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9th December, 2019

Highlights from Startup Grind APAC Conference Day 1

As Melbourne prepared for a sunny Monday, entrepreneurs and aspiring founders are warming up at the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre for a massive Startup Grind APAC Conference 2019.


A sunny Monday morning marked the beginning of Startup Grind APAC Conference 2019 and it’s going to be a red hot day in more ways than one.

Presented by MYOB, it’s the second time Startup Grind has appeared in such scale at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and, as previously, there’s been a bit of buzz on social media in the lead up.

And with dozens of exhibitors, giveaways and world-class speaking talent talking all things entrepreneurialism and startups, there’s little wonder Startup Grind APAC Conference is the place to be in Melbourne today.

If you haven’t managed to secure a pass for the conference, don’t worry. We’re bringing you the best of the day right here, and this article will be regularly updated throughout proceedings (so stay tuned for more!).


AI, Asian expansions and startup pitches


Kicking off with a welcome and acknowledgement of the traditional owners from Kyle Hubbard of CH Solutions, who also set the tone by recognising the importance of the Startup Grind community in reference to his own startup journey.

“Had I found this community sooner, I’d have had the chance to network more, fail faster and ultimately make more contacts to to help us grow,” said Hubbard.

“Startup Grind has a true, strong place in my heart.”

It was on the topic of heart that Hubbard then welcomed event organiser Chris Joannou to the stage.

“At Startup Grind, we’re about the values and Kyle made this evident in his introduction,” said Joannou.

“It’s about helping others, giving first – we try to hammer this home.”

Next up, managing director of Microsoft for Startups (ANZ and South East Asia), Emily Rich took the stage to give a presentation on investment and diversity in the age of artificial intelligence (AI).

Much-talked about in the startup world, AI is of increasing importance to businesses and of increasing concern to consumers worried about their privacy.

Rich indicated there is indeed cause for concern in this space, as messy, large datasets fall victim to the biases of the businesses seeking to use them.

Using examples of job search algorithms predominantly displaying executive roles only to men, or the UK Home Office releasing facial recognition software that only worked for fair skin tones, Rich painted a picture whereby understanding

AI and the data it uses is critical to creating good products.

The solution? Not only should startups look to hire diverse teams to make sure they have a diverse product, they should also think carefull about the datasets they’re using.

“A lot of people are using the very large, famous datasets and topping them up with their own dataset in order to fill any gaps,” said Rich.

“To build a good product, you not only need a diverse team, but you need to apply that diversity thinking to your datasets as well.”

Rich was quickly followed by a fireside chat featuring the insight of William Bao Bean, an entrepreneur with a depth of experience in the venture capital space, where his firms SOSV, Chinaccelerator and others help businesses expand into Asian markets.

This was very much the centrepiece of the line of questions out to Bao Bean by Alan Tsen of Sidefund.

To summarise some of his thinking, the three main takeaways Bao Bean could offer anyone thinking of launching in Asia were:

  1. The hardest part is jumping in the swimming pool. Once you’re in it’s relatively easy to start swimming. In the same way, if you have an offering you think will work, then treat an Asian expansion as your ‘startup within a startup’.
  2. Find your own unique advantage. Startups moving into Asia are often disadvantaged by local knowledge and networks, so play to your strengths.
  3. Be data driven and leave your biases at home. The majority of international companies who have failed in Asia did so because they were too concerned about the things they were concerned about, not what their customers were concerned about.

When asked what his most controversial opinion was, Bao Bean replied: “that international companies can do well in Asia”.

Bao Bean and Tsen’s fireside chat was followed by another, this time an interview by Nikos Psaltopoulos of Marine Traffic talking all things innovation and startup culture within corporates with serial entrepreneur Warrick Cramer.

Following Cramer, a long line of startup hopefuls lined up to pitch to the crowd, representing an enormous range of tech startups and innovative new businesses.

More to come! We’ll be right back after grabbing a smoothie at the MYOB stand…


Startup stories and the Great Hustle Debate


At this stage we’d like to take a moment to give a big shout out to the speakers presenting on the Growth Stage on the other side of the exhibitor’s hall from the Main Stage. While we’re focused on the keynotes happening on the Main Stage, we can’t help but notice there is a solid crowd in attendance in the other location as well.

After having a glance around the exhibitor stands, we’re back in the Main Stage to hear brand communications manager for MYOB, Melissa Spiers interviewing ex-contestant on The Bachelor and co-founder of 28 by Sam Wood, Sam Wood alongside his long-time tech partner and chief marketing officer, Matthew Morgan.

Their discussion is wide-ranging and touches on both how to grow a loyal community, how to leverage publicity and also how to approach branding at various stages of a startup’s growth cycle.

Their discussion was touched on both how to grow a loyal community, how to leverage publicity and also how to approach branding at various stages of a startup’s growth cycle.

