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What’s the big idea?

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What’s the big idea?

Red Balloon founder and Shark Tank entrepreneur Naomi Simson is heading to the Coast to share her wisdom with local business people at the inaugural SHINE conference. My Weekly Preview caught up with her ahead of the event.

Naomi Simson wants women in business to start thinking bigger. The entrepreneur launched Red Balloon in 2001 with $25,000 and a second-hand computer and has turned it into an award-winning business that turns over more than $25 million a year.

Many Australians will have seen her share her business smarts on Channel Ten’s Shark Tank, and she’s keen to inspire Sunshine Coast women to reach higher when she visits in June as a keynote speaker at the inaugural SHINE conference. She is part of a stellar line-up of speakers who will share their stories, tips and tools for extraordinary business success.

“I’m curious to understand why women don’t grow businesses that are bigger,” Ms Simson says. “Why is this so? That is a challenge I have. It appears to me at the point they get to some success, they feel they can’t control everything.”

She encourages women (and men) who lack confidence to read her book Ready to Soar, which is written for those who have an idea they want to turn into a business.

“The journey of entrepreneurship is not for everybody,” she says. “I always argue if you’re not prepared to read a book or do some investment or enquiry to start the business, then really it’s irresponsible. I’m coming up to two decades since I started Red Balloon. That’s a very long time. Your business may be your life’s work, so you may as well invest in it.”

As regular Shark Tank viewers will know, not every business idea is a good one and Ms Simson says one of the biggest mistakes people make in embarking on a new business is
being unrealistic.

“This notion of entrepreneur as celebrity, which evolved over the last 10 or so years with Silicon Valley rags to riches stories, is unrealistic,” she says. “Most businesses are on struggle street, most are hand to mouth, going from one customer to the next. I’m not perpetuating doom and gloom, I’m just being a realist. When someone pitches me an idea and says this is going to be the next Facebook, I say the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath and give yourself a reality check. I’m not trying to rain on people’s parades, but you need a level of humility.

“The challenge with many business owners or entrepreneurs is they get so in love with their own business or so in love with the problem they’re solving, it’s out of context with the rest of the world. Their family and friends are often saying ‘wow, that’s an amazing idea, you should go for it’. But you need to have a tough conversation. How many customers have this problem, where do these customers hang out?

“People make the mistake of thinking everybody’s going to want what they’re selling. They think if they build it, they will come. Sometimes people spend a fortune on their website or products and they have no customers. There is so much more to user experience and customer testing, it’s a sophisticated science. There’s so much information online and so much information that’s free. You have to do the research and be curious and interested.”

Ms Simson prefers not to equate business success with gender and instead points to personality traits that can be a help or a hindrance in business. She says being overly emotional can interfere with business success.

“The challenge with emotion is you have no control over it,” she says. “If there’s one thing I encourage audiences to do, it’s breathe. When you feel your heart beginning to race, when you feel your voice rising and getting a bit squeaky, just breathe and look away.

“I do think that happens more for women than men. From the time little boys are raised, they’re taught not to show their emotions, whereas for girls it’s ‘there, there dear, never mind, I’ll kiss it better’.

“The way we raise our children is disgraceful – the pink aisle and the blue aisle – that gender stereotyping becomes ingrained and that can meld into the workplace.

“It’s about having strategies. I’ve been upset in the workplace over things and I hate it. We’re all people and we feel things passionately, but don’t lose your arguments through emotion. People won’t hear what you’re saying, they’ll only see the emotion.”

The inaugural SHINE Business Women Conference will be held on Friday June 1 and Saturday June 2 at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort. For more details visit shinebusinesswomen.com or email info@shinebusiness women.com. Proudly supported by My Weekly Preview.

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Leigh Robshaw is a journalist who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years. Originally from Sydney, she has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Latin America. She joined the team in 2012 and is MWP's deputy editor. Writing, reading and travel are her greatest passions.

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