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In this report an entrepreneur was interviewed to gain insight towards their strategies to become successful. For the interview Mathew Harris of PT Essentials was interviewed at his office at RMIT University Building 98, RMIT Activator. The interview was intended to acquire an understanding of how his innovative business came to be and determine how he demonstrates an entrepreneurial mindset, how his experiences have developed these characteristics and helped set ethical practices into place while managing to obtain sufficient capital to fund his start-up. After discussing whether Harris has demonstrated the theory and concepts learnt in The Entrepreneurial Process, this report will reflect on his journey and identify which parts we can take as future entrepreneurs and which parts would we have approached in a different way.
Entrepreneur Mathew Harris is the founder and Chief Executive of PT Essentials, an innovative Tech Start-up business solution for personal trainers. PT Essentials is a web and mobile platform which assists personal trainers with digitalising their work in order to easily perform scheduling, admin tasks, and reminders, which has helped hundreds of personal trainers to manage their own business and connect with clients and spread their reach to the wider community. Born and raised in the Gold Coast, Harris attended Griffith University initially studying a Certificate of Sports Management as a pathway into studying a Bachelor of Hotel Management. Half a year into his Bachelor’s, he decided to join the military and was attached to a paratrooper division for 5 years. After suffering several injuries, including broken shoulders, fractures knees and feet, he was medically discharged from the army in 2011. While attending a 6-month personal training course, Harris noticed several problems in the industry, which led to the creation of his app and business, PT Essentials.
To participate in entrepreneurial activity, entrepreneurs often exhibit common characteristics that distinguish them from other business people. To successfully develop a venture from being an idea to a viable business and to continue to grow requires a trait called an entrepreneurial mindset. This is a state of mind where the individual continuously orientates themselves to entrepreneurial objectives. These individuals often are committed to new venture creation, opportunity seeking, and risk taking and Harris has established these entrepreneurial mentalities throughout his career. A prominent characteristic is to passionately seek new opportunities, and while taking a personal training course himself, Harris shows this trait by observing the personal training industry firsthand. Harris stated that he “couldn’t get past the problems that the industry was facing and decided to fix it. ” This demonstrates his entrepreneurial mindset to have the drive to analyse current markets anywhere to pursue a revolutionary idea. Another characteristic is to pursue opportunities with enormous discipline. This means to ensure that the opportunity is commercially viable first and to then act upon them, rather than having analysis paralysis and counterfactual thinking. Harris had done his research through his observations and studies of personal trainers, and had over two hundred pages worth of ideas by the time he finished his course. Harris also focused on pursuing only the best opportunities, which is the ability to solely fixate on the top prospects and limit themselves from chasing after every option. Through extensive research, he discovered the potential of the large market that personal trainers aim to capture. Then, his findings determined that targeting the personal trainers who were aiming at such a large market was a high viability product as well as a durable one, which placed his idea in the high potential area in the product positioning graph.
This mindset allowed Harris to narrow down a market which had the ability to generate and sustain revenue for the long term. As personal training is neither a fad or a hobby, Harris ensures he takes on less risk compared to going into the market with a product and simply hoping for the best. A key trait that a majority of entrepreneurs’ share is that they are more likely to view business situations positively. Risk-taking is viewing situations as opportunities acting upon them whereas others may perceive the same situations as ventures that are not worth the return. Harris discusses his thoughts on risk-taking by saying “people think risk is jumping from building to building, blindfolded, but you can still do risky things having put in a lot of time and effort to de-risk that”. Studies have shown that a business’s inclination to initiative depends on the characteristics of the entrepreneur, and the growth of PT Essentials is a testament to the entrepreneurial orientation that Harris exhibits.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an issue that affects every area of business and it is the principles that guide businesses when making decisions that is less concerned about profitability, but about meeting societal expectations in the market. This is because how a business chooses to adapt to these social expectations will have a direct effect on their brand name, sales, market share and profitability. This phenomenon is the reason that the market has seen a change in business attitudes to be continuously pushing to be viewed as being ethical in their business practises. Entrepreneurs face many ethical decisions, especially during the early stages of their new ventures since they small face financial risk early on and/or are seduced by the lure of easy money. During the 7 years growing his company, Harris has always had a pure motivation for his business. He defines his mission as to “combat widespread obesity, heart disease and help those facing depression” by providing a platform that increases the range of the personal trainer’s market. He states that he makes every decision with the thought in mind whether the decision is “best for the customer or best for profitability”. During a disagreement with a business partner on such decisions, Harris decided to discontinue version 2 of his app as well as his partnership as it was not in line with his strong value driven system. When having a product, it is easier for consumer to perceive the malpractice take place.
In contrast, unethical behaviour when providing an intangible service can be much subtler, since it can be legal. Harris’s embedded value system may have stemmed from his time in the military. Whereas some entrepreneurs are uncertain about the future and arrive at the ‘greed is good’ conclusion, military experience allows veteran entrepreneurs to figure out the right direction even when it is difficult and uncertain, which are situations are normal for a veteran of combat. Harris’s adherence to make decisions with the customer in mind has played a vital role in contributing to the success of PT Essentials.
