Oz start-ups hamstrung by lack of vision

Oz start-ups hamstrung by lack of vision

Summary: The most recent Startup Weekend produced some impressive businesses that will no doubt achieve financial success, but definitely will not be the next Google or Apple.

TOPICS: Start-Ups

The most recent Startup Weekend produced some impressive businesses that will no doubt achieve financial success, but definitely will not be the next Google or Apple.

The $5000 first prize for the best idea developed over 48 hours was awarded to Ned Dwyer's ThemePivot, a marketplace for website owners to buy cheap CSS tweaks.

Like the other ideas, it was a clever use of technology to solve a real market problem, and, most importantly, could deliver the healthy returns that Aussie investors crave.

It was billed as the 99Designs of CSS, and unfortunately it wasn't the first time a competitor described their product by invoking the name of one of Australia's most successful tech exports.

I was there all weekend, and was lucky enough to be able to give the teams feedback and see how they evolved over the weekend.

There were marketplaces of all shapes and sizes, servicing a niche by connecting a with b, or x with y, and underpinned by a viable business model, but there was very little focus on how to engage users, or, as the late Steve Jobs said, how to "put a dent in the universe". Instead, it was all about the exit.

Looking at the great tech companies — Google, Apple, Microsoft — the key element that shines through is the way in which they engage users with their technology and their long-term mission to fundamentally change industries and society.

They have also demonstrated that when you pursue your vision and execute on this, the financial returns will follow.

It will only be by solving a market problem, with a clever business model and pursuing a vision, that Australia will start to really produce the types of tech companies that can truly make a difference.

Topic: Start-Ups

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  • Hi Mahesh,

    Theme Pivot is actually a lot more than a "marketplace to buy cheap CSS tweaks".

    Our vision as presented in our pitch is to become the global marketplace for micro digital jobs. This includes CSS tweaks as a starting point but will lead us into everything from Javascript to Copywriting, SEO to Ruby.

    A 48 startup competition is a difficult thing. You are thrown together with a group of random people and have to develop a prototype in a weekend AND a longer term vision and then pitch it in 5 minutes. Not an easy achievement and unfortunately we had to cut a lot out that we were hoping would come up in question time.

    Drop me a line if you're keen to hear the bigger vision for Theme Pivot, the team and technology we're building and how we're going to put a dent in the universe.


  • Throughout its history, Y Combinator has attracted sneering commentary for backing trivial, derivative ideas and that seem to lack vision and blue-sky potential. "Features not businesses" is a common jibe. It still happens, even after Heroku's $250M exit, Airbnb's $1.3B-val raise and Dropbox's $4B-val raise.

    It may or may not be hard to believe now, but when Airbnb and Dropbox were in their earliest days, most people, including writers much like the author of this article, dismissed them as trivial and stupid. Even Y Combinator was unconvinced and almost rejected both of them.

    To expect ideas that seem on a sure path to be the next Apple or Google to materialise after Startup Weekend is to both miss the point of Startup Weekend and misunderstand how great, visionary companies come to exist at all.

    The story that *should* be told about Startup Weekend is that well over 100 people attended, a huge increase over the previous event, indicating that local interest in startups is starting to explode, and that maybe this indicates that the foundations are being laid for great, visionary companies to come out of Australia.
  • Tom makes an excellent point re SW and I know Mahesh has covered the great growth in startups in Melb and the ecosystem developing here. I'd also add that in a VC pitch the "exit" should be one of the key things discussed. It is after all one of the key things a VC would be looking for.

    That said, I wonder if it is the nature of a start up eco-system to have many "products not business" style ideas with the odd bigger hit. My feeling is this is true and that the mix doesn't necessarily correlate with positive exit outcomes. ie. Big bold ideas don't necessarily win and small incremental products as businesses often get acquired for a positive return.

    In a Startup Weekend environment or just a standard, non crunch, startup environment you would expect to see many more incremental vision businesses than significant game changes.

    I also wonder if in a vibrant capital rich interconnected environment such as Silicon Valley, product style companies succeed more than they would in Australia due purely to potential acquirer density. ie. It is much easier to be acquired by a company round the corner who has got to know you over a couple of years than having to uproot a team (with families) in a remote country.

    While acquisitions such as today's Trunk.ly purchase are great and they will continue to happen with Australian startups, much more so than say 6 years ago, we would do ourselves a disservice for our talent to build a copy cat business or a slight alteration to an existing product.

    Finally, it is worth noting that Tim and Alex did not start off building Trunk.ly, they dived into the startup world with a twitter analytics tool, a offering that didn't gain traction but they pivoted into trunk.ly and here we are. What you start with isn't necessarily what you end with.
  • To the defence of Mahesh - I think he is just stating the obvious - not just in regards to Australia but the entire web eco system.

    Innovation, real innovation that is, is hard come by - Google and Apple have got this down pat.

    Unfortunately I feel that we've been conditioned to think that creating a somewhat mediocre businesses and/or company and exiting is the way to go. It probably is, and if I created an X for Y and exited massively - I'd be pretty stoked and I'd be formulating a different response to this article.

    I, for one, am sick of X for Y, so Mahesh - I'm with you on this one. Bugherd+99Designs != Innovation, but, what it does equal is a nice enough mashup. So, Ned, good luck.

    The more Aussie startups/mashups etc that come out of Australia - the more investment will come into Australia. The more investment, the more mediocre businesses/company's will see an exit - and so, I may one day have a chance. The side effect will one day be an Australian equivalent Google/Apple.