Insider tips on small business success from Steve Baxter

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Shark Tank judge Steve Baxter is also founder of Brisbane's River City Labs

One of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs, Brisbane-based Steve Baxter, a shark on Shark Tank Australia for the past three years, reveals his thoughts on running several small businesses, the challenges he has faced and his secret to business success.

There are also ongoing discussions as Baxter may be on track to become the second chief entrepreneur for Queensland. If so, he’ll take over from Mark Sowerby who is the Founder of Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited. The year-long appointment is unpaid and the Queensland Government created it to aim to help to deliver its Advance Queensland innovation agenda.

Q. How many small businesses do you own?
I started my first ever small business in Adelaide in 1994. It was a dial up connect service which I sold in 2000. Then I moved back to Brisbane and started up my second business with an old school friend in late 2001. We listed that in the Australian Stock Exchange in 2005 and sold it to TPG in 2010. Ever since then, I’ve been an investor. It’s been quite a journey. In 2012 I opened River City Labs which functions as a co-working space for start-ups in Brisbane.

people don’t always pay on time
if at all!

Q. How did you go from small business to TV?
I made a deliberate move to increase my profile in the industry. Once I sold my second business, I entered the world of startups and small businesses. I began helping entrepreneurs start running their own businesses and I found this was a great way to increase my profile. Then I stumble upon the opportunity to appear on Shark Tank.

Q. How did you cope with the issue of cash flow?
There are two challenges that come with running a small business. Firstly, it’s really hard to actually sell something. Secondly, collecting the cash. People don’t always pay you on time or at all! You need to be fascist when it comes to collecting invoices. Those who don’t pay you are leaches, they aren’t customers. That is why you need to ensure that you have good consistent professional revenue collection practices. Pestering them to pay requires discipline!

those who don’t pay are leeches not customers!

Q. When did you realise what you wanted to do in life?
I left high school at the age of 15. That’s when I began playing around with computers. In Adelaide, there used to be a computer-user group meeting. I used to constantly attend those group sessions. And one day I noticed someone using a different a web browser. It was a web browser that I hadn’t come across. That’s what sparked my interest.

Q. What was one piece of advice given to you when you started out?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people get into business doing what they are good at. No matter what it is. But many aren’t able to make money out of their business. If you can’t sell your product or service, you don’t get money. You have to be able to sell to succeed in business. You really need to breakdown your idea and identify strategies to cleverly sell your product or service.

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Q. Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I currently have four large portfolios that I’m really excited about. One of the projects I’m working on right now is developing a tool called Maxwell MRI. It involves using artificial intelligence and MRI to increase the correct diagnosis of prostate cancer without the side effects of current methods.

You will face many roadblocks along the way

Q. What is your most memorable experience?
We once had a huge contract to build a telecommunication line between two buildings. The worst part was that part of the ground underneath was flooded and we weren’t aware of it. It was a costly fair to get rid of the excess water. But somehow we managed to find a way around it. We actually got a quote for a ‘frog man’ to dive into the tunnels underground and run the fibre between the buildings.

When you’re in business, there are so many risky things you have to do. They are just part of business. You will face many roadblocks along the way, but you have to go with the flow and work your way around the challenges.

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