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Startmate CEO Michael Batko discusses community-building and portfolio construction in early-stage investing

First Cheque

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Episode Summary:

In this immersive episode, Cheryl Mack and Maxine Minter sit down with Michael Batko, the driving force behind Startmate, to explore the intricacies of early stage investing and the power of community in the startup realm. Batko shares his journey, starting from his first investment to steering one of the most active seed stage investors in the industry. This episode offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Batko and his team utilize a community-driven approach to identify, select, and uplift transformative business ideas.

Diving into the Startmate selection process, Batko reveals the operational complexities of coordinating a vast network of mentors and how their personal investment in the fund aligns interests and boosts engagement. The conversation also uncovers the evolution of Startmate’s investment thesis, its expansion into diverse industries, and Batko’s approach to encouraging non-consensus thinking to unlock extraordinary potential. The episode delves into the significance of carry in VC funds, the strategic role of a continuity fund, and the decision-making framework for follow-on investments, all while reflecting on Batko’s philosophy of betting on the hungry rather than the proven.

Key Takeaways:

  • Startmate’s success is rooted in a mentor-driven model, where community engagement and personal investment are key to its decision-making process.
  • Batko emphasizes the importance of looking beyond what’s probable and considering what’s possible when evaluating investment opportunities.
  • The alignment of mentor incentives with fund performance, through carry, is highlighted as a significant motivational factor.
  • A robust debate around investment thesis expansion led to backing diverse ventures, including non-software startups like non-alcoholic beer brand Heaps Normal.
  • The establishment of a continuity fund at Startmate allows for continuous support of alumni companies, signaling strong belief in their ongoing success.

Notable Quotes:

  • “I remember this entire thread coming up and everybody discussing whether or not we should invest in that non-alcoholic beer company. And it was at that time when I jumped in as start mate CEO and actually had to be like, ‘Hey, we can’t just rest on our laurels and do things the way we’ve always done them.'”
  • “We’ve expanded the investment thesis a lot around, essentially always doubling down on people and what they care about.”
  • “One of my favorite questions is, and I always keep coming back to it whenever I critically assess a company for myself, is rather than what is probable… what is possible?”
  • “One thing I love about being a microfund is that we only invest $120,000 into companies, but at that stage, it actually makes such a massive difference.”

Resources:

  • Startmate website for more insights into their accelerator programs. Startmate
  • Michael Batko’s professional background and contributions, visit LinkedIn
  • Discussion of eucalyptus’s ESOP primer and equity importance. Eucalyptus

Encouraging all curious investors and founders to tune in and glean actionable insights from Michael Batko’s valuable experiences in this episode, as well as to keep an ear out for more enriching discussions in the upcoming sessions.

Transcript:

This transcript has been A.I. generated.

Cheryl Mack: Okay. Three, two, one. Hey, I’m Cheryl.

Maxine Minter: I’m Maxine.

Cheryl Mack: This is First Cheque, part of Day One, the network dedicated to founders, operators, and investors.

Maxine Minter: If you want to be a better early stage investor, this is the show for you.

Cheryl Mack: So TLDR, if you don’t want to suck at investing, listen up.

Maxine Minter: So we’ve got Michael Batko on the podcast today. I am so excited to welcome him. He is a just output machine. Across investing and life. I just, I think it’s going to be an incredible session. Yeah. I’m so excited to pick his brain about all things investing. I’ve also never had the conversation with him about.

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Cheryl Mack: Okay. Three, two, one. Hey, I’m Cheryl.

Maxine Minter: I’m Maxine.

Cheryl Mack: This is First Check, part of day one, the network dedicated to founders, operators, and investors.

Maxine Minter: If you want to be a better early stage investor, this is the show for you.

Cheryl Mack: So TLDR, if you don’t want to suck at investing, listen up.

Maxine Minter: So we’ve got Michael Bakker on the podcast today. I am so excited to welcome him. He is a just output machine. Across investing and life. I just, I think it’s going to be an incredible session. Yeah. I’m so excited to pick his brain about all things investing. I’ve also never had the conversation with him about.

Angel investing like himself. Obviously he runs Startmate and so, well maybe not obviously, he runs Startmate. Uh, and also Puddle Pod and I’m trying to remember the name of his run club. Any run club. Just prolific dude.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah, no, like if I had to pick Who might be the most [00:01:00] productive person in Australia? I think I would pick Batko.

Just because he, like, is the epitome of productivity.

Maxine Minter: Yeah, he just lives and breathes it. I mean, Puddle Pod has now produced an entire army of productivity geeks in Australia, so I’m sure he’ll have some really interesting stuff on, like, how he thinks about scaling his time, how he gets, kind of, leverage across his time.

Both as an angel investor, but also kind of running a company, which will be super interesting.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah, for sure. Um, he’s also just like one of the most optimistic people. Like, you ask him about any topic, you’re like, hey, you know, what are your thoughts about AI? And he’s like, love it. It’s great. I can’t wait for it all.

It’s going to happen. It’s great. And you’re like, oh, what do you think about like, How 2024 is going to go. Oh, it’s going to be fantastic. So like his just like ever optimism is one of my favorite things.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. I think actually he has probably one of the best networks in Australia as well. Cause he is just like at the top of his game, start mate.

And so he gets to see this incredible vantage point across the like early stage ecosystem in Australia, especially, you know, across first believers, the accelerator they run, and then all the fellowships, um, I think you’ll have some [00:02:00] really exciting things to talk about when you’re thinking about starting investing or finessing your investing.

So, so excited to have him on the podcast.

Welcome back. Oh, so, so excited to have you on the podcast today. Um, and so excited to dive in also just from like, uh, you know, personal gratification perspectives. I’m so excited to ask you all about like productivity and angel investing and investing in the intersection of those two things.

Michael Batko: It’s going to be fun.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. Can’t wait. Uh, but we always open with the same question, which is what is the first thing that you ever invested in?

Michael Batko: Um, it’s probably a bit of an embarrassing story actually. Um, but, um, my dad always told me to invest money. Always, I was just like, Oh my God, invest money, invest money. And I was like the ultimate super saver as a child.

