Pushing boundaries: Peter Bradd tasked with building Australia's startup ecosystem

As the first CEO of Australia's startup advocacy group StartupAUS, Peter Bradd plans to use his experience as an entrepreneur to work with the government to create a flourishing Australian startup economy.

When other kids were outside kicking a ball, Peter Bradd was already earning pocket money by running his own lawn-mowing business and washing his neighbours' cars. When he was old enough to work, Bradd chose jobs with small businesses: A local milk bar, De Costi Seafoods, and then a Video Ezy Franchise.

"I did all the s*** jobs for $5 an hour, and watched the owner come in and take the cash, and leave. I thought 'I wanted to be that guy; he's not doing any of the work'. I always thought I need to own something," Bradd recalled.

Today, Bradd is the owner and founder of personalised postcard service ScribblePics; a founding director of tech co-working space Fishburners; and the founding director and CEO of not-for-profit national startup community StartupAUS.

While none of his early roles had anything to do with technology, Bradd was first exposed to the sector when he took up a degree in agriculture and economics at the University of Sydney. He chose to complete work experience at a stockbroking company as part of his economics stream, and learned a little about HTML and CSS during his time there.

His knowledge about technology further grew when he explored how to grow into a viable business his idea of turning photos into postcards -- beginning what would eventually become ScribblePics. Bradd said the idea came following graduation, when he took a world round trip for a year with his twin brother and began using his photos as postcards.

"What I did when I was travelling was, I would print the photos and send them as postcards. When I came back I called up Fuji Xerox and told them I wanted to get people to turn photos into postcards, and they said it's possible, but you're not going to make any money from it," he said.

Forcing him to think harder about how to monetise the idea, Bradd partnered up with Qantas, which put him in front of 40 million Qantas passengers annually.

"Partnering up with Qantas, a real brand name, helped me get Expedia, Contiki, and Hilton, who probably thought if Qantas was doing it, they wanted to it, too, so I just kept making versions of it," he said.

"That was the first time I had seen an entrepreneur working with a business. I think that was quite rare in those days, but it's more prominent now, and these are some of the things that needs to continue to happen."

Bradd attributed his entrepreneurial drive that helped him establish ScribblePics and Fishburners to working mainly in sales while at university for the likes of other entrepreneurs such as Creel Price, LJ Hooker, a management consulting company doing business development, and Westpac as a life insurance sales representative.

Peter Bradd, StartupAUS founding director and CEO (Image: Supplied)

Bradd said the most influential person in his career was Greg Johnson, who ran a company that was eventually sold to accounting software firm Solutions 6. Bradd said Johnson was an "incredible mentor" who taught him everything he knows about sales.

"He taught me a whole heap of stuff. He was 60 and I was 23, and he gave me all the lessons. He was very hard, like a hard taskmaster, and he said that to me: 'If you work with me, I'm going to really push you to the edge'," he said.

Bradd said Johnson was the person who helped him build the platform that ScribblePics sits on, noting that he created it while on a flight to Spain.

"After having coffee with him, within 48 hours, he sent me a link to a website for everything I wanted: To upload photos, turn it into a PDF, email the PDFs, and he did all of that while on a plane to Spain, and that changed my mindset to what an MVP [minimal viable product] is."

Around the same time as things were kicking off for ScribblePics, Bradd was also on the hunt to work with more like-minded people, and in 2011 was introduced to The Entourage's Jack Delosa, as well as founder of Fishburners Peter Davidson.

Recalling when he first stepped into the Ultimo-based Fishburners, Bradd said: "There was nothing. There was a guy in tracksuit pants and I thought [Peter] was a European painter. I was expecting a guy with a suit and tie, and he's like to me, 'Your business is cool and I want you to move in'."

Joining 10 other people at the time, Bradd used his skills to assist Davidson with handling accounts, legal, and even scoring the organisation's first major sponsor, Optus, which at the time was worth AU$100,000.

Bradd also became responsible for building the entrepreneurial culture within the organisation, recalling that at one point, he was organising monthly trips for futurist speaker Tim Longhurst to visit the office to talk to entrepreneurs about technology and the future.

At the same time, Bradd also ran meetups for Fishburners called Werther's Winners Wednesday.

"I always thought, 'I need to own something.'"

— Peter Bradd

"Every Wednesday, we'd buy a pack of Werther's Original, and we got everyone to come into the boardroom -- and back then, that was maximum 20 people -- and you had two minutes to say your wins, your challenges, your losses for the week," he said.

"If people had the same challenges over and over again, other people would help them with that. The shares and wins would help others to live off the energy, and there was that type of group accountability, and that was one of the best things we did at Fishburners."

With Fishburners now at full capacity, accommodating more than 125 tech startups, Bradd is attempting to spread the entrepreneurial culture to a larger scale -- in fact, on a national scale, with StartupAUS.

