saying “The younger the better because you’re more flexible and agile. In fact a characteristic that’s really important for being a business owner is to stay young. A lot of the time we get so serious that it starts stagnating our thinking capacity and mindset, so stay youthful in your head and use that thinking to develop your ideas. And talk to the kids! We’re now in an environment where the future of work has completely changed. You’re going to be creating businesses in a world that doesn’t exist yet.”

Mistakes happen
Everybody makes mistakes, but it’s how we deal with our mistakes that separates the wheat from the chaff. The key to success? Don’t spend too long in the pit.

“It’s okay to breakdown when we make mistakes, sometimes we have to grieve and throw our toys out of the cot, but then we have to get back on the horse,” says founder and investor Glen Ford. “An important part of being an entrepreneur is that resilience. We are all going to go down the wrong path and make mistakes, but have your moment, process the emotion, and move on.”

And as Heidi points out, there is always a silver lining.

“You learn from all your mistakes and over time you get better at appreciating that every mistake is actually a valuable lesson,” she says. “Consider failure as a first attempt in learning – the most empowering and significant lessons come from when you’re honest and truthful about your mistakes, and these lessons can be passed on to help others.”

Look on the bright side
So what happens if your brilliant new idea fails? First tip – when you’re starting out, don’t even entertain the thought.

Chris says, “You don’t go into business to fail, you’ve got to be positive. If you think of the negative from the start it will outweigh the positive. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and be passionate about what you’re doing and why you want to start a business.”

Glen agrees, saying, “Let’s be real, failure happens, but face those things when you come across them, that shouldn’t be what you’re thinking about from the start. Besides, in a lot of ways, you set your own ideas of success and failure. What do you want out of life? It doesn’t have to be a multibillion dollar company – it has to be what makes you happy. If you do that, you’re going to be successful no matter what.”

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur poised to launch the next big idea, check out Whitecliffe’s new Master of Creative Enterprise and Innovation. Find out more at

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