The secret to launching a successful startup at 20? Tammy Green says it comes down to having the right people on your side. Here, the founder of Prene talks about finding allies in unlikely places – including her bank.

BY FIONA BARON

TAMMY GREEN WAS just 20 years old when her vegan-friendly neoprene bags started making waves. Launched from a bedroom at her family’s home in Melbourne, her label, Prene Bags, quickly amassed a cult following in Australia and overseas.

Not even a global pandemic could stop her burgeoning business, although it did make things more complicated. As Green, now 26, puts it, “Business as usual… has been unusual.” The company has had to deal with raw material supply issues, manufacturing and transit delays, and increased production costs. When wholesale orders were cancelled and retail stores closed, Green redoubled her efforts online, directing her focus to the ecommerce space.

“Business is about solving problems, and that’s exactly what we did,” she says. Green was eventually rewarded with strong growth in 2020 and 2021, exceeding everyone’s expectations. “Miraculously, the past two years have been our most successful to date.”

Proof positive

Despite appearances, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the accessories entrepreneur. Early on, she found her age to be an issue. “As a young woman, I really struggled with people taking me seriously,” says Green. “I was often dismissed as ‘just a kid’ or asked, ‘Could you put your boss on the phone?’ No-one seemed to believe that a young woman could actually own and operate a booming business.”

She admits she found it unnerving in the early days. “I was scared to speak on the phone. I’d only write emails, because the second they heard my voice, they could tell that I was young. It just changed their whole attitude towards me.”

Green also struggled with the fact she didn’t have a university degree, having dropped out of her business entrepreneurship course when she failed the accounting and statistics subjects. But the would-be setback spurred her to scale her bag side hustle into a fully fledged business. “It made me want to prove to myself that this blip in my journey would not hold me back from realising my ambition to be my own boss. And I did.”

It helped that she’d already shown a talent for business. “I was quite entrepreneurial from a young age,” Green says, “whether selling homemade crafts outside my house when I was little, or selling repurposed market finds on eBay. Luckily, I did quite well out of those, so I always knew I had potential and I knew to really trust my gut, follow my dreams and go for it.”

Support crew

Her support network also proved invaluable. As Prene took off, Green benefited from loyal colleagues and stakeholders, plus a circle of strong female friends. She was also able to count on her parents. In addition to giving her advice on the legal and logistical requirements of running a business, they helped her unload trucks and pack orders.

But most importantly, they were there to pick me up when I was overwhelmed or stressed,” Green says. “I couldn’t have done it without them, and they still help me today.”

Her bank proved vital, too, particularly her one-on-one relationship with NAB private client executive Natalie Irvine. “It’s a privilege to have private banking,” Green says. “And I feel very lucky to know and work with a successful woman like Natalie, who is forever encouraging the success of other women.”

Dream believer

Like Green, Irvine’s passion has defined her career – as has her determination to champion others.

The seed was planted early: the daughter of working-class immigrants, Irvine has experienced firsthand what it’s like to pursue your dreams and receive the support you need. When she was 13, Irvine and her father would get up at 3.50 each morning to drive to swimming training, a 50-minute journey. “My dad would sleep in the car for two hours while I trained,” Irvine recalls. Come evening, the two of them would once again be back at the pool.

A banker of 15 years, Irvine appreciates the direction and support she has received from her employer throughout her career. Most noteworthy was when she returned from parental leave to lead NAB ‘s large agribusiness team, looking after divisions in Victoria and New South Wales.

“It meant that I was away a lot overnight,” she explains. As a first-time mum who lived regionally, she questioned whether she could take on a senior full-time role. “I couldn’t comprehend how that would work logistically. I was so conscious of being a mum, but then I wanted to be an executive as well.”

Irvine took her concerns to her employer and together they arrived at a solution. Thanks to NAB, Irvine’s ever-supportive parents were able to travel with her on overnight trips so she didn’t have to be away from her child (and, later, children) for long periods.

To this day, Irvine is grateful. “It meant that I could have my children near me while I worked,” she says. “It gave me this amazing opportunity to be a mum in a really hands-on, but different, way.”

Spreading the word

Irvine says it’s important to talk about these experiences. “People don’t know support like that exists unless you share the stories.” Green agrees. “I hope that by sharing my story, I can encourage other women to go for their goals – to know that they can do it,” she says.

“Success is not gender-based. I’m not the first success story, and I won’t be the last.”

Both acknowledge that the support they have received at all levels has been fundamental to their success. “It takes a village to have a fulfilling life and career,” says Irvine. “Allow the village to support your story.”