Why Startup Failure is Personal Success with Colette Grgic, CIO of BlueChilli

by Geekgirl, February 17, 2017

“Startups changed my life completely. There’s my life before startups and my life after.” Colette Grgic is the CIO of BlueChilli, a Sydney-based startup and innovation studio.

“It’s so much easier to make sense of things looking backward. The scary and exciting thing is that wherever you are standing right now, you have no idea what’s ahead of you. You can only do what feels right, and that’s why it’s important to follow your passions.”

ByGeekgirl Colette Grgic in Belize
It’s here in Belize where the idea for Arribaa was born

Colette had no idea what was ahead of her as she grew up in a small South African town. Startups and innovation weren’t on her mind at all. It was when Colette started travelling that her entrepreneurial sense kicked in. While exploring and cycling Central America, Colette and her husband recognized a real gap in the travel space. “We accidentally created a startup,” Colette recalled. After the two started working to fill the gap they’d noticed, her husband came home one night and said, “Babe, I think what we’re doing is called a startup!”

For first-time founders, it’s a natural thing to get inspired by a problem you encounter personally. It’s easy to get started as an entrepreneur when you’re in a space you understand. For Colette and her husband, that space was the travel industry.

ByGeekgirl Colette Grgic of Arribaa
In the early days of your startups it’s all about the tshirt

Throughout their adventures, the pair realized that centralized travelling created a bad experience for locals and travellers. The environment was such that you’d wake up at dawn, climb a mountain, take a picture, and then leave. Everyone experienced travel the same way, and few made real connections with locals. “If you don’t have the opportunity to connect with locals in anything other than transactions, you aren’t experiencing the place,” Colette commented.

To solve this problem, Colette and her husband created a startup, humorously called Arriba, to connect travellers and locals over shared passions. The two experienced what it’s like to go in business with your life partner and when asked how it was, Colette answered, “We’re still married. We’re good.” The challenge, Colette explained, with going into business with your life partner is that all you have to talk about is business. You have to discipline yourselves and purposefully set time aside to talk about something else. The upside is that when your business is an amazing success, it’s a testament to your being an amazing couple. When it’s not going well, it’s easy to start picking on each other.


Colette interviewed by Katrin Suess, our ByGeekgirl founder

Arriba, unfortunately, was not a success. “My startup failed. I am not a failure,” Colette said. This was her major learning from her first startup. Are you a success when your startup is a success? Colette says you’re going to be a success either way. The reason is that you’re investing in learning and in yourself. “Ninety percent of startups fail,” Colette remarked. “Chances are you are going to fail, but you shouldn’t take that personally.” People think that an individual is the same as startup, but they are two separate entities. If your startup fails, you are not a failure. You are a success because you are learning.

From Arriba, Colette worked on an internal innovation startup, and finally found her true calling at BlueChilli. “You live in a culture where everything is possible,” Colette explained. She would never want to work anywhere else.

ByGeekgirl Colette Grgic at Future of Fintech
Colette moderating the Future of Fintech panel for ABCC

Being in front of so many startups has educated the once founder on what it takes to succeed. Her biggest piece of advice? “Go back and figure out what success looks like for you.” Colette doesn’t mean to imagine the billion dollar exits. She clarified, “What does it look like when you have to pay three people and you have to generate revenue to do that? Work backwards from there. If we need to generate $100,000 to survive, it means we need to do this each month.” Figuring out these metrics is key.

Colette and her husband met with an advisor every month to look over a dashboard of key metrics. From the number of completed bookings to the site’s conversion rate, the group dissected the results and zoned in on what they needed to do to reach their goal.

ByGeekgirl Colette Grgic on Leadership
Colette’s Acceptance speech for WALA Emerging Leader in Tech award

Key metrics will be different or every startup. “No one can pick your numbers for you,” Colette interjected. “You have to pick them and own them.” Colette advises entrepreneurs to speak to multiple investors and ask what it will take to get an investment in your company in 12 months. Don’t ask for the investment now, but ask what key metrics it will take for them to invest in the future.

While you must choose your own key metrics, getting external advice is also a must. “Sit down with an advisor and have them question you and your numbers,” Colette advised. If you don’t have an external source, you’ll lie to yourself and by into the hype that you’re a founder and you don’t have to be profitable.

Colette is an incredible source of startup wisdom. Want to hear more of her advice for entrepreneurs and the no-fail Gaddie Pitch? By Geekgirl Founder, Katrin Suess, interviewed Colette Grgic in a brilliant Youtube video. Watch the full interview to get all of her insider startup advice.

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