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Startups in Melbourne the silicon valley way

Recently, as part of melbourne knowledge week, i was lucky enough to book my ticket early and attend “Startups the Silicon Valley Way” lecture at Deakin Edge in Federation Square. Best of all, as well as being a really enjoyable and well delivered presentation, it was FREE!

My review of melbourne knoelwdge week so far is that it is outstanding. Very much looking forward to going to the other events I have lined up!

http://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/melbourne-knowledge-week-building-startups-the-silicon-valley-way-tickets-22254764600

The presenters were

Key takeaways & things I Learned:

ENVIRONMENT NECESSARY FOR STRONG ENTRPRENEURIAL ACTIVITY:

  • Entrepreneurial Success is driven by a strong shared culture
  • The culture is generated by a tight and well networked community of like minded individuals
    • A philosophy of sharing among community members facilitates strong generation of ideas, and their nurturing and incubation.
    • Ex entrepreneurs are a strong source of mentorship and capital for the next generation of Startups
    • Highly experienced and entrenched industry veteran employees are good at execution, not development of ideas and concepts- they should be often sidelined to a supporting role
  • Corporates should foster this community minded culture
    • Open their doors to other startup entrepreneurs
    • Hold discussion and brainstorming sessions with outsiders
    • Provide assistance, mentoring and contacts to others-
      • Often this work pays dividends as the network expansion, and exposure to new ideas and thinking is invaluable.
      • Potentially invest in other small startups, embed employees and have them infused with the culture prevalent in “real” startups.

Problems observed that doom the NEXTGEN and transformation projects of LARGE CORPORATES:

  • Key players within Corporate Startup and transformation activities are termed “intrapreneurs”
  • Small, nimble startups are lacking in capital and resources (they are poor) , they are rich in freedom of movement
  • Corporate Transformation Programs and Startups are Hamstrung by the following:
  • Only Incremental innovation is allowed
  • New ideas must fit the current business model. Even good Non core ideas with potential  are not considered
  • Governance processes and bureaucracy slow down the speed of development.
  • Weak laws and regulations cannot be flouted or sidestepped freely to test new markets or concepts.
  • Large corporates are unwilling to take on reputational risk, which is often necessary in startups.
  • Rigid accounting systems and requirements for reporting distract intrapreneurs.
  • Activities are often overly secretive, and not engaged in the industry’s community, or that of the start up community which can generate contacts and creative solutions.
  • Staff are chosen based on significant experience and track record of successful execution.
  • Many are old, tired and stale from being in the industry too long. Causes tunnel vision, and inability to see the future.
  • Startup and transformation staff are often drawn from the internal pool, and the same industry.
    • Risk taking and out of the box ideas are less likely to appear as entrenched employees seek safety and protection of their current positions of respect and trust. – they actually have something to lose.
    • Entrenched staff are unlikely to agree to necessary new incentive structures that place their stable paycheck at risk due to significant personal and financial commitments.
  • Intrapreneurs incentives to succeed, or avoid failure at all costs are not nearly as high as entrepreneurs.
  • Corporates make the mistake of not giving employees equity or the opportunity to invest in the particular project
  • Intrapreneurs have  “no skin in the game”
    • They still get paid if the project flops- no real punishment for failure.
    • They receive a reward that is grossly out of proportion with the gain the corporate makes from success, and often negligible compared to their base salary despite millions made by their employer.
    • The result is that even the highest performing intrapreneurs are less likely to be as diligent or creative, take risks, nor work long hours, or go the extra mile for the benefit of the project in comparison to a entrepreneur who has their family home on the line, or wants to eat, or pay the rent next week.

Suggested Solutions for corporates engaging in transformation programs & NEXTGEN intrepreneurship

 Hire brand new staff for the new innovation team, particularly management.

