My Week: Alicia Navarro of Skimlinks

The tech entrepreneur on working weekends, the downside of growth and why London's better than Oz.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I work 15 hours a day on this business. I get up at a normal-ish time and I try to do a bit of exercise in the mornings, otherwise I end up becoming a sad, depressed mess, and then I usually work till about 10 every night unless there’s a networking event, in which case I’ll go to that.
On a typical day, I spend a lot of time keeping on top of what the team are all up to. There are now about 20 of us, and so I spend a lot of my time checking with each of the teams to make sure that they know what they’re doing, making sure there are no problems that need fixing, and just generally trying to keep motivation up. I also handle a lot of the platform and client deals, so I spend a lot of time talking to clients and answering any questions they may have. As well as this, I also spend a large chunk of my time dealing with external investor relations and media relations. And I’m always planning my next trip to the US to meet up with clients, partners other important stakeholders. I usually go for a week or two and flit between San Francisco and New York.
The operational and numbers side of things is dealt with by my business partner Joe Stepniewski. We have been best friends since we met at university in Sydney where we were both studying for degrees in IT. We get on fantastically well – he’s like my brother – and I can honestly say we’ve never fallen out. It’s a very caring, nurturing friendship in which we definitely balance each other out. I’m the passionate leader that cheers the team on, and he manages the budget and come up with things like company goals and values and so on. Joe’s also the best schmoozer you’ve ever met, so he does all of the conferences. All the conferences are in Las Vegas, so Joe will go and he’ll make the most of it - whereas I hate Vegas. I refuse to go.

This week we had our fortnightly milestone meeting. We’ve got a big development team, so we organise the work we do into fortnightly ‘sprints’. And so every fortnight we all say what we’ve achieved and then we plan the forthcoming fortnight in terms of priorities. We might discuss a feature we’re going to develop or five bugs we need to prioritise.

I’ve also been busy interviewing this week. I saw three people yesterday and I’ve got another three this afternoon. They’ve applied for some sales positions we have, as well as one in product management. We are expanding rapidly, which is great but it brings its own challenges. A lot of what I’ve had to do recently has been thinking more strategically about the organisation, i.e. how all the teams fit together, what everyone’s roles are and making sure everybody understands it. It’s not your standard start-up stuff; it’s more of a growing pain. But it’s very important to get it right. We’re actually off tomorrow for a couple of days on a management retreat. We’ll do assessments of leadership skills and produce forward planning for the year ahead. It’s big company stuff, which I’m not used to.

It’s not unusual for me to be working over the weekend. I do try to keep them free but I usually fit in at least half a day of work. When I do have free time, I like to spend it with other entrepreneurs on the tech scene in London. I don’t think it’s massively advantageous to my business but it keeps me immersed in a community of like-minded people, which is great for motivation. Last weekend for example, we all went to see the boat race and then we went on a pub crawl. It’s a very vibrant scene.

This kind of community just wasn’t there in Australia, where I initially set up the business. There has been a bit of evolution over the last few years, but at the time there was no VC community and there was no real start-up community. It’s also a tiny country, so it’s not a great place to launch a business which needs scale. It’s obviously possible to do it in Australia, but it’s just another disadvantage you have - and it’s already tough enough running a start-up.

Alicia Navarro is the founder and chief executive of Skimlinks, an automatic affiliate marketing solution for publishers.

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