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Tim Fung

Jun 28, 2022

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Tim Fung explains why Australia is a great market to test startup ideas

Tim Fung is founder of Airtasker, a local services marketplace connecting people and businesses who need work done with people wanting to work. He is also co-founder and Director of Tank Stream Labs, a tech startup co-working space in Sydney. In his conversation with Adam, Tim discusses how people work from co-working spaces for a sense of community, not just desk space, as well as why he believes Australia is a great market to test startup ideas locally before going global.

Resources

Airtasker: https://www.airtasker.com/au 

Tank Stream Labs: https://www.tankstreamlabs.com/ 

Tim on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/timjfung/

Transcript

Adam Spencer: Hi, I’m Adam Spencer, and welcome to Day One, the podcast that spotlight’s Australian startups, 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. You’re listening to a special interview series as part of a documentary W2D1 is producing about the history of the Australian startup ecosystem. On the episode today, we have-

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Tim Fung: Hi, I’m Tim Fung, I’m the co-founder and the CEO here at Airtasker. We’re Australia’s number one local marketplace for services.

Adam Spencer: So, let’s go right back. What was your very first exposure to Australian startup ecosystem?

Tim Fung: Well, I think, during university, I started up a couple of things with friends, but wouldn’t really call them startups per se in the way that most people probably would assume or think about them now, in terms of technology and getting venture investment and stuff like that. So with that lens on, I would say it was back in 2009. I had just left Macquarie, where I had spent five years as an analyst. I was working at a modelling agency called Chic Management.

Tim Fung: And I met the co-founder of the agency or the co-owner I should say, the agency was one of the founding directors of Optus. And he gave me the opportunity to work with him on a startup idea that he had, which was to set up an online only mobile virtual network operator, MVNO. And so he asked me to put together a pitch deck for him, and we just went out raised money and it was a great opportunity to watch him build a startup. Which I just didn’t know was really a thing that you could do. Obviously I knew that startups existed, but I didn’t get a close feel until then.

Adam Spencer: Right. So, yeah, so we were talking 2009. Back in 2009, what was visible to you? Like when you looked around, what companies did you look to? What people, organisations that were doing stuff in the startup world?

Tim Fung: Well, it was 2009 that we had started off with Amaysim. And I think it was in 2010 that I started to, by going around and doing the capital raising for Amaysim, and touching base with people through that process. I started to see a few things. I think one of the really interesting things was the whole German contingent that existed. 

Tim Fung: And Amaysim was actually managed and co-founded by some German folks that we had bought over from Germany. And they immediately got us into a bit of an ecosystem. What I realised is, for example, Rocket Internet had a presence in Australia with things like Groupon that was just expanding around 2010. 

Tim Fung: So I think there were companies like scale companies, like Groupon, there was Spreets, which was also a German co-founder, guy named Justus Hammer. Partnered up with Dean McEvoy, which is an Australian guy, but actually raised money from some German VCs, which is how they really scaled that business. And it was actually quite eye opening for me. I didn’t realise how much of a… Because the German tech ecosystems actually quite advanced, I think. Not quite as big as Silicon Valley and stuff, but quite large. And it had quite a big presence here in Sydney. So that was the first bubble that I got connected with. And then of course there were the folks from Fishburners too, which we used to hang out in.

Adam Spencer: Yeah, so Amaysim was 2009 to 2012. Did something happen during your time helping to build that company? Can you tell me the origin story of Airtasker, where’d that idea come from? Was it something related to working at Amaysim?

Tim Fung: So it wasn’t directly related to working at Amaysim, but it definitely was influenced by that. So when we started Amaysim, one of the first things that I did was actually bought in one of my uni friends, a guy named Jonathan Lui. He was a telco engineer, and was working at IBM at the time. And I pulled him into Amaysim, and said, “You should come and join this thing. It’s looking really exciting. We need a telco project manager in there, so come in and help us build that.”

Tim Fung: Once we had done that first two years of really getting the company set up, we started getting itchy feet. And so we would catch up every day in the kitchen and just talk about new ideas that we could start because Amaysim wasn’t our company, we were working for that company. We were the founding team members, but we weren’t big equity holders. So we got itchy feet, we started talking a lot.

Tim Fung: I was moving apartments at the time, and I actually asked another friend of ours, Ivan to come and help me move, because he’s got a truck that he uses to do deliveries for his business. And this just got me thinking, it’s like, “Why do we ask friends and family to do all these kinds of jobs, when there’s so many people out there looking for a job? And yet you go and hustle your friends for this.” 

Tim Fung: And it just made us realise that it’s really hard to connect with people in your local community. And it’s really hard to build a trusted relationship with them. And that’s why when you’re hiring someone for a job, you go through this really laborious process, and it’s worthwhile.

