180 days to go. The accelerator countdown to take-off and how we got here.
The stage lights were dim as purple lasers danced across the stage.
The auditorium was silent just moments before the sound of our entrance music began.
I can’t remember exactly the type of generic electro that beamed through the speakers that night, but I do remember it wasn’t Cars by Gary Numan. A track we’d planned previously.
Though without falter, I stepped out onto stage and into the spotlight of what would be our first public pitch for Carisma.
An audience eagerly looked on, waiting with anticipation to hear our plans of world domination.
This was of course demo-day for the first batch of Collidees — the inaugural batch of startups through the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia, Collider Accelerator.
Collider is a 3–5 month accelerator program that looks for early stage Creative Tech startups that will have a global impact. It’s located in the heart of QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus for Creative Industries (essentially Brisbane, Queensland for those less acquainted with the geography).
One of the guests in the audience that night was Mike Knapp.
Knapp co-founded Aussie success Shoes of Prey so suffice to say, he’s certainly earned his fair share of respect and clout in the startup-ecosystem.
Whilst humbled, beer in hand, the last thing Lloyd (Co-founder and Lead Designer), Johan (CTO) and myself (CEO) are thinking is, “wouldn’t it be great if we joined another accelerator?”.
After all, we’ve just been through one. Shouldn’t we be…accelerated?
In short — yes.
Whilst we don’t yet have a business worth gazillions or growth metrics that would make U.S Venture Capitalists blush, we do have a business that is further along today than it would have been without Collider.
We can’t thank the amazing team at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia enough for the continued mentorship, advice and support along the way.
This isn’t an Oscars acceptance speech so you’ll find a few short thank-you’s at the bottom of this post.
I’ll write a more in-depth recap on the Collider program at a later date, but for now…
back to RCL…
We hadn’t said no, but we also hadn’t said yes.
The program manager, fund manager and Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR) continued to share with us their vision of what the accelerator would do for us.
We listened intently.
Despite numerous back and forth’s amongst ourselves we kept an open mind.
We’d been validating our concept, building a first-of-its-kind platform for the automotive industry, signed customers and now…
…it was time to scale.
We began to realise more and more that our numbers weren’t anywhere near strong enough to raise the money we were seeking — albeit a small seed round. Not just yet.
Lloyd was back in Melbourne during the weeks Johan and I were attending these face-to-face meetings at The Precinct, the home of RCL.
With each meeting, it became increasingly clear that the RCL team were working hard for their portfolio companies — To deliver relevant content and surround us with a community that would truly propel each business.
Following a successful written & video application; a panel interview; and an intense two day bootcamp, we were invited to be included in the third cohort of the RCL / muru-D accelerator.
I say wholeheartedly that it truly is a privilege to work alongside the incredible teams here. Not just in our program, but also the existing vibrant community of diverse startups and founders.
The program didn’t kick off with fanfare or a pat on the back. Neither should it have. It was abundantly clear that we’re here to execute.
Fast forward and we’re already at day 20.
The title of this post reads “countdown to take-off”. Whilst there’s an element of truth to that, it could be said that it’s a misnomer.
Acceleration, and by virtue take-off, is happening on a daily basis. So to speak.
We’re being pushed outside our comfort zone continually. It’s not through explicit preaching that we’re reminded about the need to move faster, smarter, and more creatively, but by the mentoring that raises our awareness about how things are, could be and should be.
If we’re not set on uprooting status quo, why are we here?
So far, so good.
Part of our initial hesitations were around the time commitment it would take.
Accelerators come with mentorship and masterclasses.
We didn’t have time for that. It was time to get to work!
In reality, we couldn’t afford to spend the time working it out on our own.
There are many common pitfalls we’re able to avoid thanks to the learnings of others.
The structure has been quite consistent and everything is up in a shared Google Calendar a week in advance.
The content is not always known, as they are shaping it depending on our needs and growth trajectory at the time.
The time slots are known.
We have a couple of deep-dives each week with the EiR’s. As the name would suggest, we dive into the challenges and opportunities. When you walk into these sessions, you know you’re walking out with a firecracker under you.
There are experiments to conduct. Customers to meet. Problems to overcome.
The next time you’re walking into that room, don’t expect to be empty handed.
