Bennett Blank’s three principles on staying fresh and relevant: “We’re trying to turn Intuit into a company of 8000 entrepreneurs”9:31AM | Thursday, 18 September
It’s not direct competitors that keep the folks at Intuit up at night; it’s all the startups they don’t know about, according to Intuit innovation catalyst Bennett Blank. The financial software company describes itself as the “30-year-old startup” and Blank says for the last six years it’s been trying to instil startup values in its employees through its Design for Delight program. “There’s lots and lots of pressure from all different angles for established players like Intuit,” Blank says. “In general, being in tech is extremely challenging because it’s changing so rapidly. We like to say it’s not the company’s market competitors that keep us up at night, it’s the kid in a garage outside Stanford that could be about to launch in 30 days. “Which is why we’re trying to turn Intuit into a company of 8000 entrepreneurs.” The program is based on three principles that Blank says can apply to startups and businesses of all shapes and sizes: 1. Deep customer empathy “We try to understand the customer by observing them in the real world,” Blank says. 2. Going broad to go narrow “This is about helping people to employ many solutions until they dive onto the final solution that actually works: brainstorming until they settle on the final option.” 3. Rapid experiments “We’re out there developing experiments in the wild, showing those products. And figuring out through those experiments how to learn new things about the customer. “There’s no success, no failure, just the experiment. Seeing what you learn.” Of the company’s 8000 strong workforce, there are 200 employees that are known as innovation catalysts, specifically trained to help instil Design for Delight values in their colleagues. “We have a rich tradition of entrepreneurship that gives us a head start from other corporations,” Blank says. “We’re somewhat unique in that Intuit has been around for 30 years or so and our founder is still active. “One benefit we’re seeing from Design for Delight is we’re able to react much faster to other companies.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A eulogy for Twitter. Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer argue in The Atlantic that the social media platform is dying. Although Twitter added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million, the pair say Twitter’s users are less active than they once were. “Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.” According to France and Meyer, the question is – did Twitter change or did we? “Twitter used to be a sort of surrogate newsroom/barroom where you could organise around ideas with people whose opinions you wanted to assess. Maybe you wouldn't agree with everybody, but that was part of the fun. But at some point Twitter narratives started to look the same. The crowd became predictable, and not in a good way.” Uber cab confessions. As Uber attempts to upend the Australian taxi market it’s worthwhile taking a look at Mickey Rapkin of GQ’s take on spending a week as an Uber driver. Uber is pricier than your standard taxi. So what's the hook? Instant gratification, a hint of glamour, even some sex appeal. “Uber capitalizes on what economists refer to as ‘slack resources’ or ‘underutilized capacity’,” Rapkin says. “Translation: Why let your car sit idle in the driveway when you can turn it into a cash machine? The future is all about monetising downtime.” Gap alums rule the fashion world. In SFGate, Maghan McDowell writes about the Gap retail program which is known as the Harvard of retailers. "If you're trying to develop a career in retail, you have to do this program," says Stanford graduate Jessica Lee, who chose Gap over Google's Associate Product Manager Program, then under Marissa Mayer, in 2008. "You're not just applying to a job. You're being fostered, and they're basically paying you to learn." But as McDowell discovers, while Gap seems to have no problem attracting and training top talent, holding onto them after they reach middle management seems a more elusive endeavour. “The program remains renowned among retailers, but former Gap trainees have moved on from Gap to lead other companies – or to start their own. Call them the Gap Mafia. They're steadily influencing retail at boundary-pushing brands gaining recognition all over the world.”
