Lessons in startup community building with Andrew Hyde

 

As the Victorian entrepreneur-in-residence and champion of startup community building, Andrew Hyde not only loves the Melbourne coffee but is greatly appreciative of the thriving community culture surrounding the city’s startup ecosystem. He sees parallels between Melbourne and his hometown of Boulder, Colorado; a sleepy little town of hundred thousand which has successfully created a multi-billion dollar startup economy largely due to the meaningful narrative that was shaped around Boulder’s high quality of life and close-knit startup scene centred around community events. At the first Startup Grind session of 2017, Andrew narrated his story of founding the Startup Weekend, an event that has now spread to over 162 countries and attracts over 500 thousand participants worldwide. 

Andrew Hyde (right) speaking to Chris Joannou (left) at Startup Grind Melbourne

Andrew Hyde (right) speaking to Chris Joannou (left) at Startup Grind Melbourne

Growing up on a ranch in Oregon, he was instilled with the values of hard work and community from an early age. After a degree in design from college which he completed in record time, he found his job in marketing rather unchallenging. About the same time, the GFC was taking its toll on the United States and many smart and creative people had no other option than to pursue a career in startups. Andrew decided that he could help these newbie entrepreneurs by bringing them together and facilitating exchanges of ideas, skills and knowledge. That was the idea behind the Startup Weekend, a 54-hour weekend startup building boot camp. The Minimum Viable Proposition (MVP) was launched under 5 hours, and 82 people attended the first event a few weeks later. It turned out to be a great success.

Andrew fondly recalls the impression he had of the early participants, “For the very first time they thought that they could be entrepreneurs."

Growth of Startup Weekend and acquisition by Techstars

The growth of Startup Weekend happened rather quickly. While there were other hackathons around, people resonated with the logo, ethics and community of Startup Weekend. In the first six months, Andrew was flying to a new city each week to host the Startup Weekend. With the expansion, also came the cash crunch. For the initial phase, Andrew was putting his own money into the event, and it was a completely free for participants. When that eventually became unsustainable, the very first round of pricing structure involved charging $25 at the door for seven meals and a t-shirt. This was hardly enough to cover the costs and after some hard struggle, Startup Weekend was finally able to receive sponsorship from Google for Entrepreneurs. Andrew had also reached the burnout state after having worked relentlessly on events and was very happy to have Startup Weekend turned into a non-profit and be ultimately acquired acquired by Techstar. Andrew Hyde was Employee #1 at Techstars. Techstar, co-founded by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis, ultimately went on to become one of the most prominent startup accelerator and venture capital providers in the world, accepting only 1% of the applications that are submitted to them.
Later on, Andrew also founded the Startup Week that showcases startups, technologies, talks and businesses and has now spread to over 100 cities around the world. Startup Week has also been acquired by Techstars.

 

Finding inspiration through travel and writing

To escape the pressures of the high-octane startup world in which he had pushed himself to the very limit, Hyde has taken extended breaks travelling the world and has been living as a minimalist travel blogger for quite some time. He gave up most of his worldly possessions and apparently manages to live on just 15 items, something that attracts its fair share of controversy as well as curiosity. His stories of adventures to 79 countries are well documented on his blog and also inspired his book ‘This Book is about Travel’ that went on to become Number 1 on Amazon. 

 

Melbourne is a modern and beautiful city offering a very high quality of life to entrepreneurs

Melbourne is a modern and beautiful city offering a very high quality of life to entrepreneurs

So, what can the Melbourne startup scene take away from Andrew Hyde’s experiences in community building?

 

#1 Creating a narrative around an ecosystem’s key strengths

Andrew observes that Melbourne today is what the New York tech scene used to be ten years ago. Melbourne is a modern and world-class city filled with incredibly creative and well-travelled people as well as a fantastic community culture within and outside the startup scene. Entrepreneurs from all across the globe value the high quality of life and human capital that Melbourne has to offer and many would be highly willing to relocate and set up companies in the city. This should be central to the narrative we create in pitching our city to the world. 

