Why is the startup industry so friendly?

A few weeks back industry stalwart Steve Austin was broadcasting live on ABC radio from the Precinct in Brisbane, and he asked an interesting open question:

“Why is this startup industry so friendly? Everyone seems to be genuinely out to help each other; I don’t see that in many other places. ”

I couldn’t agree more.

There is a real sense that we are all working together. I don’t think I’ve ever had a five-minute chat with a founder where they didn’t try to introduce me to someone else who I might be able to help or who could help me. Today while lamenting (ranting) about the state of politics (which is anything but collaborative) I realised the difference.

In the Startup world, we’re playing in an infinite environment. Anything is possible. We’re looking to advance the human experience by removing barriers and creating new products. We’re making new value where nothing has previously existed. There is magic in a world of infinite potential, so why fight with each other? Let’s work together.

This contrasts dramatically with the world of politics. There is one Prime Minister (or President). One ruling party. One member in each seat. The winner takes all in this finite world. Of course, people won’t collaborate. It is a zero-sum game if someone wins then the other people have lost.

The battle for our industry is to make sure we keep seeing the infinite world and not let the rules of the finite business world infect us.

Let’s look at venture capital (VC). There is a growing trend to charge people money to gain access to venture capital. This is classic restrictive supply and is the polar opposite of collaboration.

In the ‘real’ startup’ world, Venture Capital is not finite.

Sure, to those used to a finite business world, you might argue that a fund only has $100million, and is, therefore, is a finite amount. It suggests a limit for the opportunity.

However, in our startup world, we know that another $100million will follow this first fund – if it delivers a fabulous return.

It is a world of endless possibilities, opportunities and growth. And it’s not magic. It can be our reality. Let’s seek opportunities, without being opportunistic to the point of boxing ourselves in.

So let’s cut activities like charging funders 4% for a VC introduction and stick to what we do best.

Let’s keep the opportunities rolling. Let’s keep the networking organic and true. And let’s make the introduction for free and continue to expand the infinite startup world.

Who are the People driving the Brisbane Startup ecosystem?

The top ten people who made Brisbane a Startup hub

In the four years since I returned to Brisbane from London, I’ve seen the Startup community grow from a handful of companies and mentors, to the expansive collection we have today.

I thought it important to look back on the people who (I believe) have been the driving force behind this emerging community in Brisbane.

There is no great science to this list, other than my experience over the last four years. If you think I’ve made an obvious omission then please let me know in the comments.

1)     Steve Baxter (https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-baxter-021448/)

Long before the fame of ‘Shark Tank’, Steve pioneered the co-working space concept in Brisbane with River City Labs (RCL). To me Steve is the godfather of Startups in Brisbane the one single point that seems to connect everything and everyone. I have no doubt that without Steve, we wouldn’t have our Brisbane Startup community. When I first met Steve the thing that struck me most was that he was genuinely looking to give back, he’d had his success, and wanted to use that to help more entrepreneurs realise their dream. Testimony to this is the fact that I’ve also included two of Steve’s RCL partners below.

2)     John MacTaggart (https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-mactaggart-306125/)

Well before the Australia Startup community had our showcase Venture Capital (VC) funds like Black Bird, Air Tree and Square Peg, Startups relied on Investment Angels. In Brisbane, it has been John MacTaggart and the team at Brisbane Angels who have shouldered this investment load for a good number of years. With little fanfare, Brisbane Angels have been quietly backing Brisbane start-ups and corner stoning many success stories.

3)     Mark Sowerby (too cool for Linkedin)

Before taking on the high-profile role of Queensland’s First Chief Entrepreneur, Mark founded Blue Sky Capital. The vast majority of Blue Sky’s investments (from what I can tell) have been of a more traditional style (see non-startup). However, it is the fact that Mark did this in Brisbane, rather from Sydney that makes me include him on this list. That being said, a $25million investment in Vinomofo is no small thing, and the new $200million fund for startups is a real game changer here in Brisbane.

4)     Brett Geoghegan (https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettgeoghegan/)

Brett is the EIR at BlueChilli here in Brisbane which instantly makes him one of the most important people to know/meet if you’re just getting started. BlueChilli is a national success, but the traction in Brisbane really comes down to Brett. I had the pleasure of sharing office space with Brett back in 2014/15 and you can pretty much sum up Brett as a compassionate, generous and experienced. As an early founder pioneer with Inductly, Brett is part of the new generation of founders giving back to the Brisbane community.

5)     Peta Ellis (https://www.linkedin.com/in/petaellis/)

There is no doubt that RCL has driven the Brisbane scene, but behind the RCL captain Steve Baxter, has been Peta. Peta has been the ever present, calm and commanding structure behind RCL. Anyone who has been engaged with RCL over the years will know how important Peta has been to that success story. For a Brisbane community that is just over five years old Peta has been there every day.

n.b. Peta sharing the credit with Aaron Birkby

6)     Jock Fairweather (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jockfairweather/)

Bursting onto the Startup scene in 2014 Jock hit the industry with the fire and fury that’d make Donald Trump envious. In the Brisbane market that had singly relied on RCL Jock added an alternative in with Little Tokyo Two that would also become the backbone of the Capital and fishburners entry into Brisbane. Startup communities are built around co-working spaces, so Little Tokyo Two should be considered the point that Brisbane became serious.

