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Populate CEO Kirsti Grant on why start-ups shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt.

As the VP for Talent at Vend (where she worked with Simon) Kirsti helped grow the company from 37 to 250 staff members. So, she knows a bit about hiring and keeping tabs on who’s come, gone and staying on. HR is a huge role involving more than enough spreadsheets for every human on earth. That’s why Kirsti (and co-founder Lance Hodges) started Populate, an app that aims to replace all those spreadsheets.

Kirsti braved the Spinoff stairs to talk to Simon about starting a new business, what she learnt about going out on a limb and why data is a tool for those wanting to achieve true diversity in the workforce.

Either download (right click to save), have a listen below, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

What kind of things did you have to upskill in or learn or add as you go? Moving from being a person who is a manager and achiever to someone who had to do everything?

That has probably been my biggest struggle. Going from a job that I knew really well and I could do with my eyes closed, to being in a situation where I had to do everything, everything external facing, certainly. I have Lance, my co-founder, who also does the product side of things which is very, very helpful. But learning how to be a salesperson and a marketer, doing all that stuff and feeling like you’re not doing it particularly well. I always talk about the fact that I know what I’m doing about 20% of the time. Everything is just learning. Becoming okay with that has probably been one of the biggest realisations I’ve had. It’s okay. Nobody really knows what they’re doing and everyone’s making it up and that’s cool.

And then the master skill is just being able to ask the questions and find the information.

Totally. That’s another thing: I’ve gotten really good at asking for help and pulling people in around me. I think that’s one of the things that the New Zealand tech eco-system has as an advantage; everyone is so willing to help. You can pick up the phone or you can send a DM to a CEO and ask some questions and they’ll gladly help you, which has been pretty cool.

What kinds of things prepared you for starting this company? Because you were involved as an advisor to other early-stage companies? On board level in other early-stage companies?

It’s still completely different. There’s nothing that can prepare you until you’re actually doing it. We talk about this quite a lot. We thought we had this great advantage from having been exposed to Vend from really early days and seeing what that growth looked like. Also, being on the board of Weirdly I got to see what that starting out thing looked like as well. But then you start and everything is completely different and completely new. I always wonder how people that don’t have that experience manage because it must be really, really hard. That growth curve must be huge.