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How one woman risked $500,000 to get her business off the ground

·Contributor
·5-min read
Carey Furze smiles at the camera in business style photo, image of Australian $100 notes and coins with calculator.
Find out Carey Furze's top business lessons. (Images: Supplied, Getty).

Looking back on her career, 53 year old Carey Furze has worked in a myriad of industries around the globe, from an English teacher and model in Tokyo, to publishing two books, and investing in real-estate.

But her biggest career gamble was pouring $500,000 into her own business, after her initial business investment of $30,000 spiralled to half a million in five years. 

Her business, 'SpeakaMemoir.com', is a program which enables anyone to collect voice, images and authentic stories into books and store on a cloud. 

Here's how she did it. 

The SpeakaMemoir.com journey

The year was 2011, when Furze, then aged 43, decided to get a formal qualification.

She undertook a Bachelor of Communications degree and, as part of her degree, she began researching ways to develop writing technology to enable anyone to create a published book.

In 2016, Furze launched her original idea 'Bookform' and joined the start-up community.

WATCH: Samantha Wills: From $80,000 in debt to global jewellery empire

She ran workshops and programs in libraries to gain traction. Through the school networks the project took off when students took part in 'biography as a service' with seniors in their community, as projects for school.

Reaching this point did not come easy, as costs grew out of control.

“It’s a slippery slope. It’s easy to pour money in, before you realise how much you have invested,” says Furze. “I was trying to create a minimal viable product, a term used in start-ups, yet the constant testing in the market-place led into scope-creep.”

Scope-creep occurs when the project or work starts to ‘creep’ beyond the original plan and costs more time and more money.

For Furze, alarm bells rang when the “on-boarding” side of the program required constant refining.

“This was a major problem. I was focused on the technology working and when the ‘on boarding’, or where customers pay for your product doesn’t work, this was a major flaw. It took a while to find out that people couldn’t get on to pay!”

She said this issue went back to understanding the way customers purchase.

“Initially, I created the product for older retirees, [then] I pivoted to an education product; this is where I became unstuck. Not understanding education customers’ buying habits was my biggest mistake.”

Furze funded the project by selling property.

“I sold part of my property portfolio to fund my business. I was in a safe position, although, I did jeopardise it all,” she adds. I have a big risk appetite, I’m single and without children. I know I could lose my safety net and options, but, I believe it’s worth it.”

A big break and a pandemic

In 2019, she partnered with Google for Education, which is used by 70 per cent of schools globally.

Furze’s technology is now being used in 141 countries, as an education resource for students and for individuals.

Bookform, which became SpeakaMemoir.com, combines writing pages, template prompts and self-published digital books activities.

Adult users create published memoirs, and for young people the process allows them to make books and portfolios to be graded and also can be gifted and sold for fundraising.

As the product gained momentum, Furze joined an Austrade trip to San Francisco to help scale her product globally. The Austrade program is part of a government funded program to help start-ups.

“The start-up community is not for the faint-hearted,” adds Furze.

She experienced predatory behaviours. The advice she offers is, the more educated you are on your customer and industry, the less vulnerable you will be to predatory behaviour.

“The start-up community has many great aspects, you meet great people and build your knowledge,” she adds.

“Be careful of predators in the industry, if you’re naive, they will target you.”

Furze’s business plans were also hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and when she arrived in San Francisco everything stopped.

“After four years of my life’s work and pouring money into the business, the pandemic hit. It was a full stop on everything.”

Since the pandemic, she adds, schools have been busy and overwhelmed with lockdowns.

“They're seeing the value in my tech now. In the short-term it’s been a catastrophe, but in the long term it will be great.”

“This happens all the time: the business that succeeds is not necessarily the best idea or product, but the one that lasts the longest. I’m here for the long haul.’

Carey Furze tips to help entrepreneurs

  1. The biggest money lesson is a dollar saved is a dollar earned. I wasted a lot of money, because I had money.

  2. Be aware of start-up community predatory behaviour - the service providers know many entrepreneurs are naive in business, ignorant of governance and desperate for help. A predator could be an accountant or lawyer. Don’t be willing to part money so quickly.

  3. Watch out for the ‘old boy’s club’, there are lots of fantastic female networks, get involved with them.

  4. Only create a business or start-up if you know the customer and industry and you’re passionate or financially able to work for five to ten years with no money.

  5. Start small, prove the business and get customers and dollars before adding more features or scale.

  6. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so make sure to get life balance so you can last. Take care of your health (mental, physical, and financial), relationships and social life.

  7. Technology is not a once-off expense and requires constant upgrades, fixing links and reliable tech developers.

  8. Learn to love rejection. Find your customer and look for the gaps for their needs.

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