Pete Cooper’s ESS Review Submission

Pete Cooper’s ESS Review Submission

My personal submission to the government ESS Review based on the various initiatives, accelerators, educators etc… I am involved in across the Australian and regional tech and tech enabled startup ecosystem.

There are 33 recommendations across 7 categories to make Australia more effective!

Feedback and comments are very welcome.

Startups 101 – Pete Cooper Speaks At Customs House

I spoke recently to a few hundred people at Customs House in Sydney CBD down near Circular Quay, a gorgeous old sandstone building.

If you know anyone that is learning or just entering the tech startup space in Australia this playlist is a MUST WATCH.

The City Of Sydney (CoS) Lord Mayor Clover Moore introduced the program of professional tech startup industry experts –

  1. Pete Cooper – SydStart
  2. Riley Bachelor – GA
  3. Kim Heras – PushStart
  4. Melanie Perkins from Canva

The genesis of the night was a startup round table of 20 leaders called by the City of Sydney strategic development unit lead by Andrea and Charnelle after our chats earlier in the year. This unit has the rare skill of planning up to 20 years in advance which is great to see but I wouldn’t want that challenge…

The round table was chaired by City of Sydney CEO Monica Barrone who has been a steady supporter of the program and the ecosystem. They made it happen along with Jo Kelly and Gail Marshall and the CoS even rolled out the green carpet for us. Huge Thanks.

The event was oversubscribed and post event survey made us all very happy –

  • 100% satisfaction rate and a
  • 99% ‘I’d recommend to a friend’ rate

Both of which are remarkable.

The next one has been scheduled for September. I hope they book the Sydney Town Hall for 500 people cause I think we can fill it, then we can get them all to attend SydStart too.

They rolled out the green carpet for the startups 101 night at customs house in the sydney cbd. Pete Cooper from sydstart spoke.

They rolled out the green carpet for the startups 101 night at customs house in the sydney cbd.

It wasn't xmas but this was the most recent wide angle view photo I had, awesome no?

It wasn’t xmas but this was the most recent wide angle view photo I had, awesome no?

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.

The Australian Tech Startup Ecosystem – Complete Collection of Maps and Lists

Numerous people have made attempts at mapping the Sydney and wide Australian Technology Startup Ecosystem. This is ours and we aim to be the most comprehensive not in duplicating the data but in pointing to the major hubs or collation efforts by others.

We also have our own internal data at Cooper & Co which we share with paying clients and use for for-profit investment profiling.

Rather than further muddy the waters I thought it was worth while laying out the current landscape so everyone is aware of the major lists/maps etc..

  1. Angel List – a US based database service used globally by angel investors originating from the 500 Startups group founded and funded by Dave McClure it is founded and operated by Naval Ravikant that has company profiles from a very early stage as well as inbestor profiles and incubator/accelerators, jobs and more, it is probably the largest and one of the fastest growing in recent times. Constantly updated by the global community. Freely available, difficult to visualise connections.
  2. F6S – a US based database service used globally by accelerators, incubators and education programs and other groups, it is probably the fastest growing and overall has the average earliest stage list. Constantly updated by the global community. Freely available, difficult to visualise connections.
  3. Startup Compass by Startup Genome – a US based database  service based on the lean startup principles which standardises the profiles of companies by stage, it is probably one of the largest in terms and listings and probably the largest in terms of details and that are standardised and able to be used for benchmarking. Founded by Max Marmer and Bjoern Lasse-Harmer. Fairly freely available. difficult to visualise connections.
  4. Startup Nation by FloqApp – an Australian based startup which bothered  to create a very nice looking database with map visualisation that is easy but a little light on detail, useful for finding ones near you and probably the most complete single list of australian startups done by an australian firm. Has a current bias to Brisbane which is incorrect statistically but will no doubt correct it self over time as coverage improves. Also attempts (with only partial success) to subjectively analyse helpfulness of various ecosystem stakeholders (.e.g family, investors). Freely available. Difficult to visualise connections. Good map format with drill down and slicing.
  5. Pollenizer Startup Map – a mind map created on Mind Meister by the Pollenizer accelerator founder Phil Morle with help from his team including co-founder Mick Liubinskas (aka Mr focus). One of the oldest and has some good insights.
  6. NICTA Startup Map – a mind map on Mind Meister created by NITCA staff led by Paul Hoff. One of the more recent ones and has a reasonable coverage and offers some government/research insights not provided by others. Freely available.
  7. Blue Chilli Startup Map – also known as startrail – a london underground style map of the startup ecosystem developed by Sebastian Eckersley-Maslin and the Blue Chilli team phased by growth stage. A  useful high level view. The growth stage attributes are a little limited but it offers useful grouping and has gained some traction because of the ease of representing a difficult topic in one image. Updated fairly regularly by Blue Chilli in consultation with industry leaders, currently up to release three. Freely available. Stage based visualisation with some connectivity by ‘railway line’, no map visualisation.
  8. Cooper & Co Startup Database – an internal database for Cooper Sydney customers, closed (ie private) and for profit. Disclosed selectively according to need. Various formats prepared on request as part of paid engagements. Collected from various sources including SydStart.
  9. 8sx.co – a public database by Cooper Sydney which is in the process of being established and will focus on bridges to asia. 8SX is an abbreviation for ‘Great South By’ inspired by the large conference ‘South By South-West’ aka SXSW held in the Austin Texas USA each year.
  10. Represent Map – A globally distributed set of communities powered by a US developed platform (seeded with a community called represent.la). This series of excellent database driven map visualisations is a community of proprietary data which includes a national Australian map called OzFounded from Sydney which is the largest by far (ten times the size of the others) as well as a slightly duplicated more localised South Australian one called Majoran Distillery co-working space from Adelaide and some others such as NZ Startups for New Zealand.

Are there any others out there? There are obviously others like tech crunch but they are so main stream they have been excluded.

In terms of tools used to build this ‘maps’ the main ones seem to be

  • mind meister
  • google docs (usually spreadsheets)
  • google maps via API
  • customer web site software (e.g. ruby on rails, representmap)

In terms of approach to updating the main ones seems to be

  • Owned and updated by vendor (free or paid access and typically free updates)
  • Community updated (own profile)

Would warmly welcome suggestions and pointers to other lists out there.

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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