Startup Victoria: supporting successful founders

I’ve been attending Startup Victoria’s meetups for more than 5 years, and have been a paid-up member for most of that time. The event formats and the key personalities have changed over the years, but the mission has always been to help create more founders and better founders, and to support the broader startup ecosystem. At last month’s AGM and panel discussion, the Board announced that the focus has now shifted to “helping founders to succeed”. A subtle change, but an indication that the local startup scene is finally maturing.

As part of this renewed focus, Startup Vic wants more corporates to engage with local startups – as suppliers, strategic partners and potential target acquisitions. Given the challenges startups face in meeting enterprise procurement processes (especially in the public sector…), this will not be easy. The path to engagement with startups has to be considerably de-risked before purchasing managers will get the sign-off to onboard new vendors.

That challenge aside, another observation from the panel discussion of founders and advisors was that Startup Vic needs to connect newer founders with more experienced founders, those who have already taken a startup to scale up to exit. Plus, as a leadership organisation, Startup Vic recognises that more needs to be done to highlight local success stories. That doesn’t just mean the startup community celebrating itself – it means spreading the word publicly and getting more media airtime for businesses that are building sustainable growth in the new economy.

One of the panelists asserted that “some of our politicians would rather have their photo taken with the winner of the Melbourne Cup, than be seen with the founders of Atlassian”. A bit harsh, perhaps – but I know that they mean. Aligning themselves with sporting heroes probably does more for their public profile, compared to hanging out with our key tech entrepreneurs in order to learn what government could do to foster more startup success.

To be fair to the Victorian Government, it has been trying to implement an innovation strategy that brings participants together – founders, investors, incubators, accelerators, etc. This has resulted in: the Victorian Innovation Hub (plus a number of sector-specific tech centres); LaunchVic (to provide grants to projects designed to foster the startup community); and engagement with overseas VC funds and offshore tech companies (to position Victoria as an investment destination, and as a national, regional or even global HQ).

Meanwhile, the panel also debated whether too many local founders are more interested in building a “lifestyle business” for themselves, rather than creating say, a $250m company. This apparent lack of ambition was seen as something of a local phenomena, partly linked to Melbourne’s status as one of the world’s most livable cities, partly linked to a generally benign Australian economy (but with a growing number of stress points), and the usual cultural factors such as the tall poppy syndrome. There are also some structural challenges in the economy (restrictive trade practices, a lack of competition in highly concentrated markets, continued economic uncertainty post-mining boom, delays in rolling out the NBN, a potential credit squeeze…), plus a growing distrust of public institutions and major corporations. This disenchantment and disengagement is not helped by a lack of strong leadership in government and in business – so why would anyone with any sense want to get involved, and hence the desire to take care of one’s own needs first.

Finally, emphasizing the need to re-think the founder mindset and to provide a better foundation for building the businesses of the future, Startup Vic is also committed to both the professional and personal development of founders.

Next week: Blipverts vs the Attention Economy

 

 

A few rules on pitching

As regular readers will be aware, I have watched a lot of startup pitches over the past 4 years: the good, the bad, and the plain ugly. Having experienced rather too many of the latter in recent weeks (the names have been withheld to protect the guilty…) I started jotting down a few practical rules on managing the technical logistics of your pitch.

Source: Scientific American, via Wikimedia

The art of pitching (Source: Scientific American, via Wikimedia)

Rule #1 Check Your Tech

That’s everything from the computer drive/USB to the projector and screen, from the mic to the PA, and all cables and connections in between. As in most things, the last mile in the delivery chain can seriously let you down. Plus, simply knowing how to hold and use a mic would be a bonus!

Rule #2 No Videos

Yes, I know videos can be “cool”, but in a pitch setting they end up being a distraction, and I feel that the use of videos can be a cop-out – like you couldn’t be bothered to prepare a proper deck. (Remember those lazy teachers at school who would prefer to show some ancient “educational film” rather than actually teach their subject?)

Plus, embedded web links and the myriad of different formats and hardware compatibility mean videos are notoriously prone to fail. Leave them out.

(As regards the use of live demos or live website connections, this really depends on the nature of the pitch event, and how reliable the technology is. While I have seen some great examples of live app demos, equally, I’ve seen otherwise good pitches derailed by slow internet connections…..)

Rule #3 Check Fonts, Colours, Slide Transition & Automation

As with video compatibility, different slide formats will likely render differently from device to device, from projector to projector. My suggestion is to create your deck with one of the most commonly-used software formats (i.e., not necessarily the latest open source graphics package that no-one else has heard of…), use universal fonts and colours wherever possible, and keep slide transition and animation simple.

Rule #4 Block audio interference over the PA

One recent pitch event I attended was beset with tech problems, including noise from another source that cut into the PA. This was not the fault of the teams pitching, but their presentations suffered as a result. Some simple planning, like making sure the PA is a closed loop or that wireless equipment isn’t on an open channel.

Rule #5 Clickers

Anything that keeps the tech “invisible” is a bonus, and a remote clicker can really make a difference for presenters who don’t have to stand behind/near a laptop or steer via a mouse. But, like all the other bits of tech, not all clickers are equal, and so a bit of familiarization is in order. And used poorly, they can become a distraction, or worse, a prop that becomes like a crutch. Again, it’s about the last mile of delivery, and making sure the tech has been tested in advance.

Rule #6 Know Your Audience

This might seem obvious, but as well as understanding the event format (and any competition rules if applicable), find out who you will be pitching to: is it an audience of fellow startup founders, or investors, or potential customers? What might be the general level of awareness for your industry, product or business model? Who are the judges? Who do you need to impress most? What would be the most important contact you could make as a result of your pitch?

Rule #7 Make The Organisers Accountable for the Tech

In all of this, there is a huge responsibility placed on hosts, venues and tech support at startup events to make sure the technology is there to help, not hinder, the pitch presentations. While organisers can’t necessarily determine the quality of the content, or the presenters’ performance, they can make sure each pitch is competing on a equal tech basis.

Ideally, presenters should all be using the same PC or device, to reduce changeover time and equipment errors. Even better if the decks can be loaded in advance, and each presenter is given time for an AV check beforehand. I also recommend event hosts and venues consider using monitor screens placed in front of the presenters, so they don’t have to keep looking over their shoulders at the big screen – this is especially helpful in large audience settings.

Finally, if the format requires more than one person at a time to be speaking, please make sure they each have a separate microphone……

Next week: The Maker Culture