You’re already a tech centre, international visitors told the West Tech Fest audience, so keep carrying on and continue to build great companies…
UPDATED – The main West Tech Fest is over (as this is being written, the entourage has headed north to Geraldton and Exmouth), but what a week it was.
Startup News was there, starting the week with our own party, live show and awards on Monday night (thanks also to Startup WA), and so it continued with Rotto Tech Fest, Innovation Bay, CORE Startup Exchange, the main WTF day and much more.
A few notable changes were made to WTF in its 8th version: it incorporated various events around Perth CBD, from pitch events to panellist/keynoting to demos to parties. The events spread out from the city, with Frasers Kings Park used for the two days, plus a co-working space in Freo and Rottnest added to the venue list. The old OzApps Awards is gone.
WTF’s developed into a week that if you flew into San Francisco and attended it, you’d be happy. Yet, it’s here. In little old Perth.
Well, not so little as we told my many visitors. Perth is on the world map, said many of the international guests, and has some great potential.
Not just a mining tech, why can’t Perth be a centre of ocean tech? or AI? Or automation? Or the moral answer to questions thrown up by these new technologies? Or all of the above, and others.
The week was – as ever – a huge shot in the arm for local tech people’s confidence. It was like one long motivational talk, or rather, series of talks.
So, the message is: stop worrying, Perth startups. Keep going. You are building great companies. And you live in paradise.
West Tech Fest Notes
There were 13 panels and talks at the main WTF event on Thursday. With the jettisoning of the OzApp Awards/Startup Challenge, there was more room for content.
Here are some notes for those of you who missed it…
Building a WA Innovation Economy
There was talk of a billion dollar tech fund, and this certainly got people’s attention.
“Build community, and pick a few areas that have a high chance of a win,’ urged Bill Tai.
“The economy is less about moving physical things around, and more about moving ones and zeros around on your screen. It’s all digital.
“Nowadays, Melanie Perkins can create a billion dollar company from her Mum’s home. And today, Silicon Valley is no longer the only place, the last few investments I have made are not from Silicon Valley.
“Perth has amazing air quality (2 parts pollution, whereas most cities are 30, and in Asia it is often over 100). It’s a great place to live.”
Although Australia is a small market, and there was limited VCs in Perth, things are changing for the better, said Bill.
“Telecoms and the internet has reduced the distance to market. Australia and NZ already are used as test beds for new products from Apple. Recent changes to tax laws in Australia have also made some positive changes.
“People and money will flow to the places of great ideas. Why not create some centres of tech excellence, that we have a shot at?”
Beth Moses, Virgin Atlantic, Chief Astronaut Instructor (formerly NASA)
We are on the verge of the space age; we are on the cusp of leaping off this planet, in many ways.
Only 569 people have ever been to space; this is tiny compared to 7B on the planet. 600+ people have already signed up to go into space on Virgin Atlantic. Commercial aircraft will soon carry 6 people plus 2 crew each time.
The first time we looked back at ourselves from space was in 1948; a grainy photo from a camera shot up into space that fell back to earth. It’s an amazing perspective; seeing all of us on one planet.
Apollo’s 17 ‘Blue Marble’ image is the most downloaded image ever. On some level, we all care about the planet.
Some people think space travel is self-indulgent; but I can tell you that people that go up into space and see the Earth from there are much better people for the experience. It’s not the whole way to solve world peace, but it’s part of the solution.
Olivia Humphrey, Kanopy – from Scarborough to Silicon Valley, the pinnacles and pitfalls of building a $100M+ company from scratch
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Olivia; she left Perth in 2013 and last year sold her 10-year old company for over $100M. She hopes to return to Perth soon…
Started Kanopy in mother in law’s house in Scarborough in 2008; sending DVDs to libraries and unis. Hired a French backpacker Simon to build our streaming in 6 weeks (“Yes, I was very naïve!”). He’s now the CTO in charge of the dev team over in San Francisco.
In 2012, Kanopy won a WA Innovator of the Year award; and opened a new office in Subiaco. (“We were turning over $2.5M in revenue a year. No debt.”)
Then we had an attack from VEA; which was hard, involved a legal defence.
“I actually went to speak to a psychologist, who taught me how to separate my business problems from myself. It made me tougher; we took them on, won and they went out of business – not sure what happened to their video libraries.”
She then had a decision whether to move to US. Her first child was born, there was no debt, but were finding the challenges of time zone with US a real issue. There are only 39 unis in Australia, there are 4,500+ in the US.
Her husband agreed to go (“I don’t want to grow old wondering what would have happened if we had gone to the US.”) Matt Macfarlane invested and became a valuable mentor.
The move to the US was massive. The first year was tough.
“Content deals we could get in Australia were not possible in the US. There were larger competitors, some of whom attacked using paid-for library influencers. One rang me up and said unless I deposited a significant amount of money in his bank account, like my competitors did, my business would not survive a few months.”
The experience with VEA taught Olivia to be strong, and she prevailed. The user watches for free, and libraries and unis pay. (“Getting paid per view by the user made us concentrate on the user experience.”)
As the company grew in the US, she began to be make ‘safe’ decisions, which may not have been for the best for the business.
“Our salary was still quite low, so we decided to accept a new investor and managed to get Jahm Najafi (also owner of the Phoenix Suns). We received amazing advice, and made better decisions. Growth accelerated.”
As the business became fairly large, Olivia felt it had outgrown her. They then entered due diligence with various purchasers – lots of presentations, formal legals, accounts, but after 6 months the deal was done.
Looking to the future, Perth is a place she’d like to return to, with her family.
What a great story, and what a great resource Olivia will be when she does return to her home city.
The High Performing Founder
A panel discussed what it was to be a high performing founder, and their attributes and skills:
- A mix of timing, great teams and luck having the attributes coming together
- Communication, ability to inspire a team
- Ability to execute on the plan, including pivoting
- Be passionate about what you do
- Focus; understanding what’s important and what’s not, and leaning into what is important;
- Persistence and resilience
- Once you get to a certain scale, you need to let go, delegate, in order to continue growing
- Have good people around you that will tell you to stop, breathe, make good decisions
- Complementary skills in co-founders is essential
- 3 co-founders, with aligned values
Marvin Liao, 500 Startups: Three paths to entrepreneurship, a VC’s view
Marvin delivered a very entertaining talk on entrepreneurship. He’s done 400 investments in the last 5 years; and was 10.5 years at Yahoo!
Major waves of change:
- ageing population, rise of new gens;
- cost to startup has declined;
- can reach anybody, anywhere
- Silicon Valley VC-driven model
- Winner take all, go big or go home
- Has to have billion dollar ambition
- But few will take the market
- 4 biz models: embed (e.g. salesforce, usu B2B; hard to leave), network effects (e..g Google, ebay, craigslist: usu B2C), brand (e.g. Amazon), econs of scale (e.g. Uber)
- Lifestyle and bootstrap business
- Sustainable, don’t need much work
- Example: Nomad List, earns $200K/mth in ads for owner (one person) – the bible for digital nomads
- They won’t be VC-funded; but are valid businesses
- Usu not tech, and very local
- In Brooklyn, Portland, Austin, Melbourne
- Shokunin – dedicate your time to mastering your skill
You can build an awesome business without raising VC money; only 3% are built with VC money, and the other 97% can be great.
Large companies and government will continue to lay off staff. You will need to be semi entrepreneurial.
“Entrepreneurship is not an art or a science. It’s a practice.” – Peter Drucker.
Startup News was a media partner of West Tech Fest 2018.