Creating and Scaling a Global Business
Published on 22 August 2019
Leanne Kemp is the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and an incredible entrepreneur. Having started a number of businesses which she has grown and then moved on to her next project. With her unique perspective and way of problem solving, she has gained herself a reputation as a serial entrepreneur. Her current business is Everledger, an emerging technology enterprise that uses blockchain technology to track the provenance of diamonds and other valuable assets in order to create transparency and combat fraud and money laundering. As Leanne explains, “Our platform helps to build a trail of trade that is ethical and digital, and has the ability to answer the question of “Where does it come from?”
With the internet as an incredible economic enabler, it’s now more possible than ever to build a phenomenal global business right here in Rockhampton. Leanne, who started her own business from a rural property outside of Brisbane, believes that now is a very exciting time in the world of business. “I recall only ever being able to learn through the traditional constructs of going to university. That’s not how we learn today. You’re able to learn an incredible amount of information through the keyboard,” She said. “Now, it’s more about the powerful commitment of the mind towards realising your dream. Dreams don’t have expiry dates – if it’s something that you’re passionate about, the tools and the people will gravitate to you.”
Systems are important to running a business, especially one as large as Everledger, but Leanne likes to do things differently. Rather than a pyramid-like structure with the CEO at the top, she prefers to think of her business as concentric circles. “We like to have the power and the engine of our organisation and our delivery mechanisms, sitting at the wider band of the organisation. Then you have the clustering of marketing, the clustering in product and delivery, and then the CEO sits not at the top, but in the middle of all those concentric circles,” she said.
As the CEO, Leanne’s role is to keep all her teams working well. For this reason, she told her team that her title is changing. “For this year I’m not the CEO, I’m the C3PO. The P’s stand for People, Product and Performance. These three points create a vision and a platform for the team to unite behind. We want to build a platform of provenance to enable traceability of some of the most opaque, conflicted supply chains in the world where fraud or black markets exist. We need to ensure that vision is not lost or diluted through hierarchical structures and to do that we really have to rethink the paradigm of operations.”
Timing is Key
Customers and clients are important to any business, including Everledger. However, Everledger’s marketing strategy differs from the norm. Rather than selling to the customers by telling them about the product, Everledger seeks to understand what it is the customer needs and being there when the customer looks for a solution. “We understood very early that there are significant challenges in conflicted and opaque supply chains and that the industry is seeking solutions. We purely sit there at the right time to understand when to engage with the customer. If you asked me what the most important thing from a startup or an entrepreneur’s perspective is, it’s not the funding or the team, it’s the timing. You could build something amazing and innovative, but if it’s not happening at the right time, when an industry is dealing with a real problem it needs to solve, it will sit there and create dust, and another technology will eclipse it,” Leanne said.
Timing is key to ensuring your business has stable and sustainable growth but knowing when to do something can be challenging. Leanne’s advice is to watch for when the conversation changes. “In 2014, blockchain was hidden in a white paper, no one really knew or understood it or could decouple it from the cryptocurrency. But now we’ve had thought leaders such as the CEO of Tiffany’s making declarations about the origin of diamonds available in their stores, and commitments by De Beers to use blockchain technology. The conversation is changing, and when that conversation changes, you want to be ready.”
Knowing when the conversation will change and being ready for it to change can be a challenge, somewhere between art and skill. As well as watching for trends, analysing data can provide the insights that are needed. The more data you have and the further back it goes, you can find patterns and trends over time, which can help even more towards finding the right time to make a move in your business.
The Creation of Everledger
Leanne was inspired to create Everledger after gaining a deep understanding of blockchain and the ways it could be used. Blockchain is most commonly used to safely trade cryptocurrency in a transparent and secure way, using a peer-to-peer network of connected ledgers that constantly and consistently ensure all transactions are valid. From there, Leanne thought about what other sources of value could benefit from such a system. “I thought about what is significantly valuable that needs the preservation, where provenance plays out to prove authenticity and value over time? And diamonds are it! They’re the smallest store of physical value across the world. They’re transcending borders on a daily basis and you can trade them in countries around the world, yet there’s no registry of authenticity or ownership,” Leanne said. “It was a global knowledge bank people were seeking.”
