Business tycoon, Sharon Melamed, speaks five languages, is a passionate globetrotter, and understands the power of ‘long-term relationships of trust’ in business.
Certainly, this powerhouse CEO, whose business, Matchboard – named by Optus Australia as the ‘Business of the Year’ and by Westpac as one of Australia’s ‘200 Businesses of Tomorrow’ – caught the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ from her international work experiences and has become a well-recognised Australian entrepreneur – and female role model.
But here’s a little something most people don’t know – she’s a tournament Scrabble champion – and has a secret passion for boardgames – hence the “board” in Matchboard.
Stories Ink caught up with Melamed to discuss her career adventures, some of her top challenges, and to hear the ‘ins and outs’ of start-up life at Matchboard, which she calls “the business version of a dating site.”
Growing up, what did you want to be?
As a teenager, I developed a passion for learning foreign languages (I now speak five), so I thought I’d end up as a language teacher or a translator.
What were some of your most memorable jobs?
While at University, I used my Japanese-language skills to do a few stints as a bilingual TV presenter. It all started when I randomly met a TV crew in a park and offered to take their photo in Japanese – they then offered me a job. I also freelanced as an interpreter and once found myself on the edge of a cliff interpreting between a rock star and a photographer. That was memorable.
How did your path take you into your current role?
After graduating, I landed my first corporate job with a highly entrepreneurial company, which transferred me from Sydney to San Francisco, then New York, with more than 40 trips to Tokyo in between.
My 15 years with this Japanese company taught me so much – for example, I loved the Japanese way of doing business, which is based on building long-term relationships of trust with clients. This informed my business model with Matchboard, which I founded in 2012. But it was my nine months living in Israel, also known as The Startup Nation, that truly gave me the entrepreneurial bug. Not long after I returned to Australia, I launched Matchboard.
What do you love about your current job, and what’s your big vision for the role?
Matchboard is like the business version of a dating site – we match buyers and suppliers of business services (things like digital marketing, call centres, consulting), and I get a kick every day out of making matches. There’s so much potential for B2B matchmaking, and I’d love to extend our platform to new niches and geographical markets. We’ve already started with the UK.
Matchboard has been named by Optus as Australia’s ‘Business of the Year,’ and by Westpac as one of Australia’s top ‘200 Businesses of Tomorrow.’ Did these awards come as a surprise – and tell us what recognition like this means to you and the business?
The Westpac award in 2017 was a total shock – it was the first time I’d entered an awards program and I was just euphoric that my baby Matchboard was named in the top ‘200 Businesses of Tomorrow.’ It gave me a real sense of validation, and having the Westpac logo on my email signature became an instant badge of trust and credibility, which opened doors.
The win gave me confidence to apply for other awards. I admit I did cry when the executive from Optus announced Matchboard as Australia’s ‘Business of the Year,’ in front of 900 people banging on the tables in a drumroll. Someone in the crowd must have been moved by my emotional speech, as they signed up as a client on our website that night. The media recognition was great. I just can’t recommend awards programs highly enough.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m energetic, positive, and focused. I’m also grounded, in that I never compromise family priorities for business.
What’s a fun fact or something people don’t know about you?
In my younger years, I was a tournament Scrabble champion. I love board games, hence the “board” in Matchboard.
Have you had many challenges or hurdles to overcome?
In the early days of Matchboard, my biggest challenge was a debilitating RSI which made it impossible to even type, and I had to use speech recognition software to write emails and proposals, which was awkward and time-consuming. It took a few months to recover, but with perseverance and adopting strict ergonomic measures, I made it.
As a female role model, what advice or lessons learned can you offer others?
My biggest success to date is providing a role model for my daughter, and showing her it’s possible to be a great Mum and run a great business. There are so many Mums showing their daughters the way; I feel very optimistic about a new generation of female entrepreneurs.
My advice to others is to go outside your comfort zone and be willing to explore new adventures – don’t stay stuck in a familiar rut. Build a strong network online – even if you don’t think you need LinkedIn – as whatever you do, those connections will come in handy. Finally, don’t fall for the lure of money if it makes you unhappy in your personal life. Find a balance where you can have your cake and eat it too – I have, so I know it’s possible.
Looking back on your career, is there anything you’d change? Do differently?
My career has taken me to several countries including the US and Israel, and I would do those overseas stints all over again if I had my time over. Packing your bags and moving to a country where you know no-one really builds courage and resilience.
The part I’d probably change is that I should have left big corporate several years earlier, basically as soon as taking the risk of a start-up was financially viable. When you’re not learning anything new, or enjoying work anymore, that’s a signal to leave.
What’s your life like outside of work?
Through COVID-19, I developed a love of nature walks and photographing wildlife and trees and sunsets. I play Scrabble online every day and enjoy song-writing on the side. I think it’s important to have outlets from the stress of work, particularly as a start-up founder, where you’re accountable for everything and have to always be contactable.
And finally, what has start-up life been like for you?
Leaving the corporate rat race to do a start-up was one of the best decisions of my life. Once you’ve had a taste of the freedom – creative, financial, professional and personal freedom that running your business affords – there’s really no turning back.