Getting A Start-Up Off The Ground In Australia

We all know the story of Google and we’ve even seen the movie of Facebook. They are the start-ups that made it and because they’re so easy to use and seem so obvious now, we wonder why we didn’t think of them first. Sometimes we did – we just didn’t do anything about it.

All over the world, there are little groups of people working on their own start-up with ideas so great and so revolutionary that it’s surely just a matter of time before things take off and a $10b pay day sits on the horizon. In Silicon Valley, start-ups are everywhere and there is a very visible eco system of lawyers and Venture Capital firms around every corner. In fact the chances are that if you live in California, at least one of your parents is a lawyer and has already taken two start-ups from concept to billion dollar exit. Yes it really is that easy for start-ups in California. But I live in Brisbane. Good for lots of things – but for a tech start-up? – Not ideal. Against the odds though, and after three years hard work, the company I lead has a beta version of our smartphone app, Haystack, in testing and a full Australian launch just eight weeks away.

My two brothers and I started working on our idea for Haystack just over three years ago and now we have a company and a team of seven. I’ve also got a set of optimistic (and basically philanthropic) investors including my old boss who are starting to think that they may even get some of their money back. We have moved out of the family ice cream factory that has been our home for two years and into our cool new offices. As we get closer to launch, our bold multi-channel marketing blitz that took twelve months to conceive is in the bin already as we prioritise day to day.

To get to this point, myself and my brothers have spent three years of our lives putting lots of other stuff on hold. We developed our ideas for two full years before we found our first proper financial backer and with the euphoria came the slightly bitter after taste of our new responsibility to meet deadlines other than our own. I’ve travelled around the world to meet the weird and the wonderful. I’ve met people with very strange and specific job titles like the Cross Channel App Download Specialist from Singapore. I’ve learned where to find Australia’s best coders and worst trademark lawyers. I went to the USA to hire the best marketing person I could find for our launch. I almost managed to hire the lady that now runs the Google Play store and I was stunned when she chose Google instead of Haystack!!

In the 3 years since the Haystack journey began, I have received lots of advice, some good, some bad, some very funny. The line I hear most often is “You know what you should also do……”. I’ve attended technology start up industry events in Australia where self-appointed experts talk about app marketing and vc funding and give the audience really, really bad advice. I’ve also learned to be wary of people at the big accounting and legal firms with titles like ‘head of innovation’ or ‘incubator lead partner’. Stay away from these people. They don’t want to hear about your idea or see your app. Instead they want to tell you how much they themselves know about technology start-ups, even though there isn’t a technology start up in Australia that could afford their fees. What I’ve learned on my journey is that even good ideas have to be developed and tested and adapted until they become something that seems intuitive and easy. My brothers and I spent our first year trying to convince ourselves that the world was ready for something it wasn’t and only when we took the best bits of that idea and adapted it, did we begin to attract people. Suddenly investor meetings are happening and big companies (read mega-big) start asking how they can best leverage off our technology. However, who in their right mind wants to modify an app that’s taken three years to develop when you’re just two months from launch………………. the whole Haystack team actually!!

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