When does a startup become a grownup – an introduction

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I love business, innovation and investment and I especially love startups where all these variables meet. I love them for their imperfection, their agility, energy and excitement and particularly their courage to achieve against the odds. A startup can be infectious, attracting raw talent and ideation which established and large enterprise can only dream of. However, I frequently get told that startups are not real businesses – just pipe dreams. I firmly believe that this perception amid naysayers is not directed at the business idea, but more at the immaturity of founders to recognise the needs of the people that will ultimately help make them a success – the investors.

When one of the richest men in the world offers free advice, it is wise to listen.  Of course, acting on it is another thing but investors have been hearing Warren Buffett out for years in his role as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.  

Warren Buffett stays away from investing in companies that demonstrate any of the ABCs:

A = Arrogance

B = Bureaucracy

C = Complacency

Embracing the notion of storytelling by startups is not as simple as ABC.

My name is Stephen Crowe, and over the last three decades I have witnessed the startup evolution happening around the globe. When I began my tax consulting career at a Big 6 international accounting firm, the client meetings were bursting with enquiries around what the recent introduction of tax measures such as CGT, Foreign Tax Credits, R&D tax incentives and dividend imputation meant. Advice was provided in typed documents and often served accompanied by the inhouse tea/coffee trolley serving the floors.  Today, a graduate beginning a career in tax consulting is faced with understanding the impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning and social media in delivering effective consulting outcomes for clients in cafe style environments.  Few industries and investors have been spared the disruptive impact of technology and innovation.  

I now help startups within the Early Stage Innovation Community to establish themselves for growth and investors to benefit from opportunities. This four-part article series is the first in an ongoing commentary on SmartCompany and StartupSmart called The Hub, seeking to debunk myths surrounding success in the startup world and also to encourage established SMEs to rethink, prepare for disruption and embrace the potential for collaboration with startups as part of their growth strategies.

If you have a particular topic you would like me to explore, please reach out to me here.

ESIC Hub

ESIC ® Hub is Australia’s first and only online platform dedicated to serving the needs of the early-stage community of entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers, investors, and their advisers.

Lessons from the startup ‘conception phase’

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There are many parallels between starting an early-stage venture and becoming a parent.

Every day I am exposed to different early stage businesses and families. Like those starting a family, some have lots of support, and some have none.  Some have uprooted and left their comfort zone, and some have chosen to stay in familiar environments. Some have planned their situation, and some have not.  

No matter if your early stage venture takes the shape of a business or a baby, your life will be changed forever once you embark down this path.  As rewarding as it is, it will be the hardest thing you ever do and will require you to learn and develop so many different skills it is unimaginable.  You will have dependents who will dig way deeper than Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will be exposed to many new things – you will scarcely recognise yourself from when you began your journey.  

Plan for the future

Appropriate planning in the gestational phase will certainly help you in the sleep-deprived times that lay ahead, though be prepared for an element of unexpected randomness that will upset your status quo – this often occurs when you least expect it.  

Comfort can be found in friends and trusted professionals who have experienced many of these events previously. Much like how parents can be a sounding board for issues you encounter with your children, professionals who have experienced the early startup phase can provide you with the insights and guidance you need to get through this difficult period. Your own professional experience is another asset. Draw on this, and the insights you have gathered from mentors of the past. You may have underestimated the depth of those insights when first you encountered them, but now they can hold you in good stead.

The birth of your startup will be recognised by the emergence of your idea beyond a concept and into a physical being.

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Listen to experts

Just as you rely upon expert medical and other professional advice during your gestational phase, so too should you rely upon expert professional tax and advisory advice in planning and structuring your startup.  Professionals have earned their experience through years of real-life learnings – respect their knowledge and be open to the possibilities.  In choosing your advisers, be careful to test their appropriateness to give you independent advice in an empathetic manner, in parenting terms this can often be “tough love” and measured as giving you what you need rather than what you want. It is great if the two outcomes align, but be prepared for situations where they don’t and understand how you will react to that.  

In the conception phase, focus on adopting the correct corporate structure for your early stage business and be ESIC Ready to prevent adverse outcomes when your bundle of joy arrives.  Too often we see startup businesses using structures that are inappropriate and could have benefited from better planning during the pre-birth phase.

An African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child.  We suggest it takes a village to develop a startup.

By Stephen Crowe

Stephen is passionate about innovation and investment. He is the pre-eminent authority on the ESIC investment framework in Australia. Having spent the last 20 years focussed on a broad range of senior investment, tax and innovation roles, including at Macquarie Bank, Citigroup and in his own boutique consultancy since 2000.  

ESIC Hub

ESIC ® Hub is Australia’s first and only online platform dedicated to serving the needs of the early-stage community of entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers, investors, and their advisers.