Discussion hosted by UTS Business School looks at the need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in Australia3:08AM | Monday, 24 March
The entrepreneurial spirit needs to be fostered in Australia not just among individuals but also within organisations, according to panellists who dissected the challenges facing business at a discussion hosted by UTS Business School. This requires more explicit government policy, readier access to funds and a culture where risk-taking is accepted not punished, they said. Government at all levels, investors, industry and universities all have important roles to play, especially by collaborating. Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur and UTS Business School alumnus Adrian Turner, City of Sydney chief executive officer Monica Barone and AMP Capital Chief Executive Officer Stephen Dunne joined Business School Dean Roy Green in a discussion on the future of business and the future of business education. “It might be an exaggeration to say Australia is at a turning point, but I think everybody would accept that now is a moment for reflection and reassessment of our direction as a country,” Professor Green said, introducing the discussion. “As part of this, universities have a very important role, and business schools a particular role, in identifying the challenges, in identifying the future competitive advantages for this country.” And the challenges Australia faces are serious, he said. “We have seen the end of the terms-of-trade boost that added 15% to our national income over six years. We as a country have to find new and alternative sources of growth and productivity to secure our first-world economy … we have to identify new sources of competitive advantage, creativity and innovation.” Asked where the new sources of growth might come from, Turner said: “I think at the core of it is going to be entrepreneurialism – and entrepreneurialism is not just about startups but key to every facet of the economy, whether it’s small business, medium business or large business.” Entrepreneurialism and innovation are correlated, he said, with innovation being a function of both “creativity and commercialisation” – one didn't matter without the other. However, a big hurdle in Australia is funding, with very small amounts being devoted to venture or development capital in this country, he said. This is driving people with ideas overseas. Ironically, Australian institutional investors could also be found in places like Silicon Valley, partly because government incentives encouraged investment in startups in the United States. “That’s a mark of failure that has to be addressed,” he said. It was also an urgent need because 70% of Australian industry was services based, and such businesses were ripe for disruption by technology, he said. “The best form of defence is attack, by creating these new, disruptive businesses,” he said. “Australia has a very narrow window in which to do that.” The City of Sydney’s Monica Barone said Australia lacked an innovation ethos. “I think one of the things we need to focus on is having an explicit policy around innovation that really helps to address how we want to evolve,” she said. “People could then feel confident to invest or innovate.” From the city’s point of view, if Sydney wanted to be regarded as smart, innovative, youthful and creative it could not afford to lose talent to other cities. “Creative people want to live in a great city, a city where they have proximity to other creative people,” she said. That is happening, Prof Green said. The transformation of the city – from Barangaroo on the inner harbour to Australian Technology Park south of the CBD, and including the $1 billion redevelopment of the UTS City Campus – was more profound than many Sydneysiders had yet recognised, he said. “The creative precinct around us potentially compares with some of the best creative hubs around the world.” The sort of collaboration that this engenders is critically important, AMP Capital’s Stephen Dunne said. “The opportunity to collaborate with your peers, with your competitors, with various levels of government, with research institutions, is very important to solving the issues we face in the Australian economy. “These long-term and critical challenges such as productivity and energy transformation do require collaboration and thinking that no one player can do on their own.” Businesses are created at the intersection of corporates and universities, Turner said. “Some of the things that UTS is proposing here, in creating a ‘clustering’ ecosystem, is exactly what works. It’s that sort of environment at MIT, at Stanford.” Programs such as the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation were also a step in the right direction, he said. Business schools can also play a role in helping organisations “reconceive” themselves in terms of collaboration across a broader system and how they can incorporate entrepreneurialism, Dunne said. “They are often the best placed to provoke and experiment – by encouraging innovation from within.” Lesley Parker is the media officer at UTS Business School
By definition, every start-up plans to get global sooner or later. But scaling a business poorly is one of the fastest ways to kill it, according to two Stanford lecturers. Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao have recently released Scaling up Excellence, which explores how companies from tech superstars to fast food chains have grown and gotten stronger. “Start-ups need to start thinking about scaling a lot earlier than they do,” Sutton says, who adds you don’t need to a perfect organisation to scale well. “A lot of times when people think of scaling up, they think they’re going to focus on the great stuff and spread it. But when you look at organisations that have nailed scaling, they’ve gone from bad to great.” Sutton spoke to StartupSmart from San Francisco about the five biggest myths about scaling and how to overcome them. Myth 1: Scaling is all rapid growth through fast decisions While the scaling story of tech superstars Twitter, Google and Facebook can make it sound like every decision was instant and the implementation took only a tiny bit lower, Sutton says all scaling companies slow down to take the time they need to make the decisions where it matters. “In every case we’ve looked at, including those three, this notion they rushed all the time is just not true. From Google to even Starbucks, all successful global companies go slow sometimes.” A key time to focus on results rather than execution time is hiring staff. “From the very beginning, Google was always very picky about hiring. They only hired very technically skilled who also had the leadership skills to grow with the company no matter how badly they needed a warm body in that chair,” Sutton says. He adds founders shouldn’t shy away from