Catalyst Technologies founder Joshua Shields shares how his unique experience has shaped the building of his crisis management tech startup.
In the world of threat response and crisis management, knowledge is power. Governments, NGOs, and businesses across nearly every sector need streamlined, effective technology to stay prepared amidst threats from pandemics, cyberattacks and natural catastrophes.
Catalyst Technologies (With their flagship product, Iluminr) is creating predictive, transparent tech solutions for this complex reality. Built by veterans in the crisis management and technology sectors, the Sydney-based startup has seen rapid growth since it's launch in 2019. They're now poised to take things global.
Co-founder Joshua Shields brings years of experience into the young business. These assets have proven invaluable in understanding the challenges and opportunities of the space, and in helping build tools that place humans at the center.
We sat down with Josh to learn about how his unique background serves as a strong foundation in his new venture.
Entrepreneurship meets emergency preparedness
Josh has the DNA of a founder. Combine this with years of experience in the emergency services sector, and you'll got a powerful foundation for leadership.
"Independence has always been important to me, and I always knew I’d start my own business from an early age. In primary school, I bred and sold pet rabbits for $25 on the nature strip in my hometown – it was a good business for an 11-year-old, and as silly as it was, it started me on that entrepreneurial journey."
Josh and his brother Dan both spent years in the Emergency Services, himself leading a local SES unit in rescue and storm response. Dan also spent time on the ground with the SES and fire brigade. The brothers went on to combine their experiences on the front lines with a fierce business acumen honed in the world of consulting and corporate Australia. They launched their first business, RiskLogic, in 2005.
RiskLogic steadily grew from a spare-room operation into a leading provider of resilience services, employing over 70 people and with offices across Australia and New Zealand. The business provided advisory and consulting services alongside technology and training for public, private and not-for-profit entities. In 2019, the business was acquired by First Five Group.
"I gained so many foundational skills in my fifteen-year experience scaling RiskLogic. We learned the value of facing our mistakes head on, asking the hard questions, learning and being able to iterate quickly to drive success."
“When people are your core product, part of your business can literally walk out overnight, so it was critical for us to double down on nurturing a positive culture that was underpinned by meaningful purpose, growth and a strong alignment of values. It was the only way for us to attract and keep the best talent in the market, and it made a huge difference to RiskLogic’s success”.
Building a business around product and people
The increasingly complex risks, regulation and systems in the space inspired Josh's next venture. Catalyst Technologies builds on his deep roots in the sector with a renewed focus on purpose-driven culture and product-led growth.
"Hiring is still one of the most important aspects of building a business. You’ve got to hire the best people you can afford, especially when your team is small."
People are also at the center of the design process for Joshua and his team. Putting engagement and user experience (UX) at the forefront has been another key for Catalyst's early success.
"The historic approach to managing critical events is too fragile and rigid. The old management styles and hierarchies don't work in this day and age, they are simply too cumbersome and slow. The threat environment is moving faster than ever before, our businesses are more complex, and our leadership approach needs to adapt."
"What we're seeing is that organisations need to build networks and empower people to be significantly more agile. We can resolve events faster and more effectively if we empower the people closest to the problem to be a part of the solution, in contrast to the current top-down manual processes."
Josh sees a huge global opportunity for 3rd generation technology to support this process, as opposed to current legacy systems that only exacerbate the current problems. He is dedicated to bringing more innovation, transparency and trust to the space.
How to be a successful founder
It's no surprise that Josh talks about the challenges that founders face with the grit you'd expect from a startup and emergency services veteran.
"It's critical that founders learn how to fail early. Getting knocked down, getting back up and learning from the experience makes all the difference. Those experiences help you build resilience and they become the foundation for continuous improvement."
“Making the transition from professional services into the uncertain world of tech start-ups, we had to learn to move 10x faster and be really agile in our approach. We needed to be more scientific, from experimenting, measuring and validating everything we do. Reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries provided a good roadmap for our team."
Josh also believes this learning mindset can be reinforced when founders surround themselves with a strong network of peers.
"The startup community is key. Co-working spaces, conferences and meetups helped our whole team absorb the ecosystem early. It's proven vital to our early growth."
"Experience in the sector also helps you understand the problem better than anyone else can. The challenge is to stand back, see the bigger picture and ensure that the problem you are trying to solve is big enough to make a real difference"
The process of capital raising was also a new and challenging process for the Catalyst Technologies team. Josh describes it as the business' best and biggest learning experience to date.
"We learned an enormous amount – more in months than I did in the last ten years. It opened our eyes to things we hadn't before considered about framing the problem, our go-to-market strategy, important metrics and our general approach to business. My advice is to not see fundraising as an exercise to just raise money. Use the experience to better understand your business."
He also encourages founders to think ahead. The earlier you start your fundraising process the better.
"Don't leave fundraising to the last minute when you're desperate for money— it's stressful enough already. You don't want the added pressure of running out while you're raising."
"We talked to everyone we could, and learned that different VCs are suited for different businesses. Speak to those with experience or alignment in your sector, do reference checks with other companies in their portfolio, and find out the synergies that your investors can have with your business. Post raising money, the relationships and support you get from your investors really matter, so choose carefully"
What's next for Catalyst Technologies
With the joint focus on helping customers change their culture, and product-led scaling strategies, big things are on the horizon for the business. A freemium model with products like iluminr Active Threat Monitoring has helped build strong relationships that feed directly back into the product development process.
Having already secured major clients in Europe and Asia, with the United States building strong traction, Catalyst is showing no signs of slowing down. Josh notes that while they've still got a lot to learn and a lot of experimenting to do, the sky's the limit.
"We are building a global-first business. Seeing our products resonate with partners and customers indicates that product-led growth will allow us to scale significantly in the near future."
Catalyst Technologies will be gearing up for a Series A in the next 12-24 months.
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