Investors, founders, and an enthusiastic crowd of startup ‘wantrepeneurs’ packed into Inspire9’s Richmond offices last night to celebrate the launch of new not-for-profit Startup Victoria, which aims to grow the local startup community.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Startup Victoria chair Leni Mayo said the Victorian startup scene’s biggest challenge is the lack of good product people.
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Mayo, the founding investor in a host of startups including 99Designs, Flippa and Learnable, hopes Startup Victoria can go some way in addressing the problem.
“I think we are terribly weak at product, marketing, branding, sales, we really need to pull our socks up, but of those the one that stands out far above the rest is product,’’ Mayo says.
“In Melbourne I could pick 100 engineers and stack them up against engineers in your average Silicon Valley startup, and it’s a fair fight.
“In product, we have less than half a dozen in Melbourne that would stack up, and probably less than 10 Australia-wide.
“It’s a blend of human understanding, commercial nous and tech nous, and we don’t have enough people like that. We don’t value them enough.’’
Newly appointed Startup Victoria CEO Lars Lindstrom agrees.
“The Americans are very, very good at that,’’ he says. “We need to improve.’’
Lindstrom has a wealth of experience in startups. Having spent roughly 10 years in investment banking in Melbourne dealing with billion dollar takeovers and mergers, he left the industry to cofound a startup, a free home distributed newspaper delivered in all the major cities in Denmark.
That was in 2006, and within 12 months the newspaper, funded by advertising revenue, became the most read in Denmark, and employed over 1000 people.
Lindstrom says the company was close to breaking even when “Lehman Brothers cracked”, as a consequence advertising revenue dried up, and that was the end of that.
Not dissuaded from the startup industry, in 2009 he returned to Australia and co-founded the world’s first eBook reading software ReadCloud aimed at schools, where he remains chairman.
ReadCloud has a catalogue of over 100,000 eBooks and distributing deals from the world’s major publishers.
Under the leadership of Lindstrom, Startup Victoria will run a “better founders” program which will bring together experienced, practising startup founders to discuss the best way to tackle large fundamental problems facing the Victorian startup scene, like the lack of globally competitive product people.
“It will involve different startup founders talking about stuff deeply concerning and important, and the people around that table need to come up from a large shared experience,’’ Mayo says.
“This is an area Startup Victoria can help through better founders, because it won’t just help the founders, but also their employees.’’
The program has parallels with a similar effort being made by Inspire9 founder Nathan Sampimon.
In addition, Startup Victoria will also run a “more founders” program which will be open to anyone interested.
“We’re trying to create an institution where you have access to real information that can help you along the way, as opposed to getting opinions,’’ Lindstrom says.
“We’re trying to be more scientific about it and give best practice.
“Not necessarily guarantee their success, but point them in the right direction.’’
Startup Victoria was launched with the support of the Victorian government, which provided $100,000 worth of seed funding.