I was just like, I would never invest in anything. So then the first time that I ever invested was actually about 10, 15 years ago, I opened up an app to invest into Bitcoin and it was like 500. It was all my [00:03:00] savings at the time. I was like, Oh my God, I’m going to invest. The embarrassing part of this story is I was so scared about my 500 that I would check it like five times a day, being like, when is it going up?

Is it going down? And then three months later, I would sell the whole thing. Cause I was just like, Oh my God, this is driving me nuts.

Cheryl Mack: Oh no. Obviously

Michael Batko: embarrassing story. Cause like, It did not work out for me, and now my philosophy is very different.

Cheryl Mack: Have you done the math on like what that would have been worth?

You torture yourself? No, no,

Michael Batko: I’m not even going to go there.

Maxine Minter: No, no. There’s just like the ecosystem abounds in terrible stories of people selling down their Bitcoin far too early. My partner had a full Bitcoin, like really early. Like, early 2010s and sold it when it went up 10x.

Michael Batko: Oh, wow.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. And he was like, great.

What a great return. Excellent. I’m going to sell it. And he made like three grand or something. And then now if he’s still elder, it was like at the peak, it would have been worth a very upsetting amount [00:04:00] of money,

Cheryl Mack: a couple extra

Maxine Minter: renovations on the house. Yeah.

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: So that’s actually a great thing that you invested in.

Great story to start off with. I’m impressed that, um, you were so, uh, Risk on for your first ever investment.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah. Rather than like, here’s a stock you’re like, I’m going to go for the most risky thing in the market right now. Let’s try this like unproven crypto stuff.

Michael Batko: Yeah, it definitely drove my parents nuts that it was my first investment as well.

Maxine Minter: Yes. I love it. I love it. But having said that, I feel like it’s true to form for you. You see opportunity in places that. You know, other people aren’t looking at the very, very early stage stuff, especially with your work at Startmate. You just get to like bet really early on stuff that could be totally amazing, which I think like a crypto kind of fits into that bucket.

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: I think maybe kind of where I’d love to start as you’re talking about, and kind of we’re learning from you about how you think about investing is, um, you obviously run Startmate. Which is, you know, the best and preeminent [00:05:00] accelerator in the Australia and New Zealand ecosystems now. Um, how do you think about building a community as a lever for investing both like sourcing and supporting companies you’re investing in?

Michael Batko: Yeah, I love it. Um, yeah, so for context, um, start made itself. It’s been around for 12 years and we’ve invested in over 250 companies with it being worth over two and a half billion dollars. And it is, um, probably the most active seed stage investor in Australia. Um, we’ve written 49 checks just in 2023.

Wow. And Jesus, so much I can actually tell you about community and how it actually plays into how we do that. And so I’ll actually break it down into, um, Investing itself is around, you want to see the deal, you want to pick the right deal and then you want to win the right deal. So in terms of seeing what we have now is roughly 10 programs, which run twice a year from investors to founders, to operators.

We’ve got about 1, 200 to [00:06:00] 1, 300 programs. People go through our programs every single year. So the first thing is actually in order to see the deals, everybody has to actually have a great experience in the program itself. So actually we track NPS religiously. We track the feedback that we get throughout programs halfway through at the end, because the most important thing is that people love Startmate when they are exposed to Startmate.

That is almost like a precondition to everything else because step number two then is we actually get referrals out of our programs at the end of every single program, actually, whether it’s actually an investor program or a talent program. We found the program. We always ask everyone, Hey, who is the most ambitious founder in your sphere?

Cause so often when we actually get a new cohort in, it is surprising how connected the world is. There’s hardly any founder in Australia and New Zealand that someone in start made wouldn’t already know. And that’s actually a pretty cool thing to see. And then it’s also just a constant reminder that Startmate actually invests as a first check super, super early on because people just forget about you otherwise.

So it’s actually about like constantly reminding people, Hey, [00:07:00] actually introduce me to the best founder. So like, that’s kind of the seed stage. Um, at a picket stage, Startmate is, um, a mental driven seed fund. But that means that, um, all of our mentors actually personally invest their money into Startmate.

So they also get to pick the companies. Every single mentor is part, um, if they want to, they can be part of the selection process, which, um, I won’t go into too much detail unless you would like me to, but essentially we’ve got a thousand applications. They all jump on them. They all review them. Then we get to fit best 50 companies into a room.

All of the mentors make them 10 minutes back to back for two hours. And then we have a final stage of like a one hour selection stage again with the community. So we actually get the community to choose the companies for us. Okay. Um, and the final one is actually the winning the deal where it’s actually so simple for start that again, because I actually don’t even do it.

Like when we tell a startup, Hey, you’re in start mate. We actually get our alumni to call that founder and to tell them, Hey, you made it, and they can ask them everything and [00:08:00] anything, and obviously they are the biggest supporters of start mate because the reputation of UBC is ready. Based on your portfolio founders.

Cheryl Mack: That’s so cool. The, I think the really cool thing there is that, um, both Maxine and I have been start mate mentors, uh, at, at, for the program. And what amazed me was the level of engagement that each of those investors slash mentors had in the process. And it created this like community of. Just driven to help people and each little touch was like this moment of delight.

So I remember the first year that I did it, I was just like, each step of the way, I was like, Whoa, you guys do it this way. Whoa, you guys do it this way. Whoa, you do this. And then that like little delight factor of having the. the previous alumni call and having the founders like all find out exactly at the same time on the same night.

I was like, who coordinated that? Cause like that takes a lot of planning to be like, Hey, everybody call it 6 0 2 tonight. [00:09:00]

Michael Batko: Yeah. So the extra step that we implemented, um, was we recorded all of those calls and then it’s hilarious. Cause then when the alumni called the founder, And they’re like, no way. Oh my God.

I need to tell my mom I made it in. And it’s like, it’s the most beautiful moments.

Maxine Minter: Oh, that’s so lovely. I’ve got to say though, like the coordination efforts across your community and like the multiple touch points and the thoughtfulness and the way that you give it scale. Right at the outset, I was just like, Whoa, this is so much, especially the kind of community evaluation, like how data driven you guys are.

But now that I’ve known you for a little bit longer, it makes total sense, right? Your DNA is all over.

Michael Batko: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a big process. Um, it’s cause we do have essentially like a hundred to 150 LPs every six months. Those are all investors and mentors who invest 10, 000 every six months. And on top of that, we’ve got the thousand applications every year.

