Career

How Five Friends Turned An Idea Over Dumplings Into A Startup

Here’s how the founders of Poppy Renegade turned their startup idea into a reality – and how you can do the same.

It all started with dumplings, as so many good things do. One day over bites of pork buns and steamed prawns, five friends had an epiphany: there should be a community of women in Australia who encourage, inspire and mentor one another – and importantly, a community that anyone can join. That’s how Poppy Renegade, a website, digital movement and events platform was born.

When you consider who the five friends are, it’s not so surprising that they casually came up with a genius business idea over a weekend lunch date: former co-founder of Stylerunner Sali Sasi; Cosmopolitan magazine’s Senior Fashion Editor Charlotta Backlund; tech entrepreneur and founder of Hatching Lab, Christie Whitehill; PR professional Vanessa Budah; and commercial property expert Tanja Watts.

“We started talking about when women tear each other down, aka tall poppy syndrome,” Charlotta, 31, recalls. “We’d all experienced it in our industries even though we are all from different backgrounds. So we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a shift in society where women felt empowered to stand tall with confidence in themselves? A shift that would see us all encouraging and championing the success of other women?’ I think we all knew at that moment we had to do something.”

As they talked, they realised they all shared a desire to help and guide others, and already did in their own ways, as Vanessa, 35, explains. “All five of us had mentored or advised in some form in our careers, whether it was Christie in the tech industry, Sali as an entrepreneur or Tanja in the corporate world. It occurred to us it could be powerful to bring all of our experiences and strengths together in one place.”

‘It was a quick turn-around’

They wouldn’t be the first friends to realise they’ve just hatched a killer idea, promise to do something about it, clink glasses and promptly never speak of it again. But failing to act on the momentum they’d just uncovered wasn’t an option.

“Within a few days we came up with the name, registered the business and had a logo designed,” Vanessa reveals. “It was a quick turn-around and really exciting that we were all able to run with the same vision. We started out on social media (@PoppyRenegade) and began using the hashtag #StandTall while we got stuck into building the website.”

At present Poppyrenegade.com offers readers advice, insight and inspiration on topics relevant to women, including business, wellbeing, fashion and lifestyle. Articles range from the useful (‘Five Books You Need To Read If You’re In Business’) to highly personal stories (‘What It’s Like To Burn Out’). It has a decidedly Sheryl Sandberg Lean In or Arianna Huffington Thrive vibe – motivational, upbeat, real-talk.

But the website is just the beginning of something much bigger – Poppy Renegade will soon expand into a platform for events to be held all over Australia.

“They will be interactive workshops designed to be informative,” Vanessa explains. “A chance to network, learn from each other and connect with like-minded women who share the same values. That is, mainly, seeing success in others as well yourself. But overall we want them to be fun. That’s what we [the Poppy Renegade founders] are like as a group and what we want to project in our events.”

The Poppy Renegade founders (from left) Sali, Tanja, Charlotta, Christie and Vanessa.

‘We have a standing monthly meeting’

Tanja, Sali, Christie, Vanessa and Charlotta all have demanding full-time jobs, so you couldn’t blame them for not having the time and energy to run a business on the side. But they always make time for Poppy. Charlotta says it requires discipline, commitment – and sometimes sacrifices – to keep their project moving.

“Honestly, we are all so passionate about it, it is just not possible [to let Poppy Renegade commitments slide]. We have a standing monthly meeting that we will move mountains to make; I think that is key in helping us stay on track.

“But prioritising Poppy has had consequences. I have been pulled up by friends saying I am not that great a friend now. So obviously I have had to give up certain things in my life to make room for Poppy. I also don’t attend many fashion industry events that are after-hours anymore. The way I see it, it’s important to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know you’re making the right decisions for yourself.”

‘There’s a lot more support for women’

While all five women share a common vision, they’ve arrived at this point via their own unique route and have their own hopes for what Poppy can achieve. For Christie, 32, an entrepreneur in the male-dominated tech world, encouraging women to get into the industry is a huge passion.

“When I first started in tech four years ago I had more help from male advisors and mentors [than other women], however it may have been because female mentors were few and far between in the space at that time,” she says. “As more women enter the tech industry I am seeing a lot more support by and for women – there are fantastic organisations that are helping connect and support women in tech. But there can always be more.”

Christie wants to cultivate confidence in other women to pursue a career in tech – a self-assurance that’s important to have in a field where the gender balance doesn’t lean your way.

“I’ve experienced sexist comments in the tech world – both times they came from male investors. Once it was in regards to the way I dressed. He said ‘You don’t dress like a typical startup founder’. When I asked what he meant by that he said ‘Most founders wear jeans and a t-shirt.’ He was referring to most of the men he meets.

“The other comment was about my age – this person thought I would need to freeze my eggs to have the time to create a successful company. I had just turned 30.”


5 tips for starting your startup

The Poppy Renegade founders share their advice for turning an inspired thought into something tangible.

#1 Work out your company mission: vision and values early on help the decisions you make with branding, marketing and hiring.

#2 Start your social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) prior to launch: this allows you to build a following and establish your key message. “By the time we had launched our site, we already had a strong community and they were anticipating our launch,” Christie says.

#3 Regular catch-ups and a set agenda keeps the momentum going to inspire creativity and forward planning: It’s easy to get caught up in other projects, so allocated time for a meeting will keep the team on track and motivated.

#4 Don’t be afraid to keep each other in check: “Every fortnight we’re all assigned tasks across content, events and general admin that we are held accountable for.”

#5 Make sure to put together a shareholders’ agreement with signed contracts. “As much as we’re all friends, when it comes to business it’s best to discuss terms and expectations upfront.”


Keep an eye on Poppyrenegade.com for updates on upcoming events. All photos supplied.

Erin Van Der Meer is a freelance writer currently travelling the world. Right now, she’s in the USA drinking too many free refills of Dr Pepper. She has edited the websites of magazines DOLLY, CLEO, Shop ‘Til You Drop and NW, and written for Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Dailymail.com and News.com.au. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @erinvandermeer.