 

#2 Valuing the philosophy of giving back

Startup Weekend, Techstars and the entire Boulder startup community have the philosophy of ‘giving back’ firmly ingrained in their DNA. It is about creating a supportive environment in which newer players feel included and can tap into the experience and mentorship of older veterans. Making mentoring and early stage support readily available to new entrepreneurs is a fantastic way for any city to rejuvenate their economy. Boulder has proven this very successfully through its ingenious startup economy and Melbourne needs follow the same route.

 

#3 Inclusiveness of the startup community

For a community to attract diverse talent from all cross sections of the society, inclusion and openness need to be at the very heart of how people engage with one another. This means events need to cater to people of all ages, cultures, genders and socioeconomic groups and organisers need to have the patience to learn and grow from feedback. Research has consistently proven that diverse organisations are more innovative and resilient and if you are into startups, you just can’t just miss out on innovation and survive.

 

#4 Focus on goals

Whether it is a community or an individual start-up, a razor sharp focus on goals and planning a clear path towards them is a mindset that needs to be adopted from the very beginning. Startups and startup communities tend to be creative melting pots with relaxed and often radical ways of thinking. This is very well and good and is the chief driver of innovation. However, not having discipline and governance can easily reduce entrepreneurial communities into dysfunctional congregations that create no real value for anyone!

 

Melbourne, for now, has a lot to cheer about. Surveys and reports place us among the most dynamic places in the world to start a tech or creative business. With the United States potentially moving towards more protectionist business policies, Melbourne with its openness, community as well as government startup incentives like LaunchVic is very likely to emerge as a top launchpad for startups looking to benefit from the huge Asian market on our doorstep.

 

Posted on February 4, 2017 .

Jennifer Fein shares an expat's guide to the Aussie startup scene

After eight years of experiencing the intensity of life that is New York, Jennifer Fein decided it was time to settle for a more moderate pace in the world’s most livable city, Melbourne. Not long after, she also made the decision to trade her ‘safe’ corporate career in digital marketing and product development and follow her passion for creating a software tool specially made for travel planning, a space she has had a love affair with for many years. Thus began her journey with YouLi in the unchartered waters of the Melbourne startup scene.

Ready to Launch is a simple step-by-step guide to creating a startup in Australia (Image: supplied)

Ready to Launch is a simple step-by-step guide to creating a startup in Australia (Image: supplied)

Jen finds her way through ‘Ready to Launch’

As a newcomer to Australia and a first-time founder, she quickly realised the need for honest and unbiased advice and mentoring if she had any hope of success in the risky game of startups. Jen was lucky enough to find serial tech entrepreneur Paul Boxer, a highly successful founder of several hitech defense startups, the largest being Sentient Vision Systems. Paul and Jen had many conversations on setting up a startup in Australia, a place that is different to the US in its resource constraints and also in the somewhat risk-averse way of doing business. On top of that, Jen had to navigate the unique ways in which financial, legal and governmental systems worked in this country.   

Amidst all the conversations they had about creating an Aussie startup,  Jen and Paul realised how these conversations could help many others in a similar position. So they wrote up a short, sharp and incredibly useful book that specifically addresses the question of how to launch a successful startup from Down Under. Ready to Launch is written in a very simple language and does an excellent job at fleshing out the complex set of personal, financial and commercial challenges that a new founder needs to navigate past before their idea can morph into a functioning and profitable business. I have read this book and would personally recommend it to anyone looking to quickly find out if they are indeed ready to get started. And if yes, Ready to Launch also spells out the practical steps to be taken to receive funding, set up an office, hire employees, negotiate agreements and many such other things that a new business needs to get done.

Jen’s words of wisdom for first timers

Having been on the startup roller-coaster ride for over a year, Jen also has some words of wisdom for fellow founders:

Advice: On the topic of seeking advice, Jen says. “Go out there, listen to all people and ignore all of them.” She is very much about following one’s own path and trying something that feels right for the individual. Although it is a good idea to remain sensible, a startup is very much a creative venture and not everyone’s painting is going to look the same. That is fine!

