Want to build a sustainable Aussie startup ecosystem? Fix the local talent and knowledge haemorrhage.

April 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Last month I wrote an article for the From Little Things blog called – Startups are sacrifice… for ALL involved.

Now I’ve been thinking long and hard about this. Why should entrepreneurs and the wider startup ecosystem care about startuppers and the points I raise in that piece? And how do we make them care?

There’s been a lot of talk about what the Australian startup ecosystem needs in order to grow and establish itself as a key player alongside other startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Israel. These discussions tend to focus on venture capital, government support and the ‘brain drain’ which happens with local startups having to leave our shores to secure vc funding.
biodiversity Jenga

What is missing from this debate is the local brain drain happening right under our noses. Aussie-based startuppers work in a startup or two and leave the ecosystem for corporate jobs, taking a wealth of learnings and experience with them. Anecdotally, just by looking at my LinkedIn contacts, I estimate that up to 90% of all startuppers I have worked with on about 10 startups have left the Aussie startup ecosystem. Of that 90%, about 10% are in startups overseas, 5% are now freelancers, and the rest are now in local corporate jobs. Very rough numbers and a tiny sample, but those numbers should worry anyone currently contributing to building our startup ecosystem.

There are serious implications of this local talent drain. A high churn rate is an obvious talent loss. There is also a time and monetary loss when we take into account what is then spent on bringing in new talent and training them up. It means that we have a really small pool of mature startuppers who could support an entrepreneur new to the industry. With a knowledge haemorrhage as severe as this, we will never get to a sustainable startup ecosystem. Not when every new startup is literally starting from scratch on all fronts. We absolutely need to keep knowledge transfer going, from entrepreneur to entrepreneur, entrepreneur to startupper, startupper to startupper and startupper to entrepreneur. We’ve done well with the first two flows with things like the Silicon Beach mailing list and the explosion of networking events over the last 4 to 5 years. The latter two flows however need a lot of work.

I admit it was heartening to see the Crossroads Report list increasing the numbers of people with ICT skills and improve access to startup expertise as two of their 7 key actions, but I think it would be akin to bailing water from a leaky boat using a colander if talent retention isn’t addressed. If we want to build a sustainable Aussie startup ecosystem, we HAVE to build a startup talent ecosystem inside it. And when someone like me, who used to proudly declare ‘I’m a startupper for life!’ has been interviewing for corporate jobs 7 years into a startup career, Australia, we have a problem.


What is a product manager?

October 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been a product manager for a number of years now, and I still have trouble describing what I do. I tend to say “I’m the bridge between the different parts of a business – the executive branch, marketing, development, customers – and it’s my job to make sure the product speaks to and for all these segments.”
I usually get a puzzled look and then go into detail about various aspects of the role. Usually though, when the conversation is over, I walk away feeling like I didn’t do a good job of describing what I do.

It’s been a challenge. How does one succinctly describe a role that has so many different parts to it? Not just that, talk to two product managers and you’ll find that their responsibilities in their respective roles can vary widely.

Which is why this article grabbed my attention – Product Managers: Who are these ‘mini-CEOs’ and what do they do?

Specifically these bits:

Both Norton and Elman agree that the PM’s job is to help execute the company’s vision. In a way, it’s almost like they’re the mini-CEO, complete with the influence, but no authority — they aren’t the direct supervisors of the engineer or designer and can’t fire anyone for not following through, and focused on the success of the product’s mission.


What’s more, while a PM can be a mini-CEO, their responsibility is to make sure that the product not only matches up to customer expectations, but are also in line with the overall strategy set forth by the company’s founders and CEO.

I’m gonna adopt the definition put forth by Norton and Elman in my future conversations, and see if I find more understanding.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what a PM is, what they do and how one might contribute to your business, I highly recommend reading that article and the additional references in it.

So now you know what a product manager is and think you need one? I can help 😉

Failure is always an option

July 16th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

I was recently watching an episode of Mythbusters where the team presented their Top 25 moments. There’s one bit that stood out for me which I think everyone should watch which starts at around the 2 min mark:


Failure is always an option.

I love how Adam explains it. That’s been something I’ve believed in since my own epic failure about 10 years ago. I went from being a good student to getting suspended from uni. *grin* Mind you, I wasn’t grinning much when it happened, but as life went on and I reflected on what had happened, what I done, where it led me, I became increasingly convinced that it was the best thing that had to happen. I stopped regretting and started putting the data it produced to use. A lot of where and what I am now comes directly from that failure. (Not that there haven’t been others :P)

One thing I’ve realised about failure – a lot of how one reacts to it and how much one learns from it depends a lot on how people around you react to your failure. For example, my parents don’t quite share my enthusiasm about my failure. They get upset when I say it was a good thing. My dad insists I wasted those years of my life. I claim it’s not a waste if you learn. I’ve also learnt that a sure way to get him mad, but I digress….

What I hear from them is fear. They are concerned about me, but they also think that I shouldn’t be taking any risks because I’ve already messed up badly once. I shouldn’t be wasting time and resources on something which might not work in my favour.
That kind of reaction to failure can be very debilitating, especially when it comes from the more prominent people in one’s social circle. And so the other lesson I’ve learnt is to focus on the lessons when someone shares their failure with me.

I’m grateful that many of the people I know in the tech startup scene are great when dealing with failure. But I think it can be better, especially in the Aussie context. (I know this because I’ve experienced reactions to failure here – not very pleasant to say the least.) I think it is our duty to create an environment where failure is treated as a good thing, not something to be brushed under the rug or looked upon with pity. If we support one another, we’ll all learn. We’ll all grow. And we’ll all be free to start succeeding.

“Any experiment that yields data is a viable experiment. Information is key, not what you expected the outcome to be. Therefore, any kind of failure of what we perceive might happen, is an option”

The Startup Bus – the adventure begins

March 9th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

So I quit my job in Sydney, spent a month clearing the house and getting my affairs in order, hopped on a plane, and here I am, in freezy San Francisco.

“What’s next?” I hear you ask… Answer: The Startup Bus!

About 30 people will get on a bus tomorrow at 6.30am (d’oh!) and head to Austin, Texas in time for South by Southwest. On the way, we’ll cook up, create and work on a few startups which have to be ready to launch in Austin!

I’m really looking forward to it. Can’t wait to get all startup-y again. And everyone on the bus seems really nice. Got to meet some of the crew at the send off party Atlassian threw us just now. So yes, very excited. Also very very nervous & anxious. Egads!! I have no idea how I’m gonna get any sleep tonight….

So follow @thestartupbus (or me!) on Twitter and keep up with how we go! Will throw in a link to the site once it’s up. Got a glimpse of it just now – it has a lot of cool stuff!

To startups and beyond! </Buzz Lightyear>

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