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Co-Founder & Director of Finder.com.au, Fred Schebesta Reveals How He Started a Multi-Million Dollar Company with Little Income
By Kiarne Lewis
Welcome back to the “Perfect Pitch Show” where Brandon Burns, Head of Community – Runway Virtual, interviews small business founders/entrepreneurs about the secret sauce to their successful start-up journey.
We make thousands of decisions every day. We don’t, however, stop to think why we make the decisions we do and how we can make that process easier? That’s why Fred Schebesta, the co-founder and director of finder.com.au, made it his mission to create a comparison site that would help Australians make better decisions. Finder helps millions of people each month learn how to get a better deal across 100+ categories.
Fred shares with us his experiences, challenges, and advice with the hope to inspire other regional entrepreneurs to take the plunge and set up their own business.
Taking the Plunge
It’s no surprise that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world have a mentor to thank for their success. However, the reality is that although they are extremely valuable, they are not a necessity for success. Fred explains that at the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, his limited income greatly affected his ability to invest in a mentor. Fred says, that instead of giving up, he invested his time into other sources of information such as reading books, watching videos and listening to podcasts. He explains that his success did not come from having a good mentor, rather it came from a lot of hard work, persistence and self-directed learning. Fred says that entrepreneurs often overlook their local library as a great business resource. It’s a great place to access the insights and knowledge of entrepreneurs that have had success and avoid making similar kinds of mistakes. Fred strongly advises entrepreneurs looking to take the plunge to start small and have a narrow focus. He says that just because your business is small, that doesn't mean you can't think big.
Trial and Error
During our interview, Fred shares with us his personal start-up experience and his vision for four potential business ideas he believed would be successful. However, unfortunately, most of these entrepreneurial endeavors failed because of seasonality and limited growth potential. One business, however, consistently produced dependable results - finder.com.au. Fred explains that this was his moment of validation; when he realized that he had created a business that offered something of value to customers. He says, that through the process of trial and error he was able to understand that finder.com.au was the business that best met their wants and needs. With that being said, Fred strongly encourages other entrepreneurs to test their business idea on a small scale, with real consumers as he did. This, he says, gives your business idea the best chance of success. Fred isn’t afraid to admit that he made plenty of mistakes in the early days of his entrepreneurial journey. However, these mistakes taught him a lot of valuable lessons, the most important being how to appreciate the customer. Fred encourages entrepreneurs to start early, make mistakes and celebrate the learnings.
Where to Seek Validation
It’s important to know whether or not your business idea is something people actually want or need. Fred says the only way to find out is to ask your customers directly. His personal experience of developing finder.com.au was both frustrating and eye-opening. He wasn’t sure why people didn’t see the value in comparing, so he asked his customers and the feedback he got was that they just “couldn’t be bothered”. Fred says he could have easily got angry but instead, he realized that maybe he wasn’t doing a good enough job to make it easier for customers to compare. Fred says you’ve got to take responsibility for the problem - that’s the first step. The biggest problem in your business is actually your responsibility, he says. He explains that once he took that responsibility, he started to reinvent the idea and use the feedback from customers to make improvements to the product. After two iterations, Fred had finally created a comparison site that was valued by customers. The moral of this story is that no matter how many times you have to alter the product, eventually, you’ll come up with a finalized product that is truly reflective of what society wants.
The Ninja Sword: A Reminder
Fred shared with us his biggest challenge after setting up finder.com.au. Fred explains that in 2010, the site lost 80% of its traffic for three months straight after Google penalized them for their SEO tactics that failed to comply with Google’s terms and conditions. He says, that they were faced with a choice to either close down the business or rebuild. They made a promise to each other that from then on, they would build a business based on quality. Three enduring months later, most of the traffic was recovered. Fred explains that despite the downfall, valuable lessons were learned, lessons that are now embraced in a ninja sword that hangs in front of the Finder office as a public reminder. He says, that it reminds us to be careful with the tactics we use because if we push too far it can really hurt us. He states that now, all their tactics are considered white hat, meaning they are within the bounds as defined by Google. Fred explains that although it’s difficult to sacrifice the short term, he prefers to play it safe and go for the bigger win.
Opportunities for Growth
Fred tells us that only 20% of Australians compare, so this is a major area of growth finder.com.au plan to exploit. He also explains that Finder plans to keep expanding beyond the Australian borders. He says that operating in highly competitive markets against some of the biggest competitors is extremely difficult. That’s why Finder aims to develop a better product and deliver a better service to its customers every day. Fred’s advice to entrepreneurs who are thinking about expanding into international markets is to go and find someone better than you and set that as your new competitor. He says that once you’ve conquered the local territory go and set your heights higher and innovate.
Last Pieces of Advice
During our interview, we asked Fred what the best and worst advice he has ever received was. Fred says he doesn’t have one single piece of advice but he shared with us how he approaches unsolicited or unwanted advice. Fred explains to us that just because you listen to the advice, it doesn’t mean you have to take action on it. He says, that it’s up to you how you decide to respond to it. He says that he often receives unsolicited advice from people about Finder raising money, but this is something he doesn’t personally agree with. He believes that the company should be frugal and run like a real business without funding and learn the discipline of spending and earning a profit. He also believes that you should respect and listen to everyone’s advice, but be aware that just because something worked for somebody else it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. He reminds us that every person is different and every start-up is different so don’t expect to take on someone else's’ advice expecting the same results.
Fred would love for users to try the new Finder App (finder.com.au/app. Code: Fredfriends). It works by tracking your spending across your every day, savings, and credit card accounts and then compares what you spend to deals and offers available. He believes that this is an extremely beneficial tool for customers to access better deals and save money. As always, he welcomes any feedback and recommendations and encourages users to join the disrupters club on his website: fredschebesta.com. Fred’s final message to entrepreneurs is very simple: “Who out there has got the courage to stand up and do something?”.
You can contact Fred using the links below!