Xylo Systems Turns Three: A Founder's Tale to World Domination
In the early spring of 2020, as the world collectively binge-watched tiger documentaries in their pyjamas (thanks, Netflix), I embarked on a different kind of adventure. Armed with a laptop and a burning desire to save the planet, I founded Xylo Systems.
Fast forward three years, and here we are, celebrating our startup's third birthday, with more data points than birthday candles.
Entrepreneurship is like traversing the dense Australian bush. It's exhilarating, challenging, and often unpredictable. Amidst the constant hustle, taking a moment to reflect on the path traveled can be a compass that guides us forward. As we celebrate Xylo Systems' third birthday, let's dive into the underbrush of our startup journey.
Chapter 1: A Wild Idea
As a wide-eyed kid growing up in the coastal haven of Newcastle, NSW, I had a peculiar fascination with critters that would make Steve Irwin proud. While most girls my age preferred to play tea time (which to be honest, I also loved to play tea time), I was more interested in dissecting leaves to see what tiny creatures called them home.
I’ve long been drawn to the problem of how we can save species faster. It’s the reason why I chose a career as a wildlife scientist.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and there I was, a bonafide wildlife scientist. I had turned my childhood passion into a profession. But life has a funny way of challenging our deepest convictions.
You see, I was part of the millennial generation, the cohort whose existence has been defined by the looming spectre of climate change. My dream job in wildlife conservation had me staring into the abyss of dwindling species, vanishing habitats, and perpetual underfunding.
Only a few years after I began my dream job, I realised I was perilously close to burnout. It was like trying to save a sinking ship with a teacup. I knew there had to be a better way to secure our ecosystems, and that realisation was the spark that set the jungle ablaze with ideas.
So, I did something that would have raised the eyebrows of my 5-year-old self—I decided to leave my beloved conservation work. Instead, in 2019, I embarked on a journey to learn the languages of business and technology. I enrolled in an MBA program, determined to become a bilingual enthusiast of both the natural world and the startup sphere.
But it wasn't until a fateful email from a mentor arrived in my inbox in May of 2020 that things truly clicked. The subject line read, "Wild Idea," and it was an application to a startup incubator program that seemed tailor-made for my newfound ambitions.
I guess you could say that's when Xylo was born—a wild idea to save the wild.
Chapter 2: A seed to a seedling
Three years ago, if someone had mentioned the term "VC," I would have probably guessed they were talking about a "Vice-Chancellor," given my academic background. Startup lingo? Nope, not in my vocabulary.
The Wild Idea startup accelerator was like my entrepreneurial kindergarten, where I learned the ABCs of building a viable business. Back then, I had grand visions of Xylo Systems as a not-for-profit because, well, that's how I thought conservation was done. I had witnessed the chronic underfunding that plagued conservation non-profits, and I was determined to find a way for my business to "wash its own face." The solution? A social enterprise.
Now, here's where I have to lay my cards on the table. I was head-over-heels in love with my own solution. I had personally experienced the problem I was trying to solve — the urgent need to save species faster. So, you could say I was quite the "idea egomaniac."
But as they say, the path to success is often paved with reality checks. Over the next year and a half, customer discovery quickly became my favourite reality check, and it ruthlessly crushed my "idea ego."
I was determined to find a solution to the problem that had been keeping conservationists up at night. My free time was dedicated to engaging with fellow conservationists from every corner of the globe, listening intently to their challenges. And then a common thread emerged from these conversations: data. It was the missing puzzle piece that had the potential to turn the tide for our declining ecosystems.
In the curious cocoon of 2020 and 2021, when the world seemingly slowed down (thank you, COVID), I seized every spare moment. Balancing a full-time gig at the University of Sydney and pursuing my MBA part-time, I dedicated my precious free hours to carving the path for Xylo Systems. Let's be real; it was no walk in the park. Navigating the tumultuous waters of entrepreneurship as a solo founder, especially in the uncharted territory of a nascent market, was a challenge like no other.
But as the story goes, at the close of 2021, destiny intervened and all the startup stars aligned to introduce me to Jada Andersen.
Chapter 3: From Solo Founder to Dynamic Duo
About a year and a half into my startup adventure, a humbling truth dawned upon me: I couldn't go it alone. While I possessed an intimate understanding of the conservation challenges we aimed to tackle, there was one tiny hiccup—I had precisely zero coding superpowers.
As the unspoken rule in startupdom goes, every non-technical founder needs a tech-savvy sidekick. And so, with a treasure chest of advice from my tech-savvy advisors, I set out on the daunting quest to find a co-founder and CTO. But here's where things got interesting—this is when I bumped headfirst into the brick wall of gender biases that still linger in the startup realm. It was like entering the modern dating world, only with more mansplaining and far less charm.
Ninety-nine percent of the "founder date" applicants were, well, not founders but rather well-meaning gentlemen who felt compelled to explain my own idea to me. Suffice it to say, the dating game wasn't working in my favour. Around this time, I was participating in Taronga Zoo's HATCH Accelerator program. Little did I know that my dynamic duo was waiting in the wings.
Enter Jada. She had been silently following the accelerator's progress, waiting for the perfect moment to reach out. And then it happened—a LinkedIn message appeared in my inbox: "Hi Camille, I'm not sure if I'm CTO material, but I'd love to help in any way I can. Jada."
It was one of those serendipitous moments that can alter the course of a startup journey. After our initial meeting, it became evident that Jada shared the same values and mission. She also possessed the critical skill we desperately needed—a mastery of code.
