Kim Heras relives the major milestones he witnessed during the growth of the ecosystem
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Kim Heras is Partner at 25Fifteen, a “startup studio” which as Kim describes in the episode is a model of startup support similar but distinct from accelerators and incubators. Kim has contributed to the growth of startup communities in Australia through many roles, including as Director of Fishburners, as Co-Founder of Pushstart, and as Chairman & co-founder of TechSydney, all of which are organisations that have aimed to support and advocate for startup founders. In his conversation with Adam, Kim discusses the genesis of Fishburners and Startmate, as well as other major milestones he’s witnessed during the growth of the Australian startup ecosystem.
Startup Australia wiki resource: http://startup-australia.wikidot.com/
Adam Spencer: Hi, I’m Adam Spencer, and Welcome to Day One, the podcast that spotlights Australian start-ups, founders, and the organizations that empower Australian entrepreneurship. We go back to the beginning to tell a story of Australia’s most inspiring founders and how they built their companies.
Adam Spencer: You’re listening to a special interview series as part of a documentary W2D1 is producing about the history of the Australian start-up ecosystem. On the episode today we have-
Kim Heras: Kim Heras, currently a partner at a start-up studio in Sydney called 25Fifteen, and right now super focused on a start-up in the credit risk space, B2B credit risk space, called Evenly.
Adam Spencer: Follow-up question. When you say start-up studio, how does that differ from an incubator or a traditional venture firm?
Kim Heras: It’s kind of semantics when it comes to an incubator. It’s still you have a space or one umbrella that multiple start-ups are working under. The difference with start-up studios, as they’ve kind of changed over time, they’re a relatively new idea, is, typically, inside a start-up studio you’re generating ideas, you’re ideating internally, or involved from the very beginning of a project. There are shared resources.
Kim Heras: But a key component of it as well as recycled learnings and recycled people, so that as you’re working across different projects, it’s not everything goes into a start-up and then if it’s successful or if it fails, all the learnings along that way disappear, it’s they then go into the next project and the next project, and then when a project has enough traction for it to move on, then it moves outside of the studio physically but it’s still part of the studio portfolio.
Adam Spencer: Right.
Kim Heras: So I think if I was to say the main difference, the main difference is how closely connected we are to each business that goes through a studio, and the fact that there is a process of growing those start-ups, that is key to what a studio does.
Adam Spencer: Why did you want to do it that way?
Kim Heras: That’s an interesting question. Really early on I was working on my own start-ups as a founder. I was somebody who was interested in building companies. Around 2010, started what became one of Australia’s first accelerator programs called PushStart, alongside Roger Kermode and John Haining.
Kim Heras: We were helping a lot of these start-ups going through a typical acceleration kind of program, and then it came time to do it again and I’ve realized that I had this problem, which was, as an operator at heart, I felt that I could do better in many of those start-ups myself. If I was operating, they’d do better. It doesn’t mean it’s true. Do you know what I mean?
Adam Spencer: Yeah.
Kim Heras: When you’re an operator at heart, you’re like, “Listen, I wish I was in charge of this because I would do it differently.”
Kim Heras: I did some more angel investing and then I was just talking to people, saying, “I’ve got this problem where I don’t want to get deep into one start-up again,” at that time, “but at the same time, I can’t just do angel investing and have this large portfolio because angel investing requires a large portfolio to get those returns. I want to be deeply involved in the businesses.”
Kim Heras: So, just speaking to Luke Carruthers, who’s my co-founder here, and a bunch of others, we were just trying to find a model where we could be founders but on more than one project. When we kicked off 25Fifteen, which was in 2013, start-up studio wasn’t really a thing. We just said, “Hey, we’re just going to build companies from scratch and try to get good people involved,” and then it kind of went from there.
Kim Heras: So, operator at heart, didn’t want to keep doing investing and be a passive investor in a lot of different businesses. So the studio was the best approach to get exposure to a few different businesses.
Adam Spencer: Before I ask the question around when did you first get involved in the Australian start-up ecosystem, the 25Fifteen name, where did that come from?
Kim Heras: Well, we’ve told lots of different stories about it. Should this be the actual place where I tell the truth?
Adam Spencer: That’d be great.
