Day 4: Investing in people

The MAP16 Silicon Valley trip wrapped up with a wonderful schedule for the final day.

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Dr Aenor Sawyer leads the charge in digital health innovation at UCSF.

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).

 

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Andrew Braccia shares what he looks for in a startup investment.

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!

 

Day 3: Creating culture

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.

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Back to school: MAP delegates learn from Prof. George Foster at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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.

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Craig Barratt, previously CEO of Google, Access.

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

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Elliot Costello kicks back at Google.

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.

 

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Sarah Stein Greenberg walked us through the incredible creative spaces at d.school.

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.

Challenging assumptions

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.

Day 2: International reach & social impact

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

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Arielle Zuckerberg handles Q&A with ease.

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.

 

Arielle stressed the importance for KPCB to find mission driven entrepreneurs, who are working on meaningful problems; the solutions created should incorporate cutting edge technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence; and the importance of a founding team to remain diverse and have the systems in place to attract and keep the best talent.

 

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.

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Doron Ben-Meir discusses the University of Melbourne’s approach to innovation.

Doron transitioned the discussion to San Francisco’s point of view, introducing Vice Chairman of NASDAQ and President of the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center Mr Bruce Aust.

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Bruce Aust shares his experiences taking some of the worlds most famous startups public.

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.

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May Samali, Director of Tumml, provides a comprehensive introduction to the social ecosystem in SF.

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

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Spencer Frasher, Head of Marketing, emphasises the importance of culture in Atlassian’s success.

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

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Mark Chakin advises Allume Energy.

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.

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MAP16 founders pitched at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.

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!

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Day 1: What does it take to build a startup in Silicon Valley?

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.

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Mark B. Johnson provides frank advice to the MAP16 founders.

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

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Brian Carnahan listens intently to practice pitches.

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

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JPap shares his journey from Melbourne PhD student to Silicon Valley success story.

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.

A place for all founders to flourish

 

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Director of MAP, Rohan Workman, welcomes the audience to MAP16 Demo Day at Melbourne Town Hall on October 27.

Removing Restrictions and Upping Diversity

Since removing the restriction of our startup founder’s affiliation to the University of Melbourne from students, staff and alumni of 5 years to students, staff and alumni of any year, we have welcomed a record number of applications and selected one of the most diverse MAP cohorts yet.

The MAP16 founders tick a lot of boxes – they are global citizens (from Mexico, Norway, Holland, Italy, New Zealand and Australia), are different ages (from students to seasoned professionals), have different specialisations (from law and science to engineering and design) and, true to MAP style, these founders are building businesses in emerging sectors (from artificial intelligence and socially accessible solar energy to medical health and diagnostics).

The transfer of knowledge across this diverse group has been rapid, but we know it could be faster and that we could support future startups to have an even greater chance of success by ensuring one more element of diversity is present in the mix – gender.

Why True Diversity Matters

We are proud to have built a MAP team that ticks all the boxes – we have an international outlook (from Malaysia, Ghana, UK, China, US, Australia and New Zealand), are at different life stages, have a range of educational experiences and expertise, and are cultivating a great set of female leaders.

We believe true diversity in a startup’s founding team should encompass age, gender, education, and specialisation. We also believe that once a team with this competitive edge is set up, mentored and given the right support, they will produce a better, more sustainable business. It is our vision that these businesses will in turn help us to achieve our vision for a more prosperous Australia for all.

Evidence consistently shows companies that are led by women and embrace diversity of all kinds demonstrate improved levels of innovation, creativity, and quite simply, better bottom lines (by as much as 30% on average). Once companies like these attract investment, an incredible 63% of those with female founders perform better than those with all male teams.

Turning up the Heat on Gender Diversity

As our Director Rohan Workman highlighted at our Demo Day this year, having no women pitch that evening was upsetting. We know there’s a lot of work to do; we are up to the challenge.

