How to jumpstart a startup business: using mistakes to your advantage

Treat mistakes as an opportunity to stretch your entrepreneurial muscles and leverage them for growth and improvement.


Demi Markogiannaki is a Founder at WeTeachMe and leads the Marketing Team. Demi has made it to Shoe String Media Group’s roster of “Top 50 Australian Female Entrepreneurs under 40” for two years in a row. More about Demi in this page.

There are lessons in life, and in business, that you will only learn as you get on with it. These lessons are not often written in business books and you just have to unravel them through experience.

The hardest way to learn a lesson is by committing mistakes. But these are also the lessons that stand out from among the rest because these are the ones that strengthen you as a person, as an entrepreneur.

When you have gaffes, you have two options on how to move from these: you get discouraged and give up; or you work on your errors and improve on them. WeTeachMe co-founder Demi Markogiannaki shared during the “How to jumpstart a startup” Masters Series talk how they turned miscalculations to their advantage.

Experiencing setbacks and turning them around

WeTeachMe started with a simple idea, to provide a place for people to exchange learning – those who have some knowledge can teach, and those interested to learn can enrol. The four individuals banded together to initiate this project. But as quickly as they started with their journey, it was also as quickly as the initiative failed.

The first platform they designed and launched was a failure since no one visited it. They ended up with only 1 to 2 classes and they had to get their friends to enrol as no one was signing up. It didn’t help that the first platform was trying to address two marketplaces – the vendors and the participants – not a good way to start the business. But they had to embrace failure to move ahead in their journey; otherwise, they would get stuck with the problem.

To overcome this, Demi and her co-founders had to turn the situation around in making a better version of their initial project. Learning from their experience and applying this to your own entrepreneurial journey, you can work on your own growth to further improve yourself and propel your business.

  1. Challenge yourself
  2. Discipline your spending
  3. Make sure your business is solving a problem
Challenge yourself

If you think that owning a business is a bed of roses, it’s not, according to Demi. Despite being passionate with the company, Mondays still sucked and there were days when she didn’t want to get out of bed and go to work. “You have to deal with people you don’t want to talk, deal with finance; you can’t know anything but you have to go to work,” Demi confessed.

As a startup, she needed to make phone calls but she was terrified because she had an accent. Demi learned to challenge herself and to get out of her comfort zone. After mustering the courage to face her fears, she did pick up the phone and then talked to a lot of people. It made wonders because those calls opened doors for them for opportunities to grow the business.

Know your comfort zone and work towards getting yourself immersed in the area that no longer makes you comfortable. Ask yourself what challenges you the most and expose yourself more towards those challenges.

Discipline your spending

Risks are part and parcel of starting up a business. Big companies are not where they are right now if not for the risks they had to face. That is why, if you want to start your own business, you have to be aware of the risks involved so that you will be able to manage them well. For one, capital is often a major consideration when going on your own.

Taking from Demi’s experience, she had to take two jobs as a freelancer to sustain herself while they started out with WeTeachMe. Since they were struggling with funding, they weren’t receiving any pay for over a year. Not only were they facing financial challenges, their first platform also did not work out, so they had to go back to the drawing board to redo everything, which meant more capital to spend.

During that period, WeTeachMe was running out of money. This situation taught them discipline in terms of spending. They have become resourceful in what they do, finding ways and alternatives that will not cost them much.

It is helpful to take a look at your books and see which areas where you can tighten your belt. Choose to invest on things that will matter the most to the business and be creative in looking for means to support activities that your business needs to do in order to fuel it for success.

Your business should be able to solve problems

Demi recounted the time they failed on their platform. “Instead of giving up, this was a good lesson to learn. We started and we created something that no one cares about. Why is that? Because we’re not solving any problems. We didn’t ask anyone and we didn’t do the research that we should have done. It’s a good learning so we went back to the drawing board, went out there and met a hundred different course providers.”

Demi and her co-founders learned from their blunder with the first platform. Moving forward from that misstep, they decided to focus on the course providers, instead of juggling their time between two marketplaces. Almost all of the course providers they met and talked with shared the same issues: the administration and marketing of their classes. From there, they worked on the second platform, which eventually made headway in the business because WeTeachMe was already helping course providers ease the load from their marketing and administrative work.

Take a step back and review the products or services of your business and see which problems or needs in society they are addressing. If none, maybe it’s time to rethink the purpose of your business.

Never giving up bears fruit

Demi and her co-founders could have stopped after the first platform. But they worked on it again until it flew and went on an upward trajectory. Demi shared her favourite quote from Charles Darwin that “it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

You don’t have to be the brightest in the bunch. Even the most senior in the industry, when it starts to rest on its laurels and stops growing, can be toppled by a newbie. It is your relentless work that will make you outlast anyone in the business. And not even your mistakes can stop you.

What drives you is what you are passionate about

When you feel a little bit lost, sidetracked by all the responsibilities of managing a business and overwhelmed by all the concerns that startup owners usually face, always go back to the reason why you started your company in the first place. Given that, Demi outlines two important questions you must ask yourself so you can move forward to the direction of where you want to be.

  • How do you define success?
  • What drives you?

What drives Demi is helping other people. WeTeachMe brought her to her mission. As she is able to accomplish her passion of reaching out to people who needs help, Demi is making her way towards what she deems as a successful life.

If you plan to jumpstart a startup business, be sure to do something that you enjoy the most, that makes work seems like not work at all, and that allows you to do what you are most passionate about. Among the many things you are doing, narrow down your tasks and goals to those that will lead you closer to your vision. One, your business should be able to solve problems; and two, be relentless in your work.

Next time you commit mistakes, don’t be disheartened by them. Ask yourself what lessons you can pick from those mistakes and see how they can make you better and improve your business.

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