the arrogance these decisions and the corresponding belief the company could become massive requires. Myth 2: Conflict will kill a company As companies grow, arguments are inevitable as teams choose what to focus on. Sutton says learning how to argue well is a critical skill for a scaling company. “To make the best decisions, you need to be clear on how you argue and when you stop arguing. Good teams can have blazing arguments and then move on.” Sutton says part of the success of many tech superpowers has come down to having founders, and later managers and executives, who are willing to model vigorous arguments followed by a resolution all commit too. “Firefox’s John Lilly (chief executive 2008 to 2010) oversaw the company’s growth from 12 to 500,” Sutton says. “He told me he started realising at about 80 people that people had begun to act as though they were afraid of their boss. So he just started having arguments with his immediate team whenever he could. He’d be right or wrong but would always end respectfully and move on.” Sutton says making sure everyone shares an understanding of what medium-term success looks like makes it easier to resolve disagreements and unites a team. Myth 3: Scaling means building the team as quickly as possible According to Sutton, one of the most dangerous myths about start-ups is the belief bigger is better when it comes to teams. “The notion that scaling mandates adding more people is a myth. There is lots of evidence that when you bring on board the wrong people too quickly, it’s deadly.” The pressure to build the team often comes from investors who are keen to see their money put to work. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a start-up still in the product development stage kill itself by hiring sales staff before they’re ready. These guys need to sell, so they sell a product that’s not ready and it’s over,” he says. Sutton says actions such as Israeli start-up Waze’s hiring freeze after raising $20 million should remind start-ups about the virtues of staying lean, as the company went on to be acquired by Google. Myth 4: Our culture will suffer and we need to stay small While cultural death by growth was the fate of Yahoo! and eBay (who later turned it around), Sutton says rapid growth won’t kill a start-up if they’re smart about it. The key to a culture thriving, as well as smarter working, is to keep teams small. “One of the mantras at Amazon is you shouldn’t have a team that can’t be fed by two pizzas,” Sutton says. “The difference between a five person team and say an 11 person team is huge. From battlefields to big corporates, all the evidence shows the maximum is seven before it dissolves into interpersonal contests and missed communications.” Small teams organised in pods is an emerging trend in start-ups. Australian start-up 99designs has used a pod approach for over a year. Sutton adds that scaling can make deeper cultural issues more significant as the organisation widens and effective communications requires more effort. “When you’re trying to scale an organisation and you have destructive behaviour or people, the first order of business is to nip that in the bud because otherwise it’s impossible to grow well.” Myth 5: Bureaucracy and hierarchies should be shunned as they stifle innovation and productivity One of the joys of start-ups is team flexibility. But start-ups need to implement some structure and processes if they want to become global companies. “Staying entrepreneurial and easy to get things done is admirable, but there is a lot of evidence that shows companies need managers, hierarchy and processes,” Sutton says. “There is a fine art of adding just enough process or bureaucracy so you can actually get all the work done. I think it’s admirable that entrepreneurs resist adding that stuff, but if you don’t it’ll turn into an unruly, out of control organisation.” For early stage ventures, Sutton adds it’s essential to work out the leadership structure early or risk confused strategy direction and in-fighting.
Five businesses are in the running for $8,000 in seed capital and a mentoring lunch with Red Balloon’s founder Naomi Simson, after being announced the finalists in Melbourne University’s 2013 Startup competition. The selected companies are: Creatologists, CareAbility, My Wingman, The Fashtag Group, and Projectboard and cover a range of industries including food, recreational services and disability services. The five emerging founders will pitch to a group of private equity and venture capital investors. Competition founder and consumer psychologist academic Dr Brent Coker told StartupSmart the ideas have been getting better and better since he launched the competition in 2009. “In 2009, we had maybe five teams enter, everyone presented their ideas and the winner got a handshake. So it was a pretty small deal,” Coker says. “This year, there were a range of new interesting and feasible ideas that gave us that instant reaction of ‘I wish I’d thought of that’. A few of this year’s entries stood out as exciting with huge potential.” Coker says the development of the standard of the ideas was in line with the growing Melbourne entrepreneurial ecosystem, but also due to some events the university has run to connect programmers to business development students. “One of the things I did this year was get engineers and computer programmers and put them in the same room as the smartest business students. I gave them beer and pizza and tried to get them to mingle, because that’s where the best ideas come from,” he says. Coker says the best business ideas are born from the potent combination of great developers, both from a product but also business perspective. “With these two roles together in the same team, you’re covering each other’s weaknesses,” Coker says. “Engineers are very good at making things, but they try to work out who to sell it to after it’s made. That’s the opposite of how we train our business students, who are trained to find gaps to fill and then create products, but they’re not usually inventors.” He adds the communication hurdles can be big, but worth overcoming. “The biggest challenge is learning to see each other’s point of view. Engineers and programmers are very good at thinking up technologies and what’s possible but the challenge is getting them to understand the business people’s point of view, which is they want to build a fairly simple solution to a problem, and after they’re doing that they’ll care about features,” Coker says. He says many Melbourne University students who are aspiring founders can feel intimidated or disadvantaged by being so far away from Silicon Valley. “Many have the perception that those at Stanford are better than them, but that’s not the case,” Coker says. “We’ve got an advantage here as you don’t need to compete with the Silicon Valley start-ups until you’re really ready.”