In just six months of our collaboration on Xylo's platform prototypes, we achieved more than I could have ever dreamed. And in March 2022, I summoned the courage to pop the big startup question: "Will you be my co-founder?"
Chapter 4: The big pivot
Early in the year 2022, Jada and I found ourselves knee-deep in prototyping and customer discovery. While we had made some headway with a few conservation not-for-profits, progress was slower than a snail on a tranquil Sunday afternoon—far too sluggish for a fledgling startup trying to stay afloat.
We'd set out on this adventure with the lofty goal of putting the brakes on species extinctions. But as we pored over our grand plan, a lightbulb moment lit up the room: If we were serious about stopping the drivers of extinctions, we needed to build solutions for the very sectors that impacted ecosystems. Think property, mining, agriculture—the big players. And so, the pivot was born.
In a daring leap of faith, both Jada and I decided to go all-in, committing ourselves full-time to Xylo and wagering everything we had on bridging the nature gap for the corporate world. As luck would have it, the winds of change were blowing our way, thanks to a new global framework for nature disclosures—the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures. We realised we already had the seeds of a data-driven product capable of quantifying biodiversity, solving a huge nature gap challenge for corporates.
In many ways, this pivot felt like hitting the "reset" button, taking us ten steps back. We'd spent the previous six months crafting prototypes for the conservation sector, and now we had to start anew, navigating the uncharted waters of a whole new market. Little did we know, this would be the hydrogen fuel that would power our rocket forward.
To make things even more exciting (or nerve-wracking, depending on your perspective), this pivot coincided with our acceptance into Australia's prestigious Startmate accelerator program. A few months earlier, one of the partners had reached out and encouraged us to apply. We didn't exactly consider ourselves "Startmate material," but we took the leap on her recommendation. To say we were stunned when we got in would be an understatement. But in the world of startups, timing is everything.
Startmate's community became our compass, leading us straight to our target customers. This meant that we powered through the customer discovery phase faster than we ever dreamed possible. And before we knew it, we were setting the stage for our groundbreaking biodiversity intelligence platform, designed specifically for property development and energy companies.
Chapter 5: A Blossoming Biodiversity Market
Remember those tailwinds I mentioned in Chapter 4? Well, in 2023, they're sweeping over us like a hurricane of opportunity. Ever since we made the pivotal shift to focus on crafting a biodiversity intelligence platform for our target markets, we've been riding the crest of a wave of interest and enthusiasm. It's as if the winds of biodiversity have shifted, and the global private sector is beginning to rouse from its slumber, akin to the awakening we saw with climate change about half a decade ago.
In this splendid year, we've successfully completed trials with prominent multinational property development giants like Brookfield, proving that our journey has hit its stride.
As we celebrate our third anniversary, we're on the brink of unveiling our brand-new, user-driven platform to the world. It's always a curious mix of excitement and nerves when you launch a product. It feels like the start of something magnificent, even though you've traveled a considerable distance to get here.
This chapter serves as a pause for reflection—a moment to take stock of the incredible dedication my team has poured into achieving what we have so far. It's a celebration of the remarkable milestone of turning three in the tumultuous world of startups. Because in the realm of entrepreneurship, success boils down to a recipe of consistency, relentless effort, impeccable timing, and, of course, a dash of good fortune.
As we turn three, we are about to launch our new automated, user driven platform to the market. It’s always a weird feeling putting your product out into the world. It always feels like just the beginning, even though you’ve come so far.
So the point of this article is to reflect on all the work my team has put in to achieve what we have to date, and to celebrate the incredible milestone of making it to three. With startups, it’s all about consistency, hard work, timing and a little bit of luck. And if we continue to do that as a team, I have no doubt we’ll achieve our goals of world dominance, and creating real change for our wildlife and ecosystems.
Throughout this remarkable journey, there's been a treasure trove of wisdom unearthed:
- To get ahead, let go of ego! Especially when it comes to your precious idea. The sooner you do, the quicker you'll craft a product that genuinely solves your users' woes. It's like letting go of the steering wheel and letting innovation drive.
- When assembling your dream team, consider potential over current skill sets. Learn how to spot and cultivate that hidden potential, and watch your team bloom into something extraordinary.
- Don't shy away from opportunities, even if they seem more elusive than a unicorn on roller skates. Apply, reach out, and take the leap. You'll be astounded by what unfolds when you dare to dream big.
- People, people, people—it's the secret sauce of success. Building networks has been our rocket fuel thus far. We've invested time in nurturing relationships with customers, talent, investors, and fellow founders. These are the allies who'll stand by your side and propel you forward on your entrepreneurial odyssey. They're your cheerleaders, your confidants, and your secret weapon. So, remember, it's not just about the destination; it's about the people who accompany you on the journey.
Whats’ next? Well, firstly, if we, as a team, continue on this path, I have no doubt that we'll achieve our audacious goals of world domination (in a good way) and bring about real change for our precious wildlife and ecosystems. We want to transform industries from mining to textiles, to create a nature positive world, where wildlife and business is flourishing.
As we stand on the threshold of our growth and scaling phase, I have no illusions—there will be more loop-de-loops and heart-pounding drops on this startup rollercoaster. But hey, that's the thrill of the ride, right? After all, who said saving the world couldn't be the most exhilarating adventure of them all?
Maybe in three years time, I’ll be reflecting on our world domination (for good of course)…