Finding purpose through volunteering: part 2

Year 2: Hustling Hard and Dreaming Big | October 2018 — September 2019

🎁 New Year, New Role

I believe a lot of us spend our lives looking for an opportunity to put our personal stamp on. Some call it a personal legacy. That opportunity came for me in 2019 when I officially started my new role as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Generation Entrepreneur. Not a lot of 20-year-olds can say that they’ve had a stint in a C-Suite position, so that was a pretty good boost for my self-esteem.

I was excited to work with the team I’d grown so close to, and represent a cause that I care about. Jack, our CEO, loves to talk about strategy and the road ahead, and I was confident I could grow the product and operationalise the business. Better yet, we had a team of talented and committed individuals who were eager to make 2019 the best year yet.

Jack (CEO) and I in the Mosman Daily for the launch of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Hub in Mosman

Of course, I was also nervous as hell. I became very comfortable in my Partnerships-team-bubble. Up until this point, all I really had to do was ensure the team was happy and delivering on our part of a larger mission. My thinking lived within the slice of the organisation which I was responsible for — “Did we win x grant to sponsor the next Initiate 48?”. Now I had to “zoom-out” and think about the organisation as a whole. “How can we create a more sustainable business model?”.

☕️ Depth of understanding for individual business functions is important. However, as the scope of responsibility widens, it is essential to understand how these systems talk to each other as well.

🚀 Discovering our growth engine

In my last post, I wrote about Initiate 48, GE’s flagship program. At this point, we had run around 10 of these hackathons, all of which were based in the Sydney CBD. What we saw, however, was a need in Sydney’s west for a program like Initiate 48, so we worked with the University of Western Sydney to host our first event at Parramatta. By adjusting a core program, we were able to tap into a new market and provide opportunities for students who previously didn’t have access to these kinds of events.

The Initiate 48 event in July was a personal highlight. I was a fresh intern in the Bizops team at Finder at the time, but I had already done a pretty good job of making Generation Entrepreneur known around the office. Jamie, the first person I met at Finder, came to mentor the students (they all loved him too!) and Jeremy, Finder’s COO, judged the final pitches. I could see how the organisations’ values aligned, so it was heartwarming to see these two worlds collide. 💙

Jeremy (COO of Finder), myself and Jamie (Global Head of Talent at Finder) at Initiate 48 July 2019 held at Wotso

We always believed that the best way to spread the word about entrepreneurship was to embed it in the education system. The high school syllabus was slowly moving towards that direction too, introducing an “Entrepreneurship” elective as part of the Year 10 commerce course. I liked to think of us as the Innovators in the typical adoption curve 💁‍♀️.

We developed a 1-day entrepreneurship ‘crash course’ — Startup 101. Admittedly, we could have invested more in our naming, but it’s grown on me! Packing in a lot of content in one day turned out to be the easy part in this whole process because selling this program to schools was fundamentally challenging.

Schools have well-defined plans for the year — what to teach, which camps and excursions to go on. Trying to fit a 1-day program in the school calendar proved to be very complicated. As a result, our sales cycles were long….painfully long. We ended up booking November programs in early February!

In a stroke of perfect timing, we renewed our agreement with the Department of Education for the year. This time, we were delivering in-school programs for more than a dozen schools across the state. For a new product offering, this was the boost we needed. It allowed us to experiment with and improve on our product — we’ve been through at least 10 versions of the program already!

Some of the schools we worked with over 2019. 19 of these were for Startup 101, our in-school programs.

☕️ There’s always room for bread-and-butter products to grow but as these products mature, start looking for new growth opportunities to always be ahead of the curve.

🛣️ Making the hard calls

2019 was a year of experimentation and growth for the organisation. Our product offering grew and we reorganised the team so we could work on these new products in parallel. We ran a lot of programs that are now sunsetted but I don’t think any of us regret running those programs at all. An organisation like Gen E — a perfect mix of bootstrapping, hustle, big dreams and perhaps some naivety, could afford to take risks.

A new program we ran in 2019 was our high school incubator. We were curious to see what the uptake would be for a long-term commitment, and we were expecting real businesses to come out of this incubator. We took in applications from across NSW, and the top 6 teams were matched up with mentors from companies including Bain & Co., Uber and Westpac to guide them along the way.

Chatting through business ideas with a team from Sydney Technical High School during our 2019 Incubator program.

Is the mission a) to help grow student startups or b) to spread the word of entrepreneurship and impact more students?

The “correct” answer is B and, at the time, I felt like I was personally abandoning all of the students who seriously wanted to start a business. A bit dramatic, I know, but it’s the responsibility of a leader to help the organisation focus and deliver what we could do best.

☕️ There’s always room for bread-and-butter products to grow but as these products mature, start looking for new growth opportunities to always be ahead of the curve.

2019 was pretty hectic, and it all went by in a blur. With that being said, I distinctly remember creating our 2019 Impact Report. We worked with 1,274 students from 53 different schools across NSW and 50 mentors from companies including Blackbird Ventures, Canva, Uber and Finder.

This is the kind of step-change that I’m proud of. It makes all of the difficult conversations, late nights, time away from family and friends worth it. It’s funny how quickly the challenging moments seem to disappear when there’s a massive reward for the taking. I was in the right spot for next year, and the organisation seemed to be unstoppable at this point.

More to come in part 3 — the very last part of this series!

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Product @ Finder | Generation Entrepreneur | Coffee Lover