"By far the most valuable connection we made was one that led to a private investor coming on board."
Emma Lo Russo is a Heads Over Heels Portfolio CEO, and is CEO of Digivizer, which she co-founded in 2010. Since then, the company has grown to employing over 60 people, has just opened for business in Singapore, and has recently made both the SmartCompany Smart 50 and Deloitte Tech Fast 50 lists.
What's your company's point of difference?
Since day one, our focus has been on making sense of, and delivering value from, the social web, and where social and digital meet. Now accepted thinking for companies large and small, back then it was radical, especially the focus on social media and on how that value might be delivered through mobile devices.
Companies must think social, digital and mobile to make a difference – because that’s where their customers are. We help make that easier and more meaningful for organisations of any size, by using technology and data to help them know what’s working, and what isn’t, in real-time.
This has seen Digivizer create, develop and deploy our unique technology platform that tracks and analyses millions of pieces of content – about desires, needs, aspirations, and biases, from those millions of Australians who are active on the social web.
What makes us different at a technology level is that we do this across multiple platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube through APIs, along with LinkedIn), in real-time, down to individuals.
Behind this effort is one, single-minded objective: help organisations about know more about their customers, to help them engage, serve and create the best experiences and value, in the right contexts and timescales.
How did Head Over Heels provide practical support?
Digivizer’s relationship with Heads over Heels is now three years old. Our original engagement was a presentation at one of Heads Over Heals’ entrepreneurs’ events in Sydney. We received nearly 40 offers to engage with a variety of opportunities that included new business prospects and one private investment opportunity that subsequently completed.
At that stage in our growth and market penetration (October 2014) this proved invaluable, and we were able to use the event as market validation of what we were doing, and the achievements we had made to that point.
Those connections and relationships have carried forward to this day, and we remain very much a part of the Australian startup/early-growth technology sector, especially companies founded and run by women.
What is the single biggest thing that helped you grow?
To narrow this down to one thing is difficult, so let me share four!
Firstly, the focus and commitment to success. Entrepreneurs choose to do their own thing because they are driven to harness an opportunity and to create a new future, to forge their own way. This focus is what creates the foundation for growth.
Secondly, managing growth through key transition points. What works early in a startup’s history is not necessarily what works later (in fact, rarely so). Sustained growth means bringing in new systems, enhancing leadership capability, and formalising HR and marketing resources and programs.
Thirdly, growing and protecting your company’s culture, with an emphasis on investing in building a strong culture based on values, trust and empowerment. We seek the best people we can afford, and our team diversity and skills reflect this.
And fourthly and finally, growth pain points. I think there are four of these: cash flow, scaling recruitment and performance management, scaling sales and marketing, and controlling costs. The first three facts drive the fourth. Manage growth, and you grow – but it doesn’t 'just happen'.
And if you force me to stick with just one, I’d go with focus and commitment!
Who or what were your 'connections for growth'?
By far the most valuable connection we made was one that led to a private investor coming on board. We first connected with that individual at that first Heads Over Heels event, and ahead of becoming a direct investor, he connected us with a number of other organisations either as prospects, or as part of the investment network.
We also made connections to companies that, in time, have become clients and we have also been invited to present to organisations about what we do, and about the changing face of data-driven social and digital marketing in business.
We operate in the social media and digital spaces – so for us more-broadly, connections are social. LinkedIn is especially powerful and relevant for us. Social media also allow us to scale, and they provide us with exceptional returns on very limited budgets (as you’d expect). And of course, our own technology allows us to understand much more about those reaching out to us.
What one thing would you do differently?
Not everything you do will work – so the agile concept of deliver fast and often, fail fast and often, and learn continuously, is an important part of our product development and culture. Alongside this sit more-difficult decisions. A couple of times, I’ve had to make such decisions, and on at least one, I blinked, and waited – which, with hindsight, was wrong.
Deep in each of us is the courage of our convictions, and of our vision. Without ever giving into arrogance or hubris, never allow those difficult decisions to derail that vision.
What advice would you offer the women following you?
Always focus on your differentiation.
Stay accountable and measure everything.
Invest in the future.
Everything starts and ends with customers: create greater value and experiences for them.
Make diversity meaningful and real: focus on attracting the best skills you can afford.
Embrace the moment as often as you can. You’ve made a decision to create something new – a huge difference from those who talk about doing so, but who never quite do so. In short, back yourself!