Uncovering the modern entrepreneur in Australia

06 June 2021 Consultancy.com.au 5 min. read
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Entrepreneurs are the backbone of Australia’s economy. Small and family businesses generate more than one-third of the country’s GDP, and provide for two-thirds of all jobs on the island. Notably, that number is growing year-on-year. 

But who is the Australian entrepreneur? That is exactly the question Frost & Sullivan and Oracle NetSuite set out to answer in their new joint report ‘Entrepreneurs in Asia-Pacific’, for which they surveyed over 500 founder/leaders of small and family businesses across eight economies (including Australia).

The study’s main goal: Uncovering the Australian entrepreneur, and exploring what sets them apart from their counterparts in other countries. In doing so, the researchers looked at a range of professional and personal traits of entrepreneurs, from their background, characteristics and motivations, to Covid-19’s impact on their business, the attributes of their success and what they see as important trends for the future.

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

To find out more about the Aussie-specific results, we asked Jason Toshack (General Manager ANZ at Oracle NetSuite) four questions: 

Who is the Aussie entrepreneur?

We continue to read about entrepreneurial wunderkinds, but the reality is a little different in Australia, as most entrepreneurs are currently aged 45+. Australians tend to start businesses later than their APAC counterparts as well – more Australians started their current venture older than any other APAC market surveyed. This indicates a preference to build experience first and learn the tools of the trade before going out on their own. 

In addition, gender balance in Australia is almost at parity – 54% male and 46% female – while across the rest of APAC, two-thirds of businesses are male owned. Indeed, it is encouraging to see homegrown success stories such as Melanie Perkins from Canva demonstrating that entrepreneurship is for everyone, regardless of gender or background.

There was a strong skew towards the retail sector of those surveyed, with a third of Australian entrepreneurs operating in this space (followed in second place by professional services at 20%). It’s also quite common for entrepreneurs to found additional businesses as 29% of Australian entrepreneurs have done this successfully. This vibrant mix of entrepreneurship shows that Australians really do adhere to the mantra of ‘having a go’. 

Principal Motivation of Entrepreneurs, by Country

What helps entrepreneurs succeed?

‘A willingness to work hard’ was cited as the most important attribute (19% even ranked it number one) for success. But hard work does not equate to menial and manual processes, as evidenced by more than half of Australian (58%) entrepreneurs who said technology as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for the success of their business. 

A great example of this is how the team at Bladnoch Distillery used technology to evolve operations during the height of Covid-19. Many of their customers, primarily hospitality businesses, were forced to close as lockdown conditions were imposed. Fortunately, Bladnoch had invested in technology ahead of time, so they could shift operations online and open e-commerce sites as an alternative sales channel. The result? Global whisky sales declined by 25%, yet Bladnoch enjoyed revenue growth of more than 20% thanks to their fast thinking and robust technology stack. 

Of course, there will be times when entrepreneurs don’t get it right or fail to prepare for the future adequately. When asked, ‘what is the most important lesson that you have learned as a business owner as a result of Covid-19’, ‘having a flexible business model (33%) and ‘having a crisis/contingency plan’ (20%) emerged as the two most significant lessons learned.

Measures of Business Success for Entrepreneurs, Asia-Pacific, 2020

How can consultants add value?

Consultants can add value by taking a step back and assessing the business from a more pragmatic perspective.

When entrepreneurs were asked what they would do differently if starting again, the number one response was to change things that aren’t working, more quickly. This is tricky when the business is your own – whether that’s due to attachment to an idea or because you might be too stuck into the work to realise changes are imperative.

A close second was “invest more time in business planning”. This is likely a lesson learned in arrears. Many entrepreneurs have a great vision, and the successful ones all have a great work ethic, but not all have the ability or the time to draw thorough roadmaps for their businesses.

These are areas where consultants can really shine and apply their business acumen and deep industry understanding to support the entrepreneur’s vision.

Entrepreneurs Who Believe their Business Has Succeeded So Far, by Country/Region

What’s next for entrepreneurs?

There is no one archetype for the modern Australian entrepreneur. They come from all walks of life and bring their skills and passion to the businesses they create. It is, however, clear that the Aussie entrepreneur is ready to put the hard miles in and stay resilient through thick and thin.

Despite tough times, it appears that the Aussie spirit is hard to break, as most Australian entrepreneurs (83 per cent) surfaced from the last year feeling confident about their businesses and next stage of growth. Using the right technology, being adaptable in the face of change and robust business and scenario planning are cornerstones that will serve entrepreneurs well.