We want MAP to be the place for female founders to flourish; founders of Melbourne, make yourselves known and prepare to apply for 2017.

MAP startups gain access to $20,000 in funding, office space and mentorship for 5 months, and have the opportunity to pitch to investors here in Melbourne and in Silicon Valley. MAP has a public benefit mandate that extends to the accelerator program. As such, we do not take equity in the startups in our program and we support startups of all kinds.

 

To date, we have supported 34 startups with 8 female founders who have gone on to employ another 29 women. These statistics can be improved, and have in the past few years – for example, the number of women in our applicant pool this year more than doubled, which is an important first step. We do not want and cannot allow any more female founders to miss out on this opportunity as your success is ours. We are excited to be in the position to build and shape the future of startups where doors are kept open and an even wider group can participate. 

Opportunities for Female Founders at MAP

How are we actively working to create this shift? We have focused our efforts on developing and preparing exceptional talent to enter the accelerator program and have been excited to see that we are quickly approaching gender parity in our development programs (56% men to 44% women).

There are many ways in which we welcome aspiring entrepreneurs and female founders into the MAP family and you’ll notice we’ve taken things up a notch this year. Take a note of the following initiatives we have developed over the past 5 years and share them with your networks:

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Female Founders Meetup: The importance of founder wellbeing, October 7.

Female Founders Meetup est. 2013

Our renowned Female Founders meetup, founded with Google, is one of the largest in the world. The events are for women and men at all stages of their startup journey and are designed to inspire and inform you or introduce you to amazing female founders who are blazing the trail. Sign up here.

The Velocity Series est. 2013

The Velocity Series programs are tailored to support aspiring entrepreneurs to become well-rounded founders of early-stage startups. The Velocity Series includes three streams: Startup Velocity – for the frameworks and practical skills to get the ball rolling; Escape Velocity – to help founders with customer validation and building traction; and Social Velocity – merging the worlds of startup and social enterprise. Startup Velocity is offered multiple times per year across two consecutive evenings, whilst Escape Velocity and Social Velocity are both 6-month programs that use the lean startup methodology and mentorship to push teams past ideation to validation and traction.

Escape Velocity est. 2013

In former iterations, Escape Velocity was a light touch, 3-day program. The program has since been redesigned to support high-potential teams with a clear methodology and mentorship as they search for product market fit. Express your interest or refer a friend.

Social Velocity est. 2016

This competitive-entry program is designed for mission focused founders building startups with social or environmental impact. The experience pushes teams to better understand their social issue, sets them up with experienced mentors, connects teams with Escape Velocity, and introduces them to the social entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Express your interest or refer a friend.

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Social Velocity team ‘Climates’ discuss their impact gaps canvas, September 20.

The Franklins est. 2016

This program is especially for women entrepreneurs at all stages. The skills-based program is co-designed with participants to sharpen their entrepreneurial acumen, and to connect them with supportive peers and mentors. (The Franklins are inspired by the story of Rosalind Franklin, whose pioneering scientific work went largely unrecognised in her lifetime. We want to support and celebrate our female entrepreneurs and innovators!) Express your interest or refer a friend.

Open Mic Night est. 2016

This has been a successful new addition to our talent development repertoire – branders and marketers, wheelers and dealers, coders and programmers, and everyone in between are welcome to pitch their skills and expertise to startups. Startups also have the opportunity to find their next team member at this event. Express your interest or refer a friend.

Open Office Hours est. 2016

For those of you who have a startup that is past the proof of concept stage, we are more than happy to take a meeting with you to learn more about your idea and to provide advice for applying to MAP at our Open Office Hours. Feel free to book a session here – http://map.youcanbook.me

(If you’re not yet past proof of concept, check out the opportunities above and let us help you get there!) 

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MAP x Notable Media Workshop with Amanda Gome, Building your personal brand, April 29.

