Leading US investor Jonathan Teo will visit Melbourne next month to meet local start-ups and entrepreneurs and speak at an event hosted by investor group Investors’ Org. Adrian Stone, chairman of Investors’ Org, which organised Teo’s visit, said in a statement the group was “super excited” that Teo was visiting and checking out Melbourne’s start-up sector. “In recent years Melbourne has been home to a number of very successful start-ups, including 99designs, Kaggle and Catch of the Day, and RetailMeNot,” Stone says. RetailMeNot recently listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the US. Teo is the managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners and was involved with Twitter, which is estimated to be worth around $11 billion, Instagram, which was sold to Facebook for $1 billion and Snapchat, a photo-sharing platform valued at $800 million. While in Melbourne, Teo is also due to meet government innovation officials. Teo has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Sydney University, a Masters from Stanford University in the US and managed several engineering teams at Google. His profile on the General Catalyst Partners website says his areas of investment interest are consumer internet services and infrastructure. In a recent interview with Forbes, Teo said while he didn’t know what the next big thing in consumer applications would be, he has been focusing his efforts “on culture and its enablement in the digital realm”. “My job is not to read the future, but to see the needs of people all around the world (thus all the international interest) and find the common threads of need and desire that can be expressed through product,” he told Forbes.
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.
Failure. It’s an ominous word that comes with plenty of negative connotations. Especially in Australia where success is celebrated and failure frowned upon. Just look at the adulation heaped on successful sportspeople compared with the ire directed at those who don’t meet expectations, like the Australian cricket team. But for many in Australia’s entrepreneurial community, failure is not a scary concept. In fact, it’s embraced and welcomed for the learning opportunities it can provide, lessons that can take entrepreneurs further down the road to success. As such, they say the attitude to failure in Australia needs to change so that entrepreneurs and start-ups are encouraged to take risks without the fear of being stigmatised if they fail. Here’s what Aaron Birkby, a co-founder at incubator Silicon Lakes, AngelCube co-founder Adrian Stone, Blue Chilli’s chief executive Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin and Innovyz Start managing director Dr Jana Matthews, say are the best things about failure. Learning from mistakes It’s the most obvious thing to take from failure. If you or someone else has done something wrong, you know not to do it again. Birkby, Stone, Eckersley-Maslin and Matthews all highlighted this as a key positive of failure. “Failure is an opportunity to learn,” says Stone, while Birkby says: “Success can only teach us what works. Failure teaches us what doesn’t.” Matthews says mentors at Innovyz Start take part in a panel discussion to talk about their worst mistakes and what they learned. “As people ‘go public’ about their mistakes and failures, others learn how to recognise the patterns and not make those mistakes themselves,” she says. Eckersley-Maslin points out that “if you fail and lose a couple of hundred thousand dollars, you won’t do that again”. Builds “character” As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Birkby says failure builds emotional intelligence and intuition, with the “street smarts” fundamental to being a successful entrepreneur coming from experience. “Those experiences are a multitude of varying degrees of success and failure, both of which teach us in different ways,” he says. Eckerlsey-Maslin says failure teaches people to be humble about success. “We’re great at supporting the underdog in Australia, but we do have a problem with the `tall poppy syndrome’. Being successful can be confused with arrogance.” He adds that failure teaches people not to fear failure. Stone says while failure is “inevitable”, it’s part of the scientific process of discovery and should be embraced by business for the same reason. Matthews notes that failure can reveal a lot about individuals in a team. “When something doesn’t turn out as planned, does your team spend time analysing the data and asking why this happened, or shifting blame from person to person?” she says. “Failure can be a crucible that enables you to learn the truth about people sooner, rather than later when it’s more difficult and expensive to make changes.” Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Provides motivation and boosts appetite for risk “Humans are engineered to be motivated by both seeking pleasure and avoiding pain,” says Birkby. “So failures can become as motivating as our successes.” Birkby also says that failure can build risk tolerance levels and courage, enabling people to take greater and smarter business risks in the future. Eckersley-Maslin agrees. “To be entrepreneurial you have to break rules and take risks,” he says. “With risk comes failure. Failure teaches you to push the limits.” He adds that pushing those limits teaches entrepreneurs where the “edge” is so it can be avoided. “If you fear failure, you’ll never be there.” Failing fast and early Stone says failing fast and failing often is now a key strategy of a new wave of start-ups. “It encourages businesses to launch much earlier than they otherwise would, and show products and services to their customers that may still have imperfections or even gaping holes, all for the purpose of seeing if their ideas can succeed or fail much earlier,” he says. “If customers like what they see, the founders can quickly and iteratively improve their products. If customers don’t like what they see, the founders can get back to the drawing board much earlier and try and try again.” Matthews also sees benefits in the fail fast and early concept. “It’s good to fail early, when recovery is easy and doesn’t cost much,” she says, adding that companies in ANZ Innovyz Start’s program “fail” and pivot several times during their 13-week course. Don’t give up Stone notes that it’s suggested Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before finding the right filament for his lightbulb invention. “Where would be we if Edison gave up, even after the 900th attempt,” he says. “You will probably fail in 100 small things and a few large ones as you try and start your own business; the only real failure is when you give up. It only takes one success to wipe out all of those prior failures.” Matthews has a similar view, recounting the story of a college student asking an entrepreneur what they needed to do to become as successful as the entrepreneur. “The answer was: ‘Be prepared to fail at least seven times’.” “Each time you fail, you can deduct one more from the magic number of `seven’ failures. But this only works if you take time to learn from something that didn’t turn out as expected. Study the pattern of problems, recognise the signs, and don’t make that mistake again,” Matthews says. For Birkby, failure means that “you actually showed up in the first place”. “True failure is really not participating at all.”