So it’s like. There’s no way for us not to be correlated. It’s almost necessity.

Maxine Minter: Right. Yeah. How did you [00:10:00] guys build that system over time? Did you like have a theory and then like iterate on it? You’ve made so many improvements. Yeah. I just feel like you’re constantly iterating and constantly building in public, but would love to know how you think about it.

Michael Batko: A hundred percent. And That’s probably like the most embarrassing part about Start Mate as well, because you, both of you would have seen it evolve over time. And back in the day, it was just me building a Google Sheet and trying to coordinate hundreds of people.

Cheryl Mack: We did get a lot of spreadsheets shared with us.

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Cheryl Mack: I remember every second week it was like, here’s a new spreadsheet.

Michael Batko: Yes, absolutely. So like, um, the system themselves were actually pretty basic at the beginning. And then, um, as I hired a more talented team than myself, um, we upgraded it step by step with all of the feedback from the mentors, um, and from founders as well.

So like, then we upgraded to Notion because there was a little bit of a better interface. Then we upgraded the voting forms. And now we actually have a full platform as well, where it’s, um, it’s literally a selection portal itself. You see all of the founders, you can see all of the comments from all of there.

Mentals and investors and people can chat on there. [00:11:00] And yeah, it’s, it’s way better now than it used to be.

Cheryl Mack: Can confirm. Yes. Having used all versions. Can confirm the new one is actually very impressive. I was impressed at how much you’ve been able to do with a couple no code tools, but again, like totally tracks with.

Your background and your passion.

Michael Batko: Yeah. And that, that’s a beauty actually. It’s no code tools. So it’s an air table on the backend and the front end of softer actually. And it does make it look like a full application.

Maxine Minter: Yeah.

Michael Batko: Can highly recommend.

Maxine Minter: It’s pretty amazing. I think you probably had like one of the best front row seats to like pushing no code tools all the way to their limit.

How do you go about finding your like favorite no code tools? And do you invest in the no code, low code space as a result? Like, are you just like all in on low code, no code?

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: I haven’t

Cheryl Mack: seen too many StartMe companies that have been low code, no code backhoe.

Michael Batko: Yeah, no, actually it’s true. That’s true.

Yeah, because as you asked me about, like, did we invest in many? And um, no, we actually haven’t invested in too many. Um, the front row seat itself that I’m getting is because I, I do love productivity and I love trying out new new tools. [00:12:00] So that’s like, it’s almost like a love language of mine. Just personal interest mostly.

Cheryl Mack: What’s your love language? No code tools. So good.

Maxine Minter: Yeah, I think, I mean, it’s like what you’re able to build with low code, no code these days and the pace at which it’s, it’s changed. Like I think about was Aussie Angels started on low code, no code as well. Yep, we did. Were you on Bubble? Did

Cheryl Mack: you know? No, we were on, Softr and Pori and Airtable.

We actually had a long conversation with the team around Softr and how I was using it. And then they just like scaled it out of the water, like took my basic skills and was like up here. Um, but like as a first version, I think that that is, is so useful for founders and investors. Like I still use Airtable for my own like portfolio tracking and, um, I like deal flow tracking and it’s, it’s just one of those things that like, if you want to put some amount of like categorization around what you’re doing, I think no code tools, tools are the way to go.

Maxine Minter: [00:13:00] Yeah. I think it’s an incredible ecosystem. Um, so you have all of these players, right? And actually some of the most impressive people in my opinion, in the ecosystem are in your universe. And you just have like so many stakeholders across all of your programs and your mentors and then your alumni. Um, how do you think about.

activating them for the benefit of the companies that you work for and kind of various stages in the process.

Michael Batko: Yeah, I love the question. We’ve got two really core principles, um, at Startmate and they’re literally like codified into our Startmate culture, which are giving the community a job and skin in the game.

And, um, the idea is essentially they’re one of accelerators and VCs, coworking spaces, whatever it is, actually any ecosystem company always has those mentors who just like fly in, fly out, give you a bit of advice and just never see them again. They have, there’s no consequences of giving good advice, bad advice, and you will never actually know.

It’s not that we just so fundamentally are different because we are a mental driven seed [00:14:00] fund and it is literally all about founders helping founders, but the key difference is that every single one of our mentors personally invest money into the fund, which then invests into that cohort. So you literally have skin in the game.

You either your 10 grand is going to be worth a whole hell a lot, a lot more or nothing at all. And you can go to zero and it’s actually the upside and the downside, which is really important. So that’s the first thing of like actually getting buy in from the community because they like, they care and they actually have something at stake as well.

The second one is a bit of an unusual one, which is when I tell people they actually don’t care much, but, um, because it’s not It doesn’t sound meaningful, but at the end of the cohort, every founder actually votes on who have been the top, top 10 mentors in that cohort who helped you. And we actually kick out any mentor who hasn’t been voted into the top 10 of at least one of the companies because then we’re like, well, you didn’t actually provide enough value.

We are about super high quality mentors, but on the other side, because to [00:15:00] your question of like, how do we incentivize mentors? The top five mentors who have been voted across the entire core actually get carry in our funds. And this is the part where most people just not the has been like, all right, cool.

Carrie, like it doesn’t actually mean much to me. And it is actually really meaningful carry because the carry itself is essentially the profit on the fund You actually get a meaningful stake in it as well And we just returned um three of our funds actually just this year nine times over three times over and two times over cash on cash

Maxine Minter: Wow,

Michael Batko: and to the extent that um, I mean alan jones who you might know in the ecosystem as well He literally posted up publicly that he’s Because of the money going around the world with his partner and flying around and staying in pretty beautiful resorts, because it’s actually a really meaningful chunk of money, which he never expected.

Cause when I tell people you’re getting carried, they almost don’t know what you make of it.

Maxine Minter: Right. Yeah. I actually, I actually think that’s a really interesting point. I have noticed in the Australian ecosystem, our like, instinctual understanding of the value of equity and the value of carry is really low, [00:16:00] right?

For example, in the Australian ecosystem, startups pay significantly less equity than in like comping to the U S ecosystem. And the number of people I’ve had the conversation with about carry, and they’re just like, they’re just, that money doesn’t have any value in their mind. Cause they don’t know. The kind of math behind it.

