The Lab17 · Nick Ingall & Simon Bernardino

Scaling New Heights: How Nick & Simon's unique approach catapulted their startup to 7-figure success.

November 21, 2023
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  • Founder - Nick Ingall & Simon Bernardino
  • Location - Sydney, Australia & Wanaka, New Zealand
  • Started in 2019
  • 7 figures revenue
  • Bootstrapped
  • 9 employees

What's your backstory?

Hi there, Nick Ingle from Lab17 here. My story starts on the East Coast of Australia, but it's really a tale of many places. I spent a significant part of my childhood in Papua New Guinea, across two different locations in the Asia-Pacific region, and then in Darwin, where I completed most of my schooling. After that, I moved around quite a bit, living in various Australian cities, spending six years in Europe, and for the past five years, I've been in New Zealand. My upbringing in Darwin, especially the daily interactions with First Nations people and the Indigenous culture, deeply influenced me. This exposure has been a driving force behind Lab17, shaping our ethos, our work approach, and our external passions.

What does your company do and how did you come up with the idea?

My journey with Lab17 is rooted in my love for the startup and scale-up phase, particularly in companies with anywhere from 10 to 500 employees. My experience at Spotify, where I witnessed its growth from 100 to over 1200 employees, was exhilarating. After returning to Australia and New Zealand, I worked with products I believed in, often the underdogs, but with solutions that really addressed specific problems. Instead of embarking on another build phase, which I had done several times, I wanted to create a broader solution to support startups and scale-ups in the Southeast Asia Pacific region, especially in talent acquisition, which can be a costly affair. Lab17 operates as a consultancy, bringing an in-house methodology to our partnerships. We typically work with companies for six to 12 months, handling hiring, building infrastructure, employer branding, employee value propositions, onboarding, and HR operations. We can either cover the entire spectrum of people and culture or focus specifically on talent. If a company already has a team, we can plug in to solve the most challenging talent-related issues. We started as a fully remote company pre-COVID, with team members in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, and North America, and have continued to operate remotely, traveling mainly for engagement and reconnection.

How did you get your first 10 customers?

In the early days of Lab17, nearly five years ago, I leveraged my network from over a decade of in-house experience to generate business development opportunities. For the first three to four years, we were a referral-only business. We've since expanded our capabilities in sales, business development, and marketing to attract clients outside our immediate network. Our initial customers came through referrals from those who had worked with us in-house or had been clients of Lab17 and recommended us. The venture capital landscape also played a role, with portfolio companies sharing their experiences in hiring, talent acquisition, branding, people, and culture. These discussions often led to new leads and opportunities for us.

What steps did you take to understand and confirm that your product or service was a good match for the needs and wants of your target customers?

The demand was there from the get-go. When we started the business in New Zealand, Simon and I thought we'd initially just consult and see how things went. But within three months, the demand and validation for our external talent acquisition model, which operates like an in-house service, were evident. It's not just about hiring, which is where the cleanest ROI is, but also about the value-adds we provide, like building processes, interview training, and defining employer brands. Our unique selling point is that all Lab 17 employees have in-house talent acquisition backgrounds, which was validated early in our journey. Recently, the talent acquisition landscape has changed, with less volume hiring. We're adapting to shorter hiring forecasts from our partners, which means more rapid business development and partnership initiation.

How did you reach and acquire your first 40 customers? Which platforms or methods did you use to connect with them and promote your product or service?

Our initial customer acquisition was largely network-driven, especially within the tech community and startup domain. We often partnered with VCs, offering learning and development or functional experience training to their portfolio companies, which generated interest. Realizing the need for inbound interest beyond our network, we invested in sales and marketing about 18 months ago. We've refreshed our brand this year and rolled out internal sales training. We're still improving in this area, aiming for more consistent, quality inbound leads for our services in talent acquisition, employer branding, and people and culture.

What drives you to do what you do?

Having worked only for founder-led companies in the software space for about 14-15 years, I've always admired the DNA of such businesses. I wanted to test myself as a founder, to see how I'd handle pressure and decision-making. Starting something from scratch with my co-founder Simon has been a real test of character. In a small consultancy like ours, every expense feels more personal, teaching you quickly about investment and ROI. Being a founder has connected the dots for me on the importance of vision, mission, and goals. It's easier to make decisions when they align with these elements. I also love the functional craft of talent acquisition, helping people make significant career decisions and assisting companies in establishing their unique employer value propositions.

What advice do you have for founders in the earlier stage of their journey?

From my own experience, including a failure about 10 years ago, the key is to connect the validation of a problem with its solution. The idea is a small part of the journey; execution is the challenge. Previously, I didn't research enough to validate a definitive problem and its value in terms of investment. It's crucial to understand the cost of the problem to an organization or individual and the value they'll find in investing in a solution. In the past, I built tech for the sake of it, without sufficient validation, which is a mistake I learned from.

Who are some recommended experts or entrepreneurs to follow for learning how to grow a business?

Shane McCurry - Leadership Development in the professional sports domain
Paddy McCord - VP Talent @ Netflix for over a decade and built a very strong philosophy around hiring, and performance.

Any quotes you live by?

"Performance is not measured by how many hours you sit behind your desk"

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