In November 2016 MAP returned to Silicon Valley for its annual trade mission. Over the course of the trip, we spent time with some of the best minds and biggest names across the startup and corporate sectors seeking to uncover insights and lessons they have learned from their own journeys.
Each session delivered a wealth of information and a richness of detail that merits its own post, but for the purpose of review, we have provided a summary of the lessons covered each day.
The MAP16 Silicon Valley trip wrapped up with a wonderful schedule for the final day.
In the morning the group travelled to the UC San Francisco to meet Dr Aenor Sawyer who is the Associate Director of Strategic Relations for the Center for Digital Health Innovation at UCSF. Dr Sawyer is nothing short of extraordinary. Following a tour of the impressive facilities at the UCSF Medical Center, Dr Sawyer gave the group a wonderful summary of key trends in healthcare, carefully weaving in useful anecdotes that highlighted the similarities and differences between the U.S and Australian contexts.
From a rich and detailed introduction to digital health innovation, there were two clear standouts amongst numerable fascinating insights:
An informed healthcare model is desirable but hard to create.
In an era where we have more information than ever before and customer expectations have never been higher, healthcare is in drastic need of innovation to improve patient outcomes. An informed healthcare model where we have the right information at the right time to make the right decision is critical, and although this sounds simple, it is unfortunately not that easy.
Legacy issues such as the way healthcare organisations are designed to communicate with each other prevent easy access to data systems from other organisations. This makes it harder for one central flow of information (coupled with privacy concerns) to be obtained on a particular patient.
We don’t make it easy for innovators in healthcare
Many problems in healthcare may seem simple from the outside but become increasingly complex when the context and other issues are taken into account. This has resulted in many entrepreneurs working on problems in a very simple manner that aren’t feasible in practice.
Yet how are the entrepreneurs to know? Hospitals and healthcare systems are not places where one can easily walk in to conduct customer interviews and nor should they be. UCSF has instigated an “office hours” type program whereby any entrepreneur can reach out to them and speak with the right people to obtain feedback on their idea, and if appropriate, they can meet with other people (and potentially patients) to fully apprentice the problem.
In healthcare there still remains too large a barrier in communication preventing problem solvers from fully understanding the problem. (Shameless self-promotion here, but this is why the Melbourne BioDesign Program which pairs doctors, engineers and business students at the University of Melbourne has been so successful: it pairs the right types of people to understand and solve the problems in healthcare).
In the afternoon we travelled back to Palo Alto where we were joined by Andrew Braccia, a partner at Accel and one of the top tech investors in the Bay Area. Accel is one of the best venture firms in the world and has invested in companies such as Slack, Spotify, Facebook, 99designs, Dropbox, Atlassian and Xero. Accel has also been one of the most active Bay Area VCs investing in Australian companies (Atlassian, 99 designs, Invoice2Go, OzForex, Campaign Monitor).
Andrew provided a summary of his background, the rise of Silicon Valley and Accel’s perspective when it comes to investment. The two key pieces of advice from Andrew’s wealth of experience were as follows:
Invest in the entrepreneur, not the startup
While Andrew was working at Yahoo (prior to his time at Accel), Yahoo acquired Flickr, which had been founded by Stewart Butterfield. Following the acquisition of Flickr, Stewart went on to found another company called Tiny Speck, which was then backed by Accel and Andrew, who was now a venture partner there. Tiny Speck failed but Andrew had backed Stewart, who went on to found Slack, a real startup success story. This is an example where the VC backed the entrepreneur and their ability to build a business – which has ultimately paid a gargantuan dividend.
Silicon Valley is not as casual as it seems
Many people entering the Bay Area mistake the t-shirts and hoodies for a lack of professionalism. This is compounded by the fact that many entrepreneurs are surprised by how easy it is to get an initial meeting with somebody. What they don’t realise is that Silicon Valley is based on a pay-it-forward culture, and so although many people will provide you with one opportunity, if you waste that you’ll be done. Make sure you prepare for any meetings you have, ensure that you’re ready to perform, turn up on time and that you can make the meeting as mutually beneficial as possible.
