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An interview with an entrepreneur: Josh Van Ross

“So, Josh, tell us about you”

That is always a hard question to answer. I start and run small businesses and love latin dancing is the short answer. The long one is that I started in musical theatre at WAAPA and then moved to UWA to do commerce. Joined the Army reserves at the same time and did a deployment half way through my degree. I came back and wanted to start a business so I made a food van and traded outside of St Catherine's college on weeknights. I also started a property maintenance company and after a year that started to grow and after six years became a construction company that I sold in 2020. I then bought shares in 2 other businesses and started another. I still dance 3 nights a week, do army reserves and look after the businesses and I can truly say I love my life.

“How many hours a day on average do you work?”

I work very erratic hours; my typical day is wake up and gym followed by coffee and 3 hours of good work. Then lunch and a 25-minute nap (always) and then I usually have a coffee meeting or catch up in the afternoons with another 2 or 3 hours of unfocused work. This sounds great but that is a normal day, I often have many an early morning, late night or even all night for a sprint with one of the companies or because something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed now. I am always contactable on the phone and will have lengthy phone calls after hours and on weekends. Long story short, I would say the average week would be between 40 and 45 hours.

“How do you manage the fear of failure”

I have failed many times and dealt with the consequences. After a few times you realise the consequences are not that bad. The reality is most people fail and it is the few that start successful companies. Knowing that makes me less hesitant and as long as I don't repeat the same mistake twice then I can now push that anxiety of fear out of my mind.

“Every time I think about launching a business, I always find a trillion ways to talk myself out of it… Do you ever just feel like you are not good enough and if you do, how do you push past that narrative?

Two things:

1: It is good that you think about the business and try and pick it apart and try to find out how it would fail, that is part of the essential business plan and will ultimately tell you if there are any pitfalls in your idea and if it is viable or not.

2: It is how you talk yourself out of it. If the reason is because you don’t have the upfront capital then that is a good reason not to start a business right now, or you come up with some creative financing options to try and de-risk it. If your internal voice is saying don't start a business because you are not good enough and will not succeed, then that is something to be challenged. Ask that voice why you will fail and ensure it gives you a straight answer like I don't know how to do accounting, or I have never done a business plan before. Those can be worked on after you attempt it once or twice or learn how that voice will go away. If that voice gives you a feeling like "I'm not good or smart enough" then you challenge it further to give you a concrete reason and resist giving into the emotion of that voice. I hope that makes sense.

So to answer your question, no, I do not feel like that anymore after using the above technique multiple times that the feeling just doesn't show up anymore, instead I just get ideas on what I may be missing or need to improve and then I go and do them.

“What’s your thought process when your start-ups require something outside of your skill level/expertise?”

I now only go into joint ventures or partnerships. I have recognised that I am not good at a lot of things, and I should stop trying to be good at everything and focus on what I am good at. I then identify who is good at those things and bring them in on the idea. For me I love working in small teams and finding the right team is the hardest part. What I look for in a partner then is complementary skills and excellent communication. Before we start a business together, we talk about everything, how we want to exit, how much for in how long, what happens if one wants to sell out before that and other common pitfalls. If we can communicate well and problem-solve well then I will do business with them.

“How can I be different? Everyone seems to be starting a business nowadays. How do I stand out? Differentiate myself?”

This is a hard one as this advice changes for each person and each industry. The best way I found was to look to your immediate environment, what do you have skills or assets, who do you know and what are they good at and take stock of where you are in the world and what it needs and what industries are profitable. This also depends on what your motive is, are you doing this because it is a passion, are you doing it to make a quick dollar, or do you just want to start any business to be in business? I can't give a direct answer except that for me, found talking to as many people as I could and garnering a large network has helped me more than anything else in my career.

“Would you recommend partnering with someone? Do the risks outweigh the benefits?”

Yes. It all depends on the person and your collective ability to handle stressful situations and problem solve together. I genuinely treat my romantic relationships and business relationships as the same. If we can't talk about issues with each other or problem solve in a calm manner, then ultimately it is doomed. I also look for people with complementary skill sets, that way we bounce off each other on an upward trend helping build the other up to success instead of negative people who suck energy and time, and we end up pulling each other down. The benefits of a partner outweigh the risks if you are smart going in, otherwise you may find yourself legally entangled with someone for a long time that you did not want to be with.

“So let’s boil it down.. what are your top tips for any budding entrepreneurs out there?”

  1. Ideas are cheap, talk about your idea with people and invite criticism, if an idea can't hold up against your friends' questions, then it is probably not a good idea.

  2. Having a team makes life a lot more fun and balanced.

  3. It is not sexy!!!! Silicon Valley and a few other shows make being an entrepreneur look glamorous, know that it will be hard, and you will not sleep at nights, be prepared for this.

  4. Don't overextend yourself, a lot of other people tell you to go all in, I say not to. Never make a bet that wipes you out. You will make mistakes and that is expected so allow yourself wriggle room to be wrong without it being your complete downfall.

  5. Find balance in life, still have time for friends and hobbies and life. The reality is it will take a long time so don't forget to live now and don't fall into the mindset of "just another year of hard work and I can relax" because that rarely pans out.

  6. Always do the paperwork. A lot of companies fail because of the basic boring stuff. Do the bookkeeping and accounting or pay someone to do it. Look for government grants and other forms of funding. There is a lot of funding out there and it usually goes to the person who finds it and fills out the paperwork correctly.

Article by: Venture – The Student Innovation centre. Bring action to the idea! Find out more by following us at VentureUWA

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