Lana Weal highlights the mental health challenges faced by founders
Lana Weal is the founder of Market Mindfully, a marketing consultancy company that aims to support impact-driven startups in Australia and New Zealand to tell their stories, make more impact and connect with partners for mutual benefit. Lana first entered the startup world when she joined the accelerator BlueChilli as Marketing Manager in 2018, a role in which she learned a great deal about the Australian startup ecosystem.
In 2021, Lana joined the Atto Accelerator to support the next generation of female founders. Atto.vc is a startup school that supports female founders to launch tech companies independently, scalable, and sustainably.
In her conversation with Adam, Lana discusses the potential for burnout and mental health challenges working in the fast-paced startup world, as well as the importance of support networks when embarking on a founder’s journey.
Market Mindfully: https://www.marketmindfully.com/
Lana on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wealybin/
Atto VC: https://atto.vc
Adam Spencer: Hi, I’m Adam Spencer, and welcome to Day One, the podcast that spotlights Australian startups, founders, and the organizations that empower Australian entrepreneurship. We go back to the beginning to tell a story of Australia’s most inspiring founders and how they built their companies. You’re listening to a special interview series as part of a documentary W2D1 is producing about the history of the Australian startup ecosystem. On the episode today we have-
Lana Weal: My name is Lana Weal, I am a Kiwi based in Melbourne, and I am the founder of Market Mindfully, a purpose driven marketing consultancy company.
Lana Weal: How did I get started? Well, I studied management, which is very general, I had a major of international management, which is even more general. I was from a small town in New Zealand, and I knew I had to get out to make the most of the opportunities in the world, so I moved to Melbourne. And then the first place to give me a job was Sensis, the Yellow Pages. So I started out writing yellow pages ads, which was very, very, very interesting, talking to thousands of small businesses across Australia, and then I found SEO, so search engine optimization. And I worked in SEO roles for about four or five years advising small businesses, and then massive international companies about how to get their websites ranked higher on Google, and then I found the startup world after that as well. So after earning my stripes in the SEO world I became a generalist after that, advising people on all of the marketing things, and I was drawn to the impact side of the startup world as well, and female founders, obviously, too.
Adam Spencer: How did you discover the startup world, and what year was that?
Lana Weal: So that was in the end of 2017 I went to an event. So I was in Melbourne and wanting to connect with inspiring people and people with creative ideas who were working on fun projects, and there was an event on, it was hosted at MYOB, and it was on getting started on your big idea. And while I didn’t have a big idea, I knew there would be interesting people in the room, so I went. And it was actually an event, like an accelerator recruitment event run by SheStarts, and SheStarts is a female founder accelerator, and I was really inspired by the speakers and the founders. And then I stalked SheStarts online, I stalked a parent company, BlueChilli, and BlueChilli was hiring a marketing person, so that’s actually how I got into it. And while I didn’t know much about the startup industry before that, BlueChilli was definitely an amazing place to learn the lay of the land and support amazing founders as well. I worked with hundreds of founders there.
Adam Spencer: I didn’t realize BlueChilli were in Melbourne. I knew they were in Sydney, but I didn’t realize they were in Melbourne.
Lana Weal: Yeah, they were at the time, and during the recruitment campaigns they’ve, and we did, when I was there as well, we did events in Adelaide and Brisbane too.
Adam Spencer: I’m so happy that you said that the event was hosted at MYOB, because I believe they are going to be the first major sponsor that is on board for the series, so that’s awesome.
Lana Weal: Wonderful news. They’re a huge supporter of startups in Melbourne and Australia, and yeah, they do really amazing work. It’d be great to have them as a partner.
Adam Spencer: Can you tell me a bit more about your time at BlueChilli? So that was where you really got initiated into the startup ecosystem, which is a fantastic onboarding process to come into the startup ecosystem through BlueChilli, a lot of amazing people there.
Lana Weal: Oh yes.