What are the main issues Australian start-ups are grappling with? Accountancy and business advisor network DFK recently conducted a survey of its clients and staff to identify the top 10. We’ve already highlighted number 10, cloud computing, and number nine, exit strategies. The beefy Australian dollar is in at number eight, while political uncertainty is seventh, growing pains number six, while number five is how to hire and keep staff or let them go quickly. Number four was falling consumer consumption and number three is tax. We’re now at issue number two -- funding. The DFK survey shows the second hardest challenge for start-ups is – not surprisingly – funding. Raising money is tough – especially if you have few assets and no useful network – but don’t give up! There are opportunities out there. The banks are usually very restrictive when it comes to lending money to start-ups, especially if you have little or no assets yourself. Still, there are opportunities, it all depends on you. What is your experience? How long have you been in the industry you’re planning to start the business in? Do you have good references? Do you have a great mentor to support you? How do you carry yourself? So, you tick all those boxes? Well, pull up your socks even further. Create the best business plan that there ever was. Be sure your business plan contains all the different parts: organisational, marketing, operational, financial and risk analysis, etc. If you don’t know how to do it, get someone to help you. There are plenty of different solutions. Use your accountant or business advisor or do it yourself – just Google business plans. The level of funding required will vary. “It depends what business you’re starting, but if it’s not cost intensive, maybe the balance on your credit card will be enough. Of course, if you’re going into heavy manufacturing then other solutions are necessary,” says Cheree Woolcock, partner of DFK Australia New Zealand. ANZ has recently announced that they are targeting the small business market, so it looks like NAB will get some competition, which is good for you. Recently, Nick Reade, ANZ general manager of small business, was quoted in The Australian saying many banks don’t play in the start-up field: “There are a couple of hundred thousand new small businesses every year and we feel that we need to be in that market.” “We can only applaud the bank for being active. Who knows what business Australia would have missed out on, due to lack of capital,” thinks Woolcock. ANZ said it was now approving more than seven out of ten lending applications from new small operations, a proportion it wants to increase. This development is gaining pace, and as we see here at SUS, many new businesses are online-only. “We see that some banks have been reluctant to lend to online-only business, but I think banks also need to adjust to the cloud-business-world,” says Woolcock. There are other choices for people now as well, particularly in the start-up space. There is a lot of hype around angel investors, seed capital and crowdfunding, so people might not be as willing to go to the bank. Adrian Stone knows this better than anyone else as co-founder of Angel Cube and winner of the Best Start-up Investor award. They take a minority equity stake in internet companies and in return provide seed capital, mentorship, marketing, connections, administrative help and support services (such as legal, accounting and office space). “I don’t see anyone around me using the bank system. By the time they react, the business is already up and running, and sold. The lifecycle for our entrepreneurs is four years,” says Stone. The web-based businesses in Australia (and elsewhere) are working in an environment characterised by low costs and high speed. “The entrepreneurs that go through our program are walking out with $150,000 to $200,000 after six to nine months,” tells Stone. So there is hope out there for your business too. How to best get funding within the bank system: Polish and perfect yourself and your skills Organise credible references Produce an outstanding business plan Keep a clean credit history Start your business in different steps with the funding you get How to best get funding outside the bank system: Government grants – plus there are many other grants as well, locally, different areas and for particular business owners Angel investors Crowdfunding Seed funding is a form of securities offering where an investor purchases part of a business. There are many different types of funding depending on what sector your business is in.
