Sarah Mak is an entrepreneur. She’s also a storyteller, a mother and a startup founder.
With her co-founder and husband David Lloyd-Lewis, Sarah wants to empower people and businesses to tell their own stories through Folktale, their visual storytelling app. Sarah and David are the visionaries behind our SheStarts video, which was produced by their other business – TheStoryBoxes – an award-winning, certified B Corp studio.
We sat down with Sarah to talk about her entrepreneurial journey and hear her insights on what it’s like being a tech startup founder.
“Attitude is the most important thing. Because I think you can learn anything.”
1. Anyone can be a startup founder
With a background in psychology and public health, and one successful business already under her belt, Sarah might not fit the stereotypical image of the tech startup founder in hoodies and sneakers. This shows that: (1) stereotypes mean nothing and (2) tech startup founders are simply problem solvers using technology to take on big challenges.
“I fell in love with the notion of visual storytelling and visual communication being an agent of change,” said Sarah, when we asked her why she and David decided to start their first business, TheStoryBoxes. Whilst in the studio, the duo identified a gap in the market – which led to Folktale.
“We realised that because of profitability and efficiency, we just couldn’t meet the small businesses and the different users around the large budgets that traditional film production studios have to create large pieces of content. So Folktale emerged from quite a large problem and it is basically giving users the ability to create their own content by having the power of the film director in their pocket. What that means is they can craft their own stories with intent and meaning, rather than creating content for content’s sake.”
Although Sarah and David always had the idea for Folktale floating around in the back of their minds, they were inspired to take action and put idea to paper after hearing about BlueChilli and CCIQ’s Collaborate program. They took the opportunity and ran with it – and here they are now.
2. Be passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve
Whilst running their own film studio, Sarah and David saw the frustration felt by individuals, small businesses and even global brands trying to create meaningful content first-hand.
“It was too hard. It was too expensive. It took too much time and they actually didn’t know how to piece together a story… The cost of all these stories that are not being told – that was the bigger issue that we had,” Sarah said.
As a startup founder, there’s an understanding that when you’re building a business from the ground up, there will be long work days and numerous ups and downs. However, as Sarah pointed out, aligning your passion and purpose is important – especially when there are other commitments in your life, such as family.
“If you’re going to be spending long hours as an entrepreneur, in a startup – in a tech startup – you do it because you believe in it. So it’s always weighing those two expectations: Is it worth it? Are you passionate about it?
“Understand your passion and your purpose, because if you’re going to be moving away from something else like children, family and friends, then you really have to believe in it. You really have to understand that this is the long haul. It’s a marathon.”
3. If you want to scale your business, think tech
With TheStoryBoxes, Sarah and David’s film studio, the duo experienced the limits of being tied to one location. However, by building Folktale as a mobile application their startup gets to be a global company from the start.
“We can iterate. But also because of the scalability, it allows for great opportunities and to see that larger change we want to achieve.”
4. What can you be 100% at?
Juggling two businesses and two young children means that Sarah and David have to set themselves clear priorities.
“It’s meant to be challenging, and it’s meant to make you resilient in whatever you embark on, whether it be parenthood or being an entrepreneur. It’s very, very similar. So, in terms of some of the challenges and the uphill things that I go through as well as Dave… we can’t be everywhere. We can’t go to evening events because we have other priorities to manage.
“It doesn’t matter if you have children or no children, it’s just figuring out what you can be 100% at and what you can’t be 100% on. And then from there, iterating what that looks like.”
5. It’s all in the attitude
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re forced by necessity to wear multiple hats and often have to make decisions in the face of incomplete information and self-doubt. It can be scary and daunting, but it’s all about attitude, Sarah said.
“It’s being agile and fluid and knowing that there will be good days and bad days. Each day is a new day. So there are some days when it’s just, you know, there could be a child that could be a bit challenging and to know that each day is just that. It doesn’t affect anything. You move forward and you just keep it as learnings.”
When it comes to the risk of failure, Sarah has one piece of advice: you need to take it head on.
“You will always fail. I think that there’s always failures and I always tell the team, ‘it’s not necessarily failing itself, because that’s okay. It’s what you do on the other side of that. Do you stay?’ Like, do you stay upset or do you learn from it and pivot and grow?”
Sarah is a remarkable woman and we can’t wait to watch Folktale grow.