STEVE Baxter, the driving force of Queensland's startup scene and the State's sole Shark in the upcoming season of Shark Tank Australia, talks dollars, sense and lessons learnt to Brisbane Business News.

Baxter's road to success has been colourful. He dropped out of school at 15 to enlist in the Australian Defence Force, before turning his hand to entrepreneurship nine years later.

In 1994, Baxter developed and launched his first startup, SE Net, a pioneering internet service provider that was funded from $11,000 in savings for a house deposit.

The startup shark was born.

SE Net went on to service 35,000 customers and was then acquired by Malcolm Turnbull's OzEmail in 2000.

Caught in the startup wheel, Baxter co-founded his second major venture in 2001, PIPE Networks, which was later sold to TPG Group for $373 million.

Baxter has since committed himself to developing Queensland's startup scene, launching Brisbane co-working community River City Labs in 2012 and serving as a founding director of advocacy group StartupAUS in 2013. He also personally backs startups, building a portfolio of new tech businesses that today have a combined value of more than $100 million.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever received in business?

Don't spend a dollar to save fifty cents.

What's a lesson you had to learn the hard way?

Personally, to have more life in the work-life balance equation. In business, opinions mean nothing, while purchases mean everything.

If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?

A couple of things. Mainly to learn the accounts side a lot earlier than I did and back my intuition harder.

What's the most important thing in business?

Make sure you are delivering a product that customers want, are willing to pay for and what they are willing to pay is higher than the cost of production. Sell it for more than what it costs to make. Too many people tend to forget that basic rule.

What are your top tips for budding entrepreneurs, or anybody wanting to launch their own startup?

  1. Solve a problem, and make that one that people will pay you for.

  2. Test your product and service often with your customers, not your family and friends. Test it on people who you expect to put their hands in their pockets and buy what you are selling. A purchase is one of the few honest opinions you can rely on.

  3. Know your figures. You need to know your figures to ensure you are making money and making a return for you and your family. Poor understanding of the basic finances of the business is a warning sign for all involved.

  4. Know your business. If it is just you starting, you are not just Head Chef but also Chief Bottle Washer. In the case of tech startups, I see way too many starting entrepreneurs looking to outsource immediately the entire technology of their startup. If you - or your co-founder - can't build version one of your business, then you need to reassess your business or add to your skill set.  Oh - and please do not tell an investor that the purpose of their investment is to outsource the build of what you can't and/or are too lazy to try.

  5. Do business you are proud of. Everyone has different motivations but work out your success criteria and pursue those in a manner that befits you. 

See and hear more from Baxter when he features on the first season of Shark Tank Australia from February 8 on Channel Ten.


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