In early January, ACS released a book, Rockstar Aussie Founders Living in the US, showcasing 26 local tech talents making it in the word's most competitive market.
Here is an excerpt from the book: a chat with Jessica Ruhfus of Collabosaurus, a tool for connecting and collaborating between brands.
What got you to where you are?
I started out in fashion publicity, pulling together media launch events for fashion clients and scrambling together things like venue partners, goodie bag products, catering partners, photographers and collaborations with businesses that could make our events more engaging and interactive. It was time-consuming and frustrating. A lot of opportunities were being missed because of a culture of ‘who has free stuff?’ rather than exploring win/win, strategic collaborations that were cleverly leveraged.
After that job, I worked in small business marketing education and saw brand collaborations from the smaller business side. These weren’t just events: we were educating founders on referral partnerships, social media competition collaborations, product collaborations and popups and activations. Often, SMEs weren’t successfully doing partnerships because they weren’t sure where to start, or had been taken advantage of in the past (often by large corporates) and were sending out long-winded pitch emails that didn’t hit the mark.
The idea for Collabosaurus came from my own experience. At first, we launched a matchmaker for business or ‘Tinder for brands’ aimed at publicists in April 2015.
Three years on, we’re an end-to-end platform for sourcing, negotiating, leveraging and tracking brand-to-brand collaborations in events, social media and products. We’ve attracted over 5,000 businesses, big and small, and help marketers save 33 head hours per collaboration, with a solution up to 25x less expensive than other digital advertising.
Australia is a fantastic place to launch a business. It’s enough of a market to successfully road test and iterate a product without the world watching. It has allowed us to launch into the USA in 2019, confident in our product and (currently) with no direct competitors in the USA.
We had a huge USA brand become a client on my last visit, and this was without any pitching. It was incredible validation and I really got to get across the pain points of our users in the USA market, knowing that we’re on track with our expansion plans for Collabosaurus.
What does getting to the US look like?
Getting to the USA wasn’t what I expected at all. I couldn’t believe how well networked Americans are, and everyone is quite genuine in their ‘here to help’ attitude. I knew the opportunities to grow in the USA were huge, but it’s hard to fathom until you get there.
I landed in New York with wide eyes and met business people in the bagel line and literally walking in the street. It was incredible. It’s worthwhile getting caught up in the bright lights to begin with. You can get your bearings, meet all sorts of interesting people and observe how deals get done. From here, I think it’s important to guard your time and ensure your time is spent only on things that directly relate to key goals.
Coming from Australia, arriving in the US is a bit overwhelming and exhausting in terms of the hustle, but I didn’t want to miss a thing and I’m so glad I hopped on a plane. Being in San Francisco for three months was one of the best things I could have done for Collabosaurus.
The biggest challenge was starting again when it came to building a network. In addition to being able to financially support the expansion, considering the additional management required in our Sydney office, and the increased cost of doing business in the States. The first was fairly simple to solve, especially when you start by tapping into the large Australian network based in the USA. There is no shortage of networking events, and people are more often than not willing to meet you. A solid block of three months was a great time frame to kick off a network build, for sure.
The second challenge is definitely harder to solve as we’ve never brought on outside capital. We took advantage of the R&D tax incentive, and the EMDG grant, which were invaluable in allowing us to pursue the USA. We’re soon to release our enterprise subscription plan, which will help cashflow the next steps in the USA. In addition, we’re looking to raise a seed round of capital to assist with market penetration in New York and Los Angeles. The market size is more than ten times that of Australia, and we’re more vulnerable to competitors.
What should a first-time founder know?
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it! I pull through tough times by prioritising sleep and having a few mentors I can lean on for advice and pep talks – a big thanks to my mum and partner Matty for this.
I think persistence is really under-rated and a lot of businesses fail purely because it’s too hard and people give up prematurely. I’m quite a positive person, which has really served me well. Running a business is super hard, so being positive even in the hardest times has been an asset – I’m only realising it is such an asset in these last few months.
I remember being told “it takes twice as much money and ten times the time you think to grow a business” and thinking “no way.” I was so certain my business plan and financials were solid from the start and I was absolutely wrong. I think a lot of founders get started, totally naive to the realities of running a business. I was. To be honest, it’s not a bad thing. You build grit and creativity as you fight yourself out of financial corners and hustle to grow your customer base, one by one.
Founders should absolutely do everything possible without money first, so they know where to spend money when they have it.
"Don’t wait for opportunity, create it” – I love this quote and it’s so true. Business wise, set up as many meetings as you can in advance – they always lead to more introductions, and Americans prefer warm introductions over cold reach outs, by far. Scour events websites to find ones happening around you too, don’t be shy!