In fact, the second tranche of funding is dependent on our ability to hit Key Performance Indicators agreed between our team and the investors.
Masterclasses are held on a Friday.
Founder Fridays round out our official sessions for the week with a chat from founders who have incredible stories — and more often then not are in the middle of their next chapter. Both sessions we’ve had so far have been brilliant, eye-opening and often inspiring.
After all that, RCL Community / Open House is a place to grab a drink and catchup with friends in the startup space as well as meet new people working on other exciting projects.
It’s a great way to wind down before the ‘weekend’.
The time most people are relaxing and you’re probably working on your startup
The funny thing about this game is it can have a very polarising effect on those around you.
There will be some that don’t understand. They simply do not get why you subject yourself to late nights and brutally high standards often for little to no monetary compensation (at least initially and possibly ever).
Then there’s the camp where the majority of people are in your corner.
Cheering and continually reminding you how ‘awesome’ it is what you’re doing, how successful you must be, how exciting it all is.
Those times when it feels like everything around you is on fire, sometimes it does actually just help to remind yourself, everything is awesome.
Thanks LEGO movie.
But in all seriousness, we’re sheltered, fed and safe. It’s not too bad.
Those times when you forget that, it’s easy to look around and feel like you’re not doing enough. You haven’t achieved enough. You’re not growing fast enough.
“Comparison is the thief of Joy” …
Or is it?
Theodore Roosevelt may not have known how true that sentiment would ring today with the proliferation of social media, but so true does it ring down the halls of Startupland.
Sitting down to write this post, there sits a copy of Friday’s Fin review.
Adorning the cover are some of Australia’s startup sweethearts. Think, Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes, Showpo’s Jane Lu and secretive robo-taxi company Zoox’s Tim Kentley-Klay.
When I read success stories like this I’ll admit there’s a part of me that has to actively acknowledge the ‘holy crap’ thoughts and then move on.
And it’s not just the unicorns that can cause this feeling.
It’s other amazing companies like Brisbane based Tanda who assist global organisations manage staff time and attendance.
I vividly remember one of the founders saying to me, “I’m not sure if we should go full-time on this just yet”.
Now, without external funding, they’ve grown a company that powers payroll that has logged more than 250 million employee checkins.
And then you’ve got ground breaking companies like Maxwell MRI, developing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to provide early detection of prostate cancer.
My little co-working desk backs onto their office. After a fleeting moment of thinking to myself ‘ah, they’re doing so well and just closed an epic round of funding’, I’m back on track and thinking how incredibly grateful I am.
Grateful that I’m surrounded by people truly set on changing the world.
People that willingly share their experiences and wisdom at the drop of a hat.
Then you have moments when River City Labs founder and ‘Shark’ Steve Baxter pulls up a chair at your desk for a quick chat.
An entrepreneur who sold his business for a cool $370m+ drops by for a casual visit in his ‘Execution is everything’ tee and says “What can I do to help?”
If it’s not already, Brisbane is fast becoming the best place for tech startups in Australia. One may argue the world but I can’t yet comment as I admittedly have been firmly placed here for some time. Perhaps Chris Saad may provide comment to that.
Comparing yourself and your startup to others is natural. It happens. I’m finding the people we compare ourselves to though are only one question away from lending a hand.
There’s definitely a strong sense of giving-back here and it’s amazing.
There’s also those times you look up from your desk and you see fellow cohort members staring out the window. You wonder to yourself, are they deep in thought with strategies… or despondent?
Don’t forget to check on your mates.
You know what you’re doing right? Right!?
In some areas, sure, but for the most part we’re figuring it out along the way.
It may be easy for successful entrepreneurs to look back in retrospect and laugh whimsically at the notion of not knowing what they were doing at the time. The more we travel down this path of startups the more I realise, no one does.
For those that say they do, you’d be hard pressed finding them with it all in one sock…all of the time.
If we knew ‘all the things’, there wouldn’t be much need for accelerators would there?
Never burn bridges
I’ve never been one to hold resentment. I’m a human like the rest of us. But sarcasm and self deprecation are more my style.
In fact they may be the only things I’m half-good at…
I talk about this ‘foray’ into Startupland but it’s not my first business.