Omny, an app allowing users to combine news clips, emails, social media updates and articles via voice-to-text software, launches today after over 20 months in development. Created by 121Cast, the app allows people to create their own customised audio channel. The app also includes a recommendation algorithm to suggest content. 121Cast co-founder and chief operations officer Ed Hooper told StartupSmart they were excited to see it finally launch. “Seeing how it can change people and their behaviour is really exciting, as is the opportunity make that commute period really productive all over the world,” Hooper says. “We’ve all been doing this for so long and everyone knows about it, so how this goes is tied to our personal brands, what we stand for, and our credibility.” Co-founders Long Zheng and Hooper began exploring the idea for the app in 2011. They had previously worked on an international award winning start-up involving farm irrigation automation software. “But it was the GFC and we were still students, so for a whole lot of factors it didn’t work out but it was an amazing journey,” Hooper says, who gave up studying at Stanford to return to Australia to work in the Groupon team just as coupon sales were taking off. He was working at Groupon when Zheng got in touch to talk about how to turn the issue of commute productivity into a business opportunity. “I was constantly looking for a good opportunity, but I didn’t want to jump on something unless it was awesome, because you want to put everything into it. When Long called me up and we started talking about an audio solution that read you your emails and updates, I realised this was it. I literally could not stop thinking about it,” Hooper says. Omny sources content from over 30 providers, from music apps such as Spotify, to news groups such as the ABC and BBC, to Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Hooper says all the early conversations were focused on the difficulties of developing such an app, rather than building a business around it. “Whenever we’ve spoken to potential partners or investors, the assumption is always if we can make the app work, the money stuff will be fine,” Hooper says. “The feedback we got was the idea was there and it could definitely be a business, but also that it was going to be really hard to build and we’d need significant expertise.” They brought on third co-founder and chief technology officer Andrew Armstrong in February 2012. They’ve gone on to hire a front-end developer and a data scientist as well. To guide the development, the 121Cast team launched a test app, SoundGecko, in mid-2012. “We realised we didn’t have a clear idea of what we were creating and needed some real data. We tried surveys and interviews, but it didn’t really get us there. So we took a small fraction of this app, and bundled it as a standalone,” Hooper says. SoundGecko, an app which read websites and PDF documents for users, has almost 50,000 active monthly users. It allowed 121Cast the opportunity to test the reception of voice-to-text, and also the data requirements for sending audio to thousands of users across the world. Over 210,000 people have downloaded SoundGecko on iOS, Android and Microsoft phones. “We found that managing all three platforms was quite hard. As soon as we’d launch a version, we’d see things we needed to change and there were always things we should have done on the first one,” Hooper says. “For the resources we have, it just isn’t feasible to be updating the app on all three platforms. So we’re fine tuning the iOS one while we do the core Android development.” Omny is currently a free app. 121Cast will introduce ads and affiliate marketing in the coming months, and are exploring a premium subscription for launch later next year. “SoundGecko definitely validated that people would pay for the premium features, such as more voices, and the Omny premium subscription will probably not include ads,” Hooper says. Hooper adds financial opportunities will emerge from the user data over time. In order to fund the development, the 121Cast team used their own capital and raised a series of seed investments. “We burnt our own savings and lived off them for quite a while. We decided we were going to do this regardless, and between us we could go for about a year without raising funds. Let’s just build this because we have to do it,” Hooper says. They went on to raise $250,000 from Adventure Capital and the SingTel Optus Innov8 program in November 2012; $20,000 from the University of Melbourne Accelerator program in late 2012, and just over $250,000 from Commercialisation Australia in July 2013. “With the investment, if we knew we need to do something in the future, we started building the relationship as early as possible and find out what’s important to our potential partners and match them on multiple data points,” Hooper says. Hooper says they’re focused on Australia at this stage, but will be looking to expand to the US, United Kingdom and other English speaking markets in the next few years.
