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┬áSusan Neville.


It’s Obvious: A Rising Tide LIFTS All Boats

As followers of my posts will well know, I am a big fan of Ev Williams and the Obvious team, from the days when Twitter was a side project all the way through its massive growth.

So when they announce a new partnership I take notice – big time. Lift sounds really interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing and exploring it in more detail in due course.

My main inspiration for this post, though, were the comments made by Obvious regarding their ongoing journey in crystallising out their engagement model. In my view, these terms should be adopted by all companies as their core mission statement:

It’s important never to delude ourselves into thinking that technology changes the world. People are responsible for change – technology just helps out. At Obvious, our goal is to foster systems that help people work together to improve the world.

If you aren’t improving the world, get out of the way and let those who are do their work!!!

 

Entrepreneur’s Rule Numero Uno: Value First

In a wide ranging interview with Kevin Rose, Silicon Valley venture guy Chris Sacca unveils how he became so well connected into the Valley’s machinery.

The video is an hour long, but it contains some real nuggets of entrepreneurial wisdom.

The part that resonates most for me is when he talks about creating value, before you ask for value back. That for me is the number one rule for entrepreneurs: VALUE FIRST!

Chris continues this meme, “If you are insightful and helpful, people will gravitate to you.”

 

 

Foundation 07 // Chris Sacca from Kevin Rose on Vimeo.

Beyond Zynga (and Twitter): Social Gaming With Purpose

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of game mechanics and social games – in fact one of the companies I’ve chaired (Creative Enclave) launched the first truly massively multiplayer social game on the Facebook platform in 2007. Back then, Zynga consisted of no more than a handful of staff. Back then people didn’t take social games that seriously.

Today, however, it is a totally different story. Social games are BIG business. Take a look at some of the stats emerging from the S-1 Zynga filed as it catapults towards an IPO: 38,000 virtual items are created within their game portfolio a second. Yep, you read that right – a second!

Zynga has 60 million DAUs (daily active users) and here’s the kicker for me: they conduct 2 billion minutes of play a day!!!

What is that telling you?

Some relatively privileged folks have a ton of idle time?

Play is really pivotal to the human psychi?

But are we at the point in our development as a species and as custodians for our planet where we can afford that much ‘down time’?

We still have people starving by their millions, we still have diseases that could be cured or prevented. Surely, we owe it to ourselves to focus on solving these issues before we embark on such wholesale frittering away of our time?

Yes and no.

YES, playing games like Farmville doesn’t progress humanity.

But also NO: I am not advocating that we do away with play altogether. Far from it. As I said at the outset, I am a huge fan of play.

What I am in favor of is social gaming with a purpose.

What if, in the course of having fun within a game, a user wasn’t only growing their capabilities as a mafia boss or trainmaster, but they were also (or instead) using their brains to help solve seemingly intractable disease puzzles?

Social gaming should help people come together to improve the world we live in. If we are playing games, let’s ensure they have a higher purpose. Let’s ensure they enable us to make greater insights into our pyschi, improving our understanding of our emotions, of our bodies and ultimately moving us to the point where we are not bounded by disease and scarce resources.

Aligned with this insight I want to draw your attention to the move by some of the Twitter co-founders back into The Obvious Corporation. I’ve written a fair amount about Obvious and product factories, but what is really interesting (especially in the context of this post) is the mission statement of the new Obvious:

The Obvious Corporation makes systems that help people work together to improve the world.The proliferation of technology can seem superfluous, but with the right approach, technology can benefit individuals, organizations and society.

It seems that others, like Ev, Biz and Jason are thinking along similar paths.

[As a footnote, I do recognize the great work Mark and the Zynga team are doing in supporting disaster relief. What I am advocating extends far beyond that focus.]

 

Y Combinator: Accelerating Start Ups, Recursively

Over a decade ago, back in the day of the initial tech bubble, I ran an early precursor to Y Combinator. In a similar vein we took on board nascent start ups in batches, with little more than an idea, and actively worked with the entrepreneurs to progress to the point where they were able to attract further investment from us and other investors.

And so I’ve been watching very closely over the years as Paul Graham has tweaked the Y Combinator model. There have been two excellent touch points recently for those of you interested in what YC does, how they choose which startups to work with and their model for success:

1. A comprehensive article in Wired – Y Combinator Is Boot Camp for Startups; and

2. Charlie Rose interviewing PG at TechCrunch Disrupt – see below.

One of the most amazing points PG makes in the interview is that the total value of YC companies is now around $3 billion. This is off the back of YC having invested a total of around $5 million. Now that is excellent validation for the model!