Table of contents
- Founders - Ben Kennedy, Alan Ng & Lal Birch
- Sydney, Australia
- Started in 2019.
- 3 founders, 3 part-time employees
Ben, what's your backstory?
I grew up in Sydney with two entrepreneurs as parents. Dad has his own financial services firm that he started when he was in his twenties. Mum is a serial entrepreneur. She had her own catering company and venue and now has a restaurant, B&B, and owns a few racehorses that she loves to take care of.
I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur by 16. However, I didn't think it'd be so early in my career. After high school, I did a brand new degree called Digital Creative Enterprise Management at UTS. It sounded interesting enough to get me a few internships 😂 but more seriously, it led me on the right path to learn about innovation and how to start a startup.
I thought of the idea for Gecko around the same time I got my first desk job as an auditor at a mid-tier firm that worked on several startups and VCs like Freelancer.com and Bailador. The more time I spent here, the itchier I became to get out into the world and start Gecko. I ended up scratching that itch a couple of years after I started and went all-in on Gecko.
I'm 22 now (I went all-in when I was 20), so I didn't have a tonne of experience. All I knew was that there was a lot to learn, and I needed to spend this time learning by speaking to people smarter than me (and watching a tonne of YC youtube videos).
Tell us what your company does?
Gecko is a marketplace to hire event items like speakers, chairs, and lights as easily and securely as possible.
My co-founders and I noticed how frustrating it was to hire event items. You'd have to ring them up or fill out a form. It was then a coin toss on whether they'd get back to you or not. If they did, it'd take days for them to send a quote, then you'd accept the quote, and you'd make a payment.
Then you'd go to the store and have to fill out all the details you'd already put in. It made you never want to rent again, and we knew there had to be a better way!
Our mission is to improve both the online and offline experience for customers and rental businesses like Amazon and Airbnb.
How did you come up with the idea?
I noticed the problem when I went to Falls Festival when I was 18. My mates and I bought a tonne of items like speakers, tents, foldout chairs and tables.
They now sit in my garage and haven't been touched since (after almost 4 years).
We found it so frustrating trying to hire items with rental businesses. It felt like they almost didn't want to make sales, but it was just the logistical complexities they had to go through.
I thought of a marketplace solution when I realised there wasn't anything out there that was actively trying to solve this problem simply. I knew nothing about startups and spent 18 months validating that this was an idea worth doing before we launched.
I liked Gecko because I felt it appealed to our audience. It was fun, it was out there, and I knew our target market would love it. We've put a lot of effort into our brand and logo. We wanted to make it as if you're hiring from a mate.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
To get started, I knew that I knew absolutely nothing about starting a business. I would watch youtube videos, ask anyone in my network to meet with me, and get any advice I could to learn as much as possible.
I spent a lot of time validating, getting sign-ups and trying to find either a co-founder or someone who would be able to build this. After a year or so, I opted to build it with an agency and entered into a pre-accelerator called Turbo Traction Lab in Rockhampton.
Then a couple of months later, Lal and Alan decided to join as co-founders.
How have you grown the business?
We got smashed due to COVID. We were growing at ridiculously quick rates out of the gates. The key to this was a few things. We got over 1200 sign-ups on our database before we launched, so we didn't come out of the gates with 0.
I had a competition with my friends on who could get the most sign-ups where we got over 400 sign ups in an hour. No bathroom was ever safe. I would put funny posters or Gecko stickers in cubicles that would lead people to a landing page.
A key growth lever we used was leveraging Facebook marketplace and Gumtree to make our first original sales. We also got friends to try it out and get feedback on how to make it better.
We're now working with many rental businesses. We're solving the logistical problems they face, like delivery, an easy-to-use CRM, easy-to-use online booking system, and a security system to protect them.
We're constantly working on what we believe will impact our customers' lives when renting items.
What’s your biggest selling product?
Speakers have always been #1, but party packages are definitely on the rise! We also did a lot of exercise bikes during lockdowns.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
So many to name - top 2 were:
1. Rebuilt our whole platform from scratch 🤦♂️ (took a year longer than it should have)
2. I got a freelance marketer to spend 5k worth of ads pre-launch to get sign-ups at an average of $15 per click 😬
These were both costly lessons to learn. One in opportunity costs and the other in monetary cost.
What day to day digital tools do you use?
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
More of a podcast guy but The Lean Startup is good for anyone getting started.
I'm actually an auditory learner, so I prefer podcasts to books.
What quotes do you live by?
"Happiness is attainable every day if you wish to access it."
"Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its true source humility is the only antidote to shame."
"It's not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
One bit of advice is is that it takes a little while to get you on the right track with mental health and running a startup. It took years to get to the point of meditating every weekday, exercising, drinking water, doing yoga, etc., and I still haven't perfected it.
When I started, I was good at sleeping and exercising as I played football ⚽️. Have a starting point and just get 1% better every day.
But to answer the question, yes, I meditate, drink a lot of water, try to eat right, do yoga every few days, sleep at least 8 hours. Still need to improve the time away from screens, but I'm getting better!
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
"This is a tricky one. In all honestly, being a founder is what I feel I was born to do. Everything else felt weird, or I just didn't feel motivated. Being a founder felt right. It's a lot of work, but you get a tremendous sense of purpose, which makes life worth living."
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Start Learning, and don't stop. When you're first starting to speak to people smarter than you, people who have started their own businesses who are 3-5 steps ahead of you, they're the best people to help you on your journey.
Make sure to spend time with yourself and know that this is what you want to do. It could be a 1-2 week trip by yourself somewhere. This is important.
Finally, go through the YC Library and watch as many videos as possible. I get an incredible sense of enlightenment out of every single video I watch.
Anything you want to add?
I think the most essential quality to a founder is hustle. You don't actually have to be that smart to be a successful entrepreneur.
I have friends from my school that got below 40 in their HSC and now run cafe's and their own brewery.
It's cliche to say if you work hard, that's all that matters, so I won't. I'll say to work hard on the right things that make you happy.
It won't matter how big your valuation is or whether you've got millions of customers. If you fall in love with the journey, that'll make you one of the most fulfilled people in the world!