Big Data: Have You Carved Your Dugout Canoe?

Technology pioneer George Dyson spoke to the Long Now Foundation this week in San Francisco about “The Digital Universe And Why Things Appear To Be Speeding Up”.

His first nugget was that at the dawn of the digital universe over 60 years ago it was all of 5 kilobytes in size. In todayspeak that’s about half a second of MP3 audio! It’s purpose was as far away from making music as you could imagine. It was set up to design hydrogen bombs.

Fast forward and as the digital footprint expanded exponentially, its acceleration became reflected in the self replication of computers: the pace today is 5-6 trillion connected resistors being added per second.

George used a brilliant analogy, that as a long time waterman resonates with me – as a kayak builder, he initially emulated the wood-scarce Arctic natives to work with minimum frame inside a skin craft. But (today, we are) in the tropics, where there is a surplus of wood, natives make dugout canoes, formed by removing wood.

According to George, “We’re now surrounded by so much information we have to become dugout canoe builders. The buzzword of last year was ‘big data.’

Stewart Brand, from the Long Now Foundation, defines the situation today as: Big data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of throwing it away.

Have you started carving your canoe yet?

Incubate: Driving Campus-wide Entrepreneurship

I’ve been advising the Student Union at The University of Sydney on the setup of Incubate, a campus-wide startup development program. This initiative is designed to assist students get their ventures off the ground and will commence over the summer.

The launch event for Incubate is taking place at 5h30pm on the 20th September  in the foyer of the New Law Building on the Darlington campus. I’ll be chairing a panel on the innovation shift from Silicon Valley to other global centres. Panelists include Matt Barrie (Freelancer), Nikki Durkin (99dresses) and Matt Byrne (Curicon).

Come on over – it will be a fun event.

Silicon Valley Is The Ultimate Entrepreneur Coach

In response to Jess Gardner’s article in last week’s BRW magazine, I was invited to pen a Letter to the Editor. It was published today. Here it is in its entirety:

Silicon Valley is the ultimate entrepreneur coach. It is synonymous with two core tenets for entrepreneurial success: focus and accountability. Palo Alto’s adrenalin-filled atmosphere focuses the minds of entrepreneurs.

For those who get funded, their investors hold them absolutely accountable.

Silicon Valley is also a state of mind. Being an entrepreneur there garners immediate respect.

Palo Alto was ground zero for the hippie movement and this points to its transformational role. It has reinvented itself a multitude of times as technology trends have shifted.

Within this transformational state of mind, Steve Jobs created the world’s most valuable company. Check in, and be an entrepreneur.

Not too long ago, Australia transformed itself into a sporting nation. From paddock to Olympic podium, we stand proud as a nation.

Jessica Gardner’s article points to a country ready for another change.

A generation aspires to be entrepreneurial but is also asking itself hard questions. The start-up scene in Australia is shifting but still resembles a cottage industry.

It’s time we focused again. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable and to transform into a nation of entrepreneurs. One focus, one nation, working together we can do it.

Check in, and be an Australian entrepreneur.

 

Silicon Valley Beckons, But (Some) Aussies Prefer A Blended Approach

One of the most balanced articles I’ve read on the “should I stay, should I go – to Silicon Valley” debate was published today in Business Review Weekly.

Well done Jess Gardner – solid research.

This part of her article resonates most for me and it’s solid Cannon-Brookes advice:

Atlassian’s path shows it is possible to build a successful global operation from scratch in Australia but Cannon-Brookes says the company has also benefited from a blended approach. He has spent about two years in total, out of the past six, at Atlassian’s San Francisco digs (the company also has an office in The Netherlands and developers in Poland).

“I would definitely tell them [start-up founders] to spend time in the US,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be a pitchforks at 20 paces kind of a thing. We definitely gain as entrepreneurs, as a business, a tonne from having spent a lot of time there .?.?. I’ve learned a lot but that doesn’t mean that I don’t bring those learnings back and apply them down here and vice versa.”

Entrepreneurs: Be inspired, travel and do great things!

His point is that in the early stages, entrepreneurs shouldn’t regard the decision as a prerequisite step on the start-up path.

Klout for Entrepreneurs: Creating a Global Entrepreneurial Standard

Have you noticed how entrepreneurs active in Silicon Valley seem to attract an extra level of cool factor simply by nature of the fact that they operate in that geography, while they same does not hold true elsewhere?

The issue is that so much in the entrepreneur space remains globally tethered to places like Silicon Valley, while there is an incredible entrepreneurial force happening around the world.

What we need is a Global Entrepreneurial Standard that recognises entrepreneurism wherever it happens and provides a common grounding and basis for discussion amongst entrepreneurs wherever they happen to be.

