10 essential tips from sports stars-turned-entrepreneurs

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10 essential tips from sports stars-turned-entrepreneurs
Chris Knights.

Chris Knights and Michael Klim have continued to enjoy success after retiring from their respective sports. They reveal their business secrets.

To AFL fans across Australia, Chris Knights is probably best remembered for his lethal accuracy in front of goals during his decade-long career with the Adelaide Crows and Richmond Tigers. But he’s continued to make the most of his opportunities with his tech business, Zib Media.

Most recently, he’s launched an app called Zibit, which is designed to take the headache out of splitting bills.

Some of Knight's circumstances may be unique. However, many of the challenges he faced along the way – including balancing a full-time career while developing a promising new business on the side – will probably be familiar to most small business people.

Here’s how he did it – along with his tips for setting up a successful technology-based business.

The evolution of a tech startup

Before moving from the Crows to Richmond in 2012, Knights successfully launched Zib Media, originally as a web design and online marketing company.

“We started servicing small to medium businesses by creating an online presence for them,” Knights told BIT. “We built our company up in South Australia, and then when I moved across to Melbourne to play for Richmond, we expanded with offices in Melbourne.

“For me, it was more challenging in the beginning, and it took a lot of discipline. As the business started to grow – as we went from three people to a team – and I had more people I could delegate tasks to, it became a lot easier.”

Then, after a knee injury ended his career in 2015, he pivoted to become a fintech entrepreneur by launching Zibit.

“Zibit is a peer-to-peer financial app,” he said. “The whole purpose of Zibit is that there is an expectation through society that there needs to be a convenient alternative to cash, because we’re becoming a cashless society.

As with many business innovations, Knights decided to create the app after identifying a need that was not being filled by existing products in the marketplace.

“It started with a bunch of friends going on a group holiday,” he said. “We had to split bills for accommodation, dinners, and other bits and pieces, and we thought there had to be an easier way to do it.

“I did a bit of research to identify if there was anyone else doing this. And I found there’s a culture in the US and in other markets where this is present, but in Australia there was no third-party provider who was able to offer this service.”

Knights then identified the qualities the app needed to succeed. “It needed to make it really easy to send or receive money from friends and family. There needed to be a trust factor where people could trust being able to store their financial details with us with bank grade security. And then there’s cost.

“We created a payments platform where you can send or receive payments instantly for free. We’re quite happy about that, and we’re about to launch a new version in the coming weeks."

According to Knights, the development process took around 12 months from conception to when the app was ready to launch in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

“We put together a plan of attack and then we started building. We got key personnel in to execute the task, so we got them in full time, and then we went from there,” Knights said.

“Some of the biggest tasks were around compliance – Australian laws and regulations through ASIC have high standards of compliance. We also needed to get a bank to support our product and provide payments, which we got with the ANZ bank.

“We developed it all in house-- we’ve got a small team of four working on this product. It was around 18 months from the original concept until when it was in the app store.”

So what are the lessons that he has learned from this process – along with his early experience in starting the business? Knights identified five key tips:

1. Be aware of the clock

The secret to starting a business alongside your regular job is effective time management. That means using apps to stay on top of your schedule, and then having the discipline to stick to it.

“It is a challenge. It requires a lot of discipline. I made sure that my diary up to date. I kept everything integrated through my Google calendar – my football and my work,” Knights said.

2. Know when to handpass tasks off to your teammates

A vital part of balancing a full-time career with a growing business was building a team he could be confident in delegating tasks to.  

“I built a really good team around me who could assist me with tasks, so in the day-and-a-half I had to focus on my business I could maximise my time, and for the rest of the time I had really good people who were able to assist me,” Knights said. “I had key people in place and I could trust after we had our weekly meetings that they would be able to execute.”

3. Find a great coach

Starting a business and grappling with new technologies can be daunting. Thankfully, there’s a lot of great advice and experience to be gained through tech meetup groups, startup events and through business incubator and accelerator programs.

“There is a fantastic startup scene in Melbourne. There’s a fintech scene and an entrepreneurs scene. And the first thing is to go and catch up with likeminded people and start having conversation,” Knights said.

“There’s a lot of great speakers that we’ve listened to, and there’s a lot of smart businesspeople involved in these meetings who can offer help and advice. After you get involved, you will get the confidence to move forward with your own ideas.”

4. Create opportunities

Having a great tech or business idea is all very well, but not everyone has the resources to self-fund it into action. This is where it’s important to learn how to pitch your innovation to investors.

“You don’t necessarily need money to come up with a great idea. Create a pitch deck, either by yourself or with a couple of friends, and then start seeing if you can get some investors on board,” Knights said.

“And we’re seeing Australians actually do this and succeed at a global level. The reality is we’ve got some great minds in Australia, and we really need to start delivering some great products.”

5. Stay in control under pressure

Knight’s final piece of advice is to not panic if things don’t always go to plan.

“If I could summarise the process of moving from football into business, and then getting Zibit off the ground, I would say nothing’s easy. And if you’re trying to start a business or create a new fintech product, nothing will be easy,” Knights said.

“There will be a lot of bad days and there are good days, and when you get through it, it will all be worth it. Keep persisting.”

Klim goes for Business Gold

Meanwhile, former Olympic gold medallist Michael Klim has also built up a successful small business since his retirement from swimming. Klim's Milk & Co sells skincare products for men, women and babies.

He’s also just signed with cloud accounting provider Xero to produce a series of guides called Business Gold.

Timed, perhaps not coincidentally, to launch just before the Rio Olympics, the guides include a weekly five-episode video series on how on his swimming career has shaped his approach to business, and the lessons he has learned since. The material will subsequently be published as an ebook.

When launching the series, Klim shared five key tips, including to:

  1. Stay focussed and mindful – giving tasks your full focus, but know when to relax to avoid burnout
  2. Build a strong team – recognising the importance of surrounding yourself people that push and inspire you to surpass your personal best
  3. Change with the game – staying on your toes and ready to adapt to changes, because the success of your business may depend on it
  4. Work towards a goal – having a set number of goals every week and working towards them
  5. Be curious – and avoid complacency by gathering as much knowledge, because you can because there is always room for improvement.

He particularly stressed the importance of resisting the temptation to go it alone, but instead building the best possible team.

"As an athlete I constantly sought to acquire a great knowledge of myself, my strengths and weaknesses," said Klim. "Knowing my limits in the pool was one thing I could always depend on, and it's a rule I now apply to business."

The first episode of Business Gold is available on YouTube now.

Stephen Withers

Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know

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