From her idea and her understanding of the technology, Leanne then created a blueprint for Everledger. The technology was still new, and Leanne knew she had to wait for the right time to grow her business. “For the first 12 to 18 months when you’re facing in an industry that’s 500 years in the making, there are large players that have a complete grasp on the industry. You have to spend a significant amount of time connecting with the industry to understand the trueness of the challenge. To be in a place of learning, because you’re going to ask them at some point to use disruptive technologies, to unlearn and relearn everything. If you were to just come in and tell them to completely change the way they trade, you wouldn’t get anywhere,” she said.
Everledger became a pioneer of the providence industry, being the first to successfully scale and inspiring similar businesses in other areas. However, scaling provides its own challenges, such as when to fundraise or hire new employees. With her experience in starting, scaling and then exiting her other businesses, Leanne knew how to best to handle Everledger’s growth. “I didn’t hire anyone in Everledger until twelve months in. I was running around the world, connecting with every single potential customer, all the best cryptographers and PhDs and scientists who are touching this technology. I wanted to do my due diligence and know that the timing of this challenge is true. I want to know, meet and understand every single one of my potential customers, not only to engage with them, but so they gained some trust and confidence. I did this so that when I employed the first salesperson, or when I employed my CTO or my CFO, I was coming from a sense of knowing and understanding.”
Raising funds is key for any business that wishes to grow. While more money seems like the best idea, Leanne believes it’s important to pace your funding, saying, “If I had raised money too early, I would have spent it in different ways and would not have preserved as much capital value as we have today.” At the same time, it’s important to be looking ahead and preparing for upcoming costs, as investors often will take a lot of time to fund your business. “There’s always a huge lag in time. We just finished our Series A fundraising round. I’ve known for about three and a half years that I wanted a particular company to be my investor, and I’ve been working, talking, walking with that company for that long,” she said.
Angel investing is often a solution that entrepreneurs look into, as it’s perfect for early stage ventures. “It’s smart capital. It’s great if you can get the right type of angel investor that understands you as a founder but also the industry or technology that you’re embarking upon. Angel investing is a really important early stage part, and you can close those funds in a far quicker way than traditional investments because you’re not having to explain what your business is in great detail,” said Leanne.
As a successful entrepreneur, Leanne knows all too well that finding a sense of balance is key to a happy life. For her balance doesn’t always look 50/50, but instead she adapts to the parts of her life that need her. “What’s important for the business in Everledger now is different to what was important 12 months ago, and what will be important in 12 months’ time. The same too in certain aspects of my family life. My niece is ten, she’s going through an increasingly difficult time at school, so I’m spending more amplified time with family. It’s being able to identify those balances and come up with something.”
Proud of the SmartHub
As the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, Leanne is incredibly proud of what the SmartHub has done to help develop businesses in the Rockhampton region. “The mayor said something to me this morning that was quite profound, and that is that Customs House is such a predominant space for commercial businesses. To put the SmartHub in the primary precinct, in such a high threshold building sends a huge signal to Rockhampton and its regional centres. It means that there’s true understanding of doing smart business in Rockhampton. This morning I was out with my laptop and I sat next to the river and opened my laptop and all of a sudden Wi-Fi was connected, the sun was shining, I saw yachts on the river, and I just knew this was the place to be.”
As her final piece of advice, Leanne wanted to ensure that our local entrepreneurs were embracing this time of extreme change. “There’s a lot of unknowns about what jobs of the future will look like and what skills we’ll need. The beauty about being an entrepreneur is that we get to decide our own future and fate. Think about what your most potent skill is. What do you know the best? What are you passionate about? Double down on that and there’s your answer.”
If you’re interested in experiencing Rockhampton’s thriving entrepreneurial spirit for yourself, you can come down to Customs House at 208 Quay St, Rockhampton and have a tour of the facilities. Joining the SmartHub will grant you access to all the wonderful facilities such as free Wi-Fi and printing, hot desk opportunities as well as free workshops and seminars to help you thrive as a business owner. If you’d like to learn more, send a message to the SmartHub on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.