Cameron Mehlhopt, co-founder and CEO of talent casting website StarNow, is a New Zealand entrepreneur who has helped grow a lightbulb idea into an emergent worldwide business.
His advice on the path to success as an online business? Invest in your developers.
The concept for StarNow – which connects aspiring models, actresses and musicians with casting agents around the world - was conceived by Mehlhopt and two friends on their OE after hearing a friend’s struggles to find work as an actress.
Together the trio had a strong web development background, having not long before helped to build TradeMe back home. Leaping on an opportunity they developed a website to connect casting agents with those looking for work.
Nearly a decade on, StarNow is a thriving site with over three million members worldwide; across the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland and South Africa.
Being a product-led company, StarNow has been built around the philosophy of investing in staff – which Mehlhopt says is crucial for continual growth.
Advanced training is offered to all staff members - from interns and customer service representatives, to testers and web developers. From StarNow’s New York loft-styled HQ in Wellington, the company now employs about 35 staff. Of the full-time staff, developers make up about one-third.
“It is absolutely essential for us to invest in our developers – in their training, in the tools they use, the work they can do – and at a personal level,” Mehlhopt says.
“As an internet business – things are changing every day. Along with technical skills, we need to ensure our people have the ability and the freedom to actively contribute in figuring out the best way for the company to do things.”
As an ex-developer, Mehlhopt knows first-hand the processes required to help them succeed, and the rewards that can result from a successful project with StarNow’s developers key to implementing concepts and turning them in to product.
“Every job that I’ve worked at as a developer I’ve been given a problem, and often it is up to us to find a solution,” he adds.
“It’s really fulfilling to be part of finding that solution and creating a thing that hasn’t existed before. There is a lot of satisfaction in not only building something, but also seeing it out in the world. You’re always learning as a developer.”