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Clara Ong

CITY: MELBOURNE

Business:

What? Socialsuite is a technology platform that helps organisations measure their social impact.

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How did the idea for your business first come about?
The idea came to me during my time working on social impact assessments in regional and Indigenous communities across Australia. Here, I was assessing how corporate social investments could best be deployed, and whether community change was achieved as a result of these investments. 

During this time, I noticed that the assessments were arduous and predominantly paper-based, resulting in lengthy reports and data that were not user-friendly or accessible. Data collection was manual and effortful, compromising ability to effectively assess if any real change or impact has been achieved as a result of investments going into the communities. 

Teaming up with the business' co-founder (and my husband), Damian Hajda, who has a background in software engineering, we began working on a system. The goal was to provide both funders and service providers with a platform for easily collecting and reporting on outcomes data, essentially managing their end-to-end workflow of determining what to measure through to generating reports that showcase the outcomes being achieved. This eventually became the Socialsuite platform,
 

When did you have a ‘f*ck-it moment’ and decide you were going to go all-in and start your business?
I wouldn't say it was a sudden new life direction moment. Damian is highly entrepreneural and very much a visionary, and I have always been fiercely independent and outcomes driven. I like the challenge of executing difficult projects and seeing change happen quickly. In this regard, I knew venturing out on my own was the only way I could control and create impact more rapidly. Also, Damian and I always used to explore different ways in which we can build our own success so when the idea for Socialsuite came about, we naturally started investing R&D time into it.

 

What were some major challenges you had when starting your business? And how did you overcome them?
One of the major challenges has been the development of the platform. At the beginning, we used an offshore outsourcing model to build the prototype, which was not a good idea because there was no QA/QC or product ownership. After learning some expensive lessons, we threw out the prototype and moved to using local contractors based in Australia. The development cost more than quadrupled , and due to cost constraints we weren't able to change the product fast enough in response to our early customers' needs. 

From bootstrapping through to first revenue we received from very supportive and high profile early adopter customers, we were able to make our first hire - a Product Manager - who provided much needed relief for us to support our customers and construct a product development roadmap. We gradually started to shift the development in-house, which significantly lifted outgoing costs. 

During the first 2 years, not only did Damian and I have to manage Business Development and bring in much needed sales (to fund the development), we also had to support our customers. This resulted in very long days and nights, and working through weekends. However this experience was very important as it gave us real insight into what the Socialsuite product needed to be, and experiencing first hand the operational demands of the business. 

We continued working from home, and had regular team meetings around the dining table, until our 4th hire during which time we moved into an office. However this presented a new challenge as going through a steep growth phase meant that we went from 0 to 10 employees in a short space of a few months. One of the biggest challenges I've had to personally overcome is people management, and overcoming my own self-doubts and insecurities. I've learned that in order to cultivate loyalty, you need to lead by example. I've developed a great deal of empathy and humility along the way.

 

What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?
 That arming yourself with the right team can really move your business forward, but the wrong hires can be costly. If you are surrounded by good people, it is important to be humble enough to say you can't do it all or you don't know it all, and that it's okay to let others question your ideas or drive your ideas forward.

 

Starting a business can be gruelling - what keeps you motivated, and keeps you going?
What keeps me motivated is the belief and support from our family and friends, and knowing that at the end of every challenge, you become that bit more resilient and wiser.
 

How do you create a work-life balance?
I had no work-life balance during the first 7 years of being an entrepreneur and starting Socialsuite. Being married to my business partner meant that family time is also "business debrief / team meeting" time. We lived and breathed the business, and bring a lot of the stress home. I am getting much better now. I make an effort to go for a run in the mornings to put myself into a positive mental frame. I also make it a point to cook dinners and have a sit-down meal with my husband at least 3 times a week. I find cooking (and baking) really zens me out.

 

Words of Wisdom / Personal Quote
 Everything in business can be fixed with a bit of hustling and hard work.