How Creator Found Success

Fred Schebesta receiving his EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 award.

Entrepreneur Fred Schebesta is the millionaire co-creator of that swept the world with its simple concept of allowing direct comparisons of student credit cards.

Today, compares virtually everything from cryptocurrency exchanges to savings, travel, technology and electronics and attracts up to 10 million visitors a month in 80 countries.

Schebesta continues to astound the technology markets with his creativity and insights. But, as he told the Leadership Institute’s disruption and innovation forum in Double Bay this month, mistakes and misjudgements are inevitable along the way to success.

It’s what you do next that counts.

In a confidence-boosting address to the hundreds of budding app creators wanting to follow his path to riches and acclaim, Schebesta said success was not automatic or instant.

As an example he detailed a couple of his own failed creative attempts, including building a cell phone plan comparison that is now in its fourth – and hopefully final –incarnation.

Three previous attempts failed but they became learning bricks on the way to eventual success because they provided vital experiences. 

Vital components of creating success were knowing when to abandon a project whose problems were insurmountable and being willing to keep trying in the face of disappointing failures.

“I think you need to try things and if they don’t work for whatever reason, that’s OK,” he said.

“Some of them you let go. You sort of sunset them. But others you persevere with.”

He said a key issue to producing a cell phone comparison plan was coping with its complex demands.

“It’s a very complicated niche because the plans, deals and phones are on three separate tables on the data base.

“You’ve got to link them all together. You can’t untangle them.

“Just generally cell phone plans are very, very difficult. Very challenging.

“It’s getting simpler because there’s a website plan out there now.”

Schebesta said the first attempt at a phone comparison device went smoothly until a problem became obvious. He and his co-creator had overextended their use of existing technology.

“The developer and I built the first one in just 24 hours and we launched it on the internet. And it was a hack,” he said.

“We’d borrowed so much technical debt it couldn’t actually continue to be improved.

“It was basically an experiment so we had to shut it down.

“The developer and I took short cuts and we couldn’t unwind them easily.

“That’s why we were able to go so fast”

The second attempt overcame the teething problems of the first one but ran into difficulties of its own. This time Schebesta and the developer over-corrected.

“We thought we haven’t engineered enough so we went super long on engineering in the second version,” he said. “And again we went way, way too far and we built something that was just too much.

“It was not just one mother ship. It was more like eight and we were ready to go to a thousand.

“So we made a mistake there.”

The third time was aborted because of misunderstandings over compliance.

“We built it using the wrong technology,” Schebesta says.

“The developer we were using was using a different language and it was not a language we could support going into the future. So we made a mistake there.

“They left and we were up in the air.”

The success of the fourth version was as much a tribute to dogged persistence as it was to revamping technology.

“We took all the learning from the first three attempts and we built it again.

“And we did really well.”

Schebesta’s philosophy that when seemingly good ideas don’t generate public interest it can be best to chalk it up to experience and move on.

“A lot of people get very sad but you mourn the loss and take the key bones from it and keep going to the next thing.

In a thoughtful mood in front of a captivated audience Schesesta talked of other setbacks he and his team had suffered along the way, stressing that being in the right place at the right time with the right app was paramount.

And that seemingly wild public enthusiasm did not always translate into website activity.

“We came up with comparing on-line courses for students and everyone was saying: `yeah. That’s great. I want to do that,’ “he said.

“But no one went there and it’s siting in the backyard of Finder.

“Interestingly though now five years after it was first put up it’s starting to come alive and be rebooted.

“So the expectations of customers about Finder have been raised and they’re saying: “Why shouldn’t there be on line comparison of courses? “It just a matter of timing.”