Laura Johnson

Founders Q&A: Laura Johnson

Post by: Anna Johansson Kacey Canning
Published: 25 April 2023

It’s great to meet you, let’s start with your company – what inspired you to create Strivin?

I’ve always been really passionate about mentoring and coaching, I have a really strong background in working in high growth startups which means you’re usually the first one in the team and you don’t have all the answers because you’re growing so quickly. I used to try and find other people like me in similar roles to talk to and then we started a little slack channel and share so we weren’t all doing it from scratch. At the start of COVID I found myself out of a job and was trying to figure out my next step. Someone suggested I join the Antler program. They put 100 people together who all have business ideas and you try and work out if you can find a cofounder and pitch for funding.

At that point I thought, I’ll go and give it a try but there was no expectation that I’d come out with a funded startup but thought I’d join and see what happened, what’s the worst that could happen? I went in with an idea around how we can build a healthier mentorship ecosystem? I played around with a lot of other people who had HR tech platform ideas and my mentoring platform idea evolved to think about people who might not have enough learning and development opportunities in their current role. We wanted to provide one place where they could go to find all this and a mentor or coach to help them succeed. 

Similar to going to the gym, you know you should do it, but it’s hard and there is always an excuse not to. Personal development is similar, there isn’t just that one place and trying to find it all is tough. The idea behind Strivin was to bring it all into one place. I think once you get started and meet some people in the space it helps to develop that accountability as well. 

When founding a company, sales, and product development overlap. Coming from a hugely successful career in marketing, what are some of the primary skills that helped you launch your business?

I think it has been a good thing and a bad thing. On the good side, I love marketing and I know the value of community. If you can build up that community around you and no matter where you end up they will continue to follow you then that is awesome because you have added value. My favourite marketing book is This is Marketing by Seth Godin and the whole premise is about how the foundations of marketing is empathetically solving peoples problems. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what platform you’re using, it’s just about adding value through empathically solving the problems and I think this comes to play a lot through Strivin.

Where marketing gets in my way sometimes is that I could happily spend all my time on ot, and focusing on events, content and branding building – it’s my happy place. But I’ve had to work out how to build a product, financial forecasting and how to speak to VC etc. Sometimes when you have one area of expertise it is really common to lean on it. But you need to throw yourself into the deep end and learn new skills and shift your focus. 

Do you get someone to do the back end and financials to kick it off? I think this part of creating a business could be what is holding a lot of people back from doing it because it may seem daunting? 

Coming through Antler they give you a lot of helpful templates but you do have to go out on your own and learn and figure it all out. I did a lot of online product management courses but I think it is such a different skillset to marketing. You can use templates and models but a lot of the time the theory is different to the practical. 

It is hard because if you don’t get the up front product and development right you aren’t going to get the product you really want. It is an expensive minefield. Our biggest struggle was making sure it was fit for purpose, we rebuilt the platform three times before launching – I think it is definitely because this isn’t my strength compared to marketing and yes if you get it wrong it is a very expensive mistake. 

What have been some of the main challenges you’ve faced since starting Strivin and who or what has supported you on this journey?

I was talking to another founder today and we were speaking about how the whole thing is such an emotional rollercoaster. There are some days where you think I have the best job in the world and others, I feel so grateful that I get to do my own thing. Other days you think, this is really hard and wasn’t it really nice when someone else paid my wages? 

I think challenge wise it is champagne and razor blades, you’re up or you’re down. I think the biggest challenge for me has been self doubt. You’ve never done it before and you are having to go in front of everybody and back yourself. As a founder you have to put yourself out there and get ready for a lot of rejection.

I have been really lucky along the way, I have a few friends who own startups or other businesses so it’s been amazing talking to them about it. They have also been incredibly generous and it helps to feel supported and feel like people have your back. When someone believes in you and what you’re trying to create it helps you feel like you’re on to something.

I also have an amazing coach who has always backed me and talked to me about getting out of your own way. I also got told, for every yes there are 20 nos, so if you are continuously getting told no it means you are closer to the yes.

Throughout your career, you’ve created marketing strategies for multiple SaaS vendors. What’s the importance of having local marketing when landing in new regions?

Local marketing is often undervalued and overlooked, particularly in English speaking countries. Between regions, let alone countries there are so many differences and if you are not somewhere it’s hard to understand the norms and different trends. Different things are culturally acceptable in different areas, for example in Canada at a meeting everyone is very polite and won’t ever swear but here in Australia it is very different on the swearing front. You need to localise your marketing to be glocal – global company with a local presence. It helps to make people feel valued and make them feel important too. It can never be one size fits all. You want to know who you’re working with, you feel a lot closer to brands where you know the people which is helpful for loyalty. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a company as a single Founder?

Find your supporters. I have been so lucky with the people I have around me. It is lonely and you do beat yourself up a bit because you don’t always know what you’re doing or get the outcomes you want the first time around. I think most of us don’t celebrate our wins enough – you get knocked back so often that when you get a win you don’t always stop and think about it. Having people around you who tell you how far you’ve come and pick you up when you have a bad day is so important. As a single founder you are still not doing it by yourself, it takes a village. 

 What have you been reading or watching lately?

We started Strivin book club this year and the latest one was Never Eat Alone. I would definitely recommend it. It is about the value of your network and the value of people. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room just willing to add value to everyone you meet.