So I wonder, um, if it’s useful to kind of actually highlight on this podcast, like what is the math carry and why is it so significant?

Michael Batko: Absolutely. Yeah. So it’s like, um, I mean the really basic math of it is, um, our start made funds started as a 200, 000 fund to be able to invest in five companies. That’s literally what it started out as like 2011 was like a 205, 000 fund to be exact.

Maxine Minter: Amazing. I love it.

Michael Batko: And now our fund size is roughly like the three, three and a half million dollar stage. So at a three million dollar fund, we are a micro fund. We invest super early at like, um, one and a half million dollar valuations when the founder is by themselves MVP pre product. But when that investment does go well, and that means [00:17:00] like, uh, we invest, for example, into 10 companies per fund itself.

And if a company goes from a one and a half million dollar valuation to a hundred million dollar valuation. Just very rough, um, maths here of like goes up by 50 times with a bit of dilution. So it goes up by 30 times on a fund basis. Every other company dies, but that one company that makes up the entire fund three times over.

So essentially you’re looking at a 9 of a, or like fund return on a 3 million fund of 6 million of profit. And then from the 6 million profit, it’s actually the 20%, which is the carry itself, which is 1. 2 million, essentially going out to mentors who have helped. Like that’s actually quite a bit of money.

Cheryl Mack: Right. It’s so material. Yeah. Well, I’m excited for my payout. I was in the top five for one of those cohorts. So you let me know when that’s coming in. Yeah, absolutely. Checks in the mail, right? Yeah. Checks in the mail, right? No, but it actually is something that I, I think you’re right, Maxine, it’s not, uh, it’s not as talked about, it’s not as [00:18:00] valued in Australia, and that translates into a number of people, uh, taking, like, cash over, uh, Uh, and not valuing carry or equity as much.

Um, but when we start to have more of these payouts, for example, Ellen Jones posting on, uh, BlinkedIn saying, hey, this is actually what’s happened. I think that will start to shift and it already has, like, the number of people who have said, oh, like, you got You got Carrie in that, in that vintage of Start Mate and saying like, that was a good vintage.

I’m like, yeah, it was.

Maxine Minter: Yeah, I, I think it’ll like, as you said, it will happen. It will move through the ecosystem. I think it’ll be so valuable for the ecosystem. Cause if you think of the, like every single. I think the stat in SF coming to you live from SF is that every time there is an IPO at a billion dollars, about a thousand millionaires are minted.

And a lot of them live in San Francisco because they owned material positions in those companies on the employee level. That’s not the investors that participated in it. A thousand? A

Cheryl Mack: thousand. Like, what do you think, what do you think it is in [00:19:00] Australia? Like, do we have that same

Maxine Minter: function? I’m not sure. I haven’t found, I haven’t found great data.

To compare like the U S to the Australian ecosystem on how much more. The U S gives in terms of equity for folks, but I think one function of it is that a lot of Australian employees join startups and don’t really have, as I said, that kind of like instinctual understanding of the opportunity around equity.

And so they don’t ask for equity. They don’t know how to price it in their comp package. By far. You know, the U S hasn’t worked this out either. I’ve had many conversations with founders. Yeah. And also. Employees where they just don’t know how to price it. And so they round it to zero, which I think is a huge mistake.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Right. I think actually, I think the best mental model is like, take off the table, what you absolutely have to, to kind of live the life you need to and care for the people that you need to, and then everything else, if you truly believe in the company, you should leave in, in order for it to be able to compound.

I will have a minor soapbox moment in that. [00:20:00] As an investor, you get so much more information about a company than as an employee, even though an employee is an investor, an employee who is taking equity is also an investor in that company. And so I encourage people, founders, anyone who’s listening to like actually disclose information.

To your employees so that they can get as excited about it as you are. It aligns incentives. It’s a kind of wonderful way to pay it forward and produce wealth of the Australian ecosystem. Like your equity is worth a lot. So please be thoughtful about who you give it to and give it generously.

Michael Batko: Yeah, I love that actually.

Cheryl Mack: What about the opposite argument though? Like there are a lot of founders who convince people, not a lot, but we’ve seen situations where founders who have convinced employees to join on the premise You know take a low salary because this is going to be worth tons one day like, you know The most recent example being fast and how that plays out considering the like the majority of startups fail so how do you price that in like do you discount it by Like if the equity could be worth this but the risk that [00:21:00] it doesn’t is like 50 so actually it’s only worth this

Michael Batko: I think the best practice that i’ve seen is actually um getting giving people a free different salary and equity packages And you kind of want to price high salary low equity and vice versa.

And it almost like allows the person to make a decision how much actual cash do I need? But just how do you say it? Cause people have different circumstances. A great primer for EISO, by the way, because I agree in Australia it’s not as well understood. I think eucalyptus actually has released a great, great documents on ESOP.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. Shout out to Alexis. Hey, the man with the ESOP plan. He’s just so great. He’s done such a wonderful job there.

Cheryl Mack: Also cake,

Maxine Minter: cake

Cheryl Mack: have great

Maxine Minter: equity,

Cheryl Mack: uh, ESOP equity documents as well. So shout out for cake.

Maxine Minter: They’ve also got a calculator online. No. So they’re like, people could play around with that. But I think my perspective is that, um, I think founders should have a like robust conversation with people about the risks that they’re taking, you know, and like, yes, it could go to zero and that’s the risk that you’re taking.

And as a, uh, [00:22:00] Person joining one of those companies, or even as a founder, you know, thinking about what is the risk profile that this company has actually, uh, Cheryl, I think in one of our previous conversations, we were talking about the fact that actually every single employee in Australia is an investor, but the number of people that I meet.

Who are like, Oh, I’m not an investor. I don’t know anything about investing. And I’m like, you invest 11 percent of your income every single month

Michael Batko: into an

Maxine Minter: asset. Yep.

Cheryl Mack: That was that. Whether you like it or not, you are an investor and to not make a choice. is making a choice. Like, just because you’re not directing that money doesn’t mean that it’s, like, that was a choice and you chose to take a step back and take a back seat to that investment.

It’s still a choice.

Maxine Minter: Totally. Yeah. On that, Batko, are you personally angel investing on top of Investing in Startmate or do you just do all of your activity through Startmate?