Lloyd and I previously ran Zero Blink, a digital agency “focused” on mobile apps, motion graphics, digital training, virtual reality, dolphin training etc etc…
Perhaps not the last one, but you get the gist.
And prior to that, I was at a media agency.
I remember sitting down with Llew Jury, the founder and Managing Director. You can imagine what our chat was about when I tell you the next series of activities involved me being escorted out the door with my desk possessions pre-packed.
It was like an IKEA ‘build your own desk’ but the difference was I’d already screwed it.
So here’s that ‘don’t burn bridges’ part.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t.
In fact it was all quite amicable. It was what I believe the catalyst for starting my own entrepreneurial journey.
One of those panelists I mentioned earlier, was another one of the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Llew.
We both had a laugh about it and promptly focused on the next thing item on the agenda…
Just as I’d been walked out of one building by Llew many years ago, this week I was walked into another. Now, not as a boss, but as a mentor.
We were off to visit a potential customer.
To me, it showed great leadership and humility.
I’d actually left my wallet in the car so I appreciate you picking up the lunch tab also Llew — add compassion to that list.
That’s it. The first 20 days. We haven’t conquered the world, signed major deals or been featured on the front page of TechCrunch… yet.
We have though, met 9 other amazing teams of people.
We’ve strengthened relationships with industry partners like the Motor Trades Association of Queensland.
We’ve continued to build an incredible product with input from some of our highly engaged customers.
and… we’re just getting started.
- Being accepted into the RCL / muru-D family.
- Interviewed on ABC radio. A great plug for not only our business but for one of our customers.
- Ideated a concept for an internal feedback system in Carisma that we turned around quickly. Instant results. Experiment successful.
Key takeaways: Days 1–20
- Don’t wait until tomorrow — every day is another day to either put something off, or get something meaningful done. By the time you look up it’s easy to forget the sun and moon have been playing tag again.
- Experiment, always — there isn’t enough time to build a product or service that’s absolutely perfect from day one. You’ll be building the wrong thing anyway. ALWAYS be running experiments to find what works and what doesn’t. Technology changes. Market sentiment changes. Consumer behaviour changes. You’ve likely heard that ‘the only constant in life is change’ and it’s is 100% true.
- Connect early — like point one, if you’re reaching out to potential hires, investors, customers, community etc the day you need something, it’s too late. Start the conversation early. Understand who is in your market. What people are working on. What investors are looking for. What customers are struggling with.
- Share with others — Whether it’s what you’re learning or your own story, share it with the world. There’s no need to be obtrusive about it but if you share authentically and with the right intentions you’ll be rewarded in a multitude of ways.
- Ask for help — This needs to be it’s own post and no doubt there are many people smarter than I who would have already covered it. The power of your peers and the community around you can not be underestimated. If you’re a startup and have no idea where to start, here’s a bunch of resources (some obviously more relevant for fellow Brisbanites):
- The Coterie
- Collider Accelerator
- River City Labs
- QUT bluebox
- Y Combinator’s Startup School
- or if you’re really desperate, hit me up.
- Have hard conversations — Not every chat you have with your team, your customers, your mentors or your investors will always be easy. If you feel like you’re holding off for the ‘right time’ to discuss something, sooner rather than later is generally the right time.
Some articles I enjoyed recently
- If it Doesn’t Suck, It’s Not Worth Doing — Benjamin P Hardy
- How Seth Godin Would Launch a New Business With $1,000 And 90 Days to Spare — Louis Grenier
- Welcome to our new cohort, BNE3! — River City Labs
- 5 hard truths about building software (for perfectionists) — Johan Venter
Thank you CEA
I mentioned earlier in the post there were some people we wanted to say a special thanks to for their efforts during Collider.
- CEO Anna Rooke for welcoming us into the CEA family many moons ago;
- Acting-CEO Mark Gustowski for the unwavering mentorship and friendship over the years; and
- Collider Facilitator Mark B Johnson, for your no-bullshit, unapologetic approach that had us forever asking ourselves, “are we pushing the envelope hard enough?”.
To the rest of the CEA team and incredible Collidee companies, you know who you are. We’re amazingly appreciative for the hard yards you put in to produce an outstanding program and the camaraderie of our fellow Collidees throughout the program.
We’re off to San Francisco.
See you in 20 days for Part 2.