Finding Your Eco-System
For the six years before my brothers and I founded Haystack, I was a management consultant with PwC in Brisbane. Our team was full of budding entrepreneurs. We worked on billion dollar mining projects by day and on our own start-up ideas at night. Everyone seemed to be involved in side projects. We had Chris who started an online custom shirt tailoring business – order online, get measured up at your local dry cleaning company (that was inspired) and get your shirts delivered from Hong Kong in a week. Unsurprisingly Chris is now head of strategy (and parties) for Levi Strauss in Europe. We also had Ben, owner of Benfatti fine Italian foods, now in grocery stores all over Australia and Lina, owner of Mama y Bebe, the Australian maternity wear company now also in Europe. We had Kalan, owner of Escobar, the coolest bar/restaurant in Brisbane, and Vish, owner of Xperience Realty, the fastest growing real estate company in Queensland. Take a look at this video if you want to see his unique and hilarious approach to selling houses. We also had a restaurateur, a shoe designer with a factory in Taiwan, a gourmet sauce maker and an importer of electrical safety equipment from Brazil – all of whom have since sold their start-ups and gone on to other things. It was during this time that I started ShliX, our family ice cream business which is still going strong. Reading through this list, I’m amazed we found the time to do any consulting work at all.
Help was always at hand as we shared and developed our ideas. Looking for a robust review of your marketing strategy? Grab 30 minutes with Ben over lunch. Struggling to select a payment gateway for your website? Ask Lina how hers is going. Need to source something from China? – Chris is your man. Struggling with a tricky bit of financial feasibility modeling? … We were spoiled for choice with Aaron and our three Brazilian rock stars; Gui, Pedro and Fabio. Almost, everyone mentioned above has now left PwC Brisbane but we all remain in contact, even though some of the team are scattered across the globe.
In hindsight, I realize of course that I was lucky enough to be part of a unique group of people that together developed a particular start-up eco system. We were all entrepreneurs at heart, but our consulting work allowed us to develop a rounded set of hard edged business skills. We also learned the reality of navigating projects through the corridors of power in government and large corporations. During those years, we had lots and lots of ideas for start-ups and between us, we own hundreds of website domains that currently lie dormant, testimony to the many ‘once brilliant’ ideas that were put on ice (…although personally, I still have high hopes for “shoplocal.com.au”).
Apart from Haystack, the companies above are now established and can not really be considered start-ups any more but we still collaborate and share our ideas. Ben has been using spare space in the ice cream factory when his Benfatti warehouse is overflowing and his sales team also sell Shlix ice cream. Chris was the first to sell goods online and he passed on his various web providers to Shlix, Mama y bebe, Benfatti and now onto Haystack. Mama y bebe leads the way in social media and so Lina has been helping with the Haystack launch. Benfatti and Shlix supply Escobar with all sorts of stuff and Escobar is our number one venue for group reunions. And of course, we all wear Levis as our jeans of choice (not really – sorry Chris).
When I started ShliX, I was lucky enough to find myself in the middle of a perfect network of people with all sorts of skills, experience and contacts to draw on. Being part of a good eco system is probably the single most important factor for any start-up and this has also been vital for many aspects of Haystack. However when it came to some of the things that were very specific to Haystack such as app marketing, tech venture capital, tech specific legal advice, global App licencing etc, I had to reach out through my wider network of contacts overseas and my journey was long and expensive.
For any budding tech start-ups reading this, I am going to save you lots of time and money by divulging that there are only three places in the world with thriving eco systems for technology start-ups. These are the Tech Triad (I just made that up) of Silicon Valley, London and Tel Aviv. Silicon Valley is a special case of course, started in the 60s by HP and Intel then inspired by Steve Jobs and now sustained by the pyramid of activity that feeds off Apple, Oracle, Facebook and Google. The tech hubs in Israel and the UK however are more recent arrivals, encouraged and nurtured by government policy and now both thriving. Try and find a lawyer in Australia that has structured a commercial agreement between a tech start-up and a global smartphone manufacturer – almost impossible! In London and Tel Aviv, you can meet five in a day if you want to. I went through three years of searching and making mistake after mistake before I eventually found Haystack’s lawyers (based in Tel Aviv) and our accountants (Brisbane and London). Finding our company advisers was almost as difficult as the Haystack technology build. I keep telling my brothers Nir and Matan this anyway.
So now we are two weeks out from launch and all sorts of stuff is changing around me. My long imagined Hollywood style rooftop launch party has been modified a little. Our in-house focus group (Brian) offered the unsolicited view that my idea for an expensive free flowing champagne all-nighter on a rooftop bar in the Valley was not entirely conducive to get people to downloading and using a new smartphone App. I wasn’t so sure about that, but his clinching argument was the nightmare scenario of rain and a total event washout. I have reluctantly accepted this and so now Lina and our former PwC events guru, Stephanie have taken over the event. The champagne budget has survived almost intact however which is some compensation.
Our iPhone version of the app now sits with Apple for review and approval. The Haystack team has been testing it furiously for a week and so far we can’t find any faults. But who knows what Apple may find in the deepest recesses of the code that they may ask us to change. We managed to submit the iPhone App to Apple four days ahead of our own schedule which gave Ben, one of our iOS developers an extra three days at home before his wedding and two week honeymoon in Thailand (where he will be reading this, I bet). This all seemed like superb project planning a few months ago. But now with just two weeks until ‘go live’, I pray every night that Apple don’t find something wrong and we need Ben’s help. I can imagine what Ben’s new wife will say if I try calling him in Thailand to request an urgent bug fix. Worse though is the thought of having to launch with only Android if the iPhone App is delayed for any more than the few days slack we have in the schedule. This has been keeping me awake at night. Lots of money and huge amount of logistical planning is now invested around our launch activities and to change things now would be a mini disaster. And so we are committed to ‘go live’ on Oct 21st with a risk that our 3 years of effort may just possibly rest in the hands of an unknown Apple tester located somewhere/anywhere on the planet! Please, please Apple tester, tick that approval box.