Michael Batko: Yeah, I don’t personally angel invest because we’ve got a really strict policy at Startmate that we, we’re not allowed to.

Cheryl Mack: I told you that was the case.

Yes, of course. [00:23:00] I was like, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t because. They don’t have, they don’t allow it, but you’re allowed to invest in the fund, right? So like you invest into the Startmate fund.

Michael Batko: Yeah, that’s right. So I’ve invested every single cohort, um, since I became CEO, essentially. Um, it’s just a bit too much conflict for us because if we see a great company, you’ve got this massive conflict.

And if you’re personally invested, you’re going to try to make arguments for the funds and you’re really conflicted. So we are essentially saying, if you see a great company,

Cheryl Mack: And then what about on the other side? Like, if there’s a particular company that does go through the fund and they graduate and you love them, like, are you allowed to double down or is it like, just fund only?

Michael Batko: Yeah. Good question. So, um, a fund only again. So like we do have now, for example, a continuity fund, which is a 12 million where we actually, it’s quite an unusual fund in the sense of, we, uh, we don’t Always invest in our alumni, our alumni, when they go out fundraising and it’s an equity round, we always are in and no questions asked if somebody else leads round.

So the beauty for our alumni, it gives them actually a competitive advantage because they [00:24:00] can go into the next round saying, Hey, start, and it’s already investing 8 percent of my round. So yeah, the continuity fund essentially always invests in our alumni in all of the future rounds.

Cheryl Mack: Oh, I love that.

Interesting. I didn’t know that before I invested in the continuity fund. I thought it was like cherry picked, but thank you for teaching me about my own investment.

Maxine Minter: I love that. How do you guys think about portfolio construction from that perspective? Perspective.

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Right. Especially maybe we can double click on the opportunity fund because there is a range of opinions when it comes to opportunity funds.

So kind of how did you decide on constructing an opportunity fund? Why did you decide to do that? Like we’re always in model.

Michael Batko: Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Can you maybe educate us a little bit on how you got to that end point?

Michael Batko: So like, um, on the accelerator fund itself. So we raise a fund every six months and that’s roughly like free to 4 million.

Um, the complete photo construction days, roughly that 70 percent of our money goes into the first check. We always invest 120, 000 into all of them. And then we roughly reserve 30 or 40 percent for follow on as well, [00:25:00] because we actually want to double down on the best companies there as well. Um, usually that fund runs out of money pretty quickly, and this is kind of where the continuity fund kind of, well, exactly where it slots in because over the last 12 years, we’ve invested in some incredible companies who’ve raised like hundreds of millions of dollars, like most micro, UpGuard, Backrowd, Propeller, like they’re literally raised hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

And the sad thing to me is always just Looking at our own dilution and not being able to participate in those incredible companies who, like you said, you’ve got so much information on way more than anyone else really. And, um, this is when we started the Continuity Fund itself and the Continuity Fund.

From a portfolio construction perspective, it is quite interesting because it doesn’t have necessarily the concentration of then Accelerator Fund or the TRA traditional VC fund of, usually it’s like the 2025 companies that people invest in and they double down on like the top seven, eight, or so. Um, the continuity fund, um, as I mentioned is like that automatic fund where we [00:26:00] always invest in the best, um, companies.

There’s two reasons for that. Like the first one is because We get a thousand applications every year for Startmate. We invest in roughly 30 companies, which means the top 3 percent of companies that we see. The Continuity Fund only invests in the companies which are the best of the best. So you’re already only investing like the top 1 percent of companies which are coming out of the entire Startmate selection process.

That’s the first thing. And the second phases with the Continuity Fund is actually the one of the biggest mistake you can do in VC. It’s not saying yes to the one company that is going to be massive. It’s almost like the biggest mistake you can do is omitting that one company. So therefore we’re actually always in because we believe in our companies.

We’ve worked with them for such a long time. They’ve actually managed to raise more money and we will always be there with you on that journey.

Cheryl Mack: Very interesting. Interesting. And how do you, like, do you have a selection on like, what that lead investor is? Do they have to, [00:27:00] like, do they, do you have a list of lead investors that you would accept?

Or like, would an angel putting a, like, leading the round, would that be acceptable? And like, what about terms? Do you accept all terms?

Michael Batko: Yeah. Yeah. Great questions.

Cheryl Mack: Cheryl’s asking for a friend.

Michael Batko: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll send you the information memorandum again.

Cheryl Mack: Probably a good idea.

Michael Batko: No, no. We genuinely do have rules.

Cheryl Mack: I mean, that just kind of shows that like.

It was, it was Batco. He’s like, Hey, we’re doing this. And I’m like, cool. I’m a mentor, you know, continuity fund. Yep. Sign me up.

Michael Batko: No, but that definitely is a bunch of rules. So we do have a bit of leeway here as well of actually making the calls, whether or not this is an eligible round itself. So like you said, it’s kind of like, it has to be a trustworthy VC as well.

It can’t be just a family and friends run. We only invest in equity rounds, which means we don’t invest in safe rounds and bridge rounds and, um, kind of save me rounds kind of thing. So we’re only essentially saying like when things are trending up and yeah, those are kind of, and that’s the, therefore we have a bit of leeway there as a [00:28:00] team to actually decide is this, um, a round where we, we want to be backing it or not.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. Okay. How do you work out whether it’s a save me round? I’m particularly interested in this because there’s some, you know, Interesting analysis on like follow on decisions. And if you just evaluate the follow on decisions actually as a performance and on IRR, it’s much worse than your first check, obviously valuation matters here, but the decision making heuristics of kind of, um, loss chasing behavior and like consistency bias, I think really can skew decision making for, uh, like follow on decision.

Cheryl Mack: I

Maxine Minter: imagine that’s present that. To some degree, although I think it’s an elegant solution to just like always double down when a company kind of meets these criteria. So how do you think about that? Like save me round. How do you determine a save me round versus like good traction and just a little bit more to get to the outcome that they need?

Michael Batko: Yeah. Um, yeah, totally. Um, I mean, the luxury that we have is that we. [00:29:00] Have so much information. One, one thing, cause we do get a monthly updates from every single one of our companies pretty much. Um, and the second one is probably like an easy heuristic here, which is, um, we don’t invest in down rounds as part of the continuity fund, and that is actually a pretty easy kind of determining effect itself.