Adam Spencer: Can you tell me a bit about that time and how you, during your time with BlueChilli, saw the ecosystem change and grow and evolve?
Lana Weal: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, it was such an amazing time. The BlueChillians are such phenomenal people. They’re amazing people.
Adam Spencer: We’re keeping that in, that’s saying it.
Lana Weal: Fantastic. Yeah, BlueChillians are amazing, and all of them have gone on to do some really amazing things, and work for different programs and things as well, it was such an inspiring place to be. So I was there for all of 2018 and ’19, and I learned so much about how to work fast, and testing alone, and all that type of thing as well. And we ran, I think I was involved with three or four programs, there were two SheStart programs, which was focused on female founders. There was one, PropTech, which was sponsored by Stockland, one sponsored by Coca-Cola Amateur, which was really interesting, about data and supply chain and product, and all those types of interesting things. And there was also another one, City Connect, that was about impact and sustainability as well.
Lana Weal: So it was really amazing to have these structured programs to support founders to go from idea to MVP, and BlueChilli was very unique as well supporting non-technical founders to create technical products. There was a technical team with a product manager, designer, developer who helped get their MVP built as well. So it was really the most intense startup education I could have wished for, I guess, seeing from the back end all of the educators and the mentors and the advisors, and all of the support, how it takes a community to build a startup, really. It’s not just one person working by themselves with a computer, even though there are a few companies that are the company of one, like Paul Jarvis’s book, the Company of One, but the most successful companies, or the best companies that you see, are people who have a bunch of people who they lean on to support, and they’ve got advisors, they’ve got developers, they’ve got a team, they’ve got a whole community supporting them.
Lana Weal: So that was really amazing. And then what I’ve seen since BlueChilli, or through that time, I guess, is even more niche programs pop up, which has been so great to see, like Impact Investors, or more female founder programs, or industry specific programs as well, it’s so great to see a lot come out around sports, or crypto. Female founders is one of my passions as well, so I really, really, really love that there’s more founders for that as well. There’s definitely a lot more funding options as well. So now I’m at the Atto Accelerator, so we support female founders, and it’s a broader definition of tech. So at BlueChilli we worked with people who had new tech ideas, so it was completely new tech, whereas Atto we work with tech enabled businesses, which is slightly different to the traditional startup, and I really like it because we encourage founders to use no code tools to build what you can first before spending a whole bunch of money on developers to build something that maybe you could have hacked together with a few different tools.
Adam Spencer: Yeah.
Lana Weal: So I think the industry has definitely become more diverse, and there’s more niche pockets that people can go into. I’ve always loved Startup Vic’s work as well, their regular pitch nights, every month they’ve got a pitch night, which is so great, where the hear our founders. They even share a lot of the startups who might not have gotten to the pitch night, but then they still want to showcase all of their awesome work. I think there’s like 60,000 people in their community now, so there’s a lot of passionate people there keen to make a difference and keen to work on fun and interesting project, so that’s been wonderful to see too.
Adam Spencer: Have you had much involvement with maybe the Sydney ecosystem? Any other ecosystems across Australia? Because I wanted to just see if you can compare the ecosystems.
Lana Weal: Ooh. Yeah, so I’ve been based in Melbourne this whole time, so I wouldn’t say I know Sydney as well, but BlueChilli’s hub was in Sydney as well, so I did have some involvement there. And I know the Sydney startup hub is a very, very, very impressive place, and Fishburners do a lot for startup there as well, I know they’ve got regular pitch nights too.
Adam Spencer: Promotional partner for the series, Fishburners.
Lana Weal: Amazing.
Adam Spencer: So I just got to get their plugs in.
Lana Weal: What a crew, that’s so good that they’re on board. And then there’s Launchvic, another Vic based one, but they do really amazing work, a lot of advocacy work.
Adam Spencer: Yes, another sponsor, another sponsor for the series.
Lana Weal: Ah, amazing.
Adam Spencer: Going to get another plugin.