An international stock exchange aimed at solving start-up capital issues went live this week, launched by René Römer, chief executive of the Dutch Caribbean Securities Exchange. The StartUp Stock Exchange (SSX) is a global marketplace that connects entrepreneurs to investors. It is designed for early stage start-ups looking to raise growth and development capital. The SSX was founded by serial entrepreneurs Ian Haet and Brian Niessen, who say capital is an ongoing issue for start-ups not based in major start-up hot spots such as Silicon Valley, New York and London. “Worldwide many entrepreneurs are building excellent businesses but don’t have access to the funding they need. At the same time, investors of all sizes don’t have access to vetted companies and diverse early stage opportunities,” Haet says in a statement. Haet told StartupSmart that Australian start-ups would be interested in participating in the exchange because it would connect them to a pool of international investors and give them greater fundraising flexibility. “As an entrepreneur myself, I know that fundraising can become a dominant activity for a young company,” he says. Start-up companies have to apply and be vetted by the SSX before being able to raise funds, and investors have to be verified before they can start investing. “Once verification is complete, investors can fund their client account and pledge to buy shares of our initial public offerings (IPO’s),” said Haet in a release. “We are commencing with two IPOs: a daily private sales company and Software as a Service (Sas) company, focused on small business compliance.” Based in Willemstad, the capital city of the Caribbean island-nation of Curacao, the SSX complies with the legal framework of regulations of the Dutch Caribbean Securities Exchange (DCSX), an international exchange for listing and trading securities. Haet told StartupSmart the SSX would be a good fit for companies looking to raise between $100,000 and $2,500,000 (USD). “Every company that lists must pass a six-step vetting process that reviews business plan, team, corporate and legal factors. At each step SSX provides actionable feedback so the company is also receiving advice along the way,” says Haet. Adrian Stone, co-founder of start-up accelerator AngelCube and investor group Investor Inc, told StartupSmart that anything that provided liquidity for start-ups was welcome, but the initiative would need time to develop. “The whole point of the exchange is to provide liquidity, but just because you hang your shingle up and say you’re a stock exchange doesn’t mean you’ll actually get it for investors or companies,” says Stone. “Small stock exchanges haven’t typically raised the critical mass needed for the liquidity for investors. They have lots of ground to be covered before they can prove they’re doing what they aim to for start-ups and investors.” Stone added that even if the exchange did take off, start-ups were still likely to find themselves needing to raise the majority of their funds through other means. “It might be a good way to top up the funds, but won’t be a panacea to the big problem of raising money. You’ll still have to raise the bulk of the money from your networks,” he says.
Finding a co-founder is one of those things that can happen in an instant or it can take months of fruitless searching. While a lot of it depends on an entrepreneur’s networks and specific requirements, it seems there is also an element of luck involved, and not everyone is fortunate enough to find their co-founder in a chance meeting. Indeed, some entrepreneurs go to great lengths to find the perfect co-founder. Melbourne-based entrepreneur Marc Harrison offered a $2,000 bounty during his hunt for tech co-founders, while Sydneysider Ryan Wardell set up Cofounder Speed Date following his own struggle to find a sidekick. Even start-up powerhouses like Pollenizer have been known to put the feelers out for co-founders. Earlier this week, Pollenizer said it was seeking co-founders for four of its start-ups. And these start-ups aren’t duds either. One would involve a partnership with a Skype co-founder while the other would involve working with the former chief executive of CareerOne. It’s also worth noting an increasing number of accelerators have specific requirements regarding co-founders. In January, StartupSmart spoke to Australian start-up 7write.com about its struggle to find a third co-founder after being selected as a finalist for Startupbootcamp Amsterdam. On its website, Startupbootcamp Amsterdam says it prefers teams with three or more founders. “You can apply with two founders but to really accelerate your start-up we prefer a strong team of three people,” it says. Closer to home, Melbourne-based start-up accelerator AngelCube recently announced it won’t be taking on sole founders in future rounds. “I think we’ve learnt some lessons from the last round,” AngelCube co-founder Adrian Stone told StartupSmart in April. “We had too many sole founders and quickly realised being a sole founder is too much of a big task… [in a three-month program]. “[We realised] our program is not going to happen for a sole founder. We’re looking much more at teams. “I think what we’ve learnt is one founder is too few and four is too many. The jury’s out on whether two or three is right.” This means more start-ups are scrambling to find good talent, and find it fast. One entrepreneur facing this predicament is Tablo Publishing founder Ash Davies, who was named Best Young Entrepreneur at the 2013 StartupSmart Awards in March. Tablo Publishing helps authors publish their work from anywhere in the world and reach a global network of iBookstores. Davies, who has been accepted into the AngelCube program, told StartupSmart he is looking for a tech co-founder. “I am now four weeks into [the program] and working very hard and am at the point now where I could go a lot further if I had someone alongside me,” Davies