Be great and Be grateful. These are the two corporate values of Araza, a technology systems integrator and consultancy company, specialising in cloud and digital solutions. Its co-founder and Managing Director, Victoria Kluth, endeavours to live by these values as she leads others towards the vision and goals of her company.
Coming from a big corporate background, Victoria initially regarded herself as a corporate person, with her mind not set on the entrepreneurial road. Becoming an entrepreneur is just one of the many surprises life has brought on her, for which she is thankful that it happened and strives to be great at it. Among the many other unexpected things in her journey was Araza’s growth, now with 350 people in its fold. Going international never crossed her mind and through a partnership with another company, their business has an international offshore component. She is also regarded as a leader in Australia for gender equity, which is another milestone that she has not foreseen to happen in her profession.
Although she never imagined herself to become a business owner, the entrepreneurial spirit was something she acquired from her father, who then had a business of his own. “He was not only the most influential entrepreneur in my life but also the most influential business person in my life. Unfortunately, he passed away already. But his company was extremely successful. What he did still amaze me today. I never had any fear of starting a business or giving something a go, and I think that spirit comes from him,” Victoria said.
What brought her to the entrepreneurial path was when she was getting tired of the same things happening around her. She then made the big leap and went on her own. Since then, there was no turning back for Victoria. And the journey has brought several lessons that have set her on a path of greatness and gratefulness.
1.) Do things for yourself
One day, while working in the corporate world, Victoria thought to herself, “Why am I not doing this for myself instead of doing this for the shareholders? I should do this for myself.” Without hesitation, she quit her job the next day with neither any money nor business plan at that time. However, what she had was the confidence and fearlessness to carve a path for herself. For Victoria, an entrepreneur is one who takes risks, and she does it because of the gratification that comes from doing things on her own.
“I then asked a friend of mine who worked in the same company if he wanted to do this with me,” she recalled. Together they co-founded Araza and has grown the company to what it is now. After that, Victoria has also started another company, called 2186, dedicated to promoting gender equity in organisations. Another venture is in the works, which is still in the testing stage. Victoria relish on the freedom to be creative and steer her career to the direction she wants it to take.
2.) Treat your company as a sales company
One thing that Victoria has underscored is the need to understand where sales lie in one’s organisation. “I keep telling people that every company is a sales company. I don't have a technology company. Instead, what I have is a sales company. Run your company as if it’s a sales organisation. I keep going back to how you are marketing and selling your company. You have to keep going back to this to be successful. You may have the best product, but if it's not what people need and buy, then it’s nothing. Otherwise, you end up to just being the best small company with the best product ever,” she said.
3.) Put everything in writing
A big lesson that Victoria learned throughout her journey was to put things in writing. An experience with regards to a bad deal taught her this important aspect in running a business. She struck an arrangement with one of her largest competitors and sealed it with only a handshake. However, despite all the work they’ve done, the competitor turned around and cut her out of the project. The good thing was that Victoria and her team handled it well that the client ended up giving them all the work. Apart from deals, Victoria is very keen on putting all transactions on record. “I'm pedantic about invoicing because, with our cash flow, we don't get paid until after we provide a service,” she explained.
4.) Choose the right people on your team
Employing and retaining the right people is crucial to the success of the business. Victoria admits that they have also committed hiring mistakes. However, they are quick to alleviate those mistakes by getting rid of dead weight. But one thing that makes her proud is having 50% women in their company, given that there are so many men in the IT industry. Gender equality may not have been part of her original plan. Spontaneously, they have afforded equal opportunity to both women and men, which has yielded positive results. “We have done such an amazing job of taking the bias out of hiring,” she said.
5.) Learn from the experts
Having a mentor was something that Victoria found helpful in her journey. “My mentor this year is going to be Gail Kelly, which is a WOW factor. She's the best and strongest business person to come to Australia. She's well-respected. There may be a few other on that pedestal with her, but she is the apex of Australia business people. It's something that I can't believe would happen to me. It never crossed my mind when I started this company,” Victoria enthusiastically shared.
People she has met in EO has also inspired her to steer her businesses in the direction she wants. Interestingly, she found out about EO Melbourne through an article in The Age. “I read it, and I thought, 'This is what I’ve been looking for.' And I contacted them and got hooked up,” she said. It was always in her mind, wondering how other businesses that experience her problems are tackling such issues, and she found the answer through EO.
6.) Be true and be grateful
According to Victoria, living her values and being authentic are significant in running a business and leading a team. When she shows gratitude, she does it sincerely because people could see that she’s genuine about it. “It is a strong sign of leadership, and it separates you from just being a CEO,” she remarked.
“Have gratitude, not attitude” is the best advice Victoria has received that has not only become a mantra but a core value of her organisation as well. “I start off every meeting and every large gathering with things that I am grateful. It could be that we want some bit of work. It could be that I'm having a good hair day because I'm happy,” she cited.
Most of all, she is thankful that she has taken the path of entrepreneurship, especially with the many unexpected things the journey has brought to her life. It may not be the journey she has set her mind originally, but she is now finding a comfortable spot in the entrepreneurial space.
As she moves forward to the future, she continues to espouse their corporate values of “be great” and “be grateful” because, for Victoria, “An entrepreneur isn't someone who starts companies. Rather, it is a person who has successful companies and has done something meaningful and tangible.”