In early January, ACS released a book, Rockstar Aussie Founders Living in the US, showcasing 26 tech talents making it in the word's most competitive market.
Here is an excerpt from the book: a chat with Maria Sipka, founder of Linqia, an influencer marketing platform.
What got you to where you are?
My story begins back in Australia, straight out of university. I studied communications. I was working for a politician and I got tapped on the shoulder by the Lowy Family to do consulting projects. I was young, 18 or 19, and I quickly realised that I was out of my depth and that I needed to build a team of experts in order to maintain this amazing customer. So, by default I became an entrepreneur and had this thriving content and marketing agency and built up a roster of about 100 clients.
By the time I was 27 had this thriving agency. I bought about 50 properties – I didn’t own them outright but used a pretty smart formula – and got to a point where I thought, “I don’t want to do this, for the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
I left Australia in search of my purpose and I travelled around the world for two years. What I discovered on that journey is my passion for storytelling.
In early 2000, I met a couple of guys in Germany that were building a social network and I didn't even know what a social network was. I moved to Germany and they hired me as I understood customer acquisition and retention. That’s where I came up with the idea for Linqia.
It was 2004 and the key moment was when Dove came out with its self-esteem campaign. I took that video and I put it in the hands of a number of women group leaders and said I want you to spark a conversation around beauty. Twenty-five percent of the members watched the video and started to pour out their heart and soul for weeks. No ad could ever do that.
I’m like, this is the future of how brands and businesses and organisations will connect with the people – by putting it in the hands of real everyday people to then tell their stories, sharing on their social networks and the results will be so much greater than anything that these brands have ever seen before through their traditional models. Most importantly, there’s social impact in this entire ecosystem. I’m going to go build a company around this.
What Linqia does is connect brands and businesses with real everyday people that have audiences across social networks, where they’re engaging around a specific topic of interest.
What does getting to the US look like?
America is like a speeding rocket. You arrive and it’s expensive and the market moves fast. You end up immersing yourself in an ecosystem. You end up developing all this FOMO because everyone’s raising money and doing this and you end up being like a deer in headlights.
I hadn’t figured out even the blueprint for the business I was going to build. I was pioneering an entirely new sector. Influencer marketing didn't exist in 2004.
I made a conscious decision to go and incubate my company in a city where I wouldn’t be distracted. I moved to Barcelona, and that’s where I incubated Linqia. I had a team of ten people and we just figured things out. We had time, we had space and we could focus. I thought I would be there for one year and I was waiting for the right time to move to the USA, because I knew as soon as I set foot into the USA that I would be on this rocket ship and there was no going back. I wanted to be ready for that.
I read a book about market timing. If you don’t get your market timing right, you’re screwed no matter which way you look at it, so I really took that to heart and I was looking for the signs that would indicate to me that it would be time to come to the USA and I could join the movement, this pilgrimage in what we call social advertising, social marketing.
It took five years. In late 2011 I came to the USA on two trips. The first trip was five weeks. I got an Airbnb in San Francisco, started meeting with people in the ecosystem: potential investors, potential hires, customers, other entrepreneurs. I just did a scoping tour to go “do we even have a chance to be here?” I went back to Europe, I went to my board and I said we’ve got a chance. I’ve spoken to all these people and they said it’s going to be hard but if you do this, this and this then you’ve got a shot.
I came back a second time to find a co-founder. All people care about is America. It’s: where did you study, where have you worked, who do you know? I was so far behind, so the only way that I could see coming to the USA being feasible is that I’d bring a [USA-based] co-founder onboard, and that made all the difference.
What should a first-time founder know?
Just accept that it’s going to be really, really hard.
When you know that it’s going to be treacherous it makes it so much easier to just accept and surrender to the idea that it’s going to be a tough journey.
The second thing is having a phenomenal network around you. The partner I have in my life is my rock.
I have a group of women and I call it the light tribe: four women that are on my wavelength and we communicate on a daily basis via a WhatsApp thread. When you feel loved, supported and you’ve got people around you that believe in you, and when you need to pull the cord and say help, and they’re all calling you or coming around or taking care of your kids, makes all the difference.
I never thought of myself as a “female founder” and I never really went to these women networking events. Not that there’s anything wrong with them; those communities are unbelievable, but again, it’s a mindset. I just developed so much confidence in myself and what my gifts were that I always had a seat at the table. Whether I was a male or female it didn’t matter. Understand what your superpower is. You’ve really got to develop your voice, and that requires courage, then speaking from your truth. That moves mountains.
Requests for hard copies of the book may be registered at firstname.lastname@example.org.