Why BlueChilli’s Alan Jones says Aussie startups need to ‘get real’ about corporate partnerships

Alan Jones

Alan Jones. Source: Supplied.

BlueChilli accelerator adviser and well-known investor Alan Jones is calling on more Australian startups to recognise the “positive and constructive role” that corporates can play in the local ecosystem, as he gets set to take on a new role.

Jones announced this week he will be stepping into the role of entrepreneur-in-residence at KPMG’s High Growth Ventures, while also continuing to support BlueChilli as an mentor and adviser.

The position will see him help forge relationships between KPMG and growth-stage startups, and he says the High Growth Ventures program builds on BlueChilli’s focus on early-stage startups.

“If BlueChilli helps companies go from zero to one, then KMPG helps them go from one to one thousand,” Jones told StartupSmart.

A move into the corporate space flies in the face of some of Jones’ previous views around the relationships between the corporate and startup worlds, and he readily admits he has previously been critical of how corporates engage with the startups. However, he hopes his work with KPMG will help change views on both sides.

High Growth Ventures — true to its name — is looking for startups with established products and customers, which are wanting to grow rapidly and get the right advice to do it properly.

“Getting really big really fast takes a lot of skills and experience to do without going off the rails entirely. While it’s possible to hire people with that experience, usually that assumes you have the money to do so,” Jones says.

“A lot of that expertise is specific too, which you don’t need full time on your team.”

“It’s still cool to beat up on corporates”

KPMG’s team, headed up by ex-elevate61 founder Amanda Price, will look to fill those expertise gaps for startups in the program, and Jones is calling on the startup ecosystem to “get realistic” about working with corporate partners.

“We’ve seen a tremendous growth in interest from corporate Australia in what’s going on within the startup industry, and it’s been a learning process for Australian organisations to figure out how to support and benefit from it,” Jones says.

“It’s gotten to the point now that corporate Australia does have a positive and constructive role to play, and startups need to recognise that.”

Jones isn’t calling on founders to stop “taking the piss” at the expense of corporates, acknowledging that will “probably never” stop happening.

But he says it’s time for a healthy dose of realism.

“We need to grow up and be realistic about the economy we live and work in — an economy that’s concentrated in a relatively small number of large companies, who as they start to take more interest in the startup ecosystem, will become a significant force in shaping its future direction,” he says.

Australia also lacks the same volume of companies conducting initial public offerings compared to places like Silicon Valley, says Jones, which increases the opportunity for startups to be acquired by a larger player.

“But it’s still cool to beat up on corporates,” he laughs

Corporate partnerships can require a mentality switch

Partnering with corporates can require a switch in thinking, says Jones, with some of the more widely accepted startup quirks and mentalities not necessarily sitting well with some corporate partners.

“For example, you can’t be like Uber and just willfully flout laws,” he says.

“There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not when you’re a unicorn. You need to recognise corporate partnerships have tremendous value locked up in the brand equity, and they’re not going to risk a partnership damaging that.”

“A corporate relationship has a longer return on investment but requires more thinking around risk and process than the ways we usually like to run startups.

“Founders need to pay careful attention to their metrics, and know how they’ll be valuable to stakeholders.”

Jones’ main role will be to work with the KPMG team to optimise the services they offer to high growth Australian startups, joining 18-year-old growth hacker-in-residence Tamir Vidger who joined the team in September this year.

“Few people have as much goodwill and respect from Australian startup founders as Alan, built upon his willingness to help, his sound advice, and his in-depth understanding of what it takes to be a high-performance founder,” said KPMG’s Amanda Price in a statement.

“As a founder himself, and an active investor, he brings an extremely important lens to how KPMG can best support founders.”

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