7)     Peter Laurie (https://www.linkedin.com/in/pjlaurie/)

The third RCL person I’ve listed here is the amazing Pete Laurie. I don’t think there is a RCL Startup that doesn’t have a little bit of Pete tech magic in them. Peter has been a mainstay of the Brisbane Startup scene for as long as anyone has been able to say Brisbane even ‘had’ a Startup scene. Personally, I first met Peter when we had a tech problem at Zippy. When I started to ask around for advice Pete’s name kept coming up. So I contacted Pete and (always generous with his time) Pete came in, gave some amazing insights and we finally managed to see some light at the end of the tech tunnel.

8)     Cat Matson (https://www.linkedin.com/in/catmatson/)

Before the State government had a Chief Entrepreneur, the Brisbane City Council had their Chief Digital Officer – Cat. Cat must be one of the most connected people in Brisbane, I don’t know what her LinkedIn count is, like but I’d be surprised if it is under 5,000. Since 2014 if there has been a digital event in Brisbane Cat has been there, connecting businesses and helping merge the traditional business world to the digital one. To do this via a city council is no small feat and with the combination of a city council and a state government getting behind our industry Brisbane may just become the Australia Startup capital.

9)     Murray Galbraith (https://www.linkedin.com/in/murraygalbraith/)

A community without a flagship event will remain largely hidden underground. This is why Myriad was so important. Yes, the Brisbane Startup community has had many events, but it was always within the community (see next person). Not that this is bad, it is just that until we stuck our heads up and start shouting about the great work the tech and innovation space was doing, the general population of Brisbane had no idea. It takes special kind of crazy to stick their neck out and pull off a massive event like Myriad, lucky for us we have the super crazy Murray. Myriad was the first-time my non-tech friends actually knew anything about our Startup industry.

n.b Myriad co-founder Martin Talvari get to share the credit with Murray 😉

10)  Chris Macaulay (https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrismacaulay1/)

Last but not least I want to shout out Chris who (along with Kyle McGinty) tirelessly hosted the Silicon Beach Brisbane drinks for years before other events came along. Silicon Beach was one of the only events for several years in Brisbane where you could actually meet real Startup founders, not the small business kind, I mean proper, tech driven innovative Startups with no money, no revenue and a dream. Chris is now back on the founder side with Advvy proving that once you’re bitten by the startup bug you’ll never be able to stop.


That’s a quick wrap up of the 10 people I see has having driven the Brisbane Startup community over the last five years. Who did I miss off this list? Who would you give a shout out to? Let me know in the comments below, after all, this is just one man’s opinion.

The Marketer’s Innovation Dilemma

Having spent the last couple of months entirely focused on marketing strategies for my innovative startup clients, I realized that they all suffer the same marketing dilemma. There was no latent demand for their products or service. The world doesn’t know that their truly innovative product exists, so naturally that same world is not out searching for my client’s product.

Having made a career over the last 20 years around Search Engine Marketing (SEM), I realise how lazy marketing has become. If you sell (for example) waterproof work boots, then you can bid in Google for the search phrase ‘water proof work boots’, and then you just have to demonstrate that your product is the best option based on features, brand, warranty, price or other variables.

This is all relativity logical and an easy consumer path to map out.

But what do you do if your product is innovative? A truly innovative product it is not defined by a different or better feature, it is defining an entirely new class of product or service.

Take Uber for example, while it’s true that Uber is a replacement for existing transport options like taxis, buses or private hire cars, the paradigm of a ride sharing cashless app service didn’t exist. If Uber was not innovative and just simply iterative then their service could have just been a cheaper taxi company. Hardly remarkable but easier to create a marketing plan for.

It was at this point that I realised that much like Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, marketers face their own innovation dilemma; “For a true innovation, there is no latent consumer demand”.

The only answer to this dilemma is to interrupt the associated solution path, provide value, then educate.

This is why startup marketing requires a creative and strategic approach. Traditional marketing can rely on iterative ideas and buying power, but startup marketing needs to dive deep into the core rational of why the solution is needed. To be honest, traditional marketing should be taking the same approach, but in reality traditional marketing can skip this extremely hard step, and still achieve a measure of success. For a startup however, skipping this step will lead to the inevitable failure of the company.

If you’re a small business that is just starting, then Google’s adwords provides an amazing product where you can tap into highly targeted existing demand for your product. But if you’re a startup, you need to think harder about the needs and desires of your target market and work out ways to intercept that decision making path with messaging that will cut through.

There is a reason why startups hire ‘growth hackers’ and not digital marketers, the path and methodology is not as clear when it come to startup marketing as there is not latent demand to fall back onto.



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