Starting up and Leaning in

We are lucky to have an incredibly committed network of high-profile and up-and-coming women – and men – who are working with us to bring about real change on this front. We want to recognise them and thank them for their faith and their energy. Without them, the additional initiatives we have designed and run, would not be possible.

With 1-in-4 startups being founded by women in Australia, MAP’s activities alone will not provide the silver bullet in changing the status quo. We encourage all of you who are participating in Australia’s flourishing entrepreneurship ecosystem as founders, funders or mentors to lean in and help us achieve our vision. Tap female founders in your network on the shoulder and encourage them to join the MAP family.

If you are interested in mentoring the next generation of founders with truly diverse backgrounds, we cannot wait to work with you, please get in touch. We are working towards showcasing startups that represent a broad cross section of society and who have developed the skill-sets necessary to grow successful businesses into the future.

Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook or get in touch with us to see what’s in store for 2017!

 

Finding true north: how to define your growth compass.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-4-42-34-pmLessons on growth from Envato’s Ben Chan

It’s always a great learning opportunity when the founders in our startup accelerator gather together for their weekly workshop. When the guest presenter happens to be a General Manager from one of Australia’s most successful startups, the excitement and engagement step up another level. Ben Chan, General Manager of Envato Market, captivated our startup founders last week as he shared some key pointers on how to measure and pursue growth. Since its launch in Melbourne in 2006, Envato has grown its community to over 6 million users, making it the world’s leading market place for creative assets.

With a background in investment and management consulting, Ben has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience from which to draw. After completing his undergraduate studies in Commerce and Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Ben worked in Investment Banking in Melbourne, before moving to Goldman Sachs in New York. While based in the US, Ben completed his MBA at Stanford University. In 2010 Ben returned to Australia to work in management consulting for McKinsey & Company, later moving to Envato as Director of Growth and Revenue in 2013.

“Growth should serve as a compass for startups, helping to guide your movements at every critical decision”, Ben revealed. If you’re making decisions that do not clearly link back to your growth objectives, you’re missing out. Ben shared the four key pillars of Envato’s impressive growth with our founders, who were keen to learn from his wealth of experience. For Envato, growth comes down to: a strong user focus; delivering products that address those users’ needs; having the right team to deliver the product; and ensuring the right processes are in place to assist your team. This last step is critical for startups struggling to scale their business.

Envato’s stellar growth is fascinating to consider, given the challenges that typically face online marketplaces. While trying to grow both the supply side (their authors) and the demand side (their customers), Ben explained how crucial it was to understand what is important to each. He admitted that, at times, one side of a market place can be easier to develop than the other, but that in order to grow, you need to double your efforts to invest in the side that proves to be a greater challenge.

Through Envato’s careful market analysis they discovered that authors of digital assets wanted to earn a living through freelancing, but that they also were desperately seeking a sense of belonging and a community where they felt cared for. On the other side of the equation, buyers of digital assets wanted good value, trust, high quality and diversity of product. Ben and the team at Envato provide proof that both suppliers and customers in a marketplace can be satisfied simultaneously, and have continued to expand their marketplace tailored to the specific needs of each group.

Taking this advice on board, our founders were keen to learn more about how Envato have grown their customer base. Approaching digital marketing by channel, Ben was quick to stress the importance of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). “Search Engine Optimisation is critical. It doesn’t matter if you have the best product in the world, if Google and your customers can’t find you, that’s the end.” Paid acquisition can be used to bolster your audience, but, as Ben stressed, it is often costly and only generates small volumes. “Affiliate marketing is a huge industry and can be a great way to encourage a virtual sales team – but you need to make it worth their while” said Ben. Our founders had plenty of questions on this topic, discussing how best to select and engage with affiliates. Email marketing was also discussed as a key tool in pursuing growth. The founders were challenged to think beyond the use of email for existing customers, instead using it for new customer acquisition by collaborating with complimentary organisations, where benefits can be realised for both user-bases through joint marketing campaigns.