Co-founders: After careful consideration, Jen has decided to go solo. For her, “it depends on what is your truth.” Each person has their individual preferences and working styles and being yourself is an essential ingredient of success.

Decision-making: ‘Ready to launch’ does talk a bit about decision-making as a founder. Jen explains, “Founders need to find clarity in themselves. Do you feel confident about making your own decisions or do you need help through conversations?” Decision-making style can heavily influence whether someone needs a co-founder or not.

Realistic expectations: While success should rightfully be everyone’s goal, Jen believes that it is worthwhile to reflect on the grit and perseverance that is needed to get there. “Successful people do find their niche; but not on their first attempt. It's a painful process. The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is that the successful ones are willing to fail continually until they succeed.”

Founder of Youli Travel Jennifer Fein took inspiration out of her own destination wedding in Jordan (Image: supplied)

Founder of Youli Travel Jennifer Fein took inspiration out of her own destination wedding in Jordan (Image: supplied)

Jen’s travel startup YouLi

Jen’s startup idea for YouLi is inspired by many adventures as a digital nomad around the world that ultimately led to a dream wedding in Jordan. Jen and her husband Adam have previously planned many trips with friends and family spread all over the world and know all too well how tedious the process can be, with endless email trails and complex spreadsheets that need to track everyone’s itinerary, schedules and bookings. For more and more people opting for destination weddings, this can be a needless hassle. Although there are great platforms such as Tripadvisor, Expedia and AirBnB that have made trip planning much easier, there is yet to be a good travel planning and management tool that simplifies the process and brings everything together. This is what Jen is hoping to change through her visually appealing and customised software technology.

As a person who very much treads her own path, Jen has spent most of the early phase of development of YouLi in getting to know her customer instead of hunting around for VC funding. That has enabled her to retain greater control of her company, and Jen hopes that the intensive customer research that has gone into the product in the early days will create value for the end user. YouLi platform is currently open to early adopters on a tiered fee structure, with usage being completely free for trips involving six travellers or less. In return for discounted usage costs, YouLi is hoping to gather as much customer insights as possible and build from that in a true Lean Startup fashion.

Jen is a highly organised founder who has managed to merge her passion, experience and discipline into a product that appeals to a very niche market of high-spending, experience-driven millennials. So we can hope that great things are ahead for this founder and her startup venture.

If you would like to learn more about Jen’s startup YouLi, check out youli.travel. To obtain a copy of Ready to Launch head to Booktopia.

Posted on January 18, 2017 .

The future of Investment Advice with Clover CEO Harry Chemay

Before founding the fintech startup Clover, Harry Chemay had spent over a decade as a financial planner advising individuals, before shifting to asset consulting where he advised institutions such as superannuation funds and university endowments. In the process, he arrived at the conclusion that the financial advice industry was primarily geared towards helping older Australians plan for retirement, while not engaging with younger Australians and those with modest means.

Harry concluded that “part of the reason is financial advice is very expensive to provide.”

It was made expensive by the need for highly trained professionals and onerous compliance requirements due to the highly regulated nature of the profession.

Fintech startup Clover promises to make investing more affordable and accessible (Image: supplied)

Fintech startup Clover promises to make investing more affordable and accessible (Image: supplied)

In the meantime, the advent of algorithm-driven robo-investing in the US was bringing down the costs of investment advice by cutting through the traditional inefficiencies of the process and making investing much more affordable and accessible. Harry and co-founders Sahil Kaura, Darcy Naunton and Warren Burns, with backgrounds in financial planning, investment management, venture capital and technology respectively, decided to try and bring the robo-investing technology to Australia. Harry, Sahil and Darcy had previously worked together in the investment consulting division of Mercer. Their vision was to create an automated advice and investment management solution that invests client funds into diversified portfolios of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that track market indices, while charging much lower fees as compared to traditional investment products. This led to the birth of Clover.com.au.

In our Startup Melbourne podcast, I spoke to Harry at length about the financial theory and technology behind this next generation investment product and the journey of Clover till this point.

