Tag Archive for 'Silicon Beach'

Ripples

I get a lot of  random email, and sometimes, it’s the stuff that makes me sit upright. Question things. But of the kind I’m talking about, usually I just smile. Here’s one from today.

I got back to Australia at the end of January. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the start-up community in Adelaide had a bunch of activity going on. One of my friends had heard about the silicon beach meetups in Sydney so got some sponsorship from Microsoft and started a regular meetup.

This lead to Adelaide having its first start-up weekend, which resulted in a burst of activity and resulted in Adelaide’s first tech co-working space being born. They got more interested than anticipated and quickly needed a bigger space, so the guys knocked on a ton of doors and moved into a huge rundown space in the middle of the city.

After talking to a few people who stayed at start-up house they are now looking at opening up a similar type of hacker accommodation in one of the empty floors above the co-working space.

Just thought you might like to know some of the ripple effects hitting the Adelaide eco-system from your awesome work in the valley. Looking forward to staying at the new start-up house when I move back mid year.

The fact so many people around the world have already copied or flagged that they are doing something similar as StartupBus and StartupHouse (not to mention Silicon Beach, though in the way it’s described above that was by design) is flattering. But that’s not the first reaction I had in each case until I realised a very important fact in life.

I’ve seen everything from outright copying of the brand and concept that’s gotten legal, to working intensely with the “copycats” and seeing first hand what they built — and even seeing friends try to replicate their own versions of the concept. Naturally, it can  be disappointing to see your work being copied without being able to expand on your own business where you benefit, or more to the frustration, the sense of losing control on value you created.  But that’s the nature of the market and competition, and actually, I’m more thrilled than disappointed because I’ve come to learn first hand with each of the above that there  really is secret sauce in your own work. You cannot copy the creativity that led to the original concepts themselves which become more valuable for their future evolution. When you copy an idea, you are simply redrawing a photograph of a moving crowd that has since moved on.

So when you can get over that point to realise it’s not a threat, you realise something cooler. You’re creating a ripple effect. But the thing about ripples is that they can be more than that: add some wind and it leads to a wave. That wave might capsize the boats or at the very least ruffle them — but let’s also remember, it’s that movement from a wave that leads to change in our society. And that, is way cooler than anything you will ever do in your life that’s being copied.

The backstory on Silicon Beach and an Aussie Entourage

When a newspaper a year ago interviewed me, I matter-of-factly talk about an “Aussie Mafia” in Silicon Valley and how we regularly talk to our friends in Australia. More recently The Next Web rather cheekily said I regarded myself as part of an “Aussie mafia” in the commentary to the video interview. The interview caused a bit of a stir with emails and additional blog posts about the project.

Voyeur : July 2011, Page 114

But it wasn’t until this last week when an article surfaced from the  July 2011 Virgin Australia inflight magazine “Voyeur” that some noise really affected me. Back in April 2011,  the journalist asked for my help on people to speak to and to give him insight in tech which he readily admitted was not his normal beat; but as a consequence of that discussion, I think the article made some presumptions which make it look like I created the Australian tech community and this “Aussie Mafia”.

Well, not quite. Given both the drinks mentioned in that article, the brand “Silicon Beach” and the “Aussie Mafia” are mentioned, it was suggested by someone I clear up the real history. So here it goes.

“Silicon Beach”
The Australian newspaper media popularised the term “Silicon Beach” from a front page article in January 2007 to describe Sydney in Australia that had a growing tech scene. Six month’s later, I wrote a post saying we should call all of Australia “Silicon Beach” as “we’re one island continent anyway”. A year later, I registered the domain name siliconbeachaustralia.org (and later, negotiated siliconbeach.org) with a placeholder website and launched a mailing list which set the brand on fire. I then went onto build the brand further by launching a podcast series with Bronwen Clune, writing a letter to the Australian Senate on behalf the community that had formed around the mailing list (and a subsequent proposal on request of some Australian senators that formally had them refer to the industry as “Silicon Beach”).

Now those infamous drinks.