Australia has no Silicon Valley, but with a few reforms we could. Australian entrepreneurs rank among the best in the world when it comes to generating business ideas, but when it comes to the commercialisation of ideas, we fall flat. In this year’s Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute index Australia ranked fourth, behind the United States, Sweden and Denmark. Intuitively, fourth seems decent, but dig deeper and there are a number of issues reducing our potential to become a global leader. In terms of the venture capital environment, research suggests Australia is lagging behind most of the developed world. When it comes to gender diversification, the number of male entrepreneurs still outnumbers females by four to one. In terms of the Australian mentality toward entrepreneurialism, our attitude to failure and willingness to encourage entrepreneurialism is markedly different to established entrepreneurial hubs such as the US and Israel. Research from PwC published earlier this year revealed Australia’s economy is likely to fall out of the world’s top 20 by 2050 and with the mining boom ending, the federal government is searching for a sector of the economy to pick up the slack. There are many experts who believe our best bet lies with the entrepreneurial community. SmartCompany has analysed the statistics and spoken to the experts to provide a snapshot of Australia’s entrepreneurial environment – what we do well, what we could do better and how we’re placed globally. Venture capital To kick-start new business ventures, a strong venture capital community is vital. But Australian entrepreneurs are unable to access the same level of funding as other developed nations. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest Entrepreneurship at a Glance report, venture capital spend represented an average 0.03% of GDP internationally in 2012, but in Australia it’s only 0.02%. While Australia is behind the average, Israel greatly exceeds it, with venture capital spend amounting to 0.4% of GDP. The US also dedicates convincingly more than Australia, with venture capital equating to 0.17% of GDP. These higher results are a reflection of more mature markets, but also of the countries’ strengthened support for entrepreneurial endeavours. Other OECD countries which ranked higher than Australia were: Canada, Hungary, Sweden, Ireland, Korea, Finland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, France, Japan, Luxembourg and Belgium. The OECD study also revealed that globally, venture capital spend was 40% lower than in 2007 – bad news for entrepreneurs looking for funding. Ernest and Young’s Oceania Entrepreneur of the Year leader Bryan Zekulich told SmartCompany there has been a decline in the creation of new venture funds over the past three to five years. “Institutional money is hard to come by in the start-up sense since the risk is so high and they’re not willing to take that risk. “The government incentive plans have been appropriate in terms of structure, but the money from the Australian Innovation Investment Fund, which has been established for a long time and is continuing, is just money coming back in from investments and there is no new money in that either,” he says. The Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association Limited 2012 Yearbook found Australia has the lowest number of active venture capital managers doing deals in the last ten years. In 2012, $122 million was invested, a 4% decrease from FY2011. Only 42 new companies received fresh investments. When it comes to fundraising, venture capital funds raised $240 million, an increase of 200% year-on-year, but $200 million of this was raised as part of the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund under the government’s renewable energy venture capital fund co-investment programme. “When start-up companies go to Silicon Valley, there are more companies which have done something similar before and the understanding basis is much higher than here in Australia,” Zekulich says. “They find this to be a huge benefit and when they’re pitching they’re positioned against their peers, people doing similar things to them, and the investor already has an understanding of what they’re doing.” Commercialisation of ideas Market Gap Investments director Mike Sewell told SmartCompany Australian entrepreneurs and businesses have historically been on par with the other developed nations in terms of idea generation, but they’ve struggled with turning ideas into reality. “Australia’s spend on research and development is the same as any industrialised country in the world, but if you look at the commercialisation of ideas, there is a huge difference,” he says. “We don’t have a good track record in investing in ideas, the statistics prove this and there isn’t an easy solution for that, but it’s why people go to Silicon Valley.” However, research suggests in the long term the rate of idea commercialisation could be starting to improve. The most recent 2010-2011 National Survey of Research Commercialisation found there has been a steady increase in the number of invention disclosures and in the number of patents issued to publicly funded research organisations. It also found an increase in the number of capital-raising start-ups and the amount of institutional equity they received. Despite the likely long-term increase in the commercialisation of ideas, the survey found the number of new spin-off companies per $100 million of research expenditure decreased in 2010-2011 to 0.4 from 1.3 in 2009-2010. The research also found the rate of invention disclosure still lags behind the developed world. Per $100 million of research spend, Australia disclosed 28.1 new invention ideas compared to 43.7 in the UK, 41.6 