Lana Weal: Love it, love it. They also kick started the Atto Accelerator as well with a bit of funding, so that was really amazing, and yeah, I’m a big fan of their work. And now they just released another award series, they’ve got the Alice Anderson Fund to support female founders, they’ve got so many programs, or they support so many programs, over a hundred now, I think it’s over 130 programs that they’ve supported, and it’s just amazing work. The extended impact that they’re having, not only the people that they’re directly funding, but then the people that they’re supporting as well, is really inspiring to see as well.
Lana Weal: And other than that, the only involvement I’ve had with other regions, I would say, are Facebook groups. There’s quite a lot of Facebook groups around Australia that I think are doing some really awesome stuff, or just people in the groups are contributing as well. And then, yeah, I think even though Startup Vic is a Victorian based organization, I think they do a pretty great job of supporting people Australia-wide as well.
Lana Weal: Spark as well, is another community I’d say is super, super great, they always do a really great roundup of all the events going on in the ecosystem, and they’ve also done a really great job of connecting all of the accelerators as well. It’s a collaboration over competition thing where just recently, I think it was over 30 representatives from the accelerators pitched their accelerators, like a reverse pitch, and I represented Atto and had two minutes to pitch Atto, so that was a really fun experience to get the microphone in front of me to be like, haha, now you have to pitch now, and you’ve been talking about pitching to founders for years, and now it’s your turn. So that was really great, I love that Spark did that for us.
Adam Spencer: Two things, one, Spark Festival, promotional partner for the series.
Lana Weal: Amazing.
Adam Spencer: Great guys, Maxine’s amazing.
Lana Weal: Yes.
Adam Spencer: Two, can you please do that pitch for me?
Lana Weal: Oh, okay. It’s funny, all the events are online these days, I had notes in front of me, but I did practice a lot. I don’t know if I have it all on hand, but I can give you some of it, for sure, if you want it.
Adam Spencer: Please, yeah.
Lana Weal: Yeah, okay. So I think I started out saying, [inaudible] , my name’s Lana Weal, and I’m a passionate cheerleader for female founders across Australia, [inaudible] . So you know when female founders often have, they lean in towards perfectionism, or they might have a fear of failure, or they might have fear of success, or they might have imposter syndrome? Well, what we do at Atto is we provide all of the programs and support and coaching that you need to build your tech enabled business. In fact, we have a pre-accelerated program, accelerated program, and a monthly membership for existing founders, as well as emerging founders.
Lana Weal: And then I go into a bit of detail about we’ve got world class educators, we’ve had some really great success stories, like Bubble Tea Club and AirRobe who we’ve raised over a million dollars each, in different formats as well, VC funding as well as crowdfunding. And then I’m not too sure how I wrap it up, but… Oh yeah, if you want to hear more about it, check out Atto.VC. But yeah, I clearly need to practice it a bit more if I do want to whip it out.
Adam Spencer: No, that’s great. So 2017 until now, what’s that, four years? What’s struck you most about how the ecosystem has changed in the last four years? And maybe COVID is going to be a big part of that answer, but yeah, how have you seen the ecosystem change over the last four years?
Lana Weal: Probably similar to what I was saying before, it’s become even more open. I think people are even more engaged and wanting to create these niche groups and niche communities that people can really identify with and feel supported in. I know there’s a lot of support for female founders, there’s even more support for female founders, but their mentality about startups, from what I’ve experienced, hasn’t changed.
Adam Spencer: Right.
Lana Weal: So there’s a lot of women who know that they need technology to build a business, or they need technology to scale their business, but they don’t know what a startup is. So they come to Atto, or they come to SheStarts, or they come to Startup Vic and they say, “Tell me all of the things.” And probably one of the things that I’ve always noticed, and I think has become more prevalent now, is the education piece is so big about startups, and I think it’s a really great place to be because people know you need to be a lifelong learner in the startup world, whether you’re the founder, or you’re in marketing, or you’re in product, you’re always, always, always learning, and I think the passion that people have in the startup industry for lifelong learning is one of the best things about it, for sure.
