If the Australian startup ecosystem was to have a family reunion, SydStart might be it.
Over 1000 startup founders, budding entrepreneurs and investors gathered at the Hilton in Sydney yesterday for SydStart 2014.
Among them were Australia’s best and brightest entrepreneurs, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, Freelancer chief executive officer and chairman Matt Barrie, Startmate founder and investor Niki Scevak, Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins and many more.
It was Mike Cannon-Brookes, perhaps the most uncomfortable with his position as one of the key figures the Australian industry looks to for advice and guidance, who drew the most interest.
He spoke of feeling like a fraud when meeting other prominent startup founders from around the world and being pleasantly surprised by the fact that they felt the same way. And he had a lesson for founders: entrepreneurs are all the same.
“You move up this weird totem pole of entrepreneurs, where you get to meet more and more interesting people and you to these weird points where you’re so excited to meet them, and you think to yourself ‘Wow, I’ve read about this person 40 times, just to get a half hour coffee is amazing’,” he says.
“And then they turn up and they feel the same way and it’s like ‘wow, this is weird’.
“You realise all these other super successful entrepreneurs are in exactly the same boat and that never goes away. They’re all doing it for the first time, they’re all making it up as it goes on, they’re basically making smart judgment calls and getting 80% of the decisions right. Ploughing ahead and continuing to be bold. They don’t get timid as the stakes get higher.”
That point – all entrepreneurs are the same, all are learning on the job, all are “making it up as it goes on”, permeated the entire conference. Throughout the day, it was impossible to miss the many conversations going on between founders after advice and investors, or the successful entrepreneurs taking time to give it to them, regardless of who they were.
It was a point Niki Scevak later picked up on.
“If you look around the investment landscape you have all these people that believe in cliches that aren’t true,” he says.
“They want to invest in proven founders, with a great management team, in this really, really big market, as if any of those are knowable at the time you get to invest.
“All of these great success stories that Australia has been home to, they were started by, no offence, people with very little experience who had just finished university, no business experience, they looked like complete jokes and not only that they were entering into markets that were incredibly crowded.
“You’re actually looking for first time founders that look like a joke, it sounds a bit silly, but founders know that. Founders know it’s a complete mess at the start. It’s not actually about that, it’s a couple of levels deeper and what unique insight do you have.”
As Fishburners general manager Murray Hurps pointed out as the conference closed, when he began his startup 16 years ago, there was nobody to help out with that mess.
That’s since changed thanks to the many co-working spaces and community leaders like SydStart conference coordinator Pete Cooper, as some of the many founders in attendance pointed out.
SimpleNutrution.me founder Nathan Murphy spoke of the value of SydStart to people like himself.
“SydStart is like a big family reunion every year where you get to see old faces, share war stories and hopes for the years ahead,” he says.
“You gather around the elders and listen attentively to their advice for finding success.”
For Play2Lead founder Theresa Lim, SydStart was not just about advice but also a place to recruit her team.
“I was only expecting to potentially (meet) developers who I might add to my team or investors who might be interested,” she says.
“No only did I achieve that goal, but I made several customer leads from enterprise as well.
“I’ve had so many doors open to key customers through this (Fishburners and SydStart) community. Everyone is driven and helpful – the event itself inspires me to just keep going! Pete Cooper and Murray Hurps are tirelessly dedicated to making our startup community thrive.”