85. Business advice from Bill Liao, mentor and investor


"And now I'd like just one favour from you...

I'd like you to blog about what we just discussed. So that these lessons can be shared with other business founders."

Me: "Sure thing Bill. So you're ok with being illustrated?"

"Of course."


And so ended my recent chat with Bill Liao, the renowned Australian tech investor, business mentor, and co-founder of Coderdojo, the global network of free coding clubs for young people. Today, Bill's initiative has close to 1,250 clubs in 69 countries, where members learn and share skills which will help prepare them for a digital future.

When we met him in Cork City, Ireland, the birthplace of Coderdojo, Bill was preparing to host a pitching event for RebelBio, his local business accelerator for life-science startups, the first of its kind in the world. For 30 minutes, Bill generously shared his thoughts on business, sales, self-awareness, and, of course, technology. Now, as a founder of an early-stage geospatial e-Learning business, it's my turn to share Bill's advice with you. 

(NB. Naturally, I hope that I have correctly recited and interpreted Bill's message.)


1. Understand your motivation


"When you start a business in today's world, you first of all need to look in the mirror and ask yourself one very important question. 'Am I in this for a lifestyle business or am I in this to exit?' There is no right or wrong answer to this question - the answer comes down to who you are as a person and the values which are important to you. However, how you answer this question will change your direction completely as well as the steps and choices which you take."


2. Pivoting

"The term 'to pivot' doesn't mean to adapt or change direction. A pivot is a 360 degree motion with a beginning and an end. When you start something it needs to go full pivot. That's why you need to understand your product, your market, and your business, including where you want to end up, well before you start."


3. Big fish, small fish

"If you're in business to exit, then you need to make something that the bigger fish want. You need to take something from them that they need - be that a market, customers, or simply an audience. Since you are small and flexible, you can innovate and experiment quickly - and this is what keeps the industry and its establishment fresh."


4. Government sales


"Selling to government is a guaranteed path to poverty. If you have already spent 2.5 years working on a business idea then you can double that time before you finally have a chance of making a sale to government. The problem with government is that innovation is not key to its survival - it's nice to have but not essential to its short-term operations. Sure, they'll engage with you and talk to you, but all it takes is a budget cut or a reshuffle of personnel for your hard work to go down the drain. At the end of the day, the person you will speak to will more than likely be a permanent secure employee who can, unlike business owners, switch off completely."


5. "Don't be a 'Crusader'"



"Unless you are Google or Apple, don't try to change things, don't try to create a market....I know that technology (including geospatial tech) can do some incredibly powerful things - however, that's not going to impress the customer. What it comes down to is finding the decision-maker in the business and answering the question 'how does what you have save them time, money, or both?'"

6. Problem/Solution

85. Geobreadbox Bill Liao business advice problem solution.jpg

Always focus on the customer's problem, their needs and the required solution. Be able to do something very simple for them and be able to do it very well. Don’t sell too many of your ideas and don't let them to force you into developing lots of additional 'bells and whistles' functionality...because this will happen and it can distort the focus of startups."


7. B2B sales

"Selling to business is where you will make your money. But just be aware that when you engage with them as a startup, they have very high standards. Everything you do - how you dress, how you communicate, and how you do business should mirror their own culture and approach."


8. Organise your processes

"Even though a lot of people have great business ideas, many people don't succeed because they lack a business and sales mindset. Build a system for engaging well with customers and for quickly closing the deal. A well managed sales funnel and a CRM are essential to organising your business opportunities, your contacts, as well as your own thoughts."