Maxine Minter: Right.

Michael Batko: Yeah. So those are probably like the major two.

Maxine Minter: Got it. Yeah. That’s, I mean, that. That makes sense. That’s really easy, especially in the last, I don’t know, actually, when I was about to say that out loud, like over 2023, I think there’s some pretty amazing companies that did, did, did, did down rounds because they raised at like astronomical valuations.

Michael Batko: Yeah. Which is also fair. Yeah.

Cheryl Mack: And are we going to discount them? Like, do we give them a hall pass on their down round and say, actually, that one wasn’t an official down round because of that situation? We all did it. We’re all doing down

Maxine Minter: rounds.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah.

Michael Batko: Which is totally fair. I mean, the beauty, um, is with the continuity fund that we’re actually already investors in all of those companies.

So we already have a stake. Right. And so whether or not, like we actually would have participated in every round up. So we [00:30:00] actually have already a meaningful amount of, um, of money in the company itself. Got it. Got it. True.

Maxine Minter: And do you make those decisions with the community as well? Or have you, do you like trend more towards a more traditional DC decision making process, like in consensus or conviction based?

Michael Batko: Yeah, so in the continuity fund itself, um, it is actually pretty much programmatic as in like, um, what I mean by that is it’s like 90 to 95 percent of our, um, investments themselves that very much follow the rules as I’ve just described them. And there’s actually very few of those, those edge cases. When I talk about down runs, et cetera, like it’s definitely not the norm.

Like we, Honestly, since the existence of the continuity fund, we haven’t even had a single one yet. So we haven’t even had to make the decision yet. And we are not even at the final close of the continuity fund yet. We’ve got yet another six months to actually close it. And we’ve already made, I think, 12 investments in that fund over the last 12 months.

Cheryl Mack: Wow. Incredible. Well, there you go. Opportunity. If anyone else wants to get in, you can, yeah.

Maxine Minter: How long will [00:31:00] the fund be for? Will it be like a traditional fund life cycle? You’ll do just as many investments out of that fund as you. can fit in, in that 12, in that time period. Is that the idea?

Michael Batko: Yeah. So love the questions because it’s all the questions that we actually had to consider for the information memorandum as well.

One of the problems that we had was our alumni are so successful, um, often that our Prorata actually explodes into millions of dollars and I can’t just deploy 12 million out of a 12 million fund into one company. So actually one other rule we had to implement is no, Single investment can be larger than 5 percent of the fund itself.

Cause we do want to have at least like 20 investments in the fund itself. So that’s, that’s one caveat here. And the other one is, um, oh, yeah, the life, um, time of the fund. Two interesting things here. Like the first one is the continuity fund is a traditional VC fund. It’s, uh, The 10 years to one year extensions, like any other VC fund.

The other one, which is probably more interesting though, is our accelerator funds don’t have those, um, time horizons because we do invest so early on [00:32:00] and the start made funds started all the way back in 2010 when investors actually probably didn’t even know or care. Um, obviously now it’s, it’s a changed kind of landscape, but, uh, the start made funds actually aren’t.

Open ended funds, which means in theory, we never have to give back the money. And obviously we don’t do that. Like as soon as we’ve got an acquisition and exit an IPO and, um, a dividend, actually, even in some cases, we always return the money straight away. Um, so yeah, that’s quite an interesting quirk about the start mid funds.

Maxine Minter: That’s really interesting. Have you worked out an effective way to manage dividends? Cause I have a hypothesis we’re stepping into an ecosystem where we. I’m now going to start seeing companies getting to profitability, like way faster, right? Like cost to build, time to build, time to get to profitability.

Plus the ecosystem is focusing on profitability. It seems to me obvious that we’re going to see more and more, and I’m definitely seeing it in my deal sourcing. I think you guys have probably navigated something that most VCs haven’t yet navigated, but. Might over the course of their 10 to 12 years, [00:33:00] and maybe angel investors, well, I guess angel investors don’t care about it as much because it just distributes back to them.

But if you’re running a micro fund or thinking about running a fund, like, how do you think about distributing? Dividends.

Michael Batko: Yeah, yeah. Um, depends on the fund itself and depends if we still have investment opportunities left. Um, in the continuity fund, actually, um, I think even the fund, the fund, I don’t think it’s even, well, the fund isn’t even closed yet.

And actually one of our investments is already going to make money back. And in that case, it’s actually kind of like, well, we still have another three years of an investment period left. We’re not going to actually return money before we even like close the fund down. Um, so that’s an interesting quirk.

Um, the, the norm though, is that usually their returns, if a company gets sold and it’s kind of more an asset sale, um, that can actually be retained for, um, almost like expenses sometimes, because it’s actually just not like it’s 10, 20 grand kind of thing, and it’s not meaningful money. If it’s anything in the realm of like returning 10 or 20 percent of the fund, we’ll always give it back to the [00:34:00] investors.

The interesting one, which, um, we had there on the dividend is one of our companies. And paid us a dividend two years ago, and it was like 30 percent of the fund itself. And we’re just like, all right, well, it’s actually quite a nice return. It’s not a huge one either, but like, all right, let’s return it to investors.

Now we’re actually getting the third or fourth dividend of that company in that fund and the entire fund has actually been returned for dividends and is almost like up by 1. 5 X or 2 X or something. I would actually double check that one, but that’s just like a company just being super profitable and paying us every year.

We’re the only investor on the cap table and it’s like going really well.

Maxine Minter: Wow. Wow. Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s the cool thing about your model, right? Going in super early is like you back some really amazing companies. Also some companies in the kind of a wide spectrum of business types as well.

Cheryl Mack: Yes.

Maxine Minter: That’s the cool thing about Startmate is that you’re not B2B SaaS.

The whole

Cheryl Mack: spectrum.

Maxine Minter: The whole spectrum.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah. Yeah. Like robotics to like satellites to B2B SaaS. To anything in between, like, I’ve always been, [00:35:00] I always learn something every time we do Start Mate. A lot of somethings, actually.

Michael Batko: I told, um, Cheryl yesterday that we invested in a, um, powder that makes everything taste like bacon, and she almost wanted to withdraw her investment.

Cheryl Mack: Actually, I do remember that. I was like, what? In what world was that a start made company, but I’m into it. I love that.

