Find people who you can vent with — one of the best things about a co-founder, is just being on the same level with someone who can understand the same challenges that you are going through.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Shostak. Jamie is co-founder of Appetiser App Development, an Australian app development agency. At 24 years, this is Jamie’s second company. He founded Webhype at 19 and was turning over half a million dollars in annual revenue. Currently Head of Growth at Appetiser, Jamie’s leading a team of over 100 who are winning awards like the Deloitte’s 2019 Fast 50, Young Entrepreneur of the Year and many others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’
Thanks for having me! My entrepreneurial journey started early. When I was 10, I marketed and retailed virtual goods online and made over $500USD with that venture. At 14, I started a server network, offering private and public servers to gamers. This became one of Melbourne’s strongest servers for popular video games such as Counter Strike and Team Fortress.
Straight out of high school, I joined the world’s first free bottled water team. Their mission was simple: replace existing brands with biodegradable plastics and then make water free globally. Advertisements on the bottles funded the initiative. Though I secured flagship clients like the Australian Defense Force, the project failed.
At the time I felt defeated but also recognised my acumen for marketing so decided to launch, Webhype, my first growth marketing agency. I was 19 at the time and within a few years, it grew to generate $500,000 in annual recurring revenue. But the company wasn’t sustainable and I was struggling to keep it afloat. This all changed when one day I was having coffee at a coworking space and met Michael MacRae. We discussed what made the world’s most successful and influential companies and agreed that it was the synergy of design, technology and marketing. We realised we shared a passion for creating world class products that changed people’s lives and that if we partnered, we could combine our individual strengths to build an even stronger company. So, in 2016, we started Appetiser and now have five offices globally with a team of 100.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
At 19, I started a growth marketing agency that got up to around half a million in recurring revenue. The issue was that I was so focused on the company’s service delivery that I didn’t build a strong enough infrastructure to support sustainable growth. It came to a point where I was investing my own money into the company for it to survive. The main lesson I learned was that sustainable growth requires systems, rather than one-off marketing campaigns. So, we shifted to an agile growth process where we focused on continuous and strictly tracked experimentation, rather than a traditional “marketing campaign” approach. The good news is that in the end this same team eventually became the growth team of my next company, Appetiser.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are uniquely placed to help companies ideate, design, develop and grow world-class digital products. For some select start-up clients, our company is basically a start-up accelerator as a service.
One of our clients includes an accomplished pharmacist who saw an opportunity to build a marketplace. He came to us and we helped him refine his designs, develop a mobile app, and now we’re helping him with growth marketing. This includes adding a web app, generating brand awareness, acquiring users and optimising key metrics of the product including revenue! The validated learning achieved by covering growth, design and development helps us improve in all areas and this helps us stand out from other app development companies.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
For me, it’s my business partner Michael. Previously I was a solo founder working through the challenges of running a company at 19 years old. My health disintegrated to the point where I was struggling with obesity, social isolation and stress. Starting a new company with Michael as a partner helped me share the founder responsibilities with someone I respected. In turn, this allowed me to focus on improving my health, which in turn improved my performance as an entrepreneur.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think resilience is about having the courage to keep walking through the fire whilst taking the burns along the way. Whether that be rejection, adversity or any other obstacles we face in life. It feels very closely aligned with persistence as that’s about pushing through, whilst resilience is about getting up when you inevitably fall down. Resilient people are the kinds of people who keep driving towards their goals regardless of the obstacles, they are unwavering in their ambitions, and are willing to stop at nothing to achieve that.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Besides my mom, who virtually worked two jobs while taking care of me and my brothers, I would say David Goggins, the ultra-marathon runner and Navy SEAL who really helps put challenges into perspective by overcoming some of the worst ones you can imagine.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
We were able to build an international remote working culture with over 60 people before we ever visited the country. Although we would have loved to do that earlier, our financial position didn’t allow for it. Many people said this was impossible and told us that we required strict documentation to get any strong results when working with people overseas.
We didn’t believe that. We focused on hiring senior talent, respecting their skills and then encouraging them to be leaders through empowering corporate structures. Today, we have grown to a team of 100 and I feel we have some of the best people and strongest cultures across the Philippines and Australia. We were able to do this without dedicated managers or a compromise in quality. Instead we focused on implementing a strong process, standardisation and culture. We are so grateful to everyone in our team.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
When we first established the business, we made $100k in our first month. We felt this was going to continue forever and we borderline took it for granted. A few months later, we were unable to retain over 75% of our team. It was one of our toughest moments. We bounced back stronger than ever with a new model that transformed our business. Today, we have over 100 amazing employees, and we have not had to go through another round of down-sizing.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
At 18, I was one of the earliest employees at a company that was trying to be the world’s first free brand of bottled water. As an account manager, I called up the Australian Defense Force Recruitment hotline and was able to get through to the Director of Public Relations. From there, I was able to secure them as a client. Although this sounds awesome, this win came about after 100s of rejections all the while learning how to sell with minimal guidance as a pretty socially awkward teenager. I very quickly learned how important resilience is in sales and business.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Take a step outside of your comfort zone — launch that venture.
- Accept rejection, failure and embarrassment — you won’t be great immediately and that’s okay.
- Embrace the roller coaster — there will be ups and downs, you need to accept that.
- Keep standing back up — when the challenges of life knock you down, let yourself fall down, but then stand back up a little taller.
- Find people who you can vent with — one of the best things about a co-founder, is just being on the same level with someone who can understand the same challenges that you are going through.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to inspire a personal growth movement around the world. I think the individual can enact amazing change, and when you have a group of people who are individually pushing themselves to grow, that becomes a recipe for success for the collective group.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Bill Gates? John Doerr? Eric Schmidt? Shall I go on? They have amazing business insights and great role models for me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The best way to connect with me is via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jshostak/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!