Back in May 2008 along with Mick Liubinskas and Lachlan Hardy we made a decision by the Shelbourne  Hotel‘s Pool table to do a weekly drinks that was ‘same time same place’ to avoid confusion — the goal was this consistency would build community in Sydney’s fragmented technology industry. That afternoon Bart Jellema, Kim Chen, Mike Cannon-Brookes and others in attendance agreed — with Bart and Kim being instrumental in making them what its become (they would often be the only people there!). The drinks initially were called “FITSBAD” based off a public Twitter discussion Mick and I subsequently had, which stood for “Friday Information Technology Silicon Beach Drinks” and separately over alcohol at one of the drinks with Bart we called it “Official Friday” because, well, it gave it more status (Bart pushed passionately, I kept drinking). Months later, I convened Mick and Bart and asked them to call it one or the other as they started competing with each other, and so “Official Friday” it became. But then, it slowly turned into “Silicon Beach drinks” (no doubt influenced by Mick and Bart who are the biggest supporters of the brand, but also because Melbourne hosted a monthly drinks under that brand). These drinks further entrenched the brand I didn’t invent but made and now unfairly get credit for doing everything.

Silicon Beach is a brand that I built but so has everyone else in Australia. Just because I first popularised the term though doesn’t mean I did anything special.

“Aussie Mafia”
I first heard about this term from drunk Facebook posts by my Aussie friends in Silicon Valley when I lived in Sydney (people like Martin Wells, Chris Saad, Mike Cannon-Brookes). It would later turn out my future room mate Marty Wells actually invented the brand and replicated in Silicon Valley what he did in Sydney, which was organise the tech entrepreneurs socially. Which is ironic, because the “Silicon Beach” drinks filled the void when Marty left Australia with the events he ran like the semi-exclusive Dinner2.0 (where I met Marty) and Stirr. Dean McEvoy (an Aussie that formally lived in Silicon Valley and that went on to do something amazing in Australia) even registered aussiemafia.com. Kind of funny, as it was a jovial term to describe Aussie entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. No one took it seriously, until other people did.

In the months I lived with Marty between September 2009 and January 2010 (I moved to America in August 2009), we called our wifi network “Aussie Mafia HQ” and I tapped into a semi-regular catchup Marty would have with his friends Alisdair FaulknerStephen Weir (a Kiwi), Chris Saad and Bardia Housman. It actually started when Stephen and his girlfriend would eat once a week at a venue, and invited other couples like Alisdair, and sometimes Bardia  (who was in the near end of an exhaustive year long process in selling his company to Adobe and starting to come up for air again) and their partners hanging out — but when the talk of the boys constantly turned to business the girls decided to let them do their own thing. I arrived in America around the time these drinks became a boys catchup driven by Steve, Marty and Al.

Over the next few months, it became a routine and then a ritual. And when visiting Australian’s wanted to meet us individually (as individually everyone in the group had a profile), we’d often invite them, which in turn built this brand as the “Aussie Mafia” catchup. People would get upset they weren’t invited as it was perceived as some industry event. I’ve actually had several confrontations with women on why they weren’t invited! It got to the point where it felt like work and not friends catching up anymore. This practically killed it, as some personalities just ruined the discussions and defeated the purpose of why us time-limited friends would catch up.

And then?
There is no real “Aussie Mafia”: we pay our taxes, we have work visa’s, and we don’t kill anyone that doesn’t pay us protection racket. And I am not the reason why Australia has a tech community — I simply innovated because I identified early on we needed a brand to rally around in Australia, which turned out to be so successful that these journalists credited me for creating the industry!

But there is something in this extended group that’s special, that American entrepreneur friends of ours profess jealousy of. Both Bardia and Stephen bought the building that I gave a tour of in The Next Web  — these two drinking buddies are now business partners. And there are more business arrangements to be announced in the coming months that have been developed along with discussions against trips to Mexico, Vegas and Miami.

There are a bunch of other Aussies and Kiwi’s I haven’t mentioned in this post and they know who they are. It’s an interesting time though because these social friendships (I’ve had some of the funnest nights in my life with the people in the above sketched image) are now becoming commercial relationships. A story of success will come out of this and I guess you could say we’re rewriting our history in this city.

UPDATE: 14 July 2011: Delighted to find out today that Kim Chen was a secret influence behind the Melbourne Silicon Beach drinks. There had been two previous attempts at getting Melbourne to have regular drinks, but it was Kim’s discussion with Roy Hui, Kate Kendall and Stuart Richardson that led to this being a huge success.

Why I’m angry

Here’s why my blood is boiling: the Australian government’s Internet filter is getting the green light.

