THRIVHER INTERVIEW: PAULA MILLS

Updated: May 21, 2018




Thrivher Achievements:

Founder and CEO of Academy of Entrepreneurs



Thrivher Dive

  • Can’t start the day without: Acknowledging 3 things that I’m grateful for, followed by the three things I wish for.

  • Best read for growth: Start with Why by Simon Sinek. It really helps to identify your voice and why are you doing what you are doing.

  • Most inspiring read: Everybody Matters: A Memoir by Mary Robinson; because she worked towards making the world a better place in a gentle, unaggressive way.

  • Non-negotiable: Exercise. A combination of yoga classes and running, I just love it.

  • Top music track of all time: This is your song by Elton John and Ain’t no Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell.

  • I’m most afraid of: Routine. The idea of routine is like having someone put me in a prison, I find it suffocating.

  • Go-to for fun: I love getting out in nature, and anything that's creative.




THRIVHER MOVES:


What did you first focus your studies on?

When I was in school, I thought I was going to be an architect because I love building spaces that bring people together. But then a friend's mother spoke about public relations and what it entailed, and I was immediately fascinated.


I found an incredible course at UTS (A Sydney based University). The great thing about it was the teachers, they were industry experts.


During my studies there, I got more out of the course by applying it to real life work. Whenever there was an assignment to deliver, I would go to charities or local businesses and ask if I could use my assignment as an opportunity to turn it into a live project to support their business. The companies I helped started sending me gifts like boxes of chocolate, cards and vouchers to show their appreciation for my work, and that’s when I realised - I could turn this into a real business.


So within a year of starting university I opened a PR firm. I turned all my media assignments into PR projects and I was making money working on them. I ended up opening two more companies in those three years while I was at university.


I turned all my media assignments into PR projects and I was making money working on them.


Did you continue your studies after your degree?

Yes, I then took a Masters in International Relations. I realised that even though the Masters course was very well recognised, the teachers didn’t have any real industry experience. I found this very frustrating as they were unable to answer any of my industry questions which I felt any student graduating from this course would need. The other part of the course I disliked was the sheer volume of theory. We would be given 16 chapters to read in a very short space of time which I really struggled to complete while running my businesses.


This is where I started to discover that there was a tremendous gap between universities and the workforce. Not just my course, but many university courses provide a ‘textbook’ approach to teaching as opposed to the practical, hands on experience that is so valuable when professionals first enter the workforce. At that point I thought, “education needs to change”.


This is where I started to discover that there was a tremendous gap between universities and the workforce.


Once you had the idea that education needed to change, did you take any actions to understand how you could make that happen while still studying for your Masters? What did you do when you realised this?

I started looking into every single institution I could get my hands on and questioning the current teaching methods. I understood this was a much broader problem because other people were asking the same questions about the practical skills courses offer in general. No one had a solution or seemed to care enough to challenge the status quo. It was all about economic writing and professors who had 100 PhDs and papers published.


So the Masters is the only thing in my life that I haven’t finished and I refused to finish it. I knew my mission and I didn’t want to waste a second more in this old school system, I wanted to change it.



How did you go about forming education that you felt would disrupt the current methods?

One of my clients who happened to be in the education sector asked us to rebrand their identity. It was really interesting with the timing as this particular company focused on practical outcomes for their students by finding them internships. It was very little pay but it guaranteed education with industry experience by the time they graduated.


I started thinking about the idea of creating a movement supported by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need entrepreneurial minds to work in their business so they can scale. The entrepreneur student will potentially open their own business one day but companies could utilise this talent and support them on their journey.


The entrepreneur student will potentially open their own business one day but companies could utilise this talent and support them on their journey.

I saw the missing link - here was an opportunity for us to develop education that provides a foundation for entrepreneurs offering them the tools and techniques that are essential - practical business skills to arm them for their future endeavours.


We reached out to many partners to get funding for launching the academy, and everyone who we approached loved and understood the value of this type of education - so the Academy of Entrepreneurs was born.



What did you do from there?

We started by interviewing about 1000 entrepreneurs. It was a great learning experience for us because it helped us figure out the formula of entrepreneurship. We opened the Academy of Entrepreneurs, which is the first accredited incubator of education in the world. We take individuals from having an idea to opening a business, while mapping development according to the education department’s requirements here in Australia (because Australia has such high standards it makes it recognised in most countries around the world). So it's been a crazy journey, but I'm very grateful that I went through the whole work experience and exposure right from the beginning.


We started by interviewing about 1000 entrepreneurs. It was a great learning experience for us because it helped us figure out the formula of entrepreneurship.


Does the Academy of Entrepreneurs feel very different to your previous businesses you’ve created?

It feels a lot different. I think the reason why I’ve opened so many companies over the years is because of the new exciting experiences each business brings. And the beauty of The Academy of Entrepreneurs is that I don’t have to open new businesses anymore to get that excitement, because our students do!


We get into the craziest industries, and see so many business opportunities. From fermenting garbage and turning it into electricity, to carpentry, to app development - it’s incredible the things our students work on.



What was your biggest learning from working for other people?

To be honest, I've never had a boss that was a good boss. They didn't know how to guide me or challenge me, or push me forward (they were actually trying to pull me back in some cases). I've worked with people that were playing for power, not for results, which I found really frustrating.


I've worked with people that were playing for power, not for results, which I found really frustrating.

But through those bad experiences I realised I must keep training myself every day to be a better manager - one that inspires our team to do their best, to fully support them on their journeys and business goals.



Did you have better leadership examples at school?

[Laughs] I've always loved going to school! My mum said from day one, she would take me to school and I would just run into class. So I think I've always loved being around people.

But later on I did get in trouble at school. I always sat in the back causing trouble with everyone but I had very good grades, so the teachers would often say, “you're just disrupting the whole class and everyone is going to fail because of you”. But I was multitasking and I was having so much fun… So yeah, I got ‘invited to leave’ a few times.




THRIVING AND KICKING:



Have there been any specific people who have supported you on your journey?

Yes. I call them my angels and they are my most incredible mentors. These people just understood my vision, my mission in life and supported me along the way.



Are there any skills you’d still like to master and why?

I think the biggest challenge in the last 12 months is people management and making sure we have a plan in place for them. When you’re building a business, in the beginning that plan for employee growth isn’t always so clear but as we mature we’re also getting better at this.



If there was one piece of advice that you could have given yourself like 10 years ago, what would it be?

All decisions should come from the gut, if it doesn't feel right, don't do it. If you’re going to eat something that makes you healthy and feels good, go and do it, if you interview someone and there is something off, even a client that could be paying millions of dollars, if it doesn't feel right, don't do it.


All decisions should come from the gut, if it doesn't feel right, don't do it.


For women reading this who are thinking about making a change, but haven’t made any killer moves yet, what advice would you give them?

Understand who you are, what's important to you and what your values are. Then look at the industries you like and see which ones play to your strengths. Once you start to understand this, focus on getting better at the things you're really good at. Combine that with your contacts, develop your network and slowly you’ll take steps towards a direction that is right for you.


Don’t be scared of failing but do listen to the market and listen to your gut feeling.




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