  • Draw many staff outside of the industry
  • Do not look for experience or extensive track records- look for drive and passion, creativity, ideas.
  • Put those staff in a separate building
  • Engage with the startup and entrepreneurial community
    • Provide assistance to others in the community
    • Make the new team a hub of creativity and new thought in the area, that attracts others and allows networks to be built
    • New acquisition or partnership opportunities can be found via this mechanism
  • Highly experienced, entrenched incumbent staff from parent company should not be leaders in anything but execution of ideas
  • Startup ventures should be branded separately, and in separate entities from the main company to quarantine risks.
  • No mandate to “protect” core parent business processes – nothing is untouchable
  • No mandate to stick strictly to the core business of the parent as their executive management sees it.
    • If it looks like it could make money, build it!
  • Executive oversight should be minimal, and parent corporate management should be silent.
  • Core accounting systems from the main corporate should not be utilised
    • No emphasis on reporting or detail- accounting & up to date record keeping is  not a core part of an early stage startup.
    • KPI’s & rewards should not be based on accounting numbers  in early stage ventures.
  • Employee incentive structures should be designed to create real skin in the game & high performance.
    • Low base salaries, or base salaries at significant risk under failure conditions (i.e. at least 30% penalty)
    • Large, uncapped Bonuses directly linked to value generated
      • You unexpectedly made $2m for the company this year? You should get 200K at least out of that!
    • Employees should be given equity in the startup entities they are involved in
    • Employees should be given opportunity to invest in their startups significantly and increase their equity stakes if they desire.

There are some very interesting, and very cheap talks and training coming up via SPARK. (Less than $10 a day!, but an application process, and eligibility criteria, such as being an Alumni of Deakin Uni apply)

Melbourne knowledge week- If you are in this city, get into it!!

http://spark.deakin.edu.au/upcoming-events-2/

Infoguy of Melbourne- Homeless to role model

infoguy nightride busI’d just arrived in Melbourne, at a time of the year when the damp, coursing rain, and bone chilling winds rule the streets and suburbs, and, of course, I just had to explore the nocturnal fruits of the city.

After the music stopped, the band packed up, last drinks were served, and we had consumed the mandatory utterly delicious grease, carbs and protein feast that is the glorious rocketburger and fries combo, it was time to part ways and head home.. “oh, bro, you have to taxi it this time of the night- the trains stop at midnight”

Slight problem. My house was at the end of the earth, and I really didn’t fancy spending half a days pay conveying my very tired, and slightly inebriated body back there.

Asking a few similarly stumbly locals outside the deserted and spooky, vaguely urine perfumed façade of the iconic Flinders Street Station on Elizabeth street, I discovered that the budget late night transport option of choice was a wheezing nightrider bus…

A conveyance that generally reeks of kebabs, broken dreams and something vaguely and unpleasantly vintage cheesy at 30 paces in the Swanston st bus mall, and i’m not talking about the stench of maccas and KFC wafting from their open entrances.

Only problem, that there were over a dozen stops to choose from.. and as I blearily stared at the sputum and grease smeared perspex route map placards at each stop, I found them incomprehensible. I just wanted to go home.

Infoguy melbourne homeless nightrider deskThen I noticed a bloke in a high vis fluoro vest, directing similarly cluseless and lost people to the right buses.

He had a little makeshift desk set up, made of a few milk crates, stacked, a laminated info “I” symbol stuck on the front, with a tabletop, a box, post it notes, and a few other papers and paraphernalia on top… like a tourist infodesk.

I didn’t think anything unusual about the setup at that point. drunk people proof maybe? that made sense.

YES! must be a late night PTV customer service worker. Just what I needed. :)

Dutifully, I lined up, and waited to be served.

The apparent PTV guy was a cheery, industrious looking fellow, with a quick smile and was unusually cheery and happy for a somebody who obviously had been dealing with stroppy drunk, tired and  “where do you need to go mate?” I told him my suburb.

infoguy melbourne helping infromation tourist customer service homeless“Ok, you are around here then” *he points, thumbing a circle around my suburb*

“Can you point out your street at all? you have a couple of route choices” he waved his hand theatrically, tracing a couple lines up and down.