Tim Fung: But if you want to just hire someone for a job to help you move on the weekend for $500 or $300 or something, there just wasn’t a way to do that in a low friction way. And so Jonathan and I kept talking about this, and I think that by being part of Amaysim and seeing a company go from zero to something, we both were like, “Oh! It is actually possible to do this.” And that gave us, I guess the kick up the butt to go and start a company.

Adam Spencer: Before we dive deeper into the Airtasker story, is there an interest in fashion?

Tim Fung: I wouldn’t say so. So my connection to… And you can probably tell by the way I dress, people laugh at me now because I’m always in an Airtasker t-shirt. But no, I think the interest in celebrity management was that I did always have an interest in sports management, and I’m really passionate about Formula One and motor sports and things like that. And actually at the time I was trying to help a young kid named Warren White who’s Mark Webber’s third cousin. So if you remember, Mark Webber was a Formula One driver, and we were trying to help him build up his career.

Tim Fung: And so I was actually interested more in talent representation. And at the same time I was watching Entourage, I liked Ari Gold, and so I thought, “Hey, you know what? I should try and do something creative and learn how this is done.” And I think one commonality between all these things is like, I don’t mind just going in to learn about stuff. And so I actually quit my job at Macquarie, I went and joined this modelling agency.

Tim Fung: But it wasn’t really to make money or anything. It was just to learn something new. And I think that making money is great, business is important. Most people they tell you that money doesn’t matter at all, it’s probably… There’s only some truth in that. So it’s good to have a business and make money and stuff, but I think the starting point is usually go and do something that you’re interested in, and try to learn about it. And if you do that over a few times, then you’re probably going to make some money out of it, which is good.

Adam Spencer: Either out of Amaysim, your time there or as a talent agent, is there any transferable skills that you took out of those two experiences that helped kick off Airtasker?

Tim Fung: Yeah, I’d say actually quite a lot. I’d say the number one thing that I think was important in the early days of Airtasker was actually the storytelling of being able to take a big picture problem, break it down into more understood problems, and then be able to convey to somebody how you’re going to go and solve those problems. And that’s actually a pretty common skill across all of these things.

Tim Fung: When we talking about talent representation, it would be like, “Hey, we’re trying to do a Nike sponsorship. So here’s the celebrity that we’ve got. You are trying to convey to your customers that Nike is all about empowering women to be able to get out and become a successful athlete. And so we can give you Michelle Bridges, for example, a fitness trainer, that’s how we’re going to solve your problem.”

Tim Fung: And I think that same thing with Amaysim, it was like, “Hey, there’s low cost. All the mobile plans out there are a total rip off, we’re going to solve it. And here’s how we’re going to do it.” And breaking that down step by step. And it’s the same thing with Airtasker, one of the biggest things that we had to do early on was, “Hey there’s this big problem that exists out there. People cannot connect with other trusted local service providers in their community.” Be able to break that down into something that’s actually solvable, and then actually to be able to take people on that journey and show them how you’re going to solve that problem. And I think that’s common across starting any business.

Adam Spencer: So you started Airtasker in 2012, early 2012, and then later that year you decide to start Tank Stream Labs. A, how did you have enough time to do that? And B, where did that idea come from to start the co-working space?

Tim Fung: Yeah, it’s actually a great organic story actually. And it actually does tie everything together. So when we started Amaysim, we brought on board a group called the Bridge Lane Group. Marcus Kahlbetzer is the man behind that company. And he came onboard as Amaysim’s first Australian venture investor. Then when we started Airtasker, Jonathan and I, we just started working on it and he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, I want in.” Like, “I want to get behind this.”

Tim Fung: So he actually became one of our biggest angel investors. At the time we were actually renting our space at Amaysim, renting our space from Marcus who owned the whole building. And so when we started Airtasker, he said, “You know what, you can just have some space. I’ve got an unleased floor. I got a completely empty lot. It’s a construction site right now, but you guys can just set up a desk just go work in the corner for free.” And so we’re like, “That’s awesome, because we have no money. So that would be really good.”

Tim Fung: So we literally just started working in this construction site on level one of the building. But then we’d meet with other startup folks. I think it was the guys from PayPal. We had to meet because we wanted to integrate them. We had the guys from Sentia who actually helped us build the first version of the app, and they would come in for meetings with us. And they’re all like, “How did you get office space?” Back then it was really a five year lease or you can’t have an office, you need to work from home or work from your garage.