Modern Portfolio Theory and ETFs

While robo-investing and robo-advice are relatively new, the financial underpinnings of this technology can be found in Modern Portfolio Theory, first articulated by Harry Markowitz in 1952. According to this theory, which has been the cornerstone of modern finance, it is possible to create an optimal investment portfolio through effective diversification of investment assets that maximises the return for a given level of risk. What this theory also predicts is that it is virtually impossible for a single investor to beat the market after fees and costs.

Harry Chemay explains, “With so many talented people looking at the news and imputing that news into share prices every second of every trading day, the average investor really has no chance against the global 24x7 system of money management.”

So the sensible thing for retail investors is not to try to beat the market but to harvest the return of the market through products such as Exchange Traded Funds or ETFs that are listed on the stock exchange and try to replicate benchmark indices. Indices refer to financial and stock market indices such as the S&P 500 in the US and S&P/ASX300 in Australia.

What ETFs essentially do is hold a combination of assets (such as shares) from a particular market that helps it to track a market index and move up and down with it. There are over 150 ETFs available in Australia that track the Australian and international stock markets, bonds, cash and real estate. This allows for the creation of robust investment portfolios by buying and holding a combination of ETFs. The other big advantage of ETFs is that they charge low fees as they do not involve active fund management, which helps in lowering trading costs and increasing tax efficiency. This intrinsic efficiency and cost-effectiveness of ETFs is the fundamental basis for Clover’s investing technology.  

Clover's enables clients to monitor their investments through a beautifully designed interface (Image: supplied)

Clover's enables clients to monitor their investments through a beautifully designed interface (Image: supplied)

Clover’s Investing Technology

Harry explains the technology behind Clover in the following terms, “Our algorithms matchup investors to an appropriate diversified portfolio that we have researched and composed, and we will invest for that client on their behalf.”

Clover’s makes investing fun and convenient by helping clients invest in ETF portfolios based on their financial goals and time horizon through a beautifully designed website right from the comfort of their living room at whatever time they choose. This spells a significant departure to traditional financial planning when one would have to physically go into a financial planner’s office during work hours for a consultation.

Being targeted at younger Australians who haven’t quite saved up a nest egg as yet, Clover is aiming to reduce the barrier to entry into investing by having a small initial requirement of $5,000 for new customers joining the platform.

Harry acknowledges, “But the key thing for us is not that $5,000 is going to make them financially secure, it's the ability to save and to be consistent and disciplined about saving on a regular basis that helps to turn modest initial contributions into something of a nest egg.”

Furthermore, by basing their investments on ETFs and algorithms and avoiding active fund management, Clover can significantly reduce costs involved in managing client funds. Clover is currently free for new users until June 2017, when they will begin charging for the service. Fees start at $7 a month (excluding GST) for accounts under $10,000, or from 0.45% to 0.75% per year (excluding GST), depending on the size of the portfolio above $10,000. There are no additional advice fees, account opening fees, or brokerage fees for Clover clients.

Future of Financial Advice

Like all other industrial sectors being enhanced by technology, the introduction of robo-investing by fintechs such as Clover is changing the financial advisory landscape after several decades of stagnation. Interestingly enough, this change will not necessarily mean an end to the traditional financial advice as it is now, but expand the pie as affordable, on-demand platforms allow more millennials to get started on investing earlier on in their lives.   

For aspiring fintech founders, Harry emphasises the importance of training and experience before venturing into this exciting as well as highly regulated and specialised field.

Referring to recent research by EY, Harry concludes, “I think the median age of fintech founders was 41, which is significantly higher than what you would expect for most tech companies; but that’s because a lot of fintech founders have had at least one and often times up to two decades in finance before they have gone out and founded their fintech startups.”

 

Shu and Startup Melbourne would like to wholeheartedly thank Harry Chemay for his inputs towards the article and the podcast.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and in no way constitutes financial advice.

 

Posted on January 11, 2017 .

Jules Lund talks about how TRIBE connects everyday influencers with brands

Influencer marketing is a huge social media phenomenon that is here to stay. I have already covered how a social media platform like Instagram can be harnessed to generate incredible brand awareness and rapid growth within a very short period. 

