Startup Australia: Let’s Do This Thing
Last month, I flew to Sydney for the #startupAUS forum, which brought together 50 leaders from across the startup community, hosted and expertly facilitated by The Difference team at PwC, with the support of Google, Freelancer and others.
Coming on the back of another (awesome!) Startup Weekend Perth, my enthusiasm was high (even if my sleep levels weren’t!) and the same was true for everyone else - particularly in the wake of idiotic comments by our Prime Minister about “rorting” of 457 visas by the IT industry and ongoing issues with ESOP.
The impetus for my involvement at #startupAUS was a great blog by Michael Fox on growing Australia’s tech startup ecosystem. Education was the focus of that piece and is a core interest of mine, so I was especially pleased to see education front and centre over the course of our two days at the forum.
The group ultimately set a stretch target to replace mining as the driver of Australia’s GDP growth, with a vision to create a nation of coders.
For mine, one statistic stood out above all others: Australian universities only churn out 12,000 Computer Science graduates each year, of which a mere one-third are local students. Making matters worse, CS enrolments are down 60% on a decade ago [Kaplan, NICTA]; the trend is most definitely not our friend!
It is galling to think that we’re building a National Broadband Network which is supposedly best-of-breed and have a Federal Government Department with the phrase Digital Economy in its very name, yet we have nowhere near enough skilled people for the reality to get within coo-ee of the rhetoric.
The Australian Computer Society predicted that there would be 14,000 new ICT jobs created in 2012/13, and a further 21,000 next financial year. Even if every national and international CS grad stayed in Australia, we don’t have enough people to meet current demand, let alone replacing those who leave the industry or even thinking about fulfilling next year’s demand.
How can we possibly hope to have innovative technology businesses replace unsustainable resource extraction and "unscalable "knowledge industries" as drivers of our national economy over the decades ahead when we can’t even meet today’s needs?
A wise friend suggested gap analysis, essentially identifying what our future needs might be for various skill sets and levels, and then we can (FINALLY) start addressing that (HUGE) gap. The code.org team rammed home the importance of their cause with similar analysis - although simplistic, the data shows a 1 million person gap in 2020 with 1.4m computer jobs predicted and only 400k CS students. If that is the challenge facing the US then how bleak is Australia’s predicament!
As Alan Noble explained in his post-forum blog: “In one sense #startupAUS is itself a startup”… I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Startups are high-growth, scaleable entities that see a problem and build something to solve it. They create something where nothing exists.
If #startupAUS is to be the peak body for the national startup community then we need to think like the startups that we purport to represent.
With that in mind, I turned to two of the most valuable resources for startups and those people building startup communities: the Lean Canvas; and the Boulder Thesis.
First, the Lean Canvas: I mocked up a little something for #startupAUS (pictured above) to help us identify, first and foremost, who our customers are, the problems that need solving, a business model which might underpin #startupAUS to ensure it is sustainable, and so on… What do you think? Am I in the ball park? What would you add/change/delete?
Next, to the Boulder Thesis, which has become the bible for Creating Your Own Startup Community. In Brad Feld’s words:
I developed four principles, which I call The Boulder Thesis, that I believe are necessary for the development of a vibrant, long-term, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.
1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
2. The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
Our patchwork approach, plugging into the various activity hubs within the startup community, is broadly consistent with that thesis, and no one could question the long-term commitment of the 50 people involved in the #startupAUS forum.
What we need to make this thing work is a national body that is as inclusive as all those sub-communities it encompasses and, most important of all, the movement needs to be led by entrepreneurs.
As Brad Feld explains, all good startup communities are driven by those entrepreneurial leaders, supported by “feeders” (VCs, Government, Universities, Service Providers), and united by a common purpose. It is a rising tide lifts all boats approach; plant enough seeds and the harvesting looks after itself!
#startupAUS: For startups, by startups!
Energy was high on the back of the forum, now we must keep that fire burning.
What do we need to succeed?
1. #startupAUS CEO (or whatever you want to call it): In short, someone to get this thing focused, to do hard yards of launch and initial fundraising, and to support our patches.
2. Activity: Our economy (not to mention the Federal Government) stands on a precipice; the ACARA deadline is looming; there are lots of great programming initiatives and countless startup-oriented events on the horizon. We need to connect more dots within this community and provide a united voice, stat.
3. Awareness: Almost all entrepreneurs are too busy working on their business to blow their own trumpet and we, as a nation and as an industry, are traditionally poor at shining light on our success stories and acknowledging our failures.
What can we do to make Joe Public aware of all the amazing achievements of Australia’s tech community, from CSIRO’s impact on the evolution of wifi and the genesis of Google Maps in Sydney, to success stories like Atlassian and the next generation of companies that are bubbling to the surface and attracting global interest?
In the words of AngelList co-founder Babak Nivi:
"Startups aren’t here to change the world, they’re here to save the world."
The same goes for #startupAUS…
Are we going to be a nation of value extractors (miners and property speculators) and value capturers (bankers and lawyers), or a nation of value creators and innovators (hackers and founders)? Are we diggers and talkers, or do-ers and makers?
Revisit Matt Barrie’s epic Startup Australia blog. Fire up the #startupAUS hashtag. Stand up and be counted. The time is now.
Let’s stop waiting for permission and fucking do this thing!