Building the entrepreneurial community we want to live in

What are the foundations of a great national entrepreneurial community?

After the Startup Weekend NZ National Hui in 2015, I drafted a plan based on feedback from the hui’s unconference.  It included:

Vision:  Every New Zealander has the ability, tools, and networks to become an entrepreneur

Mission: To provide access to the community, experiences, and support that emerging entrepreneurs need to succeed, working directly with entrepreneurs as well as with other organisations.

Values:

  • Community leadership:  Our members – our key resource – are Community Leaders. We believe that a successful startup ecosystem depends on supporting and bringing out the best in those willing to contribute. As leaders in our field, we set an example by the way we work with others, and help others become leaders. We’re confident in who we are, and willing to help, support, and encourage those whose values are aligned with ours. We put the mission before our own glory.
  • Reciprocity: Once we’ve committed, we’re in – our partners can count on us, and vice versa. We are transparent and honest with each other, partners and constituents, and expect the same from them.
  • Responsive, mindful, and enabling: We are responsive to community needs, and enable others to move purposefully and quickly.  We use lightweight and flexible infrastructure to achieve this.
  • Lasting value: We’re in this for the long-term future of New Zealand and its entrepreneurs. We measure the impact of our outcomes, seeking constant improvement in the things that matter.

I suggested that we could achieve our mission and vision by:

  • Providing experiential education for entrepreneurs, including Startup Weekends, and shorter form workshops
  • Building and developing entrepreneurial communities, bringing people of all stripes together, and being a catalyst for serious shifts in the landscape, especially outside the main centres
  • Connecting entrepreneurial communities locally, nationally, and globally, forging better ties across geographic boundaries, sharing our resources, time, and experience for the betterment of all
  • Working on improving startup policies to nurture an environment in which startups can thrive
  • Celebrating entrepreneurship through programmes like Global Entrepreneurship Week

And to make it all happen, I suggested that we could engage in partnerships with:

  • Entrepreneurs and their startups
  • Local and central government
  • Universities and other tertiaries
  • Accelerators, incubators, and coworking spaces
  • Other allied organisations, such as Youth Enterprise Trust, the Innovation Council, NZTech, the Angel Association of New Zealand, and more.

I believe that the governance of an organisation executing this plan should be transparent, diverse, egalitarian, and democratic, and that financially it should be organised as a not for profit, ideally with charitable status.

The plan languished for a year, and was never adopted – it was a bridge or three too far for the other directors. Even though the plan has stalled, I’m still very keen to make it, or something similar based on the same values, happen.

Others have expressed very similar ideas, including Dan Khan, Pascale Hyboud-Peron, Lenz Gschwendtner, Peter Thomson, Jane Treadwell-Hoye, Sarah Day, Colart Miles, and Ants Cabraal. Although our expression is slightly different, there is a large degree of congruence and alignment.

I look forward to working with similarly minded people and building that entrepreneurial community we want to live in, so that we can move New Zealand to the next stage.

Are you in?

Join the discussion in the comments below, or on Twitter hashtag #startupcommunityvalues

 

Not because they are easy, but because they are hard

Every once in awhile, you come across something so inspirational it sends shivers up your spine.

While watching The Martian the other night with Mr 12, they included a snippet from John F Kennedy’s Rice Speech, which JFK delivered when I was two years old.  I’d seen the quote before, but I’d never seen the entire speech. It’s worth the 17 minutes to watch, not only for the inspirational content, but for the inspired way in which the speech was constructed.

This notion is at the heart of every startup, and indeed of most worthwhile human endeavors.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

“But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun — almost as hot as it is here today — and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”

Which begs the question: what happened to America in the last 54 years? Perhaps that’s the subject of a future blog post.

What does a startup need to thrive?

Last weekend I was invited to be a panelist on Radio NZ’s “The Weekend” programme with Lynn Freeman, discussing what it takes for startups to thrive.  You can hear the audio here:

I took some notes before the panel, of all of the things that I wanted to say – but of course in these situations you never really get to say everything you want to, so I thought it might be useful to share them.

TEAM

  • Diversity – leadership, sales, tech, project management.  You very rarely get these in one person.
  • Resilience – you have to be able to wake up every morning ready to be punched in the face repeatedly.
  • Adaptability – you need to be able to learn quickly from the active and passive feedback you’re getting, and pivot accordingly.

MARKET

  • Big enough to support your goals; this generally means going after a market of 7 billion (the world) versus 4 million (New Zealand)
  • Plenty of room for growth
  • One in which you have a valuable point of difference from your competitors

EXPERIENCE

  • Your team has experience in the domain you’re trying to attack.  There’s no point in trying to send a rocket to the moon if you’ve never seen the sky.
  • Track record in the tasks required to launch and operate your business.