Both founders and delegates returned to Australia with new perspectives and fresh ideas. We could write a full-blown essay with advice shared by each of the speakers across the four days, but to really be immersed in the learning and excitement of our trip, you’ll just have to apply to MAP and come with us to Silicon Valley next year!
Wednesday in Palo Alto was a day of provocative juxtapositions that got us thinking about culture – in teams, in organisations, and in societies. How can startups build strong cultures that ensure everyone pulls in the same direction and works in sync, and yet also embrace diversity and unexpected perspectives that shake up assumptions?
Get (way) out of the building
The day started with a talk by Professor George Foster, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Management at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. His theme was how to assess new venture risks and opportunities. He cautioned entrepreneurs about insularity, underlining how common it is for founders not to know how many others are working on the same idea. He advised not just to get out of the building, but to get out of the country, and to take a global perspective on how your startup is positioned relative to international competition.
Building a culture for success
The theme of how to challenge insularity was picked up at other points throughout the day. For us, the juxtaposition of two speakers that afternoon was especially interesting. Jonathon Baer, a long-time Valley resident, entrepreneur, investor and adviser, gave us an overview of his book ‘Decoding Silicon Valley’. He spoke about the powerful culture and norms in the Valley business community, and noted that Australian entrepreneurs are often under-prepared for the size of the U.S. market and the intensity of the competition. Jon touched on themes that we hear every time we visit – to succeed in America, you have to be bigger, louder, more confident.
When we met Craig Barratt, recently retired CEO of Access, Google, we encountered an immensely experienced and successful founder and Valley insider, who IPO’d two tech companies before moving to Google. Craig is also a quintessentially understated and unassuming Australian. He emphasised the importance of building great teams and culture that lets them thrive. “Financial results,” he observed, “are a backwards-looking indicator – team dynamics are a forward-looking indicator.” Greg Sutherland (CIO at Australia Post and delegation member) noted in his gracious thanks that Craig was clearly an ego-less leader. It was refreshing for us all to see that the humble outsider can prevail, and that while you do have to be ready for intense competition, you don’t have to conform to stereotype (bigger! louder! more aggressive!) to win in the Valley.
The influence of environment
Two other visits on Wednesday raised yet more interesting questions about culture. At Google, we learned about the strange dilemma posed by powerful company cultures: the more successful the spread of culture, the harder you have to work to overcome groupthink. Google has colonised land (buildings beyond the horizon!) and language (employees are Googlers, new ones are Nooglers, dog-loving ones are Dooglers) – but they also prize diversity, and go so far as to design their on-site cafes to be slightly too small. Why? Because in queues, people talk, they meet new people, they learn new things.
At the d.school at Stanford, Executive Director Sarah Stein Greenberg shared some fascinating stories about how they are teaching students and staff to build the outsider perspective into the very fabric of problem-solving. Using the design thinking techniques developed at the d.school, Sarah and her team are helping people to think differently, to think creatively, and to work together effectively while doing so.
In the most heart-warming story of the day, we heard about a team of d.school students who tackled the problem of the post-operative care of children with club feet, the leading cause of disability in the developing world. The team travelled extensively, worked with doctors on the ground, and stayed with families of affected children. A team with not a medic among them, they redefined what had always been considered a medical challenge as a parenting challenge: and designed a revolutionary brace that provides post-operative support and is actually used by families. The team has built a successful business around their insight.
The MAP delegation flew into a city deeply surprised and shaken by the recent election of Trump. All around us, people were asking – how did we miss this? At MAP, this made us think… Putting in place mechanisms that help reveal our biases and challenge our assumptions has never been more important. Whether it’s adopting lean startup approaches to understanding the customer, forming truly diverse teams that challenge group think, or consciously introducing behavioural practices that shake up the status quo, one thing remains… The ability to understand things from the perspective of others matters — and not only for startups.
After a fantastic welcome bringing together the founders and the rest of our delegation, we prepared for a huge day at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center in the heart of San Francisco.
