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.