Kim Heras: All right. Here’s the scoop. So, we didn’t come up with the idea in Thirroul, which has postcode 2515. We didn’t come up with it in lots of different ways.
Kim Heras: What happened was, originally there were a bunch of incubators in Australia and overseas and there wasn’t a lot of success coming out of those incubators. In the starting group, or the group of founders that were there at the beginning of 25Fifteen, there were six people. We said, “Listen, this thing only works if we’re capable of successfully building companies and exiting them, because that’s the economics of a start-up studio.”
Kim Heras: Between the six founders, we’d started 25 businesses and exited 15, and we were like, “Listen, that’s an awesome track record as individuals. If we can replicate that at an organizational level, then we’ll be doing really well.” So we used it as a working title and-
Adam Spencer: It just stuck.
Kim Heras: Let me tell you, we got people calling it 25 Twelve, 24/7, all these. The reality is, 25Fifteen was never customer-facing, right? It was always this umbrella organization, and the focus was always going to be on the projects that came out of the studio. So the thinking was it didn’t matter that it was hard to remember sometimes. It was what we were calling it, and so it was stuck. So it was the success rate before we started.
Adam Spencer: Yeah. Cool. So, when did you first get involved in this thing we call the Australian start-up ecosystem?
Kim Heras: Yeah. It’s interesting because I first got involved in working on my first start-up in around 2002. So that’s about 20 years ago. But there wasn’t really an Australian start-up community or ecosystem then, right? There were people doing things, but we were just in this really weird place after the dotcom crash and kind of in this valley before we’d moved into web 2.0.
Kim Heras: So I think that things had already started to pick up in the US and there were interesting things happening, and what you had in Australia were a bunch of people who were working on new companies, like I was, but most of our connections and most of our understanding of how those new types of businesses would be created was based on what was happening in the US.
Adam Spencer: What did the community look like from your point of view in terms of size?
Kim Heras: When I first started trying to engage with the community, which was a couple of years after my first start-up, where I was like, “Listen, I want to connect more with people who are local rather than just people who were overseas,” there was… Just for context, this is mostly Sydney, because this is where I’ve spent most of my time.
Kim Heras: There may be people in Melbourne or Brisbane or Adelaide saying, “No, it was different for us,” but in Sydney at least the only community or group of people I could find was a group called Dinner 2.0. I always used to joke it was called Dinner 2.0 because they used to meet around a dinner table and that was the size of the start-up community, you’d fit around a dinner table, but interestingly, that group had some of the people that would go on to be super important to the Sydney and the Australian start-up community later on.
Kim Heras: So there were people like Mick and Phil from Pollenizer. Mike was there, Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian. I’m not sure if Scott was there. Marty Wells, who early on had a company called Tanglar that was doing really good things. Pratibha Rai, who was one of the first really well-known product people. There were just a bunch of them. Maybe Nik Cubrilovic but that’s a story for another time, for anyone who knows that.
Kim Heras: But there were just a small group of people that they all knew each other and that were just hanging out with each other, and that was, as far as I was concerned, the Sydney start-up community.
Adam Spencer: So, 2004, 2005 time, was that?
Kim Heras: A touch later. Maybe 2006, 2007 for them.
Adam Spencer: What do you think happened between that 2006 period to maybe 2015 that put the rocket boosters on the ecosystem?
Kim Heras: I think what happened was there were a few people who were committed to building out a community and connecting people. We did it through different events. It wasn’t just one avenue, it was a few different people. We all knew each other. But just starting to piece together the base requirements of a start-up community.
Kim Heras: Some of those base requirements are you need to find ways that people, like real people, to connect, so those people can get to know each other and serendipitously figure out, “Hey. Yeah, we’re working on similar problems we can help each other with,” or, “We should work on a program together.” So that was things through, for instance, an event that I started called Open Coffee, that went on to become the Sydney Tech Startup Meetup.
Kim Heras: There was Friday Night Drinks that Mick, two other awesome guys, Bart Jellema and Lachlan Hardy, founded, which was a way for people to meet Friday after work and everyone would come and get together.
Kim Heras: There was an online community called Silicon Beach, and there was a guy named Elias Bizannes who… I’m not too sure what he’s up to. I suspect he might still be in San Francisco now. He’s kind of dropped out of the picture a little bit. But in terms of somebody who drove this online community and connected people and put together ideas and engaged with government, for a few years there he was driving the Australian start-up community.