For example, if an entrepreneur from Cape Town flies to London, based on her measurement against the GES she would be able to meet with other business people, be they potential partners or investors and be taken seriously.

Think of the GES as similar to how Klout and Kred work in the social media arena. The GES would allow us to crystallise a Universal Power of Entrepreneurism and it would be really interesting to curate a range of case studies of entrepreneurs with a high UPE quotient.

As a starting point for discussion, in my experience as a serial entrepreneur, investor and executive coach I have found that entrepreneurs who score high against the following Triple A rating are able to attract funding, get stuff done, respond well to coaching and mentoring and build successful businesses. I call them Triple A Entrepreneurs:

Triple A Entrepreneurs can:

*Actualise goals

* Be held Accountable, and

* Achieve success

*

 

Finding Positives In The Silicon Valley Brain Drain

I’ve had a number of people approach me in frustration at the recent article on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald highlighting how entrepreneurs are moving over to Silicon Valley in droves due to the lack of support they are getting in Australia.

It’s a serious situation and one I highlighted in my recent submission to the Federal Government. But I also want to paint a positive picture around the article in the SMH.

Here’s my take:

Back in the mid 2000s when I was the Director of Commercialisation at NICTA I was hell bent on leveraging their research as a platform to build a Nokia or SAP for Australia. We came close with Open Kernel Labs – their software is pervasively used on 1.6 billion mobile devices today and their journey is far from over. But, they are run by a US CEO and HQ’d in Chicago.

 

So for me, this is one of the major windmills I am tilting at. How do we build some major tech companies in Sydney that can boost the ecosystem around them and act as a “strange attractor” to bring smart entrepreneurs to our region as opposed to having them feel they need to move to Silicon Valley.

 

On the positive side, having more people like Nikki exposed to the Silicon Valley machine can mean that when she does return to Australia she will be far more globally connected and do the serial entrepreneur thing from here.



UPDATE: Nick Leeder, Google’s ANZ MD, echoes my sentiments in an article in the SMH, “Aussies are always going to travel, and that’s what makes this such a vibrant country. The trick is to get them back faster, and with their talented international mates in tow.”

The other positive thing to come from this article is the exposure to the problem in quarters that may not have had it within their current attention span. On the day the article was published I was having a conversation with a very senior bureaucrat in Canberra. She was excited that not only was this article published, but it was done on the front page of a major Australian newspaper. From her perspective it was good that because of this level of coverage these issues would reach the minds of this country’s senior politicians.

 

We need to keep pushing the barrow, encouraging more entrepreneurs to have a go and to think big, to think global, while living local.

The Science of Startups and the Symbiosis between Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

It’s been a really interesting week in Sydney. On Friday afternoon the latest cohort of Startmate startups strutted their stuff in a demo day to a capacity crowd at DLA Piper’s offices in the city.

Yesterday, Eric Ries spoke to another, much larger, audience on his Lean Startup theories. The auditorium at the Australian Technology Park hasn’t buzzed like that since the heady days of 1999!

Eric’s thesis that we should be measuring and managing startups in a much more sophisticated way totally resonates with me. I have been calling for a science of startups for a while now and in fact included this as one of my main points in a submission I put forward to the Australian Federal Government earlier this week. They had put out an Issues Paper calling for submissions (I understand this was targeted at certain people and organisations) on the state of entrepreneurship and venture capital in the country.

My submission (you can read the entire thing here) spoke to the establishment of an Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital (ACEVC). This Centre will include an Entrepreneurship Conservatory that is focused on developing a results-based set of training programs for upskilling entrepreneurs using a real time, interactive pedagogy that will form the basis for a ‘science of startups’.

I also call for a VC College that can provide real life experiential training on the job for successive generations of Australian venture capitalists – an initiative designed to build up a true venture capital industry.

I believe that ACEVC is transportable to many other geographies so for all metarand readers from other parts of the world than Australia: feel free to adopt these ideas for your own country.

Besides Eric’s push for lean startups another great evangelist for the science of startups is Steve Blank with his recently released book, The Startup Owner’s Manual. I highly recommend both books for entrepreneurs.

Should/when ACEVC gets up and running, it will draw heavily on the the great work Eric and Steve have done so far to codify the science of startups.

 

 

 

Australia’s Technology Prowess: The Internet and Beyond

 

Asher Moses has written a wonderfully inspirational piece in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the rise and rise of Australian entrepreneurial talent. In it he explores how well some of the Internet-focused startups born in Australia are doing in sourcing Silicon Valley venture capital.