in Canada, 35.8 in the US and 28.4 in Europe. While Australia is struggling to keep up with the invention creation rates of the UK and the US, we are getting more value for money. The income of the start-up spin-off companies has increased from $2,000 per $100 million in research expenditure in 2008-2009, to $6,000 in 2010-2011. Zekulich says part of Australia’s problem with ideas commercialisation stems from a lack of business mentors. “We don’t have a lot of overt mentors and leaders for start-up companies to give them some degree of framework to be successful. We talk about commercialisation, but that looks at the structure of the business, the processes, how you go about the marketing and generally making start-ups a bit more professional than many are. “It’s really about having a professional way to manage the front and back office of the business. Many start-ups lose their way and their idea dies in terms of excitement and enthusiasm. Many start-up companies have a really tough first year, but if they get through it and get the practices going well then they’re more likely to succeed,” he says. Gender diversity This year the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index ranked Australia the second best environment for female entrepreneurs, behind the US, but male entrepreneurs outnumber females four to one. Statistics from the global entrepreneurship group Entrepreneurs’ Organisation show males represent more than 85% of members. President of the Melbourne EO chapter, David Barnes, told SmartCompany that this is despite efforts to grow the number of females in the organisation. “Sydney and New Zealand seem to be able to attract more female entrepreneurs, in New Zealand females account for around 40% of the members, but we’ve always struggled in Melbourne and Perth. “Since we’ve had more females come on board we’ve started attracting other quality female entrepreneurs, but there are still a lot more males,” he says. Despite efforts from organisations such as EO, the OECD survey shows little has changed globally since 2000. “Women remain substantially underrepresented as entrepreneurs. Men are two to three times more likely to own businesses with employees than women,” the report stated. “Online in a few countries the gap has significantly narrowed, namely Chile, Korea and Mexico.” The OECD average shows women make up approximately 23% of the entrepreneurs in each country. Once again Australia was behind the average, with females accounting for roughly 18% of the entrepreneurial community, although Australia was ranked ahead of the US, Israel and the UK. Greece was leading the way, with females making up more than 40% of the entrepreneurial population. Alarmingly, the OECD found overall that self-employed women earned “much less than men” and in all countries the gender gap in earnings from self-employment was greater than the wage gap. Zekulich says while Australia has a small female entrepreneurial representation, this is partly due to social factors. “We find overwhelmingly female entrepreneurs reach a level of revenue which they are comfortable with and remain there,” he says. “For whatever reason, they are savvier about risk taking and they consider risk a whole lot more than their male counterparts, which makes them less inclined to take risks their male counterparts will.” This article continues on page 2. Mentality In terms of business growth, Sewell says Australian entrepreneurs, in general, frequently make the decision not to grow their businesses over a certain point. “Often Australian business owners who are making $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 a year decide they’re happy with it and they don’t have an incentive to scale the business,” he says. “People make lifestyle choices that we don’t necessarily understand either. I think, why don’t you try to grow the business to $10 million or $20 million, because many could do that with what they’ve got, but they’re happy.” Sewell says business owners find once the business exceeds 15 or 20 people “the game changes”. “People decide they don’t like it past 20, it’s a different game. This is possibly a lifestyle choice or a business size choice,” he says. “You make the decision at $5 million that that’s as big as you want to be. But the market changes and if you have a profitable niche today and haven’t capitalised on it, then someone will either compete with you, or the market will change and leave you behind.” Sewell says too few business owners realise it’s better to change the business structure and become an investor, rather than an operator, allowing a professional management firm to run it, than to fail to adapt and grow. Attitude to growth isn’t the only way Australian businesses differ to their US counterparts. Sewell says the Australian approach to failure limits the entrepreneurial environment. “We don’t accept failure, if a business person fails here, that’s it, they’re done. But in reality you have to fail, it’s a part of life,” he says. “You’ve got to work with your customers and sometimes your customers don’t even know what they want, so you invest in the wrong things and you fail.” Co-founder and lead investor of AngelCube, Adrian Stone, told SmartCompany the US’s big advantage is their embrace of business failure. “Failure isn’t seen the way it is here. In Israel too, a country which has the greatest number of start-ups per capita and the second largest in the world, failure is actually a badge of honour.” Stone says in order for entrepreneurial communities to work, fundamentally the drive has to come from the entrepreneurs themselves. Changing this attitude to failure, he says, is crucial to Australia’s entrepreneurial capacity. “We need to get to this point, but it’s a cultural