Rebekah Campbell is the co-founder of Hey You, a food-ordering app, and Zambesi, a startup facilitating expert-led workshops for businesses. She’s also a new mum, writer, community advocate and, surprisingly, an introvert. We spoke to Rebekah about what the music industry taught her about creativity leading to profitability, how to navigate the scary world of networking and why being scrappy is sometimes a good thing.
Hey You is based on a simple idea – ordering food. But by using technology to allow people to order food and pay in advance, it made life easier for both cafes and customers. It now processes more than 20,000 transactions daily. Where did the idea, and the name, come from?
As co-founders, we basically put together three businesses in 2014. The idea of food ordering wasn’t mine, that was the guy who came up with Beat the Q. I had another company called Posse, a referral and feedback app for cafes. And then there was eCoffeeCard, a loyalty app. We were all going out into the same market, but with different propositions and we thought we would be stronger together as a user experience. We really wanted to focus on personalising the experience of shopping in a cafe. So the person who was serving you would know your name because you were coming through the app and you would see their name.
Why did you start Zambesi?
At Hey You, I wanted to talk to mentors to help me with answering a particular problem, like ‘how can we do product better?’ or ‘how are the best companies approaching growth?’ I’d meet people like the Head of Growth at Canva, and he might give me a half hour coffee, which was very generous, but I couldn’t get that much out of half an hour. I really needed to spend a structured amount of time with somebody who was doing it right now. And I wanted good training for my team. We wanted to know the best stuff from companies like Canva or Showpo.
At the same time, I was being asked to mentor other entrepreneurs, particularly in the area of capital raising. And I was in the same position as the people who I was going to for digital marketing support. I could do a half hour coffee, but that was all I had time for.
I thought ‘If I were designing a university today, what would that look like?’ It wouldn’t have a campus. It would be a marketplace of experts in the field who could create and run their own courses. It would still be face-to-face but it would use a coworking space.
Your story is a wild and varied one. You grew up in New Zealand, doing everything from organising a festival to starting up a radio station, then moved to Sydney and launched a music management company that became one of Australia’s largest. How have your life experiences influenced your approach to business?
The music industry was great because there weren’t a lot of rules, particularly when I was involved from 2003 to 2010. Everybody was looking for new ways to do things and it was an incredibly creative time. There’s also not a heap of money in it. You have to be scrappy to build a community and get a band going without much money. I learnt massive amounts about being creative in order to be profitable and focusing on things that have big impacts.
You’ve written in the New York Times about being an introvert. What’s your number one tip for a startup founder who also struggles at networking events, but wants to build connections?
I’m quite comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd of people or one-on-one, but I’m very uncomfortable in a group or networking setting. I’m terrible at small talk and building connections that way.
So my big secret is to build a few very strong relationships. Focus on key people who you trust and who are great networkers.
My close friends are very well-networked, so through them, I can get to anyone. I don’t need to be a great networker myself.
You’re an entrepreneur, a new mum, a writer and a community advocate. What’s it like juggling all those hats?
With great difficulty. I’m always doing too much. But it’s also a good thing because you look up and you’re like ‘wow, I got so much done in the last two months’. It’s definitely not pretty and my world is a little chaotic. But that’s okay. Zambesi is new and scrappy and that’s a good way to be because you test so much. I know that’s my natural state, so as the business grows, as Hey You did, I need to learn how to be more methodical.
You’ve been honest about how hard juggling motherhood and entrepreneurship was for you – how have you found being a woman in a male-dominated startup space?
There’s definitely some disadvantages in that people just don’t expect as much from you. But that can be really cool, because you surprise people with how much you know. I’ve had a pretty good time and everyone’s been very good to me, both men and women who have mentored me and invested in my businesses.
But the big challenge is being a mother. It makes your life much different and that often happens when women are in their prime. This is the time I’m accelerating, so balancing motherhood with that is really hard. But that’s life and it’s an amazing experience.
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