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Nov 23, 2015

Heidi Strajnar - YES Alumni / Young Entrepreneur

19 year old Heidi has been busy since she graduated from Pakuranga College in 2013. In her final year of school she competed in the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme. Her latest business venture is a major pivot from D.I.Y doggie treats, but she credits YES for her chosen career path and building the foundations for her entrepreneurial journey.


As her University Exams end we managed to catch up with Heidi to hear about her latest ventures, her key role models and what it’s really like being a young entrepreneur.

First off, what was your YES company and product?
My YES company was called ‘ABC DOGS’ and we created a DIY bake at home dog treat mix i.e. like those bake at home brownie kits you get at the supermarket but for dog treats!

What influence did YES have on what you chose to do once leaving school?
YES has very much influenced me in the path I’m on now. Even as a kid instead of playing with my Barbie’s all the time I would often pretend I was a business woman doing paper work in her office… So from a very young age I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in business but I knew it was business related. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur or have my own business but with YES exposing me to what running a business is actually like, the roles within that and providing me the tangible experience of getting out of the building and actually DOING business, it opened my eyes to what business really was, re-ignited that passion in me and revealed the potential I had within myself. YES also introduced me to the role of networking which I’ve found to be key in what I’m doing now.

You competed in YES, attended Venture Up, study business at Auckland Uni and run a start up, what have you learnt from these experiences?
As mentioned before, YES was a key influencer in starting my entrepreneurial journey. It helped me set the backbone and foundations of knowledge for being a part of a business. Venture Up became an extension of YES in more of an advanced level both in theories and in actual practical application. What people don’t often realize is that they end up creating solutions to things before they even actually know what the problem is. That happened pre-Filtr (the current start-up I’m a part of) concept and thus Venture Up taught me to do some hardcore validation and research first – teaches you to fail quick so you can get to whether you need to be faster. It also taught me how important relationship building is, how important mentors are and to be inquisitive and go out and DO stuff. That’s the only way you’re going to get to each next step. At Auckland Uni I’m majoring in Marketing and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The things we learn in those papers are helping to set that fundamental theory and also show us real life application in well-known businesses to make it a bit more relatable. My innovation papers teach me to think outside the square and not be tunnel versioned. It teaches you to be creative and gives you in-depth knowledge on the lean start-up, which is the method more and more businesses are moving towards.

Tell us a bit about your Start Up Filtr?

Filtr is a web platform that connects current students and graduates with businesses for relevant internships and employment. We basically change the way that recruiting is done. We help to create a more in-depth and organic relationship between employers and applicants. We’ve said good-bye to CV’s and hello to videos and questions that show you who an applicant really is and the way that they think about things. We give both businesses and applicants the opportunity to show each other their spark.

What are the problems you see with current graduate recruitment and how do you plan on solving them?
We’ve seen a real disconnect between businesses and students where businesses say they can’t find talent and students say they can’t find opportunities. Students feel that they struggle to find work related to what they’ve studied. This is where we come in and bridge that gap by offering a pool of talent and a pool of jobs. We match the right candidates for the right jobs but allow for that personal connection between the two parties to ensure that they get too know each other authentically. They both have a say in what they’re looking for and therefore profiling on businesses is important to us because we want to change the perception of hierarchy so that it isn’t a boss to employer relationship but rather a team environment. It’s a two-way thing.

We also see a problem with how the recruitment process itself is actually done, traditional methods are costly and time consuming. Which is why getting rid of CV’s and allowing employers to see videos that really show the applicants’ personalities, and exploring their culture fit means that they can get to know someone before they interview them and therefore not even waste time with candidates that just appear ideal on paper. Also we don’t take your millions so we save you some sweet $$.

What skills and perspectives do you think students and recent graduates can add to an existing business?

They’re fresh with the latest theories, concepts and technologies that they learn and use at Uni therefore, they can offer something new that a business doesn’t already know or use. As well as that it means that businesses that have already incorporated the latest knowledge and technologies, will have grads that know what they’re doing because they’re on the same wavelength compared to those who already exist in the company and may take longer to adjust. So overall their skills and perspectives are those that are unique and outside the box kind of thinking. They are able to have fresh new ideas and mindsets as they are exposed to a new era of business and consumption.

What do you enjoy about being an entrepreneur?
I love the stories you get to hear from other entrepreneurs that help fuel your direction and give you knowledge. The relationships and networks are exciting to help you grow as a person in terms of creative and intellectual stimulation. Just being able to do something hands on amongst a very theoretical degree is refreshing. I also enjoy being able to offer something new to the corporate world and being part of a community of game changers in the way that business is done. The challenges and opportunities that arise with being an entrepreneur are exciting to tackle and to embrace. Just doing something useful and solving problems is a fulfilling thing to be a part of. Also being a woman as an entrepreneur is not something you find all too often amongst business, so it’s awesome to be able to step up that game and having so much support from male entrepreneurs has been super awesome!

Are there any struggles you face being a young entrepreneur and how do you overcome them?
There are 3 main things, one is that sometimes I feel that not everyone will take us seriously because we are so young. I tend to overcome this just by knowing that you aren’t always going to please everyone and the networks that really do believe and support you are the ones you need to focus on and grow with. The second is that I feel we all have a lot more to learn in order to really burn bright with Filtr but again overcoming this is more just in knowing that everyone always has a lot more to learn right? Also I’m sure this upcoming final year of learning through Uni and continued relationship building will help in overcoming this. Even just trial and error of strategising teaches you – the learning by doing approach. The third is that being young means lack of funds #studentlife which means it can feel like its harder to invest ourselves. There are solutions to this such as business incubators etc…

As a successful young woman in business, do you have any role models that motivate you to do what you do?
Yes I have a few – one would be my brother, he’s 10 years older than me and is the CEO of his own successful business. It’s all his achievements and ability to just ‘get stuff done’ and do things on a global scale that inspires me to actually make things happen.

Another role model would be Olivah Theyers-Collins who is the Customer Engagement Manager at Creative HQ and Programme Manager for Venture Up. She is someone who again just ‘gets stuff done’ and is always straight to the point and honest. She won’t sugar coat anything but shows you what you’ve got in times when motivation can be in a bit of a dip phase. Her ability to balance life and her creative thinking are inspiring too.

For the future world changers like yourself out there – what’s your key advice?
There are two really important things I’ve learnt that I think are essential in being a world changer : 1) Is to be authentic in all that you set to achieve and all that you do. If you’re not authentic you won’t attract the right networks and relationships but also you won’t feel self fulfilled because it’s harder to be creative in that context and harder to achieve at your personal best because you end up limiting yourself in that way. 2) PASSION. If you have passion that will really shine through when you’re trying to help others understand what you do and also persuades them to back you because your passion ends up rubbing off on them. If people see passion in something, they are more willing and confident to give you advice, praise, help you network or even financial investment. If you don’t believe in yourself or what you’re doing, why should others?