Mys Tyler’s Sarah Neill on the unglamorous side of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneur Sarah Neill is the founder of Mys Tyler, an Australian app that makes it easy for consumers to find and follow stylists and influencers who share their body shape and size, so they can get personalised and inclusive fashion inspiration and advice. Backed by Mirvac Ventures, which contributed to its $1 million seed funding round last year, Mys Tyler is making waves in the retail industry. We recently spoke to Neill about her experience raising funds as a female founder, and what
what she has learned over the course of her entrepreneurial career.
Inside Retail: Before you launched Mys Tyler, you started another business called Doodad. What were some of the lessons that you learnt from that experience that have shaped how you run Mys Tyler?
Sarah Neill: Ten years ago, I was living in New York, working in telecommunications when I had an idea for a pre-paid data SIM card to help international travellers stay connected without the fear of bill shock. I pitched it to the owner of the company I worked for, and rather than giving me a budget to launch a product, he gave me $1 million of funding for me to launch the business. I began building a product, then a brand, then a team and finally we launched and had a growing user base. We made a lot of mistakes, but we did so many things exceptionally well that I’m still proud of today.
Ultimately we shut down 12 months later, but it turned me into an entrepreneur and taught me so many valuable lessons:
There are always more steps than you expect, so just get started so you can discover them.Assumptions are just assumptions, get real data as quickly as you can.As a founder, you’re going to spend most of your time doing things you’re not very good at.Be human and create a connection with your users. When things aren’t perfect, or you make a mistake, if you have this relationship, people will be understanding and supportive.
Most importantly, Doodad taught me that I could be a CEO and founder, that I could take an idea and bring it to life, that I love problem solving, especially when I can create a solution that can scale and have a huge impact on lots of people. Being a founder is not glamorous, it’s really hard work, and most of the time you’re going to fail. You have to be so passionate about solving the problem (vs your specific solution) that you can absorb the difficulties and push through.
IR: How have you evolved as an entrepreneur since you first entered the world of start-ups?
SN: Investors like serial founders, because it means they know how tough it is and are choosing to do it anyway…eyes wide open! While every business is different, a lot of the steps are the same, validating an idea, designing, building, launching, so you develop these muscles. I spoke to an investor the other day that said he loves entrepreneurs that are working on big problems that are tough to solve, high risk but if it works really high impact, the people that put it all on the line, he described these people as “his tribe” and he wants to back these people even if they fail, he’ll back them again, and again until they succeed. I sometimes question my life decisions, because start-ups are really hard, but I get so much fuel, energy and motivation to solve these big problems that I’d find it really hard to do anything else. So, that’s really crystalised for me that this is what I want to do.
In some ways I haven’t evolved enough, I still push to burnout, and treat it as a sprint not a marathon (honestly, it’s both), but I also think I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff. I know things aren’t going to be perfect, and almost always doing something wrong is better than doing nothing, because you have more data and can learn from it. I’ve learned to back myself, and lean on support from those around me, and to be as open and transparent with the team as possible. When people understand context, they can add so much more value!
IR: What was your journey towards finding investment like? A lot of other female founders have struggled to find investors, as it’s such a male-dominated area.
SN: It’s ongoing (“always be raising”), and it’s really hard. There are gender biases that exist that mean women founders get a much smaller share of the capital. Some tips:
Consider joining an accelerator program or incubator that can write the first small cheque. This will give you experience pitching to an investment committee and help you craft your story, to demonstrate validation and traction. If funded, it is a powerful signal for other investors that you’re “investible”, and they’ll generally have wide networks to help with many starter introductions.Early stage investing is heavily weighted towards the team, and you as a founder, so people who know you and trust you, become key targets. Find out if you have anyone in your network that already does “angel investing”.Network, and be diligent about follow up. Many investors will want to get to know you and the business over a period of time. You might pitch to them and get the money a year later. Monthly or quarterly business updates are a great way to keep people warm, and updated on your business.Consider corporate venture arms that have synergies with your business.Crunchbase is a great resource. Look up similar companies/competitors to see who has invested in them. If they are in the space, they’re going to understand it. They won’t invest in you if they’re invested in a competitor, but you can find firms that look like them to add to your pitch list.Always get a warm introduction if possible, best from a well-respected founder. If you can’t, it’s still better to do cold outreach than do nothing. Reach out on LinkedIn or send a really personalised email.
IR: Who would you name as your business heroes and why?
SN: Since moving back to Australia to start Mys Tyler, I’ve been really connected to the Australian start-up scene and gotten to know so many founders that I have really leaned on for support and guidance, and who I’ve looked up to for their intelligence and poise. Just a few of them are Teresa Aprile, the CEO and co-founder of Brandcrush (absolutely start-up professional, so strategic and practical), Anna Lozynski, former general counsel at L’Oreal (one of the most articulate, kind and wise women I know), Alex Miller, co-founder of Huddled.
David Glickman was my boss for six years in the US, he’s the only person to have had three separate companies reach #1 in the Inc 500 (the fastest growing private companies in America). I tend to be practical and resourceful but sometimes that limits my thinking. He’s always thinking so big, he dreams up things that might seem impossible and then makes them happen. He’s been called the “guru of hyper-growth” and when I need to think bigger I call him.
Finally, Brian Hartzer was the CEO of Westpac for a number of years. He was one of my first investors and has been advising me and our business ever since. Brian has a deep fascination with people and psychology, he is so humble, human and approachable.
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