Harnessing the AGSM Executive Agenda Year to launch a digital start-up

Monday, 26 August 2019  @Business School

Emma Lo Russo had a decade-long C-suite career behind her before she began the MBA (Executive) program at AGSM @ UNSW Business School. She’d been President and Chief Operating Officer of ASX-listed software company, Altium, among many other executive roles. And she was ready for her next challenge.

“I wanted to launch my own business,” says Emma. “But I knew I needed to expand my network. I considered what would give me the best chance of launching my new business – – building a local peer cohort and understanding what was happening here in Australian business – and studying an MBA seemed like the logical solution.”

She says beginning start-up Digivizer as well as another business concurrently with studying an MBA felt like a safeguard if either business failed.

Instead, the opposite happened; since completing her AGSM MBA in 2013, Digivizer has grown into a global company with over 55 employees working out of 14 countries, serving a large number of blue-chip customers.

A disciplined approach to strategy

It was Emma’s strategic paper during her final year of study, the Executive Agenda Year, that set Digivizer up for success. “I loved that final year, because I was able to focus on my passion project – my business. I was committed to putting all my time, my career and personal investment into it and determined to get the strategy right and raise money from it.”

Thanks to this robust approach, Emma not only received a 95+ for her strategic paper – she successfully secured $2.2million in funding for Digivizer. “It was an amazing outcome, and obviously an incredible return on investment for the MBA. I don’t think I would have been as thorough had I not been probed and pushed by my peers and lecturers during the process.”

She says completing the strategic paper through the MBA program kept her disciplined, holding her accountable for every deadline she needed to deliver. “It also meant I was more focused when I developed the cash flow and marketing plan, ensuring the strategy was really strong.”

Establishing a strong culture for growth

The Digivizer platform helps businesses grow through digital marketing. “Ultimately, we’re committed to helping businesses get better value out of their digital marketing spend,” says Emma. “We started in social, then grew to search which extends to leads and conversion and understanding what drives that outcome.”

What’s made the software-as-a-service business so successful is its focus on accessibility, with an affordable product that enables all types of businesses to understand what’s working to acquire customers, and what’s not. “Any business can plug in social and search channels in owned, earned and paid media,” says Emma.

Digivizer is now global, with 40 per cent of its revenues earnt overseas. Its client list includes Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn – and growth has been rapid. The team has successfully managed to scale fast thanks to a strong cultural foundation.

“We set out to hire smart, talented people who knew how to get things done. We wanted infinite learners, and people who are adaptable, flexible, innovative – and importantly, not assholes,” says Emma. “And as a result, our team has been able to steadily handle the growth we’ve had.”

Infinite learning, for ongoing success

Emma believes infinite learning is one of the most vital characteristics for success. “You can’t be fixed to what you learnt yesterday, or even today. You must always be seeking new knowledge – unbounded by region or geography.”

She says the global mindset approach at AGSM, along with the #alwaysbelearning philosophy are inherent values for leaders to embrace.

“It’s important to continuously probe what you know – this will ensure you don’t get blindsided.”

Emma says she developed an amazing cohort of peers at AGSM who were invaluable throughout her studies. “Particularly when we could explore and bounce assignment ideas around – I got a lot of value out of that,” she says. And those relationships have since continued. “Some have become clients who have referred us into other businesses – it’s validating to know people trust you enough for their business.”

Emma completed her MBA in 2013 and was awarded the AGSM Anita Prabhu Women Leaders in Business Award for entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and business acumen. In 2014, Digivizer won the Carnegie’s Den investment round which led to further funding. And in 2016 she won the Pearcey Foundation Tech Entrepreneur of the Year Award for NSW.

Digivizer has also been recognised in the SmartCompany Smart 50 and Deloitte Technology Fast 50.

AGSM’s MBA (Executive) program is a part-time national program designed for ambitious and experienced executives, managers and professionals eager to take their career to the next level.

Find out more: https://www.business.unsw.edu.au/degrees-courses/postgraduate/mba/agsm-mba-executive

If you have any questions call or e-mail: +61 2 9931 9490 admissions@agsm.edu.au

harnessing-the-agsm-executive-agenda-year-to-launch-a-digital-start-up