Kim Heras: So you’ve got all these different connections and different ways that people can connect. Then on top of that you had things like Pollenizer, where people could start working on start-ups without actually founding them. So it started to create the concept of working on start-ups as a career rather than you have to take all these risks, successful businesses being formed.
Kim Heras: And then things like accelerator programs. PushStart, that I mentioned before. Startmate. AngelCube in Melbourne, and of course in Sydney at least, Fishburners.
Adam Spencer: That would be a great segue into Fishburners, if it weren’t for the fact that I had this other question queued up in my mind. Both Colette and Dean McEvoy recommended you for the series. Why? Why do you think they did?
Kim Heras: I think there weren’t many people doing stuff at the beginning of the tech start-up community, and there was a period of time in which somebody or some people needed to put their hand up and volunteer to try to bring people together. You’ve kind of got this exponential growth in the community, but for a long time in any exponential growth it feels flat, right?
Adam Spencer: Yeah. Yeah.
Kim Heras: And so for a very long time there was a lot of work that needed to be done in community-building and there weren’t many of us doing it. Not because people wouldn’t have if they were in that position, I just think it just so happened that I was there, it needed to be done. I had this ulterior motive as well, which was I was an operator at heart and I wanted to be based out of Australia and the community wasn’t what it needed to be for me to be based here.
Kim Heras: So you have to have something if you’re doing volunteer work to motivate you if you’re not being paid. You can’t just go on doing work unpaid forever. I was very explicit. For me, it was I think there’s a long-term benefit to me if I can help build out this community, because down the track when I’m working on my own start-ups, I’ll be able to stay here and not be forced to move to the west coast.
Kim Heras: So that’s it. Just a long time spent doing a lot of activities early on when it mattered.
Adam Spencer: Okay. That’s also a great segue, community builder into Fishburners. What was the motivation for you there to join Fishburners?
Kim Heras: I was invited to come along. At this time, you need to understand… and again there are heaps of co-working spaces in Australia now. When we’re talking about the early days of the start-up community, you have to realize it wasn’t what it is now, right? There was nothing.
Kim Heras: Fishburners was the first physical representation of the Sydney start-up community. It was a place that people could actually go any time and be around other people. It wasn’t an event. It wasn’t like let’s just show up and then leave. It was a place that everyone could be in at the same time.
Kim Heras: I was doing a lot of work on the other side of the community, both through just the events and then the accelerator PushStart, some of PushStart’s activities, and then the accelerator as well. We were feeding people and trying to help Fishburners grow because it was critical that that physical space existed.
Kim Heras: So, when I was speaking to Dave Vandenberg and Pete Bradd, I think, who came on after the original founders… Mike and Pete Davison had founded it… they said, “Hey, we need a new director. Do you want to come and be a director?” I thought, “This space is awesome.”
Kim Heras: There’ll be listeners to this who were there at the time. It was the best place, because you would go there and it’s the only place you could go to where people understood, actually understood what you were doing. We were all trying to do similar things and we were all trying to help each other. It was like this little subculture that existed in the city where if your parents didn’t understand what you were doing, you could go hang out with your friends at Fishburners and they would understand.
Kim Heras: There was a lot of critique of Fishburners in the end around, “Hey, it’s not driving success,” and I think those people failed to understand what the point of Fishburners was initially. The point was to coalesce the people that were part of the Sydney start-up community and get them near each other. All good research into building start-up communities says that you can’t create these businesses; what you have to do is put the people near each other and the people create the businesses, and that was Fishburners’ role. It was an awesome time back then.
Adam Spencer: What was the energy like and how many people were there in those kind of-
Kim Heras: When I joined, it was only one floor. I’d be guessing, I’d say maybe 50 people on the floor. PushStart, the accelerator program, was the anchor tenant for taking the second floor in the building. I don’t know what it was in the end. You’d think about 50 or 60 people per floor, and then there was also the space in Darlinghurst too, which was for a short time a Fishburners space.
Kim Heras: But the energy was, we were there doing this thing together, and all the things you were reading about overseas, this small group of people we were actually doing. People would have success and we’d all cheer each other on, and you all knew each other. Everybody that went there knew each other. I’ll catch up or I’ll just run into people that were working out of there at the same time I was, from 10 years ago, and it’s like this shared experience, right? It’s almost like you went to high school together.