PASSION

  • This is what will carry you through the dark times and keep you excited about the change you’re trying to affect in the market and the world

PRODUCT

  • You’re solving a significant problem that people actually have
  • It works, and can be shown to work
  • Potential customers are demonstrably willing to pay for it

COMMUNITY

  • You have a great network of fans and supporters
  • You’re operating in an ecosystem that supports you
  • You are making a real difference in your community

RESOURCES

  • You have enough money, or access to enough money to make your business fly
  • You have the ability and networks to establish and maintain a presence in remote markets. [see note below]

DISTRIBUTION

  • You have a way of getting your product or service in front of people so that they know you exist
  • You have a supply chain that is interested in working with you
  • If you’re selling direct, the product has in-built viral mechanisms to ensure your existing users are helping distribute your product
  • Lack of distribution is a common failure point for Kiwi startups.

LUCK

  • You need to make your own luck.  It helps to have a plan.  Seriously.

Note on resources: “No worries”, I hear you say, “We’re an Internet based business operating from New Zealand, the Internet brings us everywhere so that we don’t need to be there physically ourselves.”  If only.  Unfortunately, each geographic market has its own cultural, legal, and physical peculiarities, and there’s no substitute for actually being there to establish yourself.  Sure, there are pure plays like github or noip to which geography is completely irrelevant, but these are few and far between.

Other notes:

On the panel, Masha said that NZ is a useful test market, in that our demographics are similar to the rest of the developed world.  I’d argue that these similarities are usually very superficial. The killer difference between NZ and the rest of the world is the structure of our market.  There’s one degree of separation in NZ, and practically everyone knows or has easy access to everyone else.  The rest of the world does not operate like that – distribution is critical.  As a global startup, every week you spend chasing the New Zealand market is a week spent learning the wrong lessons.  To extend Steve Blank, don’t only get out of the building, get out of the country!

Finally, the number 8 wire mentality is killing us.  Sure, we’re great all-rounder generalists, very flexible, and very resourceful. This is great for building a prototype, but suboptimal for building a scalable business that can compete on the world stage.  By all means build your minimum viable product out of number 8 wire, but plan out which bits need to be shored up to be industrial strength as you scale.  And rather than relying on cousin Trev who has a passing acquaintance with a specialist aspect of your business, do bring in some people who have deep experience, rather than relying on mates and mates-of-mates to see you through.

 

Wellington, New Zealand’s Startup Capital

I was invited to Auckland last week to The Project: Digital Disruption to discuss what’s happening in the Wellington startup scene.

Here are my slides:

Wellington, New Zealand’s Startup Capital

Key points:

  • Wellington’s key advantage is its scale.  Everything is accessible within a 20 minute walk – but you need to plan for 30 minutes because you will bump into so many people on your way that are doing cool stuff.
  • We have a high density of tech startups, and a great culture to back it up
  • The weather is conducive to getting sh!t done
  • We have a rich startup ecosystem, which is becoming increasingly antifragile
  • Accelerators, incubators, investors, tertiary education providers, “big” tech, events, and support organisations all play their part
  • Promising trends:
    • Government “gets” it
    • Talent, capital, ideas and expertise are being continually recycled and refined to help us level-up
    • We’re attracting amazing people, and achieving critical mass
    • Things just keep getting better in a cambrian explosion of startups
  • The future is awesome, thanks to the hard work put in by many over a long time – we’re really starting to reap the rewards, and this seems certain to continue.
  • It’s all about the people

Parenthood, business, and investment

I was recently interviewed by Sarah Spear at The Parentalist, a new blog featuring parents who are “making an impact on the world, in business and in their local communities”.

You listen to (or download) the audio:

Or watch the video:

On a related note, today I added the job “Parent at My Family” to my LinkedIn profile.  Why is that?  Parenthood teaches you:

  • Putting the needs of others ahead of your own
  • Functioning with next to no sleep
  • Dealing with life-and-death unexpected emergencies
  • Motivating others
  • Communicating with people with a wide range of skills
  • Managing conflicting priorities
  • Building community
  • Financial management in uncertain conditions
  • … and the list goes on …

All of these are critical skills for business success in general, and startup success in particular.

Enjoy.

The Big Idea: New Zealand’s real opportunity and challenge

A decade is a very long time in the startup universe.

For New Zealand, the real opportunity and challenge is going to be to capitalise on the weightless economy, moving from more traditional physical commodities to producing valuable software, content, games, and other digital products.

That involves getting more closely connected on a person-to-person and business-to-business to the rest of the world. We need to find a balance between enjoying our isolation and participating and integrating with the rest of the world, whilst retaining our local integrity and character.

It won’t be easy, but it’s our collective job to make it happen.

See the full interview in The Big Idea

My advice to budding entrepreneurs

A couple of months ago, the great people from MyFirstCompany.co.nz interviewed me to collect my sage advice for budding entrepreneurs.

Here is what I told them:

What is WebFund all about?


What’s the difference between a good idea and a good business idea?


What should I think about before approaching an investor?


How important is scalability for a business idea?


Are investors looking for individuals or teams?


You really need a team around you, and there’s no shame in sales!


How do I find the right business partners?


Start small, and talk to potential investors as early as possible.


What are investors looking for?


How do I test out my business idea? What if I fail?