Adam Spencer: Looking at today, and into the future, and we’ve probably already covered some of this answer, but what are some of the biggest gaps? Where can we continue to make the biggest improvements in the community?
Lana Weal: I think funding is always going to be an issue, especially these early stage startups that need a lot of capital to build their product or their teams in the early stages before they become revenue positive, and I think more alternative forms of investing funding are coming out, which is really fantastic. At Atto we talk about old funding models as well, so it’s not just VC, but you can have grants, you could use loans even, you could use credit cards to just kickstart your MVP, and so you can start getting revenue as early as possible, rather than working on an idea, sinking 50 grand into an app that someone overseas might make, and that doesn’t end up being what you want.
Lana Weal: I’ve seen a lot of change with the funding models as well, and there’s a lot of niche VCs and things that have come out, which has been really, really great, and I look forward to what else is going to come out as well, because I think it’s almost like, especially at the moment right now, every week we’ve got an announcement about some fund who’s raised a whole nother millions worth of dollars to support often a niche group of people as well, not just the fastest growing startups, which I think is really exciting.
Adam Spencer: Do you have a unpopular opinion about the startup ecosystem? It doesn’t have to be something negative, it can be something positive, but just something that you firmly believe is the case, but it’s very difficult to find people that are on the same page.
Lana Weal: I think there’s some people that talk about mental health a lot, and then there’s some people that don’t mention it at all, and I think mental health and the burnout is real in the industry, for sure, because it is so fast paced. People do want to do all of the things, so many founders have shiny object syndrome where they’re working on 10 different projects at once, which could be us, maybe, myself as well, maybe Adam too.
Adam Spencer: Yes.
Lana Weal: Yeah, we just want to do a lot, I think, which is part of the problem, and the information age, we’re just consuming so much information, and we’re doing so much right now, I think it’s very easy to not pause and look back and reflect on how much you have achieved, and then acknowledge that as a great thing, and then be comfortable with that, whereas I think a lot of people just keep striving, and keep striving, and then end up in burnout and then feel bad about themselves and have to go look their wounds and then come back, versus that consistent mental health care is so important.
Adam Spencer: Yeah. How is your background, coming from marketing, I think marketing is something you specialize in, how has that helped you in the startup world?
Lana Weal: Oh, it’s been amazing, and I feel very lucky. I kind of hate advertising inherently, so I feel like it’s quite challenging to work in marketing sometimes as well, because I don’t like how much data is being collected about us, and how it’s used against you for advertising purposes. So I want to say that off the bat. But I really love being able to craft stories and share stories of real people and showcasing what you can do if you have passion and you have drive and you commit to consistency kind of thing.
Adam Spencer: Yeah.
Lana Weal: And that’s what I really liked about SEO, search engine optimization, you couldn’t cheat that, you couldn’t pay to get to the top page. Back in the day you could pay for black hat, not great strategies, but now you have to have a great website, you have to have great content, you have to be fast, and you have to serve your customers in a way that they want to be served as well. So that’s where I come from in the marketing perspective, and I think it’s been a really amazing way to be able to connect with people, I feel very, very, very lucky to be able to connect with all the people that I have, and I think Twitter has been a really great way to do that, and events for sure as well. Things are very different now being online, but when I was at BlueChilli I was one of the only people in Melbourne on the team as well, so what I would do would just go to a lot of startup events to fill my cup of seeing people in the startup world, and hearing what people are working on.
Lana Weal: And Twitter is a really, really easy way to connect with a lot of people in the startup world as well, so I think marketing is a really, really great in. Even though some people are just tweeting, they don’t think they’re in marketing, but if you’re tweeting, that could be considered marketing. So it’s come back to that thing of you are always pitching, no matter what you’re doing, even if you’re not a founder, you are always pitching, and I think the more we can learn about storytelling, and the more that we can tell our stories effectively, it’s that classic quote of the more you tell your story, the more other people are drawn to you and feel okay to share their story too as well. So I think storytelling and communication is such an important part of the startup world because obviously if you don’t do marketing, and you don’t have customers, then you won’t have a company long term either.
