The prominent Australian investor and entrepreneur Avard was receiving counsel from also told the 50-year-old founder it’s “good that you’ve already had all your children”.
Comments like these are just some of the things Avard has had to battle through while building her government contract management startup SurePact, though she says, by and large, the Australian startup community has been supportive of the “non-stereotypical” founder.
“There’s only a select few in the market who are still living in the stone age,” she says.
Avard comes from a varied background. A high school teacher for ten years, she moved into both private and public sector roles helping manage local government projects. In the ten years prior to launching SurePact, Avard worked in the infrastructure division of the Brisbane City Council, which gave her the insight needed to help launch the startup.
SurePact helps local councils minimise time, cost and scope blowouts of projects they manage, operating as cloud-based enterprise software which automates processes such as compliance documents, monitors contracts through a dashboard, and helps councils better manage their workflows.
Avard describes the software as a “sophisticated piece of kit”, but simultaneously admits she was far from technologically savvy when she started SurePact in 2017.
“I had to get my son to set up my new iPhone the other day,” she laughs.
Armed with deep industry contacts and experience, Avard says she knew what SurePact could be, but needed support to convert the tech from concept to reality. She applied for Queensland’s Startup OnRamp program, which promises to take non-founders and arm them with the contacts and skills they need to launch.
“That’s exactly what I achieved, and I spent the first four months of the company’s life flying around Queensland talking to councils, lawyers, accountants and developers to kick things off,” she says.
“I resigned from my job in August 2017 and by June 2018 two talented developers had created a working MVP.”
“By the end of August, we’d signed up 10% of Queensland’s local government market onto three-year contracts.”
On the funding path
Despite the startup’s success out of the gate, Avard says she’s only just getting started, with plans to roll out eight more modules for SurePact’s platform in the next three years.
“Already councils have been telling us they’re cutting three days off their project delivery time, and one council has reported savings of just under $300,000 thanks to SurePact,” she says.
The startup currently has eight employees, but Avard has remained the sole founder and shareholder of SurePact, a future she says she would have never predicted for herself three years ago.
“If you had told me then that I’d be the CEO and founder of a tech startup, I would have just gone and bought a lotto ticket,” she laughs.
“Because I would have thought they’d both have about the same likelihood of coming through.”
To date, the only form of funding SurePact has received is two Ignite Ideas grants from the Queensland state government, each coming it at $100,000 each.
However Avard is currently seeking funding, and says she’s in talks with a few investors across the country to start raising a seed round, though admits she’s still not sure if VC capital is the route she’s wanting to go down.
Some of the talks she’s has had with investors have also been focused on Avard’s unusual demographic as a founder, and she notes there’s also an inherent apprehension about her capabilities, despite her previous achievements.
“The first couple of questions I always get asked by investors are: do you have a co-founder, and who owns the company. When I tell them I own 100% and I don’t have a co-founder, I can see on their face they think ‘that’s a bit interesting’,” she says.
“I was also a senior executive handling $40 million dollar budgets at my last job, but coming into the startup environment that just gets wiped away.”
Breaking the mould
To help her navigate difficult technical waters, Avard has not only relied on SurePact’s chief technology officer and lead developer, but on her advisory board, which she established almost immediately after deciding to start the company.
She meets these mentors every four to six weeks and says their guidance has been invaluable in running SurePact. Avard says she values this sort of mentorship above the standard “meet and greet” events startup founders go to, which she says she “doesn’t do”.
“I know that sounds a bit mean, but I’m in a different arena to the standard startup demographic. I’m breaking the mould and showing you don’t have to know how to code or be young and tech-savvy to be a founder,” she says.
“You just need guts, gumption, and a desire to learn.”
Avard also recommends startup founders pick and choose their markets, noting that despite her years of work and contacts with the Brisbane City Council, the local government was not interested in engaging SurePact’s services.
“Their level of bureaucracy won’t allow it, they don’t want to be involved,” she says.
“You don’t have to be an expert in your field, just gain credibility and reputation among the stakeholders you have, commit to that relationship and you’ll be there in no time.”
This piece was first published by Smart Company and is republished with permission.