How does it feel to leave an established corporate career for start-up life? Dmitri Colebatch is finding out fast, joining the early team at Junipa after nearly 20 years at Toyota in Australia and the US.

Dim knew he was ready for something smaller when took a career break in July. But good talent doesn’t stay on the shelf for long (especially in 2022) and a casual golf match with a friend soon became a job interview. By August he’d started at Junipa, a SaaS start-up helping schools to collect, analyse and report data relating to students’ needs.

Junipa aims to help teachers focus on teaching, by replacing a time-consuming compliance burden with an integrated solution that provides insights to unlock vital student support, in the classroom and beyond.

From big to (very) small

As Chief Customer and Operations Officer, Dim’s focus is on growth, including sales, customer success and business maturity. But as Junipa’s third full-time employee, his role is more fluid than he’s experienced before; “So far, I’ve cut code, provided support, pitched and sold to customers, reviewed finances, and led the establishment of shared priorities for the next quarter.”

Dim is committed to learning, inspired by entrepreneurs’ drive to challenge the status quo and take risks that aren’t possible for big corporates. At the same time, established businesses like Toyota provide a masterclass in leverage, having proven process efficiency at scale. There’s huge potential when a humble mind can combine the best of both worlds.

Beyond work-life

While start-up life can feel all-consuming, his position at Junipa is just one of his roles in life. He is a committed family man to his wife, kids and dogs – his “four-legged children”.

“First and foremost, I’m a husband and a father. My wife gives me the freedom to be me, and to take on crazy challenges like leaving a safe senior management role at Toyota and looking for something completely different!”

His days typically start with exercise, either walking the dogs, or riding with a close-knit group called “The Pirates”. Riding is an important outlet for him, as well as a channel for the group’s shared values (the group has raised impressive sums of money through charity rides). Beyond their cycling, Dim describes these friends as his support network, perhaps his equivalent of Nick Crocker’s Elephants group.  

Dim is also passionate about gender equality. On the weekend, you’ll find him coaching his daughter’s football team, where he’s been working to expand the female side.

But alongside these noble pursuits, Dim doesn’t take himself too seriously. You’ll see his LinkedIn profile lists winning a school no-hands jelly-eating competition together with his numerous professional accomplishments. He decided to let his daughter add this as demonstration of the importance of authenticity online. This was his only school award, and he’s owning it.

Navigating the non-negotiables

Dim knows his priorities at a fundamental level; “Time with my family will always be #1”. But he also admits that planning his time at work and beyond is “a weak point”. He describes his tendency to jump into what’s most visible, rather than taking a moment to consider what’s most valuable. He’s aware a fixation on start-up priorities can compromise the personal ones – something he’s conscious to guard against.

Family dinner has long been a non-negotiable in his household, and with two teenage children, being available on their terms is increasingly important: a late-night chat or a workout during the workday.

He’s proud that he could role model work-family balance at Toyota. He had a strict no-email policy during family breaks, deleting all incoming mail and including in his OOO message that any important emails should be resent when he’s back. But he also knows that’s an easier stand in a large business.

“I don’t yet know how I’ll manage this in a start-up context as I know it’s one of the key differences between working ‘for yourself’ and working in a corporate context.”

Engineering serendipity

Dim also values spontaneity, seeking to “engineer serendipity”. At Toyota he’d allow time to chat to someone new. Dim says, “I’d pop my head up meerkat-style to find someone I hadn’t chatted to for a while, and drag them off for a walk down the street to get a coffee”. He’d also allow time to walk different corridors or enter different doors, hoping to spark a new conversation. The start-up equivalent has been booking lots of coffees to share experiences and learn from others.

What generic time management advice has never worked? “Focus on what you can control… I think it’s stupid for someone whose job is made infinitely harder by something outside their control to ignore that”. Dim doesn’t settle for that status-quo, but seeks to influence even what seems unchangeable. Surely an entrepreneur at heart! 

Community ask

“Keep teaching me!” Dim loves connecting with people, aiming for a coffee catch-up at least once a week.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn, and learn more about his work at Junipa.