Appointed as the organisation's first CEO last week, Bradd has already met with the office of Minister of Communications and Minister for Small Business, and is now attempting to connect with the prime minister to persuade him to "change the conversation" around the Australian startup ecosystem.

Earlier this year, StartupAUS' Crossroads 2015 report (PDF) called on the federal government to provide support for the Australian startup ecosystem. This included creating an entrepreneurial and collaborative culture, and a regulatory environment; bringing in experienced mentors; and giving startups access to technical skills and capital, as well as risk tolerance and visible successes. Bradd suggested that Australia's startup ecosystem currently lacks these conditions, and believes it's necessary to have them in order to create a flourishing environment.

"What we want to do as StartupAUS is to transform the ecosystem, and to get that critical mass going so it becomes self-sustaining," he said.

"The main message of the vision is if we want entrepreneurs to stay in Australia, they need to play by the same rules, at least, as their competitor in another country. Of course we want them to play better and have that competitive advantage, but we need to at least play by the same rules."

Bradd said there are several solutions that StartupAUS will be pushing. The first will be to change Australia's mindset to make the country understand that entrepreneurs are part of all industries, including banking, financial services, healthcare, agriculture, and viticulture.

"We need to change the conversation from 'entrepreneurs are a group of people' to 'we are innovators in every industry', and future industries will have those innovators working with our big businesses," he said.

"CEOs of those industries want to work with those entrepreneurs. They've got problems they want solving, and they want entrepreneurs to help them solve that," he said.

The launch of fintech hub Stone and Chalk is one example, Bradd said, that illustrates the effort between the public and private sectors coming together to ensure that Australia's financial systems keep pace with emerging technology.

Bradd also said that the reasons why a small percentage of startups move overseas are to raise capital, be closer to customers, get access to better tax systems, and for talent.

"It's very, very, very difficult to employ people in Australia. We don't have enough people. We try to use 457 visas, but when you don't have any money and you have every company like Google, Facebook, and Cisco all looking for engineers, trying to compete with those guys that have immigration departments that get the visas -- you just can't," he said.

"As a startup, you don't have the money, and you end up paying a lawyer to give your incoming employee confidence you know what you're doing."

Bradd believes a new visa program needs be introduced to reduce the red tape for startups to bring talent into the country.

"We should be creating entrepreneurship visas and making it easy for us to get technology skills. We should make it easy for any entrepreneur who wants to come to Australia, just like every country does, and bring those mentors into Australia to help mentor startups," he said.

Bradd added that Australia should not feel discouraged if Australian entrepreneurs go overseas; it should be seen as an opportunity to promote Australia's startup ecosystem, which in turn will hopefully bring additional talent here.

"We need to encourage Australian entrepreneurs to come back, but we shouldn't be scared of our entrepreneurs of going overseas. Shoes of Prey has just gone overseas, and they do AU$50 million a year in revenue, and they're out there showing America what Australian entrepreneurs are like," he said.

"If you look at sports, we send the Wallabies overseas, we send our Olympians, and every industry is allowed to send their people overseas, apart from, for some reason, tech entrepreneurs can't do it.

"What we want to do is to get Jodie [from Shoes of Prey] saying, 'Hey, Bondi Beach is awesome, the lifestyle is awesome', and if she's asked what it's like to start a business, she should be able to say, 'It's awesome because the government is supportive', and that's the ecosystem we want to create. When Jodie goes over there, we lose her for a little while, but maybe we can bring 20 or 30 people back here, and that's the flow you want."

At the same time, Bradd said not only will a new visa program introduce new talent to Australia, but it will also mean more role models for local startups.

He added that once the local startup ecosystem is established, it will mean additional venture capitalists -- both locally and internationally -- will begin to invest more in Australian startups.

Bradd acknowledged that the Australian government's decision to pass the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Employee Share Schemes) Bill 2015 last Thursday marked a step in the right direction. From July 1, the new legislation will allow startups to be able to issue options or shares to employees at a small discount.

Bradd said the potential for this will create a "PayPal effect", meaning that when one company gets rich, gets the capital they need, completes an IPO, and allows shareholders to benefit from it, it would then use the funds to start a second company and invest in others.

"The combined IPOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google created 4,000 millionaires, and those 4,000 millionaires went on to create their own thing, and you just start to build it up," he said.

"Venture capital is a global industry. If we can fund up to say AU$60 million in Australia, then a US venture capitalist comes in and tops it up, that's a good thing. We want the US money because they've got more of it; we want them to come over here."

While Bradd admitted that the conversation has come a long way since last year with the government, ongoing work is still needed.

"If we get the ecosystem right, everything will fall into place. There might be a few things to do, but if we get them right, the train will start moving, and, as the train moves, it will get the other ones moving. But we need to create that momentum to create that traction."

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