by David Lee
Roll up your sleeves and get a taste for the fundamental steps of building a startup!
This is the tag line first read by David Lee when he went on the Wade Institute website to do an application. Unfortunately, the website is a little bare, so here are his insights on this awesome event.
Start up Spring is a weekend start-up event run by the University of Melbourne’s Wade Institute. The idea is to develop and validate a business idea in a small group whilst getting feedback from other attendees and mentors. The atmosphere is busy, but friendly as there are no prizes for the best idea, the goal of the weekend is to encourage creativity and collaboration rather then competition.
As a 3-day event, it is made clear that time is limited so getting it done, is far more important then getting it ‘right’. As a practical workshop based on the basic components of building a startup, the three core principles of working hard, moving quickly and pitching (selling) your idea, are built into participants mindsets from the start. The key notion is every idea should be tweaked, modified or completely discarded as quickly as possible and that being able to sell an idea is almost as important as being able to come up with one.
The first day was about idea validation. We were put into groups and given the task of coming up with as many ideas as possible. With the focus on quantity over quality, the ideas started strongly but waned in practicality and feasibility over time. From this pool, we chose our best 2 ideas and were instructed to pitch them to the class to see which ideas we would be working on. It was pretty hard to see some people part with ideas that they had spent a large amount of time thinking about which led me to realise, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been thinking about an idea for 10 minutes or 10 weeks as at the end of the day, it depends how well you can sell it.
The finalist Ideas to be worked on over the weekend:
I think a common theme from these ideas is that none of them are really that unique which is fine; as one of the mentors said, “completely new ideas are usually unfeasible or will scare investors away with their uniqueness”.
I decided to join the baby food team as I thought it would be a simple product business while the other ideas would be complex or I thought were too technical to develop within the 3 day period. Our team was multi-disciplined and we definitely had no shortage of ‘smart people’ (5/7 people on our team had PHDs). The composition was:
So with this motivated group of mismatches we went about creating the greatest baby food product the world had ever seen.
Working with a large group of people is never an easy task and with strangers is even harder. Our initial discussions seemed to go around in circles as we all shared our thoughts on what we thought was the best way forward. We were given a guiding plan buy the mentors but were left free to go about the actual development of the product whatever way we want.
I think a reason we “wasted” so much time is due to everyone being nice to each other. In effect we had a product that attempted to please everyone which was actually impossible to sell as one of our mentors kindly pointed out to us. However, this is not to say that being mean and straight up telling someone’s idea is bad is the right way of giving your thoughts on an idea.
The second day was about product validation which meant going out and asking random people about their current problems and how we could potentially help them out. We decided to split our team to visit 3 different areas – parks, museums/libraries and baby food health stores.
After scoping out a couple of local parks for parents with prams we asked them for their insights on what they thought of store bought products. Receiving the mixed news of “we hate store bought products” meaning they weren’t interested in buying current offerings but also leading to the realisation that this also included our product, we went back to the college to share insights.
Up next was our first pitch to the judging panel. Unfortunately, our group didn’t do as well as we should’ve as the customer insights process had all given us different impressions which lead us to change the slide deck to the last moment before presentation. Compounding the problem was due to time constraints, I was forced to write up a narrative pitch which was only loosely linked to the slide deck rather then the standard process of narrating the slides naturally. As a result, our pitch wasn’t as well integrated as the other groups, though the judges were able look at our actual product offering and provide valuable feedback on that.
After this hurdle, we stayed up to midnight, reshaping our business idea and making sure everyone was on the same page. The final day, was dedicated to creating the final pitch we would show to the judges. We divided our team into components including a pitch team – story flow, design – making the pitch deck and our market statistics team – market and competitive analysis.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic event and definitely something anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship should consider attending. Working with a group of strangers to create a product and business model is not easy but a very rewarding experience. I think the diversity of the group was something I found very interesting. I was expecting a student cohort but found that 75% of attendees were professionals from a variety of top tier professions. Amongst a number of academics, Corrs had several lawyers present as while there was an investment banking complement from Credit Suisse.
As a free event, the Wade Institute provides all food and accommodation for interstate participants for the weekend so if you’re interested in learning about startups or have a cool idea you want to work on this is definitely a great way to spend your weekend.
Check out their website here: http://wadeinstitute.org.au/startup-sprint/
by David Lee
On the 26th of May, David Lee went up to Melbourne to see Steve Baxter - Shark Tank (Founder of ASX- listed PIPE Networks) at Start-up Grind Melbourne.
Quick Bio for Steve
I’ve been to some similar events hosted by Start-up Tasmania but was happy to see such a vibrant and diverse Melbourne scene. The event was scheduled in 3 stages, the first being getting to know people/networking, followed by Steve recounting his journey from soldier to Shark Tank judge and finally a Q & A session from the floor.
The event was held at Zendesk in the CBD and everyone was friendly so it was easy to fit in. I arrived early and had a quick chat with Steve which was really great as he seemed like an honest, down to earth guy, and funnily enough was a lot nicer in person then on T.V.
For the main segment, I was seated next to some guys who had an energy business and upon learning the size of their business, I asked them why they were here as their business had developed well beyond the start-up point. To which they replied: “An alternate view is never a bad thing” which I thought was an awesome way to look at the world.
Lastly I got to try out some really cool gear from ALPAKA bags who have raised $ 160,000 from crowdfunding alone, though priced at $180 a pop, is slightly out of my budget at this period in my life.
Steve’s talk was great and I got a lot of great insights and tips in the world of start-ups, the first and foremost being: “Now is the best time to launch.”
Steve Baxter – Fireside chat Highlights
“I joined the army at 15, and served for nine years. It was good at the time, but yes, there is a reason they don’t let 15-year-old’s join the army anymore”.
“Yes, It is a bit amusing that people know me for appearing on a T.V show rather than my businesses but at the end of the day, I’m really happy to have been involved with both.”
Q. Why do Silicon Valley Start-ups get more support and investment then Australian ones?
A. Because our ideas are crap. If an idea’s good enough the money will come. Business people aren’t stupid and will pay a premium amount for a premium start up.
Q. Do you invest in the idea or people?
A. People, always. The quality of the idea doesn’t really matter if I don’t like the person. It’s just a shame that good people often have shitty ideas.
Q. Do you read business books?
A. No, I hate them. I believe results speak for themselves and I much prefer someone who is going and who is building and creating a business then someone who reads books all day.
Q. What is your biggest failure?
A. Not safeguarding well enough against the GFC. At PIPE Networks, we were building a submarine cable from South Asia to Australia and at the time our sales methods weren’t solid when the GFC hit.
The effect was devastating and we were days away from insolvency. We told our suppliers of the situation and they agreed to dramatically alter our repayment deal, which gave us breathing space to solve our cashflow problems which was literally a lifesaver for us. The take home point, is that you can use your supplier as a bank once, so make sure it’s worth it when you do!
Though it’s great to hear insights live from a person of note, I think being able to network with peers has more benefit.
As business people, we need to communicate so we can share experiences, solutions and experiences and there is simply no better way to do this than in an open and friendly environment.
Events such as these bring people together from a wide range of professions. Chief technical officers, start-up founders and even management consultants all find themselves sharing successes, failures and even simple hints for business or even their daily lives.
I’d highly encourage anyone to come to these types of events whether in Melbourne, Hobart or anywhere where ideas can spread.
TUBES Publications are a collection of interviews, guides, and articles on all things Business & Economics. Sign up for our newsletter, where you'll get regular updates for all future TUBES publications.