Kim Heras: You’ve had this shared experience and formative experience in life, and we all reminisce because the start-up community’s grown massively and it’s what we all wanted, but there was a point in time where you more or less knew everyone in the start-up community and they spent some point in time at Fishburners.
Kim Heras: Awesome place. It can’t be replicated because we’ve moved on from there, and it’s awesome that the community’s moved on from what was inside Fishburners. But in terms of something that had to happen and that was this kind of a formative or unique experience for the people that was there, Fishburners was pretty special.
Adam Spencer: Yeah. It’s grown into Australia’s largest co-working space, I believe, and the best one maybe. What do you think made it that? Why did it survive the test of time and come out on top?
Kim Heras: Because the dirty secret of co-working spaces is people think, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I’ll pay X rent. I’ll divide that up into 100 and I’ll charge 0.02 rent to every single person in there and I’ll make money.” People think that co-working spaces are there to generate money because you take a whole, you divide it up, and you sell each part for more than then its pro rated value. So most co-working spaces were focused on the economics of them.
Kim Heras: The thing that Fishburners could do at the beginning was, because it was cheap, it was in the building and the part of town it was in, but also the support it had from Pete Davison early on, and then the support of the sponsors, meant that it could be cheap and that we could focus on building the actual community there.
Kim Heras: I think what you’ll see is that over time, co-working spaces started and they kind of disappeared because they’re not these massive profit centers, right? It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of effort to run a co-working space, and if you’re not doing it for the right reasons, then people will just move between cheapest desks.
Kim Heras: So, by virtue of building a community, first of all, it being cheap, but then as people came in, building a community and allowing people to connect, then word of mouth was awesome. Everyone was like, “You need to go there, even though there are other co-working spaces.” That was it.
Kim Heras: There was a really good community built out of that building, and still today that’s what drives that business, which is how do we build a community around it, rather than how do we get the unit economics of a square meter? Of course you have to do that to be sustainable, but it’s all about the prioritization of them.
Adam Spencer: So people aren’t buying a desk, they’re buying a community.
Kim Heras: Well, that’s the pitch, right?
Adam Spencer: Can you tell me the story about PushStart?
Kim Heras: Yes. So, again, you’ve got to go back, right? These things flow naturally. So, I create Open Coffee. Out of Open Coffee, where people or the Sydney tech start-up people are meeting each other, and I’m sitting there every week hearing about people’s interesting stories, and I’m like, “But no one else knows about them.”
Kim Heras: So the next thing I write a tech blog called Tech Nation Australia, and then wrote for the Nextweb, because I wanted to tell the stories of the people I was meeting because they weren’t being written about elsewhere.
Kim Heras: Then the next thing out of that was people saying, “Hey, we need help.” Asking me questions: “Do you know someone who can help me with this or with that?” So, I was talking to two people I knew, Roger Kermode and John Haining. Initially, I was like, “Listen, I think we can do more where we can actively try to help those people and connect the right people within the community.”
Kim Heras: So we went out and we spoke to… in the end, we had about 100 mentors, and these were people that had different experiences and different skills. We were like, “Great. We just want full coverage of the areas that people might need help with and the stage that they might need help with.”
Kim Heras: Our thesis or our hypothesis was, if the start-up journey is like 10 steps, someone who’s at step two has the most relevant information for someone at step one. So we wanted people who were at step two, we wanted people who were at step five, people who were at step eight. Legal, dev, operations, marketing, whatever it was.
Kim Heras: So we went out and spoke to the people that we’d met in the start-up community and said, “Hey, listen. Anyone who’s got any experience, tell us what it is,” and we created a little marketplace, if you will. Then we opened that up to any start-up and said, “Hey, if you want, pull what you need and we’ll connect you with somebody who can help you.” That was the genesis of PushStart.
Kim Heras: Then from there, after that online matching, then we started running events. So we did speed dating for start-ups, which is a cliche event now, but it just didn’t exist then. You just have to understand it wasn’t a thing.