thing. Maybe we can talk about our failures more often. It’s moving this way in tech start-ups, there is a move toward the lean start-up and it’s all about failing often and failing fast,” he says. Barnes says there is now a negative stigma around business failure. “The media publishes things when businesses go into voluntary administration and say they’ve collapsed. But going into administration is a normal business process. “There are other people which have had four, five or six successful businesses, and going into administration or “failing” is the realisation you’re not going to hit your goals.” ‘Let’s move overseas’ attitude Motivated by the ease of attracting funding in the US, including its extensive entrepreneurial environment and positive start-up culture, a goal of many Australian entrepreneurs is to shift their business to the US. Chief executive of the world’s largest outsourcing platform Freelancer.com.au Matt Barrie told SmartCompany the venture capital model in Australia is “completely and utterly broken”, with the exception of groups such as Blackbird and AngelCube, and this is driving entrepreneurs away. “The traditional model of Australian venture capital is they’ll finance you early on if you can find someone, everyone will write you a cheque for $20,000 or $50,000 and maybe $100,000, but that first $1 million to $5 million is very difficult,” he says. “Even if you manage to attract $1 million or $2 million in funding, the venture capitalist will do all the hard work with you and then tell you to go to the US for further funding.” At this point after a round of funding the Australian tech start-up might have won $5 million to $10 million in funding, and Barrie says the Australian company will be under pressure to move to the US. “The US team then says you need a US chief executive and the team partially moves to the US, and then comes a US management team. This eventually dilutes all the Australian shareholders. Then they say the company is undercapitalised, which it is, you need to raise $20 million,” says Barrie. “Then the Aussie venture capitalist runs out of money gets kicked off the board and the US CEO then has a US management and US shareholders, but an offshore development team. When the Australian dollar is 60 cents or 70 cents it might make sense to have an offshore development team, but when the Australian dollar was $1.05, it was more expensive to hire a Sydney graduate than a Stanford graduate.” The net result, Barrie says, is that the Australian company’s operations are eventually moved to a cheaper location and the business becomes effectively another American company. Barrie says to counter this problem the Australian Securities Exchange needs to be “built up” as a route for financing technology companies and arousing liquidity. “We do it in mining tremendously well. You can have a PowerPoint presentation, not even a drill hole in the ground, and raise $20 million on the ASX. “The Australian mining industry is a world powerhouse and we need to do it with technology because mining is running out. There has been more money raised on the ASX in the past five years than NASDAQ, so it’s one of the biggest financial markets in the world and we need to be doing this for start-ups,” he says. Government action The experts were unanimous that the push for change needs to come from the entrepreneurial community, rather than government action, but all agreed there are a number of policies which could be altered to better the entrepreneurial environment. Barnes says payroll tax is harming the small business community. “Payroll tax is just a joke – no business owner likes paying payroll tax,” he says. “Businesses are going to move their staff offshore so they can lower the costs of doing business. It seems unfair to incur a 4-5% payroll tax for employing people when we’re also paying the superannuation increase. It’s another 7-8% on top of the base wage just to employ people.” Sewell says the government would also be able to restructure its tax system to better favour investment. “The tax deductibility of losses and capital losses, you could change the way they are treated to encourage investment. The system now is that you quarantine your losses against particular assets, but there would be a more effective tax structure because at the moment it’s not conducive to investments,” he says. Stone says the government needs to “chip in and put their money where their mouth is” to help fund Australian businesses. “Commercialisation Australia does a lot to help entrepreneurs, but they need to take their lead from Singapore, UK, and Israel where they give loans to match those of investors,” he says. “The government needs to recognise that it’s worthy of investment. The way it works is it provides a loan which is repayable, almost all the loans get paid back and this goes a long way to fostering the community.” Stone says the education system also needs to be changed to better encourage entrepreneurialism from a young age. “I’d like to see all kids to try and start an online business and I think the support of doing this would help them a lot. My son started his first business when he was 12 and he’s now onto his third business and earning enough to support himself. “For me entrepreneurship, I believe it’s learning by doing. You can do university courses, but it needs to be like vocational training almost. Start a business and then get right. It might succeed or fail, but it doesn’t matter.” Ultimately, Stone says it’s about encouraging more people to have a go. “Be willing to have a go and withstand the consequences. Don’t be results driven, do something you love and don’t be hung up on your result good bad or indifferent,” he says. This story first appeared on SmartCompany.