The way entrepreneurs fund their venture’s entry into the market is significant and determines the size of their business, their growth rate and the business objectives. Harris started his business through the venturing process of bootstrapping. This strategy is where a small business finances itself without external help or raising of equity, making careful use of existing resources to grow. He turned to his own savings to fund his entire venture and allows Harris to maintain full control of the business to solely make every decision by himself. In an era where entrepreneurs promise equity to the first employees instead of wages in the beginning, the sole trader start-up approach is made at a higher cost to themselves, but with the intention of long-term benefits. Harris states he “believe‘s strongly in paying people to do the work rather than giving them equity or letting them do it part time because it never gets done”. This method also allows Harris to reinvest whatever amount he profits back into the business every time instead of redistributing it first to partners and shareholders. When partners or employees with shares leave the business after a short period of time, the shares become something known as dead equity. Dead equity are shares which are owned by people who have left a start-up and no longer take part in any activities in the business, which could have impeded the growth of PT Essentials since the shares could have been used to fund business ventures which could increase market share and raise revenue streams. Harris was able to fund his own venture entirely since he had worked for many years in different jobs, and when medically discharged from the military was provided a military pension. While bootstrapping is an excellent way of backing a business, self-funding has some limitations on it such as not being viable to set-up businesses that require high cost up-front investments such as a restaurant. If the business requires skilled expertise such as legal counselling or programming, these added costs will be too high for self-funding. Harris estimates that his total spending on the first version of the app cost $100, 000 but was originally quoted a cost of $10, 000 to create the app, which he refused. He then went to a design company which was unable to kick-start his app, overspending his original forecasted costs by 10 times.
The process of innovation has been referred to as a key aspect that affects a business’s completeness. Innovation is the combination of the creative process of invention and the entrepreneurial process of creating economic value. A business’s innovation is evident in its product or service and is found in PT Essentials. By digitising an already existing industry, Harris sought to synthesize the traditional methods of personal training with the modern systems of communication and reach, which is a proven pathway towards successfully developing a business model. Harris employs the alertness model of opportunity, which is when an entrepreneur recognises opportunities due to superior levels of knowledge, and exploits them. Studies have shown that the process of innovation is significant in separating entrepreneurs from the market and is crucial to emerging businesses capture success in the short and long term.
By developing an app to link personal trainers and clients, Harris demonstrates how innovation has played a main role in attaining success for PT Essentials, and has since attained a NSW innovation grant in 2014, awarded for innovative technology, designed to improve business efficiencies and suitable for global application. Perceived and exploited opportunitiesWhen entrepreneurs notice unfulfilled market needs, they need to assess these opportunities in order to determine whether or not the idea has potential to have commercial value. Several entrepreneurs have tried to turn ideas into venture creation, only to have inadequate understanding of the market, the product offered and the forces surrounding it to succeed. If they do not properly assess the prospect, they will lack objectivity and real insight into the market and will fail to properly evaluate the viability of the opportunity. After being medically discharged from the military, Harris struggled with transitioning back into society and suffered from major depression. He recalled that he had “lost his purpose”, and gained up to 40kg in weight. During his journey to regain fitness, he discovered that personal trainers were not very adept in managing their business; they were knowledgeable in personal training, but had little to no knowledge about how to grow their revenue stream and connect with their clients digitally.
Entrepreneurs have 3 processes when recognising opportunity. Firstly, they will perceive market needs that are not being fulfilled by underemployed resources. Then, they will discover a “fit” that joins the need and the resources and finally, will venture to create the “fit” in the form of a profitable business model. Harris has clearly demonstrated these steps through the innovation of his app. By observing the fitness industry firsthand, he realised that the industry was facing problems. Personal trainers could not easily manage their relationships with clients outside of the gym and were having difficulty managing their growth of increasing clients with independent needs. In this case, personal trainers were the underemployed resources that Harris discovered that when fully utilised, can better fulfil the market needs. His app was the then the platform that enabled personal trainers to systemise and manage their business easier which became the “fit” that connected people’s needs and the personal trainers. Harris’s ability to analyse the feasibility of his new venture led to choosing a suitable and exploitable market that at that time had little to no competitors. Harris describes the competitors then as “hobbyists” who were indirect competitors as in 2011 popularity in apps were just starting to grow. Harris recalls that he knew the opportunity would be there for the taking since the market was large and the competition “validated what he was doing”, and if done right, would see a successful business come fruition.
One thing that I would do differently would be in regards to the method of funding. This is because of the aforementioned limitations of self-funding. Instead of being entirely self-funded, I would turn to debt financing to assist in setting up the venture. Although that takes on added risk, the increased amounts of assets allow for investing in better entrepreneurial capital: economic, human and natural, which will better grow the business and increase profitability. Another thing I would do differently would be to work in a team of founders. Since Harris alone takes on a vital role in every part of his business, he is susceptible to high stress and the possibility of loneliness will always persist to him. Being immersed in the business too long by oneself can cause “type A” behaviour and anxiety. I would prefer to work with others that allow for spreading of workloads and constant sharing of ideas that come from different perspectives. This also allows for chances to take breaks and leave the company in safe hands when dealing with personal issues or health problems. we millennials are the most technologically savvy generation.
Hence, entrepreneurs maintaining a reputation of integrity through the ethical choices they make is vital to business success. In corporate social responsibility, entrepreneurs are not exempt in disobeying the law and should always act in the best interests of society. This is because entrepreneurs, who are the driving force of every industry, eventually set the tone and standard for other businesses who eventually enter and compete with them. While the choices to be made are not always “black or white”, we as future entrepreneurs must always consider the welfare of the business’s stakeholders as a whole and act in accordance with the adherence to do what is right.
Ultimately, Harris’s journey has shaped him and PT Essentials to become the successful company it is. His choices, whether they were good or bad, have seen him mature in his entrepreneurial self and while Harris acknowledges that he “would’ve liked to have saved a lot of time and money and heartache” he confidently proclaims that “the learning process was worth it”.
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