As one of Australia’s most celebrated TV and radio personalities with 15 years of success under his belt, Jules Lund is also one of the nation's most prominent social media influencers. Thus, he knew all too well the existing inefficiencies in the way brands traditionally connect with influencers for sponsored content.

Media personality turned tech founder Jules Lund with his TRIBE team (Image courtesy Jules Lund)

Media personality turned tech founder Jules Lund with his TRIBE team (Image courtesy Jules Lund)

In Episode 6 of our podcast, we speak with Jules on his startup TRIBE that is simplifying communication between brands and social media influencers. We also get some of his insights of being a first-time founder and where the future of social media is headed. 

Ideation of TRIBE

While working on the Fifi and Jules Show at Southern Cross Austereo, Jules with his passion for graphics design and visual content helped build up the social media assets of the company and consulted with some of the top media companies. His strength in social media engagement led to many requests for sponsored posts at which point he experienced first-hand how convoluted the process of brand and influencer engagement can get without a proper channel for communication.

Jules explains,”I was dumbfounded at how difficult it was to do a simple task….The brand would go to the agency, the agency would go to Southern Cross Austereo’s sales team, sales team would go internally to tactics, tactics would go to my agent and my agent would come to me. And it would be a simple request like, ‘Can you put a URL in there to push to our website?’ ”

The issue was not with either the influencers or brands as both knew what to do. Content creators have built their tribe based on the content they have produced and refined over a period while brands have a well-thought-through strategy on how they want to engage with social media audiences. Thus, Jules set out to create a technical interface layer that brings these parties together and enables a transparent and efficient transaction.

How does the platform work?

TRIBE is all about simplifying the workflow for influencer-driven ad campaigns sponsored by brands. 

After signing up to the platform, a brand puts out their specific requirements in the form of a project brief of the kind of content they are after on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. This attracts submissions from influencers from which the brand can pick the ones that they like and once approved those are instantly out on social media and the influencer gets paid the agreed price for their post. The advantage of TRIBE is that a brand can very quickly crowdsource amazing content from influencers using a product in different settings and different ways without having to spare the time and expense of doing multiple elaborate setups to test what works. 

Jules does not necessarily believe that influencers with millions of followers are the best bet at having a great marketing campaign. On the contrary, the TRIBE platform is looking for everyday Australians who have built a following of 3000 or more by providing incredible value to their community of followers or their ‘tribe’.

Jules was able to leverage his enormous body of relationships and experience and convince the value that marketers could derive by simply putting out a project brief on the platform at no cost that is seen by thousands of influencers around the country and results in submissions and great PR at no risk.

Since its launch in September 2015, TRIBE has worked with over 500 brands including Nike, Adidas and Disney, and has a pool of over 7000 passionate and talented content creators on their books.

The Tribe Team

Jules is very much the founder and creator of TRIBE and is 'across all that is happening'. Not having a tech background did not hinder him from tapping into his graphic design training and visual intellect as well as how his vision of a brand-influencer marketplace to create a user experience that is uncomplicated and geared towards optimum efficiency.

Nevertheless, Jules had the humility and foresight to bring together a team that complemented his strengths with their own abilities. Thus Jules happily handed over the keys to the operational and management functions to CEO Anthony Svirskis as he focusses on creating a strong narrative based marketing strategy.

As a first-time founder, he also credits his excellent team of advisors whose credibility in the market was crucial in raising funds to build and expand the platform and bring together the team.

Jules’ hiring advice is, ”In many ways, if you are having a meeting or they are presenting to you as a part of the recruitment process, and you feel a bit threatened, that is a good thing. It shows that they are going to have ownership, they are independent and they are not totally going to rely on you.”

Foreign Expansion

In the 12 months since its founding, Tribe has shown over 20% month-on-month growth and generated $1 million in revenue for content creators on their platform. For Jules and the team, it is just the 'right amount of pressure' to be tackling foreign expansion at this stage and he is very optimistic of the new markets that TRIBE will be reaching out to in the coming months.

At the close of Series A, TRIBE has raised $5.35 million in their Series A round for expanding overseas. The team has brought on an experienced analyst who is looking at 53 markets on certain key metrics including social media penetration, trust in influencer marketing, the cost of market entry and ease of doing business.