“One of the most important things to have as a business is a compelling story and narrow focus,” said Morgan.

Wood agreed, providing some technical advice: “It’s easy to get so hooked on your CPAs (cost-per-acquisition metrics) that it’s easy to forget that above the line activity and PR can actually keep your CPA low.”

“And once you have those brand activities working for you, you can pretty much switch the majority of the big, expensive activity off and just keep the PR going.”

Another fireside chat followed, with something of a three-way debate breaking out between interviewer Tobi Skovron (Creative Cubes founder), Niki Scevak (Blackbird Ventures founder and chief executive) and the audience, who were asking pointed questions via an online platform, live-streamed to the screen behind the interview.

It was on the topic of ‘hustling’ that seemed most divisive, with Skovron suggesting that, at least culturally, Australians have talent, but may not be prepared for the amount of work entailed by the hustle culture embodied by Silicon Valley.

“I’ve walked into a co-working space on Christmas Day in the States and there’s all these people there at work,” said Skovron.

“Then, I walk into an Australian office on the Thursday afternoon before a Sunday Grand Final match, and there’s nobody there.”

The remarks raised eyebrows, with some in the audience asking questions about what sort of a culture Australians would prefer.

In response, Scevak has a more reasoned insight.

“The hustle culture in the US is a bit like driving around a roundabout 18 hours a day,” said Scevcak.

“Going to networking events like headless chickens, seeking partnerships they’ll never get and trying to get into the press every day.

“The people who succeed are the ones 100 percent dedicated to their customer.”

A short time later, Skovron suggested that “all the networking events can be a real time suck” to which Scevak replied, “I wouldn’t know.”

The largest panel chat of the day began soon after, featuring four venture capitalists as captured in the below tweet.

We’ll be back for more this afternoon…


A glimpse into the future, customer engagement and more


After lunch we were back in the swing of things with a high-octane presentation from Ruud Hendriks, founder of Startupbootcamp.

Unfortunately, Hendriks was moving and speaking far too quickly for us to accurately quote him on the fly, covering a wide selection of topics from robotics to biohacking and even superviruses. But we did manage to capture his major predictions for the way technology is headed in the near future.

Hendriks’ tech predictions for 2020 and beyond:

  1. Hyper-reality is here to stay – the trend of deepfakes becoming more lifelike, combined with virtual and augmented reality becoming widespread means we’ll soon find it tough to tell between reality and simulation
  2. The Terminators are coming – AI and robots are being used in military, and soon won’t just be for bombing, but also manipulating algorithms
  3. The internet will be nationalised – It will be split by geopolitical tensions, and global digital conversations may come to an end. This is beginning to happen already so we need to come to terms with the fact the internet is more fragile than we once thought

Hot on Hendriks’ futuristic heels came Shira Levine, a customer engagement expert who has worked with the likes of eBay and Sephora in the US, before moving to Australia to found her current business, Fanchismo.

When it comes to engaging with customers, Levine’s advice is to mix art and science in order to develop a deep, emotional connection with them.

“You know, Pareto’s Principle has been completely distorted in e-commerce and online retail, so that it’s now more like the top one percent of your customers driving 90 percent of value to your business,” said Levine.

For this reason, Levine advocates focusing your attention on rewarding the top one percent, and showing other customers what they might gain access to by “moving up that funnel”.

The theme of solving problems for customers in order to derive value for your startup continued in a fireside chat, where co-founder of AirTree Ventures Emily Close interviewed Angela Khain-Jones, co-founder of women’s apparel rental concept GlamCorner.

Khaine-Jones offered tonnes of insight into how long a road the startup journey can be, but we particularly enjoyed her point on how to get the most value from interviews.

“Make the interview process candid,” said Khaine-Jones.

“That means no sugar coating, and be honest about the challenges ahead.

“You might even consider bringing the prospective employee in to the office for a day so they can get a real feel for the business culture.”

Another brief break for coffee and we’re back at the Main Stage for what many had been looking forward to as the biggest presentation for the day, Patrick Lee from Rotten Tomatoes, who had plenty to say about the need for startups to maintain laser-like focus.

“Entrepreneurs think they can do anything, so they want to do everything,” said Lee.

Instead, if they reduce their horizons to a very strict value proposition, then they’re more likely to succeed.

“Focus means reducing scope and honing in on one product, one category and one market.

“If you can’t explain what you product is in one sentence, you aren’t focused.”

Lee was followed by a fireside chat with Sam Yam from Patreon, who likened modern funding to be a little like the dating game.

But, as the hour’s getting late, we’ll leave the detail for future articles and presentations and prepare ourselves for some networking drinks.

And as Shira Levine said: “Keep the faith y’all. You got this!”

We’ll be back with more like this tomorrow, so be sure to keep your eye out on MYOB’s business blog, The Pulse.

UPDATE: You can now read the following day’s coverage, here.

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