Founder feature: Jason Hosking, Hivery
Transplanting yourself and your family to the US for a few months is a big move. What else does is take to grow a global business from Australia? Meet Jason Hosking, Co-founder and CEO, of Hivery.
On being a founder.
How did you come to be a founder of HIVERY?
Prior to founding Hivery, I was living in New York. I was working in investment banking and management consulting, and I loved the city, but I didn't want to work in that industry anymore. I had some experience with venture capital when I was younger, and I wanted to get back into the opportunities where the tide was rising.
So I came back to Australia and entered the startup and technology scene, where I believed these emerging opportunities lay. I remember saying to myself ‘I will never work for a big company again’.
Yet at that time, Coca-Cola was launching a founders program with the idea of backing up founders to create startups, scaling them and giving them access to the global Coca-Cola network.
The company was set to create the perfect founder team to design and launch its entrepreneurs program, by finding and pairing a partner with a business-oriented mind and a partner with a creative approach.
That’s how I met Franki, who is now co-founder of Hivery. We were what you would call an ‘arranged marriage’, matched based on cognitive psychometric testing and a whole range of interviews. Together, we launched the Coca-Cola Founders Program, which later scaled to over 10 countries, each with two-person teams.
Then in 2014, a big data hackathon brought me, Franki and three data scientists together: Dr Matthew Robards, and Dr Menkes van den Briel. They were all coming from Data61/CSIRO. We began running a series of experiments using AI on Coca-Cola vending machines in Newcastle, and that’s how Hivery started.
Hivery founders working their moves for the paparazzi :)
Our ‘arranged marriage’ gave us the unique and highly experimental opportunity to play entrepreneurs with one of the world's biggest brands supporting, and starting the entrepreneurial journey together.
Tell me about a time when you’ve been really challenged as a founder?
As a CEO you have three key priorities: leading the business’ vision, looking after the team, and most important of all, making sure the company doesn’t run out of money.
At one point, our team had grown considerably, we were focusing on raising capital, and our financial management practices were far from optimal.
As I dived into our cash flow and started understanding the seriousness of the current situation, I realised that if we didn't take drastic measures, we would run out of money very soon. I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pressure and personal responsibility for the situation. The team had trusted me to look after this, and I felt I had let them down.
The only option I had was to meet with the other co-founders and ‘OGs’ - Original Gangsters - the our early team members. We met on a Saturday when we had no distractions and started going through our financial situation in detail.
An early strategy day, with Jason in foreground
It was a very cathartic process, we basically built DEFCON levels and together, we managed to work out a solution. It was probably one of the most memorable moments for me as a founder.
Share one of the key differences between being a very early stage founder and the role of a founder on the Series A to Series B growth journey?
I’d say that as a founder and CEO, you need to reinvent your role almost every six months.
When we started, I spent many months building the team, raising capital, getting the legal documents and structure in place. Then we officially began operating, and I had to start wearing many different hats. I had to become a master generalist. Looking back on those days, I was across every deal, every customer, and every detail of the product. Being an early stage founder means you are CEO and the Garbage Person at the same time.
Today, it’s drastically different. The team runs itself, sales happen every day, and I've often not even met the customers. As the founder and CEO, I’m the one that had to poke his head out of day to day operations and start planning forward. I call this moving ‘from playing checkers, to playing chess’.
Now I spend my time focusing on vision and strategy, managing stakeholders, curating the team, trying to build a great organisational culture and developing a world-class leadership.
I remember somebody describing being a founder as becoming less involved with the tools and becoming more of a cheerleader. And although I don’t see myself as a cheerleader yet, my role is increasingly more about direction and motivation.
The real startup life.
What is the best thing about being a founder at this point in HIVERY’s story?
It is tremendously fulfilling to see the fruits of our labour and the collective efforts starting to take shape. I get plenty of satisfaction from having a real impact in our industry.
