Show Me The Money!

Reflection on the 2017 Startup Catalyst Future Founders Mission

The first concept I learned in Silicon Valley was radical candor — honest, constructive, progressive feedback that challenges you directly. It is safe to say that all 20 of us young Australians were challenged in a very good way during the Startup Catalyst Future Founders Mission.

We were inspired to give first and just f*king start. We were encouraged to talk about and critically analyse diversity and inclusion. We confronted our imposter syndrome and underwent some serious introspection.

Steve Baxter, if you are reading this right now, thank you. If this has always been your goal, then you have succeeded. Yes, Silicon Valley has been totally demystified; and yes, my new amazing family of past, present, and future Startup Catalyst alumni have what it takes to succeed in this crazy world.

And thank you to all the people and organisations who made it possible for us to visit Silicon Valley and learn. The following are my observations and generalisations.

  1. The ones who really succeed in Silicon Valley are smart, talented, and opportunistic in a good way. They are willing to take risks, make sacrifices, act quickly, and think big. They give first, pay it forward, and value forming genuine connections with other people.
  2. Silicon Valley has both wealth and talented people. Like the chicken and egg problem, I’m not sure which came first but a positive feedback loop has been formed: Talented people create wealth; wealth creates opportunities for a better life and attracts more people to the area — a growing customer base including more talented people. (Silicon Valley is far from perfect, but that’s not the emphasis of this blog post.)
  3. The overall ecosystem works in its own favor too. Universities, co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators, customers, and investors etc. are geared to support (would-be) entrepreneurs. If all cards are played well, the probability of a startup turning into a global success is maximized.
  4. Speaking of investors and funding, it seems easier to raise money in Silicon Valley than Australia. Maybe it’s a simple numbers game: For every batch of carefully selected startups, most are expected to fail — yet a small number of them are guaranteed to produce returns (in a resourceful ecosystem) that surpass the initial sum of investment money. This encourages more investment in startups — another positive feedback loop. I wonder if this investment approach can be applied elsewhere…

When I look back, these generalisations seem very much like common sense. Am I missing something very important? Now I have more questions than answers. And this is probably a good opportunity to give and receive more radical candor.

  1. Australia produces world-class talent and has many geographical advantages. Why can’t we create our own ecosystems like Silicon Valley?
  2. Seriously, what’s holding us back? Social inequalities? Strict regulations? Bureaucracy, stupid politics, pointless power struggles? Inherent resistance to change? Arrogance disguised as contentment? Fear of unknown? Fear of failure? Fear of losing face?
  3. It’s nearly 2018 — people are working on genome editing, medical bionics, self-driving cars, big data analysis, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and renewable energy etc. What is Australia doing as a nation? Why are mining and real estate still the sole dominant industries?
  4. The brain drain is real and surely we know what’s causing it. What can we do to reverse it? The grass is only greener when we water it.
  5. No individual, group, or industry can flourish alone without a good ecosystem in place. We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, and we want to remain young and free — when are we going to invest in a better quality of living and sustainable future?

Startup Catalyst has changed me, my perception of the world, and my idea of the future — I can never go back to my old self. And I’m glad.

Thank you for reading this and any radical candor is appreciated. Keep an eye out for more Startup Catalyst blog posts.