Startup Catalyst 2015 - Startup House, Atlassian & Xero
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29th September 2015
We kicked off the day at Startup House, which is this cool community which offers desk space and living space for early stage startups. Elias Bizannes, the founder of StartupHouse talked us through his background, the origins of the firm and his experience in moving from Australia. He told us about how Startup House was founded, initially stemming from Startup Bus, a similarly cool idea where entrepreneurs jump on a bus for 72 hours and make new startups.
We talked with Robert Collings from Granular Objects who gave us valuable insight into some of the cultural differences and communication differences that exist between Americans and Australians (of course in a very generalised way).
Key ideas that I took away were:
- Intelligence is the unwritten currency in San Francisco.
- Australians have a tendency to be modest and almost self-deprecate, where as this type of communication may be seen as 'weak' or seem as though the person is unsure of themselves.
- Sarcasm is less understood than back in Australia. Americans don't get some of our humour.
- Job titles imply more meaning in SF than back in Australia. Titles demonstrate your career progression and worth.
Other Insights that were highlighted: (Australia vs Silicon Valley)
Passive Vs Hustle
Conservative vs Ambitious
Socialist vs Ruthless Capitalism
Expects Humility Vs Celebrate Success
Anytime Communication vs Rapid Communication
People in Silicon Valley generally tend to be energetic and move rapidly. They are very focused on execution. Aussies tend to be more risk averse and conservative, though there are definitely exceptions to this!
We then talked with Viki Forrest from ANZA Technology Network, who opened with a thought from Steve Blank, "A scalable startup typically requires a local population >100 million people". Clearly most local markets would not be this big. What this means is that you need to almost be 'born globally'. The business model needs to scale to >$100M revenue / year. If you're interested in this thinking, look up 'Born Global or Die Local'.
According to Vikki, only 0.6% of startups actually raise capital! That is a crazy small figure! What's even more terrifying is that of those that do raise capital, a lot will still fail.
What was useful from Vikki's presentation was that she highlighted the difference between small and big markets (market DNA). Small markets have a slow pace of business whereas large markets are typically faster. Messaging in smaller markets tends to be more complex whereas in big markets it's much more simple (hence fast). The sales model is also very different, in that small markets have a direct model based on competitive techniques, whereas in large markets, it is more indirect and firms tend to be more collaborative in sales techniques.
Further, there's a completely different focus when targeting large vs small markets. Large markets are revenue driven rather than the traditional profit driven approach.
Vikki dived further into principles first vs applications first communication differences in the two market types. It was seriously an enlightening presentation and I'd recommend checking her out.
Next stop was Atlassian!
Atlassian gave us a tour of their SF office. It was great seeing a local Australian startup having so much success and expanding to SF.
From what I saw, Atlassian would be a dream to work at. Their strong focus on their people, teamwork, always trying to adopt new ways of doing things, and the tonne of perks, makes Atlassian a very attractive workplace. But hey, working for Atlassian isn't anywhere as cool as owning and running a company like Atlassian. That's where I want to be...
So I want to learn more about what makes this billion dollar business so special. What did they do differently? What's their secret sauce? What could we learn from all this? Sadly I don't have the answer to all these questions.
Some of the HR instruments used at Atlassian were quite interesting.
Hackhouse for example is where grad students spend 2 weeks essentially on the beach together. Fun team building activities are carried out that help each other understand how teammates think and what makes them tick. What a cool intro to the company!
They have a referral program which offers $10K when one of your refferals joins Atlassian. You could seriously make more money from referrals than your job - if you know people...
A Kudo's system: A peer to peer appreciation system whereby people can give Kudo's to colleagues that have gone beyond their job or really done something awesome within the business. Kudo's are essentially gift cards in the value of $25-$500.
Formal Fridays: It's literally the opposite of casual Fridays. Casual all week, formal on Friday. I guess it hard to do casual Fridays when it's casual everyday.
Ship It: Basically hackathons that run within the business. I think hackathons open up creativity and are quite fun, making me an avid supporter.
Innovation Weeks: An alternative to '20% time' that some companies (e.g. Google) offer. It is where the entire organisation works on innovative side projects for an entire week in small self formed teams.
XERO - Whoa! Just Whoa...
Xero had an awesome office, though the presentation they gave us was really intellectually stimulating.
Key take-aways from the talk were:
Good products sell themselves. At an early stage in starting up you shouldn't need to think about marketing strategies, but rather focus on building a good product. Building a product that solves a problem or a 'pain point' for customers. Solve the customer pain, then the pricing of the product and the marketing comes later. This is true of so many companies...
Another key point, and one that I've highlighted previously, is to think on a global scale right from the beginning. This means architect your software to support issues such as currency, timezones, personalisation and definitely languages, right from the beginning. This is apparently a big issue when companies try to scale.
Success breeds success. People who have previously launched a successful startup will likely do so again. Investors / VC's will likely throw money after you if you're a successful serial entrepreneur. It's a bit of a chicken and the egg problem though, as without investment you may not be successful, and without repeated success you may struggle securing funding.
I think this can be applied to Australia in a broad sense too, in that Australia lacks serial entrepreneurs and lack the ecosystem of success that is presented in Silicon Valley. In this sense how are we meant to have a succesful innovation ecosystem without first having succesful entrepreneurs (who don't flock to Silicon Valley!)? Well we need a succesful innovation ecosystem...