#elevate61: planting the seeds of global growth for #startups

James Mabbott, Head of KPMG Innovate
James Mabbott, Head of KPMG Innovate

Recently, Google Co-founder Sergey Brin, speaking at the Global Entrepreneurial Summit, made a controversial statement. He said that, if you’re starting up a “scrappy” tech business, Silicon Valley was not the best place to start.

From Australian shores, looking to what has become the mecca of the world’s startup eco-system, his comments may be viewed with some skepticism. Silicon Valley and San Francisco are the homes of the world’s top venture capital (VC) firms, and the most active startup eco-systems location. It is at the heart of a technical transformation that is disrupting industries across the world.

Closer to home, we have seen a large pick up in startup VC activity over the past few years. This year alone, we have seen VC funds announce hundreds of millions of dollars of investment capital targeting Australian startups. Innovation has taken its rightful place at the heart of the political agenda.

Yet, we are still nascent in comparison to the Valley. In wildlife terms, if the Silicon Valley startup eco-system is a rainforest, Australia is a billabong.

However, having had the opportunity to tour San Francisco, New York and LA with 11 of Australia’s best enterprise tech startups as part of the elevate61 program, what Brin is saying does ring true.

Watching companies like Sendle, Cover Genius and Accodex pitch to US-based investors and potential corporate partners and clients, it was very clear that, for Australian startups looking to go global, the opportunity is real.

Technology creates a level playing field. And Australian ventures, who must survive and thrive in an emerging eco-system, are already accustomed to building lean, efficient and profitable businesses. Once you have established your business, found traction with customers and are ready to scale up, the, tapping into Silicon’s Valley’s capital and expertise can make sense.

So how can you get there and stand out in the world’s most competitive startup market? Here’s what stood out to me from listening to over 40 experts during the 10-day elevate61 trip:

Be specific. Target the niche.

In Australia you almost have to serve general industries – but if you want to attract capital and traction in the US, the value is in the niche.

Go hard, go fast and go early.

Don’t wait for everything to “fall into place” before you make the leap. You will never be 100 percent ready and confident. Being uncomfortable is part of unlocking high growth globally – go early, go fast and go hard. As the leaders of one of our startup participants said: “This is no place for the faint hearted”.

Ask yourselves – is this your best.

This will be difficult for a lot of Aussies to hear, but, if we want to make a global impact, we really need to up our game. Too many of our entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage in a highly competitive and highly charged US business culture. Culturally, we aren’t accustomed to the hard sell. Our culture prizes egalitarianism and mateship above being the best and being outspoken about it. As one speaker said “The word pride has no negative connotations in the US, we take pride in our country, our flag and our achievements.”

This isn’t to say we need to abandon the things that make Australians so great. Simply we need to shift into a global (and yes, a Silicon Valley) mindset if we want to build more global businesses. And in the case of high-tech, high growth businesses going global means successfully entering and growing in the world’s largest economy.

If we’re going to evolve our billabong into a verdant rainforest, we need to be more demanding of the entrepreneurs, our venture capitalists and the people who want to contribute to our startup eco-system.  From a lush rainforest will come the businesses and jobs of the future.

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