What truly inspires me the most is the amazing people that choose to work with us and commit valuable parts of their careers to Hivery. When COVID hit last year and everything was uncertain and unstable, being able to stand in front of the team and say ‘nobody's losing their job’, was one of the proudest moments of my career.
Sydney team connecting with the Hivery crew in the US and Japan
I can say that I’m currently going through a ‘rebirth’, which is a state that founders experience between phases of the company’s growth, and I’m finding motivation in our next steps and scale. It's an exciting time at Hivery right now.
Tell me about a time when you had to let go of in order to grow as a founder and a leader?
I’ve been recently reflecting on the collision that occurs at a point in time in a company’s growth, between the specialists that come in to scale the business and the generalists that started that company.
After our first major capital raise, we hired a CTO and a CRO, both established, qualified and amazing professionals. After they joined us, it felt like a very unusual set of events had ended up with them reporting to me, when it easily could have been the other way around. I don’t think it makes sense to hire amazing leaders and then get in their way.
For me, it was obvious that I had to let go of the areas we’d hired them to lead. However after years of leadership formation, I came to understand that maybe I was being far more passive as a leader than I should have been, and that I probably let go too much.
So to have a positive multiplier effect in the organisation, what’s actually important is to achieve a balance between the specialist’s knowledge coming in from new senior leaders and the vision, knowledge and passion that comes from being in the company from day 1 .
What is your approach to satisfying the requirements of the business, your own needs, and those of your friends and family?
In general, I believe one needs to go through some pain and discomfort to get something right. When times are tough, we grow and learn the most.
By the end of last year, I certainly wasn’t at my best, due to a combination of poor stress and pressure management, the constant desire for growth and trying to accommodate every requirement from the people around me, and an imbalance between my personal and professional lives. It made me realise that my wellbeing was always my last priority.
But I changed that logic. I learned that in order to be the best version of whatever roles you play in your life - a partner, a father, a son, a friend, a founder - first you need to be the best version of yourself. That requires reorganising your priorities.
I've now become far more deliberate and stricter with my activities. I started scheduling time in my diary for me. I hired an assistant to organise my time and priorities. I even designed my commute in a way that helps me be more present at work and at home.
Hivery’s Sydney team celebrate Christmas 2018 on Sydney harbour
I’m open to experimenting and trying tools and methods that can help me, like meditation. And I noticed that when I started implementing healthier habits in my routine, such as proper sleep and exercising, people around me really started to notice a calmer, more centred me.
Recently during lockdown I noticed my energy and my focus slipping. I decided I just needed to take a few days off and unplug. Even though I couldn't go anywhere, I needed a reset. Once I did this, I noticed it set an example of reminder to others in the team, who did the same. I think that's great! Trying to be your best version is not a founder’s thing. It's everybody thing.
Yeah, that was a f#@% up.
They say that failure is the best teacher. Tell me about an experience of failure that you are thankful for.
It's an interesting point... I don't really think about failure. I think about learning and progress. I make mistakes regularly, it's part of the job. The imperative is to learn from them. If we had failed - really failed - Hivery wouldn’t exist.
I believe that to be a startup founder, you need some level of inherent self belief. I always thought I could do it. I had little doubt, but obviously, many things will go wrong and in order to succeed, it’s important to admit that things won’t work out sometimes. You have to be willing to move on and learn from mistakes.
With that being said, if I had to choose the biggest failure, it would be the moment I mentioned earlier, when we almost ran out of money. It was a big lesson on several fronts.
First, it taught me not to try to solve everything by myself. I used to disappear into a room and bury myself in spreadsheets trying to figure everything out by myself. It was actually a fundamental moment in the company, because it strengthened us as a team and we learned how to solve problems collectively. And second, it taught me every possible lesson regarding fiscal management. Including the importance of hiring a Financial Director and building a finance function as soon as possible.
Paying it forward.
What practical advice would you give your ‘pre-founder self’ about what lies ahead?