Future of Social Media

While Tribe is a fantastic startup, they are not the only ones trying to break into the vast and lucrative creative influencer marketing space. We have earlier covered Nichify and there are several others such as HypeTap, Influencity and Flamebit. Jules believes that this interest in the space is by itself validation of the big opportunities for TRIBE in the fast changing advertising landscape. 

Jules also sees a significant untapped opportunity in the beautiful image and video content that average Australians are creating with their smartphones and tablets, telling the stories of the brands that they love, trust and recommend to their friends and family. This content is of incredible value for bigger brands to fuel their social media engagement and can offer additional income streams in the same way Uber and AirBnB has done in the transport and accommodation industries.

If you are a brand or an influencer and would like to check out this exciting new self-service marketplace, please visit www.tribegroup.co

Posted on December 13, 2016 .

An update on Melbourne Startup Week

Last week, between 28 November - 2 December 2016, Melbourne Startup Week was in town and hosted 35 events at various locations around the city such as the York Butter Factory, Collective Campus, Slack, and Revolver Creative

With the vision of encouraging local entrepreneurs, Startup Week, a Techstars program, worked with the Melbourne startup community to bring together 24 speakers who ran sessions on a wide range of startup relevant topics including intellectual property management, startup insurance, design and emerging technologies. Over 400 attendees participated in these learning sessions that also had a heavy emphasis on networking and relationship building.

The Startup Week comes on the back of the Melbourne Startup Weekend, a two-day hackathon (also a Techstars program) that saw enterprising teams solve problems based around the retail tech theme.

I attended a couple of events, one focused on fintech and the other on virtual reality. These are two great emerging technological trends that will be having a profound impact on two very different industries and provide glimpses of how technology will evolve in the future.

 

Clover and the future of financial advice

Clover is a fintech startup that is disrupting the financial advice industry which, at present, is mainly centred around retirement planning and often tends to miss out on serving younger people who are often put off by high upfront costs, lack of transparency and inflexibility. Clover is harnessing the power of algorithm-driven robo investing to create customised passive portfolios of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) matching each customer’s needs. The processes of portfolio creation, rebalancing and reinvesting are completely machine driven, which allows Clover to charge lower transaction fees relative to other funds that are managed by portfolio managers.

Clover co-founder and CEO Harry Chemay has a firm belief in the emerging technologies of robo investing and robo advice and how these will change the financial advice landscape by reducing administrative overheads while making investment advice much more precise and efficient. By offering a low entry point to investors and offering a richer user experience, Clover is hoping to attract young millennials who are high earning and need effective investment strategies to meet life goals such as entering the property market and raising a family, but are not necessarily thinking of retirement.

Harry also predicts that robo advice along with blockchain technology will reshape the needs for workers in the finance industry over the next decade, possibly making many types of roles redundant. However, the most complex and personalised form of advice will still be a person-to-person service, at least in the foreseeable future.

Whilst fintech is an incredibly exciting and certainly growing space within the tech sector, Harry acknowledges that it is also radically different because of the enhanced compliance requirements that need to be met in order to operate within the highly regulated financial sector.

 

Building a Virtual Reality App in 120 minutes

In the VR workshop run by the Nathan Beattie of Melbourne-based VR studio Virtualex, at ACMI X, participants were taken through the creation of a VR app under two hours on the Unity Development platform using code in C Sharp. As someone who is relatively new to the idea of virtual reality, it was a great introductory workshop on how easily one can pick up the essential skills of designing VR applications.

Virtual Reality is already well known in the gaming world and is becoming more mainstream with architects, advertisers and real estate companies showing an increasing interest in the technology for providing product demonstrations and building walkthroughs for their clients. There are also applications of VR in the travel industry as well as movies that are still waiting to be fully explored.

As the tech industry gathers steam in Melbourne, we will see more and more events happen around the city that provide opportunities to aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs to learn from other experienced experts while connecting and growing as an ecosystem.

Posted on December 5, 2016 .