Australia's web wilderness used to be an unchartered landscape. Pioneers furiously grabbed land to build their fortunes; warlords protected their patch by isolating tech entrepreneurship in pockets of participation, passion and investment; and egos reigned over the new technology frontier.
Freelancer.com's Matt Barrie slashed and burned his way to the top. His site generated a modest AU$35 million revenue last financial year, and although his achievements pale in comparison to his peers, by using the same desperation of the guns for hire on his outsourcing website and his massive ego, Barrie earned a very loud media profile — which he uses to play down the efforts of local stakeholders.
In contrast, others support the community behind the scenes. Optus' Peter Huynh; 99designs' Leni Mayo; PushStart's Kim Heras; AngelCube's Nathan Sampimon; Commercialisation Australia's Doron Ben-Meir; and the University of Wollongong's Elizabeth Eastland. They are a few who can let their results do the talking.
However, Startmate founder Niki Scevak has quietly and quickly trailblazed his way to the top of a booming new tech economy.
With the launch of the Startmate accelerator program in early 2011, Scevak civilised the start-up society, and connected the disparate fiefdoms. His war cry — scalable, web and mobile tech business ideas, passionate founders, attractive Silicon Valley investment prospects — rallied entrepreneurs and investors alike.
Instant success arrived when US retail giant Walmart spat out millions to gobble up Grabble. When the Startmate participant was acquired, it established founders Anthony Marcar and Stuart Argue as Scevak's key players in Silicon Valley and the much-hyped VC firm 500 Startups.
This platform jump-started the success of the recent second round of teams. Importantly, Scevak decided that this batch and its successors should incorporate their companies in Delaware. It removes a key hurdle to US investors acquiring Australia's best talent and ideas, and the decision was validated by the success of Startmate teams. Peter Thiel led an AU$1.2 million investment in ScriptRock; the founders of Guitar Hero and Atlassian joined an AU$1 million investment round in NinjaBlocks; and FlightFox accepted a place in the Y-Combinator accelerator program.
Scevak has scaled his "start-up supply chain" following the growth curve of his protégés and investments. Blackbird Ventures will invest large amounts in mature, proven companies, delivering new prosperity to Australia's fledgling "Silicon City". Scevak is extending his reach beyond Startmate's early-stage accelerator investment market, which competitors have inflated to bursting point. He has quietly toiled for years to mine the local resources, mobilise the powerbrokers and (for better or worse) build a solid trade route for Aussie entrepreneurs and investors to compete in America. Scevak has taken the industry out of the parents' garage and into the boardroom.