Looking down at the big map, filled with hand drawn lines of what must be bus routes, I was rather impressed with myself to be able to indicate my house.

“Ok, you need to take the Eltham bus- that’s the best one for you, the next one is at 03:30AM”

Leaning down over his “desk”, he scribbled the details on a post it note, carefully folded it into quarters, and pressed it into my hand.

Then he threw the curveball.

“I’m a homeless person. I struggle with homelessness every day, and all donations are much appreciated”

He indicated toward the plastic box on the makeshift table, where a few solitary coins were camped out.

I lurched off toward the bus stop he indicated… then just… stopped. had an incredulous double take moment. Turned. Shook off the slight fuzz of alcohol (yeah, ok I’d only had two beers, but I’m a terminal lightweight cheap date), and fatigue, And opened my eyes, and saw.

infoguy homelss man melbourne degraves street subwayThe orange vest had the insignia of a cold storage company on it, the coat was good quality, but a bit tatty. Shoes looked worn, and the jeans a bit shabby…  the man’s face marked with experience, eyes misted with distant memories of better times.

This was a man that had nothing, on the edge of society, was probably struggling with mental illnesses and living in the cold unforgiving street of Melbourne. Was probably hungry and alone often.

I felt for my wallet, fished out the coins, and strode back to the desk and dumped them in. I felt lighter. Somehow seeing a homeless man being entrepreneurial, find a place in a city, a society that was valued, made my own problems, fears and aspirations seem so small, and easy to overcome and accomplish.  There was somebody that had stepped up from a low impossible to fathom to help himself, and others.

Every coin was deserved. Earned

I caught his eye, directly- looked at him as an equal. with respect, not pity.

“Thankyou”

That’s all I needed to say.infoguy melbourne central railway tube station

His little “business” even had a facebook page. Solid gold. i didn’t look at it at the time though.

I didn’t see him around for a long time after that, though I did have a feeling I he might have been a guy in Degraves street selling the “Big Issue” magazine. I wasn’t sure though.

I hoped that his disappearance was a good sign, that times had turned for the better for him.

It wasn’t till many, many months later, quite recently, I saw him again at the Swanston street mall again.

I didn’t need any help, but I threw some coins in the box anyway, and stopped to have a chat, and congratulate him on having the up and go, gumption and courage to do something positive, and do a hard days  work (or in this case, nights work) , well, and with pride and competence.

infoguy melbourne central helpdesk volunteer homelessTurned out that things were indeed on the up for him, as he proudly told me that Melbourne central shopping centre had allowed him to set up shop below the shot tower, doing what he does best- customer service.

A professional looking desk had even entered into the equation.

The place is a confusing maze, and the touch panels seem always broken or no help at all.  I can see how he saw a  niche opportunity there.

I was also amazed when he shared with me that he had been living homeless for 30 years.

Looking at his desk, I noticed he had set up a facebook page. Even homeless people understand the importance of the digital channel for promotion and customer interaction. Fantastic.

On that, I learned more of his story.

https://www.facebook.com/InfoGuy-of-Melbourne-351917111682585/?fref=ts

The guy even somehow GRADUATED from Latrobe university, with a Bachelor of arts recentlyinfoguy graduation latrobe iniversity bachelor of arts.

An amazing, and difficult achievement in itself for us regular, fortunate humans with a warm bed, home and support mechanisms to help us along.

But one degree is not enough for this courageous fellow. Next year he plans to study towards a masters of speech pathology at Charles Stuart university.

Well done, I salute you sir!

You have come a long way in six years, starting outside the Degraves street subway entrance of flinders street station in June 2008, warning people that the entrance to the station closed after 10PM, trying to prevent people from missing their trains.

It’s been step by step in the right direction over the years- from the humble subway sentinel, to drunk person drover, festival football and concert traffic director, shopping centre sage, and now finally, educated man reaching toward the light from the darkness.

Hopefully, the next trip on your journey will be a job, a home and everything that others take for granted in their lives.

All the best, true personality, battler and friend of the city of Melbourne.

 

 

 

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