A Straight-Talking Zuckerberg
The morning began with a conversation between MAP Director Rohan Workman and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers Partner, Arielle Zuckerberg. Opting for a more dynamic and
conversational format, Rohan began by fielding questions from the delegation. After listening intently, Arielle framed a rich discussion on the fly. Satisfying the delegation’s burning questions, she candidly shared what it takes to gain the attention of a VC firm in a crowded market.
Building International Linkages from Melbourne to San Francisco
Two important presentations followed that stressed the importance of deepening the relationship between Melbourne and San Francisco. From Melbourne’s point of view, the CEO of Innovation and Science Australia Charlie Day introduced Vice Principal of Enterprise at the University of Melbourne, Doron Ben-Meir. Doron outlined the University of Melbourne’s exceptional asset base which has driven its growing interest in innovation and entrepreneurship at the intersection of research and industry. He shared the growing initiatives around campus, including the well-established MAP (us, woo!) and the university’s partnership with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center, just one example of exceptional partners that will support the endeavours of MAP and our founders into the future.
Bruce outlined the colourful history of the NASDAQ and the inspiration for the Entrepreneurial Centre which serves as an important linkage to Silicon Valley and the world’s startup community. Questions flowed quickly after the overview, as the delegation was curious to hear more about Bruce’s background, factors for his incredible professional success, and stories of interactions with some of the world’s most enigmatic startup founders.
Searching for Social Impact in the Bay Area
The entire delegation was particularly taken by Tumml Director, May Samali. Tumml is a San Francisco-based accelerator for startups that focus on the social issues cities face. May gave us a detailed overview of the types of social enterprises capturing market share in the Bay Area – which incidentally are various transport innovations or ride share solutions like their startup Chariot.
May took time to go over unique experiences impact entrepreneurs encounter as they scale, detailing the active investment landscape available to them from either side of the spectrum: from foundations and family offices through to venture capital funds. She finished with some words of advice for the MAP founders; to remain creative, seek out partnerships and focus, focus, focus on execution! Stellar advice from an inspiring agent of change.
An Afternoon of Alternative Marketing, Atlassian Style
MAP’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Jeremy Kraybill was excited to introduce his college buddy and high flyer Spencer Frasher who heads up Marketing at Atlassian.
Spencer retold the legend that now surrounds founders (and college buddies) Mike
Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar – how they radically rethought entry of their enterprise software into international markets from Australia. Spencer also shared how Atlassian’s viral-like, word of mouth marketing techniques generated organic uptake of their product and in-built feedback mechanisms helped them focus on quality. He also briefly touched on Atlassian’s unique culture, and the fact that it’s quirkiness has only just been captured into companywide values explains the visionary approach Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar have taken to their startup.
The session captured the imagination of the MAP founders and generated an animated discussion that included invaluable practical advice, especially for founders building Business-to-Business companies.
Mixing Things Up with Mentors
After these 5 incredible sessions, things were just getting started for the MAP16 founders!
They were treated to a mentoring session with a stellar selection of mentors from our wider networks in Silicon Valley and our incredibly talented delegation.
Over the next hour each of the mentors provided specialised knowledge to each founder and generously opened up their networks to help our founders on their journeys. The mentoring session allowed each of our founders to walk away with a more nuanced understanding of where to take their businesses after the Silicon Valley experience.
Demo Day Silicon Valley
As night fell, the founders practiced their pitches while the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center opened its doors to the wider Silicon Valley community: our delegation; speakers who returned to watch the startups in action; local founders; friends of MAP and the University of Melbourne joined to support the MAP startups as they pitched for the final time as part of the MAP16 startup accelerator.
Perhaps it was the adrenalin and atmosphere of the night, the words of wisdom or the knowledge shared that afternoon, but as each of the founders confidently took to the stage and delivered their pitches with everything they had, we couldn’t have been prouder!
The first day of the delegation provided a series of briefings for the MAP founders. We met with a number of successful entrepreneurs, investors and mentors who revealed the lay of the land in the Valley. The common themes throughout the presentations included startup successes, the importance of scale, capital raising and entrepreneurial traits.