Kim Heras: Then we did corporate connect where we started to connect corporates with start-ups. Again, it just wasn’t done. We were just trying to fill all these gaps that didn’t exist, which is connecting people with someone that’s got the exact bit of information that they need at that point in time, or trying to help them if they need some sort of support from industry.
Kim Heras: We did that for a little while and then off the back of that, more or less at the same time, Y Combinator is becoming better and better known out of the Bay area. Actually, they ran our Boston and the Bay area. Then they pulled back just to the Bay area, and we said, “Hey, we think there’s an opportunity to do even more,” because there wasn’t much early stage funding around for start-ups back then. “We think the Y Combinator model is interesting. So maybe we can take the experience we have and the connections we’ve had out of PushStart and then run an accelerator program.”
Kim Heras: Fortunately, at the same time in Melbourne, AngelCube was thinking the same thing, and Startmate in Sydney was thinking the same thing. So, quite quickly, PushStart, alongside those other organizations, created this new source of early stage funding for start-ups that just simply didn’t exist before.
Adam Spencer: I want to jump to modern-day for a sec. What are some of the challenges that you see today? Where can we make the biggest improvements?
Kim Heras: The challenge with that question is that the thing that makes start-ups good is resilience, ability to excel in times of resource constraint, ingenuity.
Kim Heras: So what you don’t want to do in any particular community is have, at least in my mind, is have everything available and spoonfeed everything to every start-up. You don’t want everybody thinking they can be a start-up founder. It’s just the fact. You don’t want to have an environment that encourages everyone to be a founder. Not everyone should be a founder. Most people should be employees at certain times to learn how start-ups work and so on.
Kim Heras: So, where we are now, if you look at the components that matter, I mentioned it before, all research and all anecdotal evidence, and all my first-hand evidence, is the most important thing for a start-up community is person to person connection. Are there ways that people can accidentally bump into each other at any given time and serendipitously say, “Oh, hey, what are you working on? Yeah, that’s interesting for me. Can you connect me? Do you want to work together?” and so on.
Kim Heras: That’s kind of San Francisco, right? The most important thing about being there is the amount of people that you can bump into. So we’ve sorted that layer. If you want, you can be in lots of different places where you can just bump into people, COVID notwithstanding of course, right?
Kim Heras: The next thing you go is, “Well, are there ways for people to get more knowledge or to speed up their learning about how to run a start-up?” Because it’s a different type of business to a traditional business. The answer is, yes, of course there are. You can do formal courses. You can just learn stuff online. You can talk to people. You can go to events. So that’s solved for as well.
Kim Heras: The question then is, can businesses who need funding get funding? I say, yes. Go back a year or so, I would have said funding, you’re kind of moving towards these mega funds and a lot of the early stage funders are moving towards much larger funds, but there’s been a flood of institutional far smaller ESVCLPs. So, proper structured VC funds that have come out of late, and more being announced all the time, and then there’s a lot of angel activity too.
Kim Heras: So, I say funding-wise, for the volume of start-ups we have, it’s pretty good, and the dynamic between investors and start-ups is pretty good, as evidenced by the valuations that start-ups are raising at locally.
Kim Heras: So, you look at all these different parts and you say the component parts of the start-up community are there, right? I think that if there’s one thing that’s missing out of that is talent, and one of the big issues for us is that we’re pretty early on in the start-up community cycle. It’s grown rapidly, but we just haven’t had as many generations as elsewhere, and we haven’t had as many really big companies grow, be successful, and exit.
Kim Heras: So we’re getting more people who are experienced in fast growth businesses, but still if you look now, everyone’s competing for the same smallish pool of talent. When you’re looking for really good people, there’s only a smallish pool of talent. It’s just kind of difficult to get more talent in from overseas.
Kim Heras: You spoke about Dean before. Dean, when we were working at TechSydney, Dean and I spoke often about what’s one of the big gaps?” It’s talent, and how can we try to get more talent to come down to Australia, because it takes time to grow it locally. So you can shortcut that process.
Kim Heras: So, maybe talent is a gap. Experience is a gap, but that comes with time, and it’s hard to shortcut that process. But in terms of if you’re a want to be founder today, there is nothing that’s missing from Australia that’s going to stop you from building a global scale business, if that’s what you want, or a great lifestyle business, if that’s what you want.
