Chris Iona is the founder of Future Pass, a startup identity platform that offers verification, authentication and registration products. Previously, he was the Vice President of Engineering at hipages, a platform through which to hire tradies, where he grew the team from five to thirty people. We spoke to Chris about going from working at a startup to founding one, scaling a startup successfully and making the least wrong decision.

You’re the former Vice President of Engineering at hipages and since then, you’ve founded Future Pass. How have you found the transition from working at a startup to founding one?

For about a year now, I’ve been focusing on Future Pass. Despite the fact that I have a significantly smaller company at this point, being at the beginning, there’s a lot of similarities. I think growth and scale at any size has a lot of similarities. The bigger you get, the more you start to compartmentalise to keep yourself small.

I started adopting a growth mindset and its techniques. Just simple things, like focusing on solving a pain point as opposed to just building a thing that people may or may not want to buy. And the more that I speak to founders of other companies, I’m noticing that it may actually be the secret sauce. You have to actually solve a problem.

Mike Knapp from Shoes of Prey also said a similar thing: if you go to customers and ask them how they’re solving a problem and the answer is nothing, it’s not a problem. You have to identify a problem from a customer’s viewpoint.

Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap between how we all think. Obviously I’m bootstrapping at Future Pass and I guess we had a very resourceful mindset at hipages.

What I did when starting Future Pass, was the opposite to what an engineer generally wants to do. That is, I chose not to write code until I validated the problems I was solving.  

I spent three months researching, talking to people, mocking up a few things as a way of continuing the conversation. I spent a good number of days down at The Rocks talking to random people, tourists, people who were on their lunch breaks, just to get a feel for where the pain points were and that was a good learning curve for me. That meant I intensely focused on what the problem was, rather than solving it.

Based on what you just said, do you think successful startup founders have a similar mindset?

Yes, I do. Tenacity and resilience are two words that come to mind because there’s a lot of highs and lows. They’re typically bigger peaks and troughs than you’d experience as an employee. There’s definitely a global and a growth mindset that is pretty strong amongst the founders that I have spent time with.

You grew the hipages technology team from five to thirty. What’s the role of effective management in successful scaling?

At the end of the day, my job title remained the same. But what I needed to do around management was different at the beginning than what it was towards the end. In the beginning, my job was a lot more hands-on, because I was trying to initially getting a handle on the team and put together a plan.

As my time there continued and we started bringing more people on, my job changed. It became more strategic. My job as a leader was to make more leaders who could scale. Great leaders typically create more leaders.

What lessons did you learn at hipages that you’ve been able to draw upon setting up Future Pass?

They have an excellent growth mindset. I definitely brought that across to Future Pass. I also think my storytelling ability improved and that’s important, because the founder is the chief storyteller, whether it’s pitching to potential investors or talking to a potential customer. Your job is to tell the story and to show how your company, your product, your startup can help.

You’ve touched on having to be a flexible leader who grows and changes as the business does. What’s your number one management tip for startups looking to scale?

It’s very easy to be paralysed by decision-making, particularly in a field that changes as frequently as technology. One of my favourite sayings is: focus on making the least wrong decision. You’re not trying to sell for the next 10 years. What’s the least wrong decision given the situation?


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