About two years ago, I got a whiff of a stupid policy by the newly elected government. So I wrote a letter to the Minister and complained. The Minister gave me a lame response six months later, and people in the industry didn’t think it was a big deal, like I did.

Turns out they were wrong. A year later after my letter, we received further word about the progression of this policy that would make us comparable to that shining beacon of democracy, China. So this time, I wrote a letter to all of Australia’s senators: http://www.siliconbeachaustralia.org/ruddfilter/.

My intended impact was successful: a group of senators holding the balance of power responded to me. What followed as the Silicon Beach community discussed it (which is an informal grouping of Australian tech entrepreneurs) was an uproar, that spilled into the mainstream media. It rattled the government, and so it should have – that’s how democracy works.

The government went into hiding, and now 12 months later they’ve now announced compulsory filtering of the Internet, despite its questionable trials. I’m embarrassed by my nation as this entire process has been a farce, and disgusted at the ignorant, corrupt, and politicking occurring by this government. And the most frustrating thing? Its been two years and this government continues with their lies. As I said nine months ago, this is a cancer that will slowly kill the Internet.. And two years on, its been proven there is nothing we can do but just sit back and watch.

Bye Sydney, Hi San Francisco

My life is about to get a big shakeup. I’ve accepted an offer at San Francisco based Vast.com, after spending nearly four valuable years at the Sydney office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

New job, new industry, new city, new country.
In the last few years, I’ve come out of nowhere (meaning no idea how!) to become a person driving a global industry movement (the DataPortability Project) and a recognised champion for my nation’s Internet industry (Silicon Beach). Ironically, I don’t have a computer software background (I’m a chartered accountant), and I don’t work directly in tech (I’ve worked in financial services) So this transition is a realignment in my life, that I hope will bring me closer to doing what I’ve recognised is my true passion: building Internet companies that add value to our world.

What will I be doing?
Reporting to the CEO, I’ll be managing the overall finance and accounting functions of the company. However with time and as the company grows, I’ll be taking on additional responsibilities that can extend my current skill-base and experience. I’m thankful that the CEO Kevin Laws (one of the smartest guys in any room – seriously!), the chairman Naval Ravikant (one of the most successful Valley entrepreneurs around – 15 companies and counting!), and Director of Product Steve Greenberg (wisest guy I’ve ever met – both in insight and wit) believe in me and want to help me reach my potential…whatever that may be. Vast.com has an exciting business model with a veteran executive team – I don’t know where my future is headed but I know it’s in good hands.

So are you giving up on Australia?
No way! In fact, I think my presence in Silicon Valley is going to allow me to extend the Silicon Beach effort. I will have a permanent couch reserved for all of Australia’s tech entrepreneurs (well if I can – housing and room-mate pending!) and I’ll be developing my expertise from the world’s best to share back with my compatriots. I do hope one day to return to Australia and I have plenty of reason to do so – my family is in Sydney as are my half-dozen best friends who quite literally are the best mates a guy could have. I’ll still be doing the Silicon Beach podcast’s and whatever else I can to keep me connected to Australia – socially, professionally, spiritually – but having said that though, it may be a while before I do come back. I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn first!

This is a move that I hope will position me for bigger and better things. Its been a very hard decision to give up my near perfect life in Sydney, but I’m also very excited about the opportunities possible in my new position. Living overseas is something everyone needs to do in their lifetime for their own personal growth, and working in Silicon Valley is something I had to do (or as my new boss Kevin has said repeatedly now, “you belong here”), otherwise I’d forever regret not doing it.

I’ve still got a month to wind up things here in Sydney but I plan to be in San Francisco by 1 August 2009 at the latest. For those in Australia, I hope I get to catch you all before I go. For the American’s: be warned – trouble’s coming. 🙂

Wish me luck!

Australia as Silicon Beach

In January, David Bolliger coined the term “Sillicon Beach” to refer to a bunch of Sydney based start-ups – continuing an international trend of regionalising hotspots of tech innovation that aspire to be like Sillicon Valley (my other favourite is New York as Sillicon Alley). Although it’s not the first time the term has been used, everyone from Perth, Melbourne, Newscastle, Brisbane, and the rest are claiming they are the real silicon beach.

So seeing as our population is only 20 million, and we are one big island continent anyway – I think I am going to settle with calling Australia’s tech industry as a whole as “Silicon Beach”.