Kim Heras: If you’re an employee or somebody who wants to work in start-ups, there are enough start-ups looking for people now that there shouldn’t be anything that stops you from getting a job inside a start-up if you want experience.
Adam Spencer: I’m really glad that you mentioned TechSydney. Touched on that with Dean, but can you tell it from your point of view? Where does that fit into the puzzle?
Kim Heras: So, TechSydney was an interesting one where at the time you had… Before TechSydney came around, you had Startup Australia, StartupAUS. Startup Australia had become this advocacy body, peak industry body, self-declared peak industry body, for the start-up community, and it’s great. There was advocacy work. As an industry, we’re terrible at advocacy, and you can see that in terms of the number of ministers that pick up and then leave the portfolio, and just the amount of airplay we get politically.
Kim Heras: But they were taking on more of an advocacy role and we were like, “Well, there’s a role for an organization that’s elected, for want of a better word, by the community, and represents the community directly and the needs of the community.” Advocacy and political influence is one part of that, but there was a lot of other things at that time that the community needed that we felt StartupAUS wasn’t doing.
Kim Heras: The reality was that those of us who were working at TechSydney were based in Sydney, and the feeling was Australia’s awesome, we believe in the Australian tech start-up community, but start-up communities are built around cities and not countries, especially not countries as large as Australia, because you need density of activity. So, we choose Sydney, and so we want an organization that builds density in Sydney because we believe that Sydney is the premier, or was already the furthest along in terms of density of start-up communities across the country.
Kim Heras: There were a bunch of us talking about it. We had a meeting. We had a really good few sessions about what was needed. Dean came along. He was doing some work for UTS and said, “Hold on. I’m going to convince UTS to support me and pay me to work at TechSydney instead,” because there was alignment between TechSydney’s goals and UTS’ goals, and so TechSydney came about.
Kim Heras: Now, there’s a story I wrote, there’s a post I wrote, and there’s some other stuff around, but the intentions of TechSydney were very pure. But what TechSydney ran into was the fact that by trying to be this overarching organization, it would almost by necessity step on some of the toes of smaller organizations.
Kim Heras: The hope was that it would be member funded, but at the same time you had co-working spaces trying to get start-ups to pay. You had StartupAUS trying to get people to pay. You had FinTech Australia trying to get people to pay. You had the health tech and everyone trying to get members to pay.
Kim Heras: We did a crowdfunding campaign. There were all these things that we tried to do to just try and kick off this community that aggregated all of the effort that was happening in Sydney, and for a variety of reasons it didn’t happen. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes there’s noise. Sometimes it’s lack of demand. There was some scandal along the way.
Kim Heras: It was a bad start in terms of we had a picture at the launch, and in the planning groups for TechSydney there was about 40% of those planning groups were female. So there was about 40-60 split, and then on the actual day where we launched it, just who knows why, there were no women there.
Kim Heras: So the picture the paper took was all men and it looked… Again, it’s all contextual, right? We knew how involved women had been in the process, and so for us there was no issue with that, but it was pointed out the optics were terrible, and it was. The optics were terrible and we should have done better to try and make sure that there were more women present, because women in tech was a big issue then. Still is.
Adam Spencer: Yeah.
Kim Heras: We just hit some road bumps pretty early on. I still think there’s a role for TechSydney. There’s probably a role for a TechMelbourne, or they’ve kind of got one.
Kim Heras: But, again, density in specific geographies is what matters for a start-up community. So you have an overarching thing at a national level because most policy that’s related to start-ups happens at a national level, and then you should have these organizations at a kind of state level looking to support their own individual states and their own individual members. I think something like that should happen at some point in time, and maybe it’ll happen and maybe that’s the role for TechSydney later on.
Adam Spencer: What advice would you give to a brand new founder? Or what advice would you give 2002 Kim?
Kim Heras: Well, it’s very different, right? It’s-
Adam Spencer: Give me both.
Kim Heras: Back then, probably go overseas, if I’m being honest. If you think about it, if you’re trying to be an actor, it would have made sense to be in Hollywood, not in Burke, which Sydney back then was the equivalent of Burke, right? It was an absolute backwater. A lot of local people did go overseas and do really well, and the smart decision would have been to go overseas.
