Startup Grind Day 2


10th December, 2019

Highlights from Startup Grind APAC Conference Day 2

We’re back at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre with live updates from another day of fireside talks, networking and table tennis at Startup Grind APAC Conference Day 2.

Walking back along South Wharf in Melbourne, Tuesday has dawned to cooler, more overcast weather than what we were treated to for the first day of Startup Grind APAC Conference 2019.

Noting that the ‘after party’ for Startup Grind APAC Conference 2019 was last night, perhaps the cloudy weather is fitting.

As a presenting partner of the conference, we’re here capturing all the highlights for those who weren’t able to attend. If you are about today, don’t hesitate to come say ‘hi!’ at the MYOB stand where you can also have a phoo taken with your friends and colleagues.

Focus on customers, but don’t forget your people

At the Main Stage, the day kicked off with a keynote presentation from Brendan Yell, director of Twilio, who had insights to share on customer engagement.

With a combination of personal anecdotes and screenshots of emila marketing campaigns, Yell walked the audience through a number of key customer engagement tenets, including how to choose the correct message for the medium of delivery, personalization and what good looks like.

One message was particularly clear: don’t interrupt customer’s day-to-day with communications they won’t find beneficial or pertinent.

“If you’re going to interrupt someone’s personal space, make it worthwhile,” said Yell.

Yell’s presentation was followed by the first of the day’s fireside discussions. This time, Elicia McDonald from AirTree was interview Dr Ben Hurst, founder and chief executive of healthcare platform HotDoc.

Their discussion covered the growth and development of Hurst’s startup, at various times highlighting the fact that a strong focus on values in a startup can not only help focus the team and keep things on track, but it can also help you stay closely aligned with your target market, making sales and marketing initiatives much simpler.

Just don’t make one of your values ‘integrity’ counsels Hurst.

“Values should be less about what you say you do and more what you do,” said Hurst.

“If you have to say you have values around integrity, it’s like telling people ‘I’m truthful, I’m a good person’ – you don’t have to do that, you just need to live up to your values.”

This was followed by a turbo-charged interview from Jodie Iman of SBE Australia, who was chatting with Holly Liu, co-founder of Kabam and founding partner at Y Combinator.

Aside from giving great insight into Silicon Valley’s various evolutions and revolutions over the past decade, Liu also shared several thoughts on market research and product development that any startup founder could take on board.

“‘Problem’ is just a proxy word for ‘market’,” said Liu.

“At Y Combinator, we counsel people to look for problems, before then asking questions like, ‘How many people have this problem?’, ‘Is it a valuable problem?’ and ‘Is it urgent?'”

And if we thought hearing the story of Kabam was jaw-dropping, nothing prepared us for Alex Zaccaria, founder of Linktree describing his meteoric rise to success.

Linktree, which started as a free tech solution to a very specific problem regarding social sharing, quickly gained traction off the back of a little media attention in 2014, forcing Zaccaria and his founders to quit their day jobs to begin the process of scaling up their offering.

Like the other founders presenting over the course of the conference, Zaccaria believes startups should maintain a tight focus, as well as a “focus on trust”.

“Featuritis is a real thing,” said Zaccaria.

“Whe you expand across verticals with heaps of user groups, the demands start flowing in. Then you see new coompetitors with different feature sets, but we wanted to focus on what our users need and what we set out to deliver.”

And before the morning coffee break, we were treated to another round of startup pitches, with the winner set to be announced later today.

Bear with us while we start taking notes on the midday sessions. Stay tuned for more later today…

Stress-testing ideas to set yourself up for success

After the break we’re right into a fireside chat with Gavin Appel of Ignition Lane interviewing Tessa Court, the founder of Intelligence Bank who shared her journey in starting a tech business and the challenges it represents.

When asked about hiring talent, Court said the most important thing to look for is shared values.

“Make sure you hire people with shared values,” said Court.

“If they have emotional intelligence, work ethic and the values you hold near and dear, then you’re in good shape.”

As an ongoing theme of the conference, Court also put the spotlight on maintaining a narrow focus as a critical part for most startup success.

Which was a great segue into the next presentation, this time given by MYOB’s own Jane Betschel, head of SME, who was sharing her methodology for testing ideas before you go to market.

“If you think about a lot of entrepreneurs, they have good ideas, the entergy is high and they want to get into the action,” said Betschel.

“But, really, it pays to stop and look at what you want to do objectively, before you put too much time, effort and money into it.”

The series of checklists and charts laid out a stepwise process that any prospective founder could follow in order to complete a solid proof of concept in just 10 days.

For more details on that, however, we may have to make a special request to have that presentation transcribed in full. Bear with us while we consider how quickly we can make that happen.

And just when we thought things couldn’t get any more impactful, the next interview was introduced as none other than Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, being interviewed by Startup Vic’s chief executive, Judy Anderson.