As the discussion turned to focus on the processes needed for growth, Ben shared the value in iterating fast and gathering customer feedback at every stage of the sales funnel. Laying down the challenge, Ben encouraged the startups to push out at least one market or customer ‘experiment’ per week in order to gain valuable feedback which can then be used to make data driven decisions. “While focus groups are useful, even the best focus groups can only give you a few voices. Some of those voices may be louder than others but not necessarily point in the right direction”, shared Ben. “Real data should always trump anecdotes”.

Ben concluded the workshop by covering the two key growth metrics that Envato consider the most valuable: conversion rate and value by cohort. While most people think of conversion rates from a ‘visit to action’ point of view, Ben suggested our startups break this down even further to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their sales funnel. Each step in the sales funnel from should be tracked, in order to minimise leakage. Looking not only at page visit to purchase, but also at customer lead to face-to-face interaction, or event view to event registration, can provide useful insights that can be used to improve your offering overall.

Value by cohort groups users and customers by common factors, including but not limited to the channel that brought them to you, the geography they’re from, the product they’re interested in, the campaign that won them over, and when they engaged with your business. This data can then be used to understand the revenue generated by a cohort, in comparison to their cost of acquisition. Particularly valuable for startups to identify where traction and revenue is being generated, and consequently, where marketing efforts should be focused.

Ben was incredibly generous with his advice and time, staying behind to talk to our founders after his workshop. We are very grateful to Ben for sharing his wisdom and advice, and we look forward to having him back at MAP again soon.

Morning tea with Ian Bernstein, co-founder of Sphero

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Co-founder of Sphero, Ian Bernstein shared his startup experience with us in a special visit to LAB-14 on Thursday 25 August. The MAP team was incredibly excited by Ian’s visit, as he truly is a leader in the development of interactive toys and applied technology. Sphero’s star product is a robotic ball that can be controlled by smartphones, which as we learnt, played an integral role in the creation of the iconic Disney Character, BB-8.

Ian’s journey started when he and co-founder Adam Wilson were accepted into TechStars. Accelerating their growth through sheer determination, hard-work and a commitment to take advantage of every opportunity, by the end of the program, the boys had developed the basic prototype for Sphero. At this point, and after demonstrating significant success through sales of their robotic balls, Ian and his co-founder Adam were invited to the Disney Accelerator program. After a chance meeting with a Disney executive involved with the Star Wars Episode VII movie, in in the space of 4 hours, Ian and Adam developed a (very) rough prototype for BB-8, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The film was a huge success, BB-8 was a stand-out character, and Sphero’s BB-8 app-controlled droid went on to achieved ‘Toy of the Year’ status.

Here’s a sneak peek into the Q&A session we had with Ian.

MAP: There are many different accelerators around the world. How do you figure out which one to apply for?

IB: The easiest way to find out is to search for the companies that those Accelerators have funded, to give you a better idea of who they cater to. In the U.S, for instance, some of the commonly known Accelerators include Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and TechStars, which are mainly for early-stage startups. Other Accelerators such as HAX and Disney Accelerators are designed to help more established startups to scale up.

MAP: How do we go about choosing where to manufacturing our products?

IB: Most hardware companies (including Sphero) manufacture their products in China. Firstly, it is important to choose manufacturers that you can trust to reduce the likelihood of being copied by other surrounding manufacturers. Secondly, manufacturing in China requires founders to stay highly involved with the production line to ensure the quality of their products. I personally spend a substantial amount of time each year visiting our manufacturers to solve all kinds of technical issues.

MAP: What should we do if we want to expand our product line?

IB: BB-8 has been the most popular product by Sphero to date. This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to develop. How will Sphero expand our product lines to stay relevant in the market? We have products for users at different levels, so that when they have developed or progressed beyond one product, we can upgrade the speed for players or the challenge from intermediate to higher levels. This has proved effective to keep our users engaged and challenged so far.