“Product-market fit is important, but no longer sufficient” – with Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson has a wealth of startup experience in the Valley. Having worked in the venture capital community with many successful founders (as well as Fortune 500 companies), he brings unique insights from both sides of the table.
Mark discussed the importance of global ambition within a startup and the process of optimising systems for scale. The saturated U.S market offers a population size of 322 million, exponentially larger than the 23.5 million inhabitant back on Australian shores. Whilst the size of the U.S market is enticing, a highly competitive landscape means that the speed of execution matters and founders must develop creative ways to capture the market.
We were cautioned not to focus on products or technology in isolation, a common and dangerous position to which founders often fall prey. Products don’t exist without markets; founders who overlook market sentiment and feedback are working on invalidated assumptions. In order to progress, external feedback needs to be incorporated to build something of value.
When asked about entrepreneurial traits, Mark spoke of the importance of persistence, highlighting a story about a Norwegian founder who pitched his startup to at least 72 venture capitalists before reaching an agreement!
“Resources to scale” – with Brian Carnahan
As Trade Director to the Victorian Government of Australia in San Francisco, Brian Carnahan delivers business opportunities in the US, Canada and Latin America for Victorian companies.
Brian has seen hundreds of Australian entrepreneurs who are looking to expand into the U.S. Detailing the various types of government support and resources available to Australian entrepreneurs seeking to make the jump to the U.S, Brian urged us to remember that ultimately, the best founders will recognise early on that success ultimately rests on their own shoulders.
With years of experience dealing with both Australian and American entrepreneurs, Brian spoke about notable cultural
differences in personality and work ethic. While founders in the U.S are thought to be more confident in pitching and their general approach to business, many Australian founders seem to undersell or underestimate various aspects of their venture. In order to break through this perceived tall-poppy syndrome, Australian entrepreneurs must capitalise on their ability to quickly build rapport and strategic relationships where it counts.
Manners matter in the Valley. Due to the perceived shared Western culture, many founders make the mistake of assuming that things in the U.S work the same way they do back home. Take for example the simple act of post-meeting follow up. When an entrepreneur has taken a meeting (say, with an investor), a follow up email on the same day signals that they are on top of things. It also shows that they have respected the investor’s time. The chances of someone wanting to be involved with your startup (and support you) beyond the first meeting are significantly higher once you’ve closed that loop. Remember: Silicon Valley is concentrated and word gets around very quickly. The same goes for the Melbourne startup scene for that matter – good manners and a professional business demeanour are essential!
“Silicon Valley should inspire you, not sway you” – with John Papandriopoulos (aka. JPap)
JPap founded SnappyCam, the world’s fastest smart-phone (burst-mode) camera app that reached #1 in paid app rankings across 16 countries. He shared with us his entrepreneurial journey which started at University in Melbourne and eventually led to an acquisition by a multinational company. His entrepreneurial pathway wasn’t without barriers, which he shared frankly with the group.
After completing a PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, JPap won
the green card lottery (literally), packed up his belongings and moved to the U.S. For two years he worked as a solo founder while bootstrapping SnappyCam. While the experience was very challenging (especially from a morale perspective), he persisted in developing a product that he knew was superior in the market.
JPap has a unique sensitivity to design and a level of attention to detail that is only seen rarely and in a handful of founders. He is hyper-aware of the value he was creating, passionate about his users and worked extremely hard to get things moving.
Two years working full-time on the startup would seem like a long time – especially when the opportunity costs for alternative pathways become even more substantial. When asked about whether he had set specific milestones to reflect and make a decision about whether the venture was still worth pursuing, JPap mentioned that there were no hard-set rules or timelines. Without a doubt in his mind, the only way he was able to reach an outcome was to take on the uncertain risk and invest 100% of his energy into SnappyCam over that time period. Blown away by his journey to success (and down-to-earth demeanour), it was made clear to us very early on that JPap had made full use of every opportunity available to him.
While pursuing a venture as a solo founder can be daunting, the lesson we took away here was to stop looking for certainty – startups are incredibly tumultuous and you’re better off committing fully and embracing the unknown.