Wheeler’s is the archetypal story of a business founder, who originally started a business on very little capital and largely to a noticeable gap. But, at his own admission, he could never have guessed how big his fledgling publishing business would get when it was first launched in the late 70s.

“As I think it often happens, you do something at just the right time,” said Wheeler.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but the boomers were just starting to get out there and were interested in places a little more exotic than their parents used to go, jumbo jets were coming in an new airlines like Thai International arrived.

“We didn’t realise it was the perfect time, but it was.”

Anderson later turned the line of questions towards the mistakes Wheeler had made in his time.

“The very first books we sold were like 41.80 and the next was $2.95,” said Wheeler.

“All of them could’ve been more expensive. We would’ve sold just as many and it would’ve made life much easier for us.

“I think we wanted to be value for money and make people buy without thinking about it, but really if I had my time again I’d say we should’ve been more expensive from the start.”

Wheeler then went on to describe the inverse case, where Lonely Planet commissioned a series of cycling guides that wound up costing far too much to ever be profitable.

“So it’s really a matter of margins,” said Anderson, to which Wheeler agreed.

And that’s a wrap for lunch. Up later, Gabby Leibovich shares The Catch Group story and more…

Investments in AI, health and wellbeing

As the audience digest their lunch, the conference sat down to a big afternoon of presentations from an even spread of VCs and startup founders.

First cab off the rank was a fireside discussion between Manuri Gunawardena, founder and chief executive of HealthMatch, a solution matching patients in need of new medicines with medical trials. Gunawardena was interviewed by Paul Bassat, co-founder of Square Peg Capital and previously SEEK.

Gunawardena came across the problem she is now solving when studying as a fifth-year medical student. On her way to become a fully-fledged doctor, she now finds herself as the sole founder of a high growth startup, looking to expand overseas.

“The pros of being a sole founder is with decision making: you just make them,” said Gunawardena.

“The cons are it’s a pretty crazy journey and a co-founder is someone you can bounce ideas off and share the emotional aspects of the journey with.”

This discussion was followed by a more tech-focused presentation from Fang Yuan, the vice-president of investments at Baidu Ventures, which she said specialises in AI and robotics startups.

Yuan showed a timeline demonstrating the “two-step” progression of infrastructure versus applications, demonstrated by the onset of the internet following on the heels of digitisation, or mobile applications following on the heels of mobile devices hitting the mass market.

Yuan’s presentation held deep relevance to the previous discussion, as well as the one to follow, as she revealed how impactful developments in robotics and AI were in the healthcare space. This was particularly clear in the example of Atomwise – an AI-led startup that’s able to simulate the human body to test digital drugs on before real-life tests and trials can even begin, leading to more efficient drug discovery and delivery.

Following the theme, next up came Smiling Mind co-founder Jane Martino as interviewed by Oliver Hopward, managing director of sport and eventtech at Startupbootcamp.

Smiling Mind is a concept that delivers meditation and mindfulness exercises via a smartphone app, which Martino said she was in desperate need of when she was going back to the workforce after the birth of her first child.

“My friend had been hounding me to try meditation and I thought ‘I’m just too busy for that’, but that’s exactly why I needed it,” said Martino.

“Sixty percent of founders rate their lives as very stressful or extremely stressful, so we see this as a very important focus for Smiling Mind.”

Martino also had a great piece of advice to leave with the attendees.

“Show gratitude,” she said. “People remember it.

“People who’ve invested in you or taken time to have a meeting with you – something as simple as a handwritten note or tokens of appreciation go down so well and, unfortunately, hat’s because so few people say thank you.”

Before the last break for the day, which precedes the final two speaking sessions, the winner of the Startup Grind pitch competition was announced. MYOB would like to thank husband and wife team Jasmine and Dvaid for their great work on FlashFomo!

We’ll be back with updates on the last sessions in a few hours…

A grand finale

Following one last round of coffees, we returned to the mainstage to see one of the last minute additions to the Startup Grind APAC Conference agenda: a fireside chat between Catch Group co-founder and titan of the local e-commerce industry, Gabby Leibovich and Startup Grind organiser Chris Joannou.

Leibovich talked through much of his startup successes with The Catch Group, from the time he started Catch of the Day in his garage, to more recent wins with the exit of food delivery service EatNow.

Earlier this year, The Catch Group was acquired by Wesfarmers for $230 million, a strategic move that Leibovich said had a lot to do with the complementary nature of Catch and Wesfarmers’ existing subsidiaries, Kmart and Target.

“The other reason Wesfarmers purchases us is because we launched a marketplace,” said Leibovich, before offering his tongue-in-cheek explanation for opening it.

“Our warehouse was full and we didn’t have any money, but at the same time my wife was still shopping elsewhere and that really p*ssed me off.

“So we started a marketplace.”