Always scrambling for a pen or pencil? A new invention called the Grip Clip is aimed at ending this frustration, albeit in a rather conspicuous way. The Grip Clip is a piece of soft plastic, which slides onto the user’s glasses. It can hold a pencil, pen or other similarly sized object. It was created by Atticus Anderson and Blake Crowe, two graduating Stanford students majoring in mechanical engineering-product design “Whether your glasses are on your head, hanging on your shirt, or actually on your face, a Grip Clip turns your glasses into a useful tool,” the duo says in a Kickstarter campaign “After extensive testing in our secret laboratory, we have found that the Grip Clip can successfully hold many different sizes and shapes of objects. “We set out to hold a pencil, but have been constantly surprised at what it will hold! It’s a tough little clip.” Students and office workers are always appreciative of tools that make their jobs easier. Can you think of any ideas that are similar to the Clip Grip?
The Australian general manager of US-based car service Uber has offered start-ups some advice after spending five years in Silicon Valley, as the business gears up for its Australian launch. Uber, based in San Francisco, is an on-demand car service where drivers pick up users based on iPhone, Android, SMS and web-based requests. Last month, Uber confirmed its intention to launch in Australia, posting job descriptions for an operations manager and a community manager, having already hired a general manager. That person is David Rohrsheim, who is heading up Uber’s expansion to Sydney after spending five years in Silicon Valley, where he not only worked but attended Stanford Business School. Ahead of Uber’s Sydney launch next week, Rohrsheim shares his insights about start-ups: Never stop moving “I was a bit of an IT geek as a kid. I studied engineering at uni but was encouraged to do a double degree in finance, so I would understand more than just engineering,” Rohrsheim says. “I spent a few years working with [global management consulting firm] Bain and then was introduced to a VC firm in San Francisco, Draper Fisher Jurvetson.” “I worked for them for two-and-a-half years… It was an ideal way to meet a lot of people in a short period of time. I was welcomed into the valley.” “I then applied to Stanford Business School, which was just down the road… Almost half of the people in venture capital [in Silicon Valley] have a Stanford MBA.” “I decided it would just be a fun experience. I thought of it as a gift I gave myself.” Be driven by the cause, not the title “The biggest change in my mindset over the last five years is to actively pursue projects I’m passionate about… It’s important to solve a problem that matters to you.” “I do think too many people start businesses – and this is all around the world – because they think it’s sexy or they want the CEO title.” “Start-ups are such hard work that if it isn’t your main reason for being alive, eventually you will give up on one of the down days.” Silicon Valley is hard work “You’re encouraged to get on the plane and go to Silicon Valley, where it will all work out.” “I think sometimes people are expecting too much. They expect to arrive and for it to just start happening… Get as much of [your] story together before you arrive over there.” “There’s a lot of magic there but you’ve got to get some runs on the board first.” Don’t be afraid to come home “It was a tough choice to come back… I had many more friends in San Francisco than anywhere else in the world.” “I wanted to work for a disruptive consumer technology company, and there’s lots of them there, but in the back of my mind I knew I would come home one day.” “I didn’t think it would be so soon, but the Uber opportunity was one of the most interesting jobs I could imagine back in Australia.” Get frustrated “I am personally frustrated by how long we have to wait for innovative services in Silicon Valley to move down to Australia.” “Every day I am longing for Amazon Prime and Turntable.fm. I am highly motivated to shorten that gap, and Uber is just my first project.” “Australians are tech-savvy, wealthy and share a common language, so we deserve to have the latest from Silicon Valley earlier.”
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Perhaps ironically for someone whose business relies on outsourcing tasks Matt Barrie has a very do-it-yourself approach to entrepreneurship.
Most people know that social media giant Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg who, at the age of 23, was studying psychology at Harvard University.