Michael Batko: But yeah, so like we do invest across all different spaces. Cause like for us, because we invest so early on, it is literally all about that person. And if I believe that person loves that customer and care, I will.

Essentially give them 120 grand to figure out how they’re going to, how they’re going to actually, um, solve that problem. And, um, and there’s lots of different theories around hardware, software, aerospace and so on. I can talk about many, many of them. Uh, but yeah, I’m essentially just bullish on like people who just love the customer.

Maxine Minter: I think there’s a lot to be

Cheryl Mack: said for that. I wonder who the customer was for that founder on the seasoning that makes everything taste better. Like bacon, like, is that the whole world or just bacon lovers [00:36:00] or just not vegans?

Michael Batko: The initial one was actually vegans. And then the founder was so successful that they almost like reached all of the vegans in the world.

And there was almost not enough vegans left.

Cheryl Mack: Is that the company that’s returning dividends? No. Just making bacon.

Maxine Minter: Had to do it. Had to do it. Oh, I, one of the things that I have found. Truly incredible. And maybe this is the kind of community power that you have is the ability for the start mate funds to find really exciting opportunities in very non obvious corners of the Australian market.

Um, I’m wondering if you can kind of tell me a little bit, how do you, foster that in your team and foster that in the mentors so that, you know, kind of, you increase the probability that they are seeing that kind of non consensus, non, um, usual company, but where, you know, theoretically there are outsized returns.

Michael Batko: Yeah, totally. It’s definitely been an evolution at [00:37:00] Startmate. Um, cause traditionally in 2011 until 2016, roughly, we were very much focused just on software. Like it was very much the software play. It was, um, the Startmate was founded by Nicky Chivack, the founder of Blackbird. And that was the initial thesis.

And, and even, and then back in 2016 was actually the first time where we had to change that investment thesis itself, where we just, um, Nick Crocker at the time was leading Startmate and he came across an investment opportunity, which was like, we cannot not invest. And that was actually Michael Daniel from Most Micro.

Which we’re building essentially like low energy, high range wifi chips, and they just raised a hundred million dollar round like last year. And obviously the company is doing really, really well. And that was actually our first ever hardware investment. And that was actually quite a challenging time at start.

Maybe like, well, are we doing hardware now? Is that an investment opportunity? And, um, so to your question of, um, Um, absolutely. We’ve expanded the investment thesis, um, a lot around, um, essentially always [00:38:00] doubling down on people and, and what they care about. Like it is all about that. And we actually have a couple of pieces around the spaces that we want to play in.

But to your point of, um, how do we foster the kind of culture within our team and within our mentors as well? One of my favorite questions is, and I always keep coming back to it whenever I critically assess a company for myself is. Rather than what is probable, because the company probably actually won’t go anywhere.

It’s like, it completely flips out of it. Like what is possible? Like if it does work, like what is the incredible thing that could actually happen? And, and what could the world look like? And that curiosity itself and that kind of way of thinking that’s that, that’s the one where you’re trying to instill on all of our mentors.

Cause the initial instinct is always like, all right, those are the five problems and there’s never going to, they’re never going to be able to make it. And maybe another concept that I like is every company needs a couple of miracles, um, to have, whether it’s like customers or go to like go to [00:39:00] market or, um, a market actually coming into existence and so on.

And if it’s only one or two miracles, that’s actually exciting to me. With this, like, 15 miracles, well, then it’s actually pretty unlikely, in a sense. But it’s probably like, that’s, that’s another way to actually assess it.

Cheryl Mack: Mm. It reminds me of some of the times when you asked me, Maxine, you’re always like, well, what needs to be true in order for that to be possible?

And just like, doing that as an exercise, I feel like it’s so valuable because it makes you think, like, how many seriously miracle things need to happen? Uh, and how much of a miracle are they or are they actually totally doable? Like at what level do we need to look at this? And I think that that question really resonates with me as well when you think about like, well, what does need to be true in order for this to be a huge breakout success?

Michael Batko: I love that question. Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. I also think that it’s pretty rare from what I’ve seen in the Australian ecosystem for the, especially early stage investors to like truly think about what’s possible. As opposed to what’s probable. I [00:40:00] think if you did a poll of most founders raising pre seed and seed in the Australian ecosystem, and you ask them what kind of questions they get, a lot of them would say like, it’s all about, you know, tell me what’s probable and, but you don’t actually make the outsized returns by investing what’s probable, like investing what’s possible.

And then those miracles between one and 15 miracles occur to make it, You know, come into reality and that’s where the outsized like incredible outcomes are unlocked. I think it’s pretty hard to create. you know, multi billion through to kind of 65 billion asset value businesses where it’s like obvious there’s like two or three inflection points.

And at that point, like you’re going to create something. And I think it’s such a wonderful DNA to infuse into. Like the footprint that Startmate has like across the ecosystem to just like hammer home this idea of like early stage investing is all about what’s possible. It’s not about what’s probable. [00:41:00] I think that’s a beautiful mantra.

I also, I think it’s like the cool thing about early stage investing is your downside is limited relative to your upside.

Michael Batko: Yep.

Maxine Minter: Right. You might like invest a small amount. Yeah. You can’t

Cheryl Mack: lose any

Maxine Minter: more

Cheryl Mack: than what you’ve invested.

Maxine Minter: Right. Yeah. Yeah. But you can gain so much more.

Cheryl Mack: Yep.

Maxine Minter: Right. The like asymmetrical upside is extreme.

It’s kind of like penny stocks in the nineties.

Michael Batko: Yeah, absolutely.

Maxine Minter: Although not. Except without the fraud. Yeah.

Michael Batko: Yeah. That’s actually like why I love being a micro fund because we only invest under 20, 000 into companies. But at that stage, it’s actually makes such a massive difference. Whereas, um, like you said, the downside itself is like, all right, cool.

We’ll lose under 20, 000. The upside itself is a company gets to a cup of hundred million dollar valuation. And that itself is like, well, like I said, we literally returned one of our funds nine times over cash on cash, which is like, Like top, whatever, like 5 percent of VC fund in the entire world.

Maxine Minter: Yeah.

Yeah. That’s nuts. Yeah. That is like a way out performance. I will say, [00:42:00] was it your first one or your first three? One of your first three funds?

Michael Batko: And one of them. Yep. Yep.

