Month: February 2013

As a net is made of a series of ties…

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As a net is made up of a series of ties, so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties. If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net is an independent, isolated thing, he is mistaken. It is called a net because it is made up of a series of interconnected meshes, and each mesh has its place and responsibility in relation to other meshes. – Buddha

This quote is actually from Buddha but came to me via PK Agarwal the Global CEO of TiE.

TiE is the largest global entrepreneur network and has origins as The Indus Entrepreneur with a focus on the resident and non-resident indian (aka expat or NRI) networks which is a phenomenal starting point for any network.

I am a charter member of the local Sydney branch which has been recently getting some real momentum under the loving care of Dilip Rao an old friend from my investment banking days at Macquarie Bank.

Thanks PK (and Dilip) so much, this quote reminds me of the importance of ecosystems like the rapidly growing professional tech startups around the world and especially my home town of Sydney.

We do need to work together to make the pie bigger and make it the best pie out there because I remain convinced tech and tech enabled startup businesses are unique and are the future of our flexible economy and a better place for Australia and our trading partners in the world.

Photo with thanks to Dr David Martin

Why Are Tech Startups Different

People often ask me why are professional tech startups companies different from normal small business companies.

More specifically I would say tech startups with a focus on disruptive innovation that are run by professional entrepreneurs are VERY different because of the following main points.

But why is this question important?

This question is important because it guides or regulators in helping and hindering these new powerhouses of the economy. After all, most importantly very few people can create millions and even billions of dollars in new wealth from a garage with two people yet this is widely accepted as reality for our very special industry.

  1. Speed – most can be formed in a weekend and may disappear just as fast. It is not unusual for 50 hackers and hustlers to meet on a weekend and form 10-20 businesses with teams formed, pilot products, markets identified/tested, brand selected etc… It is more typical to be 3-6 months followed by a pilot. Detailed data is also now available too which enables ongoing benchmarking of this phenomenon. Similarly ‘speed to success’ in the market and quickly achieving remarkable financial valuations are also possible.
  2. Responsive – operating in a competitive space means they need to flex in response to competitors (often well funded overseas competitors). This response often requires new skills or knowledge so teams flex and change.
  3. Equity based – low capital means using equity is a common (and often the only) way of rewarding staff. This needs to flow easily as team members join/leave in the early stage in particular and paperwork or long term tax hassles need to be minimised in terms of time and cost of management.
  4. Different Perspective – starting point is often ‘free’ and the time taken to build it is less than it would normally take just to read typical tax or industry regulations/guidelines – focus is on doing and testing first. e.g. Why can’t we have self driving cars and also free internet for everyone in the world. Also global distributed teams crossing jurisdictions are common and increasingly the norm.
  5. Geek – typically a high technology component (although this is not always unique) the products are normally mainly tech or tech enabled and usually highly internet (regardless of device) enabled.
  6. Lean – usually iteratively learning via experiments to acheive product-market fit, less likely to have large ‘waterfall’ (long project cycle) approachs and more likely to release early and often for customer feedback (alphas, beta, campaigns, market a/b tests etc).
  7. Often Disruptive – Dramatically different approaches that disrupt industry encumbents. e.g. itunes to the music industry style of challenge is just one well documented example but there are thousands more.
  8. Talent – flows across borders easily to the place with the most like minded people, lowest burdens (tax, internet access, paperwork) and best ecosystem (talent, co-working spaces, incubators, education, quality of life, accelerators, investors). It is not uncommon to find <20yo people with great tech skills that have worked on 3 to 5+ startups and 2-3 countries.

No doubt there are others too, add them in the comments and they will be included in the next version of this post.

Before posting this I had the pleasure of listening to the CFO of Google Patrick Pichette speak on a similar topic and my key takeaways on what he sees as key attributes of successful entrepreneurs were

  1. Want to change the world
  2. Dream big really big e.g. one billion people or more
  3. Persist / pivot / learn – in particular treasuring insights of behaviour and science over conventional practice – and even the way we learn is being completely re-written
  4. Improve success by hanging out with other tech entrepreneurs that inspire, ground, support and share.
  5. Ignore conventional wisdom and focus on the new enablers and how these will change the world e.g. internet, mobile, tech, immense capacity at low or zero cost and
  6. Realise we are only at the beginning of a new age of innovation and enlightenment.

