Australia – Riding On The Geek’s Back

Time to stop plodding Australia. It is time to go screaming into these amazing tech enabled blue sky opportunities. Forget the resources red ‘ocean’. Grab hold of reality and read on…

Throughout the short but eventful history of Australia we have been often referred to by domestic and international commentators as riding on the back of something, riding on someones coat tails or basically not having originality of thought or independence of action.

I think these commentators are incorrect and purely demonstrating their own short sighted views and lack of context, especially lack of awareness of the unique or at least highly differentiated inventions, businesses, products and services we have created.

These creations have come in turn from unique circumstances not least being the tyranny of distance, scarcity of resources like water, food, population, manufacturing, technology, skills and of course funds.

Frankly these are just excuses.

Any entrepreneur knows scarcity just helps rapid decision making and outcomes.

So we have had our fair share of riding –

Riding on the sheep’s back

Riding on the farmers’s back

Riding on the miner’s back

And of course riding on the coat tails of England, America and more recently China, India or even just ‘Asia’.

Well now it is time for us to be –

Riding on the Geek Entrepreneur’s back

What does this new future look like?

A brand? Like Silicon Beach Australia? Glad our PM finally heard this recently, around 5 years after the term was in wide use in the tech entrepreneur community.

A network? Like NBN? No doubt it will help. No doubt we all want fibre speeds. But how long will it take and what price will we pay both now for implementation and longer term through lack of innovation or competition for this new monopoly. It is taking decades to reintroduce effective telecoms competition after the Telstra (Telecom) monopoly, this new monopoly will cause even greater risks to creative commerce and privacy. It is a little bit like superannuation, an enormous honey pot of data (and value added revenue), too tempting for government to ignore.

A community? Like sydstart, fishburners, silicon beach, aesy.org and so many others around the nation in every state and territory capital? Probably, yes. But learning to encourage and support these fledgling future economic engines is key. Remove their barriers don’t add to them or ignore them. Lately I have attended a string of political announcements promising awareness but is anyone actually listening and acting? No, they keep quoting an understanding of disruptive technology without having read the book. No, they fund and promote the largest events for   startups which are actually run by millionaires and are only one third of the real thing which is run by real startups and real community.

We need simple changes to –

Enable superannuation funds to invest in startups via simple aggregators run by corporates and industry experts (not ICT experts and not advertising centric digital creative service providers but true entrepreneurial tech startup industry experts – there is a huge difference – despite many common tech skills and some commercial skills).

Enable startups to pay tax only on realisation of the return. For example on trade sale, on IPO, on change of control or on raising of material amounts of capital. This allows employees, co-founders and early enablers (mentors, angels, accelerators like pushstart, startmate and founders institute) to participate in very early stage high risk ventures without being literally killed by paperwork and capital gains tax before a cent is realised. It is only common sense.

Create more pure computer science graduates. All the real innovators from google australia to the tech startups from atlassian to freelancer to fishburners all know this. They are the job creators and export income generators and wealth creators for our nation. Some universities are doing well despite challenges to their business model but dumbing down computer science is the fast track to unskilled oblivion. We need more pure specialists that understand ground up technology (build a new quantum computing capability or ever a smarter/faster mobile phone or phone operating system – but please, please, please – not another programmer of trivial iphone or android apps that doesn’t understand the whole tech stack).

Actively promote at city, state and federal level a national roadshow of our leaders to visit the heart of this community in Sydney not to mention their ‘vital organs’ i.e. peers in each state and understand the transformative power.

Only when each leader at each level understands what we already have and supports it much much earlier in the lifecycle than they currently do and stops talking down our ecosystem (e.g recent comments by senior people from commercialisation australia at conferences and popular media) will we truly thrive.

The good news is our smartest people are going to The Valley and New York and coming back to share and leverage local advantages and natural assets that you don’t have to be a visionary to see or utilise.

The good news is our smartest people are getting funded by truly disruptive funding and community enabling technologies and the people behind them others (like our government, bureaucrats and media) are yet to even comprehend.

The good news is these disruptive innovators are creating jobs while other countries strategies focus on job destroying efficiencies.

The good news is this is being accompanied by social innovation that is transformative.

I hope Andrew Stoner, Greg Pearce, Julia Gillard, Doron Ben Meir, Asher Moses, Peter Grey and a few others get to read this and actually follow the links rather than skim the headlines. I hope these same people stop using the same old excuses and put downs. I hope they stop using the same old examples of ‘success’ that are literally years old (good though they may be).

We are world class in places, lets nurture and grow those, it just takes a little awareness, alignment and encouragement not even much money or much time.

We could be flying on the geeks back if we do it right.

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6 thoughts on “Australia – Riding On The Geek’s Back

  1. I think my superannuation fund could certainly do with some exposure to startups. I’ve allocated about 20% of my portfolio to ‘High Growth’ shares, but that’s about as much detail as the fund provides. Typically a superfund will tell us their previous year’s performance, but neglect to specify what they’re actually investing our money in or who has been placed in charge of it.

    I for one would much rather have my money invested in a portfolio of startups that i’ve been given the opportunity to read up on. Sure it’s higher risk, but there’s much more upside potential also. And if the investment goes belly-up, I really can’t blame anyone apart from myself.

    If superfunds did pick up on this opportunity (hey their supposedly investing in ‘high growth’ shares already, so why not?) the rise in available funds for budding startups would be exponential…

  2. JimBeam says:

    Unfortunately, the “full-stack” geeks, with solid but not unrealistic business models don’t get any attention from investors. Greedy Au investors all want low risk, Facebook like returns to part with their cash. It is just too fashionable to follow the “lean” model startups developing yet another one-feature-product (that’s location / mobile app based for fashion reasons of course).

    Grumpy geek ( with a solid, but not falsely astronomic business model )

  3. Sri Annaswamy says:

    The fundamental issue holding back a “tech start up” culture is NOT lack of VC funds, taxation regime or risk-averse superfunds or lack of computer science grads or anything of that nature (if we don’t produce enough CS grads, we can always outsource the work to countries that do and VC firms are now global in their investment outlook rather than Bay Area focused)

    The fundamental issue is that the Australian education system places Engineering at the bottom of the pyramid and Law/Accounting/Commerce at the top of the pyramid. Countries whose citizens excel at “tech” like America, India, Germany and increasingly, China have tremendous respect for engineers and a system of engineers as CEOs, CFOs, COOs and such at the top of the food-chain

    Lawyers, accountants, actuaries, supermodels and rugby league stars can actively support and participate in a “start up” ecosystem but only top-notch engineering grads can kick-start its creation

  4. Given the announcement this week by china that they will cut back on coal consumption and create a hole of up to $45b in our national revenue each year – riding on the geeks back is now more important than ever…

  5. Pingback: As a net is mad… | AnyDex

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