Adam Spencer: I asked you know the gaps, and your unpopular opinion, so a little negative. Let’s flip it a bit, what do you think the Australian startup community, or the Victorian startup community, does really well?
Lana Weal: I think if you compare Australia to other places around the world, I’m not too sure if we do measure up in a lot of ways. But internally I think we hero the heroes pretty well, I think. Lately I think there’s a lot of news about capital raises as well. There’s never any headlines of women create sustainable business, makes profit, and is happy. That’s not a headline that people read, and I think we could be leaning too much into this VC capital world where people raising millions of dollars are seen as success, versus creating a revenue generating and profit generating business long term.
Lana Weal: So yes, I think we do some storytelling really well, like I think there’s a lot of stories in the AFR, and SmartCompany, and Startup Daily, and InnovationAus that come out that are really inspiring, and I think the access to the startup world is, there’s no barriers to entry. So if you tap into Startup Vic, if you tap into Spark, you can easily get connected very quickly with a lot of startups, or a lot of people who know where to point you if you need help as well. So I think we do that pretty well, the connection.
Adam Spencer: Earlier you mentioned that you have worked with and helped hundreds of founders. If a brand new founder came to you tomorrow, what one piece of advice would you give them?
Lana Weal: Ooh, one piece. I’m going to go with two, I’m going to go with two, I’m sorry, you’ve only said one, but I’m going to go with two.
Adam Spencer: That happens, that happens very often.
Lana Weal: Number one is the self belief. People always talk about advisor whiplash, especially in programs where you’ve got a lot of advisors and things like that as well, it’s always good to know your purpose and your passion, and where you want to go, while taking on other people’s advice, or forgetting other people’s advice that don’t align with you as well. So I always try and tell people, “In my opinion,” I like to say it like that to let people know this is my opinion and you can take it or leave it, kind of thing. And two is that the education is out there. There’s so much free education online, or communities that you can join, paid or unpaid, that will find the education or the connections, or whatever you need, they’re there to support you as well. So I think the access to information and the self belief is super important.
Adam Spencer: Before I ask you this last one, is there anything, anything at all, that we’ve glossed over that you think is a really important part of the story of the Australian startup ecosystem that should go in the documentary?
Lana Weal: Just that I think it’s, in my opinion, I think the startup industry is still in its infancy in Australia. I think there is a lot of government funding and support and funds now, but I still think it’s evolving. Maybe in three or four or five years maybe we might reach a peak fund in accelerator program support, but right now I think there’s still so much opportunity to educate people about what a startup is, how you can leverage technology, and all that type of thing. So I’m excited for what the future holds as well, and I’m excited for this documentary to curate all of these ideas and put them all together, because I think the future is very bright for startups in Australia.
Adam Spencer: So keeping in mind that what we are trying to do here is create a documentary that will tell the history, how we got to where we are today in the Australian startup ecosystem, we want founders, academics, policy makers, investors, people from all corners of the community to listen to this story, all of those categories of people, or pick one, or make up a brand new one that I didn’t mention, what message do you have for them? What do you think people really need to hear?
Lana Weal: Coming back to the support thing in the programs and the education that people need, one I think it’s partly you need self belief to be able to believe you can be a founder, that you can build a company, that you can build a team, and you can be successful, kind of thing. But also getting the right people to believe in you is super important as well, and I think with the right support networks, or the right programs, or finding the right niche where you fit into is super important too. So yeah, maybe the message is we’ve got to support each other more, because no one can do this alone, and the more that we do support each other and have collaboration over competition, the better the ecosystem will be as a whole.
Adam Spencer: I hope you enjoyed that interview. More interviews are on the way, follow the podcast wherever you’re listening right now. Stay tuned for more interviews with many, many more amazing people from the Australian startup ecosystem. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.