Kim Heras: Now the advice is completely different. The advice is… and it’s really cliche, but it’s just… I tell people this all the time because people are always asking me. Friends and colleagues and people I know are like, “Hey, can they talk to you about a business?” It’s like, “Listen. Just go, you’ve got an idea. That’s awesome. Go talk to some people.” I like to simplify it, right? “Just go talk to some people in that market and confirm that they think it’s a good idea too, and if it does, just get started.”
Kim Heras: You don’t need to spend 50 grand developing an app. You don’t need to do all these things. There’s a lot of information online about how you can develop something and get it in front of people that will help you understand whether you’re wasting your time or not, because early on, that’s the only thing that matters, are you wasting your time or not, and most founders are.
Adam Spencer: In a second or in a minute, I’m going to ask you the last question, which will be around a message that you want to leave the audience. We want everyone from all corners of the ecosystem to listen to the story, like what’s something that they need to hear from you. But before I ask that, is there anything that we’ve missed that you think’s really important for the story?
Kim Heras: There’s lots.
Adam Spencer: I’m sure. I’m sure.
Kim Heras: We could talk for hours about the path from where we were to where we are was not certain and it was not straight at all. There are a lot of good people that took a lot of risks. Hindsight is awesome. You can say, “Oh, yeah, they knew what they were doing,” but they were taking risks and trying to do things that there was no guarantee of success, and those people made a material difference to all future start-up founders because they took those risks.
Kim Heras: But I think I’ve mentioned to you there’s a place, if you just want to get a bit old school and take a look at some historical stuff, if you look up-
Adam Spencer: The forum?
Kim Heras: Yeah. This thing called… What’s it called? Startup Australia Wiki. I think that’s what it was.
Adam Spencer: I have the link from you. I’ll put it in the show notes for your episode.
Kim Heras: Yeah. In there is like a directory of people that were doing things, and then also look up in the way back machine, in the web archives, for Tech Nation Australia and you’ll see stuff that was happening back then and see who was around. It’s a bit of reminiscing. A lot of it’s not relevant to today. It’s kind of like your parents talking about Elvis Presley or something. Great musician, but probably not of interest to the kids today.
Kim Heras: If anything’s missed, you can dig it up. I reckon you’ve spoken to enough people that if they listen to all of your interviews, they’ll probably get a good sense of anything that I’ve skipped over.
Adam Spencer: So, yeah, that question. We’re trying to make a documentary here that will tell the story as well as we can. Policy advisors, investors, founders, academics, people from all corners the ecosystem. Pick any one of those categories, or everybody, but what’s something that you think about all the time or just something you think that they need to hear?
Kim Heras: I think the important thing to think about, or the important thing that those who know it need to be told constantly and those who don’t know it need to be told, is that there is no reason why you can’t build a successful tech business out of Australia, or that future people can’t… From a policy perspective, if they’re thinking, “Hey, this is not an industry. It’s all happening overseas. It’s not an industry that we need to support,” that’s completely wrong. It can be done here. It is being done here. From start-up founders, it absolutely can be done here. You don’t have to be elsewhere. Investors, there are enough investors, but get involved.
Kim Heras: Where we are now with the start-up community, [inaudible] caveat, is around talent, but there’s always a solution for talent. There are no more blockers for start-up founders and their businesses to be successful. This is what it’s all about, right? We talk about the start-up community and the ecosystem. There’s one actor at the very center of all of that, and if that actor doesn’t exist, nothing else exists, and it’s the start-up founder.
Kim Heras: The investors, the service providers, the co-working spaces, the incubators, the start-up studios, it’s all bullshit, in comparison to the start-up founder themselves. So it’s important that the start-up founder themselves believes, “Hey, yeah, I can give this a go. I can do it in a way that isn’t expensive. I just have to not expect quick wins. I need to be resilient. But I know that I can start building a company from Australia and it can be successful.”
Kim Heras: If you’re young, the lessons you’ll learn, even if you fail, are lessons that you can take on in life and into a career in some other more traditional job. But there is no reason why you oughtn’t just have a go and try to do something if you think you can.
Adam Spencer: I hope you enjoyed that interview. More interviews are on the way. Follow the podcast wherever you’re listening right now. Stay tuned for more interviews with many, many more amazing people from the Australian start-up ecosystem.
Adam Spencer: Thanks for listening, and see you next time.