Powerful words indeed.

Choosing A Name For Your Baby (Oops I Mean Your Startup Business) – Part 1

Creating a startup really is like having a child, major commitment. Unfortunately we often don’t put enough time into it.

This is fine for some businesses because the customer touch points are pre-loaded e.g. a link in an email or search engine advertisement. So the customer doesn’t need to know how to spell or pronounce it. But these businesses are limited.

Usually we want the name to become a brand, because brands have power and value in and of themselves generated by the values they stand for.

Generally, you can choose any name and instill the values/attributes into the brand (e.g trustworthy, reliable, premium, cheap, retail, wholesale, simple, sophisticated). This takes time and is best done by doing (e.g. products, people) and by communication (PR, advertising).

A good name can become more, it can become a name, a visual identity, a multi-channel anchor that provides consistency to the business regardless of where stakeholders encounter it online and offline.

My suggestions are –

1. Keep it short. People are more likely to be able to read it and remember it. Recall is often based on shape of letters and associated pronunciation. It is also more efficient with space when doing advertising via any channel. You will type/say/write your brand name many times over the life of your business, so will your customers, staff etc so do everyone a favour. Keep it simple and short.

2. Pass the crowded bar test. If people are talking to each other and shout your name over the top of loud music and others hear it will be be clear, unique and memorable enough? See at blue monkey bar later then Tom. Ciao.

3. Street Cred. Regardless of which streets you hang out it, you need your name to be mildly appropriate. A new political party is unlikely to be called purple cow but that was the name of a geek book on standing out. The most important part of this step is it forces you to think in tangible terms where people hang out, especially the people you would like to target. Remember you are thinking about all stakeholders here, not just customers but staff, partners, suppliers, investors even regulators and community.

4. Stand Out. Line up your competitors and work out how you are different, by product and positioning and brand. Names that are higher in the alphabet, better/unique colour/shape are good examples. It might be something channel specific like a ring tone or a video pre-post roll.

5. Be Unique. Pick something that you can own across all channels. Get the dot com, the twitter id, the facebook page name and as many derivatives you can expect to need to industry specific channels (e.g. Angel List or F6S or Pinterest or Dribbble).

6. Use Plain Language. Doing this helps trust. It also usually helps with the crowded bar test and the likelihood of people being able to spell or google you. This often clashes with the need to be unique or to do name hacks in order to find a unique dot com, if you are not sure test it with your audience.

7. Try to finish hard. A CEO of a bank I used to work for often ran marathons, while staying the course on brand is essential (communicate consistently and often and don’t stop) there is also a subtle thing about language we agreed on. Finish with a hard syllable and people find it easier to hear and recall. Finish and start with soft syllables and you will find stakeholders constantly asking you to repeat or spell stuff over the phone or in person.

8. Picture It. Get a good visual identity. I like Design Crowd and Freelancer cause they are both from Sydney and globally successful. 99 Designs from Melbourne is also very big.

This is the end of part one of a very big topic. More soon.

Peter J Cooper (pc0)

Stop The Geek Tax

We really need to stop the geek tax. Currently people (typically geeks) creating tech startups are unfairly penalised from creating jobs, wealth, innovation and quality of life for Australia.

I am talking not just about ESOPS but also the unfair CGT provisions that treat creators like other business owners even before they have earned one cent of dividends or in the hand benefit.

This is as much about the cashflow as it is about the sheer complexity and uncertainty and time taken to understand literally dozens of ATO documents and hundreds of web pages.

It should be simple until there are significant amounts at risk.

We need to stop the #geektax attitude in Treasury and the ATO and both sides of politics, have a look the details of this proposal (two pages with examples) and sign the petition or comment below. I will present it to treasury in Canberra next week or as soon as it gets enough momentum. Please also share this…

Read the full proposal to Drop Paperwork for Australia Tech Startups here