says. “I’m looking for someone with great technical skills who can build applications but also someone with a strong sense of vision. “The biggest thing I’m looking for is someone who is able to learn fast.” Davies admits it is a tough process. “It’s like dating. You’ve got to match the personality as much as the skills,” he says. So how does one find a co-founder? StartupSmart spoke to Pollenizer co-founder Mick Liubinskas to determine what’s involved. Show your face Liubinskas says Australian start-ups don’t have the luxury of waiting for the right person to present themselves, so if you need a co-founder you have to make it happen. “Being in Australia we don’t have what the Valley or Israel have, where you can find lots and lots of co-founders waiting to take the risk,” he says. “The challenge is talented people who won’t take the risk or people who will take the risk but aren’t talented. “You want to find someone who’s so good they could possibly do it by themselves. The thing I encourage people to do is go to as many events as possible.” Conduct a trial “Say to people, ‘Hey, when we have a cup of coffee let’s sketch out one idea’,” Liubinskas says. “Try to work together as quickly as you can but don’t make [the project] so small that people can give it up easily. Be very aware that’s not going to give you [what you need].” Make them an offer “You have to have a clear idea and pitch it very strongly. Be specific about what you do and drive it as much as you can. You also need to put out an attractive offer,” Liubinskas says. “If you’re a non-technical person who’s really trying to get started, you may have to give them more equity. “You also need to make sure any equity is vested and that should apply to you as well. At Pollenizer, everyone’s equity for effort is earned over time.” Do as much as you can beforehand Finding any kind of co-founder is difficult, says Liubinskas, but finding a tech co-founder is particularly tricky because they are in such high demand and therefore receive lots of offers. In this situation, Liubinskas says entrepreneurs should attempt to do as much of the work as they can on their own. “Good entrepreneurs will always find a way and that’s part of the fun,” he says. “There are a lot of platforms where you can do manual testing without building a product. Once you actually start building, everything can actually slow down. “The more progress you can make in building a product, the more attractive it’s going to be for a co-founder and the easier it is for them to know what they need to build.” Take your time While it can be tempting to hire the first person who looks your way, Liubinskas says entrepreneurs must ensure the co-founder they choose is the right one for their start-up. “It’s tough with so much competition around… Do it slowly and carefully rather than doing it recklessly – that’s the main thing,” he says.
Melbourne start-up OneTouch, which offers technology that allows businesses to scan and process documents such as pay slips and tax returns, has kicked off a tour of Silicon Valley for investors and customers after snaring $150,000 in funding. The business secured the cash from Adrian Stone, founder of tech incubator AngelCube, which recently won StartupSmart’s Best Start-up Investor award, and high-profile economist Nicholas Gruen, who has previously backed Aussie start-ups Kaggle and BiNu. Fresh from the funding injection, OneTouch, founded in 2011 by Hany Pham and John Schagen (pictured below), is currently traversing California’s tech scene in the hope of striking further partnerships to help boost the business. OneTouch is in the US as part of the Advance Innovation program, which picked 25 Australian start-ups for the sought-after Silicon Valley tour last month. The business has developed B2B-focused software that automatically reads and captures information from any document, such as pay slips, tax returns and receipts. Pham, who has a team of developers in Melbourne and offshore, tells StartupSmart the idea originates from his background as a mortgage broker, where he had to deal with a large volume of documents. “We wanted to create software that could read and process these documents – it’s now possibly a bigger deal than we first thought,” he says from San Francisco. Above: Hany Pham and John Schagen. “The feedback (in the US) has been that it’s solving a real problem in managing documents. I don’t need to go too much into the problem because people understand it.” “This kind of technology is very popular right now, as is enterprise software.” Pham says he has put $200,000 of his own money into the business in order to develop and iterate the technology. He has since used his connections to strike a deal with Connective, the second largest mortgage aggregator in Australia, which linked OneTouch to more than 1600 brokers. “We’ll look to target any industry that involves a lot of documents – it’s still early days,” he says. “We’re toying with a subscription model and a cost-per-page model. It will depend on the feedback.” Pham says the strength of his personal relationships with Stone and Gruen opened the doorway to the $150,000 investment. “Adrian is very free and willing to help start-ups and after we had evidence of traction, which was people interested in it, he agreed to back us,” he says. “Nick expressed an interest right away. I didn’t show him a PowerPoint slide – I guess he’s mainly investing in me and John.” “With B2B enterprise software, there’s a clear revenue model – it’s not like launching a rocket and hoping for the best.” “It’s clear who our customer is and we demonstrated to Nick that we are the right guys to back. I’ve got a strong sales background and John has a strong software background.” “We’ve got a reasonable runway with capital now. I will probably want to raise a series A here in Silicon Valley, but it’s more important to build networks for customers. We want to build a tailored model for the US market.”