First of all, I would say to myself: ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint, so take care of yourself’. Maybe I would suggest taking a holiday once in a while and developing a good sleep routine. I've learned that It’s actually scientifically proven that lack of sleep drives suboptimal performance and decision-making.
I’d also tell myself that this is not about me, and focus on building a great team. Having a great culture will win every day of the week.
If you could recommend one thing to do in preparation for the founder journey what would it be, and why?
Building a company doesn’t happen overnight. Yet many of us first-time founders - driven by naive optimism - don’t know what we are getting ourselves into at the beginning. So for anybody preparing for the journey, I’d recommend getting ready for the long haul and finding ways to make it sustainable.
Tell me about a time when the going got tough - what are the things that kept you going?
That’s a really good question. To start with, I’ve never thought about quitting. It's simply not an option. Of course, there’s been times when it's been extremely hard and self-doubt has crept in. Yet, I’m the type of person that works better under pressure, and the tougher a situation gets, the more I fight to overcome it. Unlocking your full potential is definitely not a straight line, it’s going to be full of ups and downs, and so it’s key to develop resilience.
I’m also extremely enthusiastic about the creation process in general. I find it rewarding to fulfil a vision, and this has certainly kept me going.
The boats are getting bigger! Hivery’s Sydney team set sail for Christmas 2020
Another interesting aspect that motivated me when the going got tough, is feeling an obligation towards the people that have joined us throughout this journey. I feel the responsibility to keep going, no matter how hard things can get, in great part because they have trusted their careers and livelihood in us. And I’ve also never really felt we wouldn’t succeed or that we wouldn’t overcome what is in front of us.
What are your go-to tools and resources that help you be a better founder?
The most important one, without a doubt, are my co-founders and fellow Hiverians. I could not have done it without them. And second, the broad network of people around me. I need to be able to bounce ideas off people I trust and respect, and learn from their experiences.
I’m part of the Upside Program, the Summit Club and I have a supportive community of investors. These have proven to create genuine spaces of openness and vulnerability, shared between fellow co-founders that allow you to grow.
The willingness to help each other out is one of the most refreshing aspects of the industry.
Think about the statement, “I am my own work in progress.” In what ways have you made progress in the last year?
Last year taught us to expect the unexpected. Nobody could have foreseen a global pandemic shutting the world down, changing the world as we know it.
On a more personal level, last year coincided with me joining the Upside Founder Program, and the most important lesson I learned was that the equation I had in my head was wrong.
As I mentioned, I was always putting myself last, and I had to start finding a way to change that. From getting a good night's sleep, eating well, exercising and getting some time off to manage your energy, your flow and your presence.
By experimenting and trying some of the tools offered by the Program, I became more centred, less stressed and more grateful for the people around me and the opportunity in front of me.
Last year was an overall reminder to enjoy the journey as much as thinking about the destination. It helped me appreciate the privilege of loving my work and having the opportunity to build something truly great and meaningful.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from the Upside Founder Program that you are bringing into your founder and leadership role at HIVERY?
I’m bringing mindfulness to leadership. If there’s something substantial I brought into my role, it's not being entirely commercial-driven. It helped me accept that I don't have all the answers and prioritise being honest, transparent, more open and more vulnerable. Also, to focus on listening and actually being present. We have even experimented with simple exercises in meetings to connect as a team in more meaningful ways.
Particularly as a founder and CEO, I found myself putting a huge amount of expectation on myself, and it probably wasn't healthy. Now, I feel more confident in my own skin to be able to say ‘I don't know the answer to that’. And that’s okay. We are forever a work in progress.
In a few words, what would you say to other founders about Upside?
Thoughtful. Engaging. Challenging and Essential. Do it.
We’re all a work in progress.
Upside Founder Programs help founders become the very best leaders for their businesses as they grow from Series A to Series B, and beyond. Applications for the 2022 program close November 24th.
Upside Founder Programs are generously supported by KPMG High Growth Ventures.