Maxine Minter: Yeah.

Michael Batko: And yeah, that was a very small fund. Yeah. It’s

Maxine Minter: a very good time to be investing as well. Right. I will also say that a little known fact in Australia is that.

Funds one to three. So emerging managers outperform, they are 80 percent of the top performing funds every single year, between 40 and 80 percent of the top performing funds every single year, according to Cambridge. And so it’s just like, you know, that, that early insight, that early structure, like you guys were the only ones out there really evangelizing that early stage investing at the time.

Michael Batko: And

Maxine Minter: the only really accelerated, which is super cool.

Michael Batko: And also like to double down on that point, actually, it’s because I definitely agree with that. It’s It is almost like a concept because you are out there for the first time. You’re building a reputation. You are incredibly hungry. So that’s actually one of our start values as well, which is like literally backing the hungry not to proven, which goes into that VC kind of lens as well, as well as into our founder and when I’m hiring somebody for our team [00:43:00] lens as well, like literally backing the people as early as possible because they’re hungry to prove themselves rather than actually being proven with like so many medals and so many great names on the CVs, et cetera.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah. What’s really cool I think too is that you, it’s not just your investment team. You basically mobilize the entire mentor network to be part of your investment team. So I’m like, I’m curious some of those, the way that you describe that you’ve been still in your team, like you have to. You have to distill it down to like something smaller for all of the mentors.

Like, are there any mental models or like strategies that you use to, um, get to pick the founders and to make sure that you’re getting that point across all of the mentor network?

Michael Batko: Yeah. Uh, that’s actually one of the hardest parts for sure, because we have, um, like I mentioned, a hundred, hundred fifty mentors every six months and mentors are traditionally.

Time poor and don’t want to read things on Notion, et cetera. Um, so even though we’ve got a, like, literally [00:44:00] like now distilled it until one page of an investment thesis, this is what we look for, even then people unfortunately don’t read it. So now it’s, it’s an internal struggle, but it’s essentially like getting across a couple of those concepts.

One of them being the one I just talked about around the possibility rather than probability of it. Um, the second one being, um, around like literally going about that ambition, The third one actually being around the customer obsession itself and how much does the person truly understand who they’re going after?

And I think a final one is one which I love as well as like literally just looking for good people. And a great question to ask yourself at that stage is what I want, would I want to work for that person? And even just asking yourself that question actually often reveals a lot about the founder.

Maxine Minter: 100%.

Yeah. I think it’s such a, it’s such a powerful question to ask yourself. I like, I love that you guys are evangelizing that. Cause I think it’s such a big. If you’re investing out of a fund or if you’re investing, um, you know, as an angel, I think it’s a really powerful question that cuts across, across all of [00:45:00] them.

Cheryl Mack: Especially because sometimes it happens, you have to, you have to jump in and start to work for them.

Maxine Minter: True. I would actually say like, especially as a VC and ideally as a value add angel, like you do work for them. Yeah. The whole idea is that, you know, you invest your capital and you go to work for them and they, you are there as a resource for them.

So. Ultimately, it’s true. You will work for them for a period of time, whether, depending on how much success.

Michael Batko: And you only ever get pulled in, in the toughest times as well, which is like the most stressed and yeah. So it’s.

Maxine Minter: Yeah. Code Reds. Yes. Yeah. I feel like we could talk about this all day, every day. And I have realized we have been nattering on for a very long time now.

And I feel like I’ve learned so much. The question that we always ask everyone at the end, very sadly, in this circumstance that we’re at the end, um, at the end of our conversation with them is what is your biggest big Coners moment, a moment that you felt really brave? [00:46:00]

Michael Batko: Um, it’s probably like so many things every week that I need to kind of do like.

I’d be contradicting somebody or like going against somebody’s opinion. One, which actually, um, remember, and this goes back to the conversation, which we just had around, um, investment thesis, because we went from software to hardware and another kind of like key moment that I remember almost my MVC career was.

And we had essentially a hundred, um, mentors on this email chain, arguing for X company to get in Y company to not make it into the start med accelerator, et cetera. And I remember this entire thread coming up and everybody discussing whether or not we should invest in that non alcoholic beer company.

And it was like the whole argument of like, but we don’t do hardware. We don’t do need to see like the cell cycles are too long. It’s refrigeration, et cetera, et cetera. And. It was at that time when I like jumped in as start mate CEO and actually had to be like, Hey, we can’t [00:47:00] just rest on our laurels and do things the way we’ve always done them.

Like the team is so incredible. The trend here in terms of market is so clear. Like they are. Absolutely backable with a 120 K check, even though they don’t have a brewery yet, and they’re just getting started that I just had to jump in. And that was actually the one moment where I think it also unlocked mentors to think a little bit outside of that box that we were in.

Um, I mean, that company is heaps normal, which is now pretty much in every restaurant and bar. Um, in Australia and it was actually a pretty proud moment for me as a CEO as well. Cause I was actually fairly young into my CEO journey as well to actually stand up to everybody. We’re like, Hey, let’s actually not do things the way we’ve always done them.

That’s awesome.

Maxine Minter: I love that. I love that. And what a great investment. They, you’re right. They’re like literally everywhere. Yeah. Great story.

Michael Batko: Yeah. So, like, I still remember, uh, having a call with Andy before he actually made it into the Accelerator, actually, um, chatting to him whether it was even the right move and whether they can even, uh, raise venture and so on, and whether it [00:48:00] will ever be a company which is worth more than a million dollars, et cetera.

And I was like, no, come on, let’s do this together. And that’s actually, like, got really hard after it.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah. And now they’re going to the US and just taking over the world in the non alcoholic category. Are they? So good. Yeah.

Maxine Minter: Well, yeah. I mean, like, the beverage. The food and beverage market, but beverage market in the U.

S. is just like a wild, wild west. I’ve had a couple of friends who built in that space and it’s, it’s wild. So yeah. Good luck to them.

Cheryl Mack: Yeah. I’m excited

Maxine Minter: to see them over here in every single bar and every single restaurant.

Cheryl Mack: You got to evangelize for them.

Maxine Minter: Well, thank you so much, Batcove. That was absolutely the best.

We dug into so many great things there.

Michael Batko: No, thanks so much for having me. This was a great conversation.

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