It is a great story and touches on much of my experience over the past 15 years. Australia and, closer to home – Sydney, has an incredible wealth of entrepreneurs. But in Asher’s story there is also a hint at the dark side. Let me paint the picture in three ways:

1. Financial arrogance

While I was living in Silicon Valley I assisted a startup to raise its first round of funding from a tier one VC firm, in two weeks and right in the middle of the GFC. Fast forward to today and as Asher has eruditely pointed out, tier one VC’s from Sandhill Road are currently falling over themselves to get the attention of Australia web startups.

Against this backdrop, picture me meeting with a senior executive at one of Australia’s most successful investment banks in the past fortnight. In that meeting I was told how incredibly hard it is to find funding for technology businesses, how no-one is investing in this space in Australia and blah blah. Can you see the disconnect here?

I personally believe Australian ‘investors’ have a heightened level of financial arrogance driven by an absolute ignorance of technology and also tainted in their financial risk profiling by resource-based investing (mining etc).

As long as this position remains I can fully understand why Australian entrepreneurs are US-centric. For Australia though this amounts to a major loss as we are not only losing talent in droves, but also access to ROI as our entrepreneurs grow great businesses with other people’s money!

2. Technological bias

For as long as I can remember Australian government granting schemes and venture firms have had a bias against Internet-related companies. They have preferred to back biotech businesses and other science-heavy companies that are notoriously hard to scale globally and which usually have a hard time getting international attention due to the tyranny of distance.

It is heartening to see this position starting to shift and that web-focused ventures are in fact now getting more access to schemes like Commercialisation Australia.

3. Web-centrism

While I am ecstatic about Australia’s well deserved recognition (finally) for great entrepreneurial talent, I am somewhat concerned that we get seen as only producing web-centric talent and intellectual property.

The Australian Federal government pours some $9.8 billion into public research and there is incredible technology floating around within the countries 43 universities and even more public research institutes (by contrast the US only has 41 universities). However, most of this never sees the light of day. It gets locked up in over-protective tech transfer quagmires and/or stuck in the valley of death between research proof of principle and commercial proof of concept due to a massive lack of funding for this gap.

In contrast, in the UK companies like Imperial Innovations and the IP Group, and Allied Minds in the US, are absolutely going gangbusters building businesses around research intensive technologies and assisting IP through the valley of death.

Australia desperately needs a similar business and it is on my to do list for 2012 to see that one forms. We need to not only continue to support our web-centric entrepreneurs, but also inspire generations of Australians to become tech entrepreneurs in areas that can have major global impact such as energy and health!

 

Living in a Post-Geographical World: Address is Approximate (Hat Tip to Steve Jobs)

My family has been travelling since the 1670’s when two Du Toit brothers left France as part of the great French Huguenot movement. They went to Holland, which had recently begun colonising the tip of Africa. Recognising opportunity, they led a movement of settlers and arrived in Cape Town in 1676. The result was a wonderfully rich cultural mix (and some great wines) in the Franschoek region of the western cape of South Africa.

Fast forward a few hundred years and we dispersed to the UK and Australia when crime became all too pervasive. I’ve since also lived in the United States, and regard Sydney and Palo Alto as the closest things to home.

Like many others who have had similar experiences I consider myself post-geographical. It’s not where I am physically that matters, but what my mindset is, who I am interacting with and what I am aiming to achieve.

That’s why this video by Tom Jenkins resonates so much with me.

I love the vision he portrays and his message also talks to what Steve Jobs said many years ago in an interview, namely that the world we live in is made up of man-made constructs and constraints. That the people who created them are no smarter than you are and once you realise this you need never be constrained by them – create your own world, wherever you are!

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Palo Alto Pays Its Respects To Steve Jobs

When I lived in Silicon Valley I stayed for a while on an estate in downtown Palo Alto on the same street as the original HP garage. It was a special place, in many ways timeless – surrounded by massive redwoods and a quiet haven from the hustle of the 101.

But in the true Silicon Valley way it was also a seriously connected and yet very understated place. For example, one of the other cottages on the property was occupied by Tim Cook. At the time Tim was Acting CEO at Apple, but as we know he then went on to replace Steve.

One of my other neighbours, Bill Daul, made the following observation following Steve’s passing:

Palo Alto was a really quiet place today. Steve only lived 10 blocks or so from me…they were worried about people gathering at his home…only about 40 people were there. It is really strange to have one of the greatest businessmen of our time and all US time pass away here in our town. It is also sort of special how respectful Palo Alto is of Steve’s family.

Respect, Palo Alto-style.

I’ve added in some pics taken at Steve’s house by Susan Neville.