Melbourne-based start-up accelerator AngelCube has made several small changes to its program, including distancing itself from start-ups with sole founders, after opening applications for 2013. AngelCube, named Best Start-up Investor at the 2013 StartupSmart Awards, offers seed capital, mentorship, connections and opportunities to web start-ups. Applications for the 2013 program will close next week on April 12. Once applications have closed, 20 finalists will be chosen to pitch to a selection panel of high-profile tech players. From those 20, AngelCube will select eight start-ups to participate. The program is completed over a three-month period, after which the start-ups head to the United States to pitch to a roomful of investors. There are a number of noteworthy start-ups in the AngelCube fold, including Kickfolio, which raised $100,000 from US investors before being accepted into US-based accelerator 500 Startups. Kickfolio is now closing a Series A funding round. Other AngelCube success stories include LIFX, Broccol-e-games and shopping recommendation engine Giveable, which has raised $150,000. According to AngelCube co-founder Adrian Stone, about half of AngelCube’s graduate companies go on to raise follow-on funding from Australian and overseas investors within six months of completing the program. Successful applicants for this year’s program will receive $20,000 in seed funding, six months of free desk space and access to a group of more than 50 mentors. Mentors include RetailMeNot founders Guy King and Bevan Clark, Pollenizer co-founder Mick Luibinskas and Nic Hodges of MediaComm. Stone told StartupSmart AngelCube will be doing a few things differently this year. “I think we’ve learnt some lessons from the last round,” Stone says. “We had too many sole founders and quickly realised being a sole founder is too much of a big task… [in a three-month program],” he says. “[We realised] our program is not going to happen for a sole founder. We’re looking much more at teams. “I think what we’ve learnt is one founder is too few and four is too many. The jury’s out on whether two or three is right.” Stone also admits the net needs to be cast a little wider this year. “A lot of the ideas were probably too small [last year]. They focused on a niche market in Australia only. If you have a niche market and your market is Australia, that’s not what we’d call a scalable start-up,” he says. “So we’re looking for big ideas.” Stone is quick to point out the program won’t be easy. “Anyone would love somebody to hold their hand. We’ve realised that is probably counterproductive,” he says. “It’s not our job to build these companies. It’s their job to prove they’re entrepreneurs, and we produce a great environment to help them bloom and succeed. “There’ll be fewer sessions in the weeks. [Last year,] we had too many people in and out, talking to our start-ups and distracting them from the game of building their business. “The second thing is, our start-ups started pitching their ideas too early. “This year, we want them to focus on ensuring they have product-market fit by talking to customers and then start pitching to investors.”
The co-founder of Melbourne-based incubator AngelCube says he makes a conscious effort to recruit female mentors, but believes more can be done to entice women into the industry.
Melbourne Population: 4.07 million Start-up survival rate: 74.3% (2007 to 2009)
AngelCube co-founder Andrew Birt says he’s impressed by the quality of applicants for the incubator’s next start-up round, saying it reflects Melbourne’s maturing start-up ecosystem.
AngelCube, the Melbourne-based incubator, will open applications for its second round of start-ups tomorrow, increasing its intake to eight teams, with a special interest in marketplace concepts and software-as-a-service.
Pollenizer-backed start-up Pygg has raised $600,000 in six months from a host of investors, including Yahoo!7 chief Rohan Lund and Tim Howard of Seven Network’s Vividwireless.
Tech start-ups need to build up their brand and achieve market traction before they can secure funding, according to the co-founder of Melbourne-based tech incubator Angel Cube.
Serial entrepreneur Andrew Birt is looking for Melbourne-based start-ups to become the first group of participants for his latest venture AngelCube, an early stage incubator for web-based businesses.