Tim Fung: And so they were like, “This is a sweet deal.” And so we said, “Oh, you know what? You can just pull up a desk and start working over here as well if you want.” Over time, Marcus was like, “Hey, this is actually like, there’s quite a lot of people who want this. Why don’t we just actually make this a thing?” And so, we just started that way. But by the time we’d started Tank Stream Labs, it was 30% full. And it just really, really grew from there, because people just… There was just a really clear demand for having an office on a month to month basis instead of a five year lease.

Tim Fung: And I must say, when we were doing this and we were starting Airtasker at the same time, I was like, “Oh geez, this is a much easier business than Airtasker.” Because Airtasker was really, really, really slow. And yet, Tank Stream Labs was like, “Hey!” Six months later we’re totally full, and we need to start up a new floor. So I was a little bit tempted to switch tabs, but thankfully we stuck it out with Airtasker.

Adam Spencer: Yes. So how you start a company like Airtasker? Let’s just go maybe first couple of months, what were you thinking?

Tim Fung: So I think actually we didn’t think too much, which was actually healthy in some sense. Like I think that when you’re actually trying to map out, how you’re going to get from zero to something sizeable and attractive, you can often wheel spin, because usually the path is not linear. 

Tim Fung: For example, if you look at Google now, and you go, “Okay, well I want to start a company, and I want it to be like Google.” And you actually said, “Okay, well what are all the things that Google have? They’ve got this massive advertising model, they’ve got offices all over the world, they’ve got free lunches.” And you try to map out how you’re going to build that a linear way, you’d almost certainly go, “Oh my gosh! This can’t be done.” And you’re just not going to do it.

Tim Fung: Whereas if you just start out and just go, you don’t get that wheel spinning effect. And that’s what did with Airtasker. We were like, “Look, we want this thing to exist, because it’d be awesome.” And then we were like, “Well, in order to do this, we’re going to have to raise a bunch of money, because we’re going to have to build a platform. We’re going to have to start investing in marketing, et cetera.” 

Tim Fung: And so we raised about $1.4 million, which we were thankfully able to do, because we had a bit of a track record with Amaysim, people knew us and they were like, “Oh well you were successful in building a company, so I’ll give you another crack.”

Tim Fung: The great thing about raising $1.4 million, and this was like… I think that’s actually quite a lot of money. In today’s stance, everyone’s raising that sort of money, but back then people were like, “Oh wow! That’s a huge amount of money.” But what it did is it was the equivalent of jumping off a cliff, and you’ve got all these ingredients, you got all these parts, it’s like building the plane on the way down.

Tim Fung: And I was actually quite healthy, because I think that we had no idea what we were doing, but when we looked at this bank balance and it was just going on every single month, we’re like, “Holy crap! We better just do something.” And I say with real transparency and honesty, I think that was actually an important ingredient. Was just, “We don’t have time to think too much, we don’t have time to plan too much, we’ve just gotta do the next step. Just think about the next step and get that.”

Tim Fung: And for us, that was all about getting people to post tasks, because we were like, “If a posted task from a customer equals a job opportunity for a tasker.” And so we were like, “We need to create job opportunities, because we need taskers.” But the only way we’re going to get that is if we can get some customers. And so we just did everything that we could to bring in the customer side of the marketplace, and I think most people would not have the stomach for the amount of cash that we had to burn in those early stages to be able to do that. Because it’s pretty scary.

Tim Fung: One, you’ve got a ticking time bomb in terms of the cash balance going down. Two is that you’ve got a lot of naysayers. You’ve got a lot of people saying like, “There’s no way that’s going to work. And these guys are just going to blow up $10 million and then walk off into the sunset.” And no one wants to be that person. So I think it was really important that we just jumped off the cliff, and were forced into it after that first capital raise. It was a bit of a forcing function.

Adam Spencer: So the main thing driving you guys was, get job postings?

Tim Fung: That’s right. That’s also been unintuitive, because most of the startups in Australia now, I’d roughly classify as three things, there’s eCommerce, there’s software like SaaS companies like building software, and then there’s marketplaces. And most of the successful companies that are out there, well many of them are software companies like SaaS companies, whether it’s Canva or whether it’s Xero or SafetyCulture, many of these things. And the contemporary methodology there is to some degree, build a great piece of software, and then it’ll grow by itself. You’ve got to pour fuel on the fire, but first build great software, then scale.

Tim Fung: The difference in the marketplace is actually this software isn’t the product, the liquidity and the whole marketplace community itself is the product. And so, there’s too much in the software, you actually got to invest into building the community ASAP. And that’s why it’s unintuitive, because a lot of the tips that you’re getting are from people who have successfully built software companies, telling you, “Build the software, build the software. If it’s good, it’ll just work.” And that isn’t really true for a network effect product.

Adam Spencer: So let’s just compare the two for a sec, the software companies and the marketplace companies. In terms of operations, what is the main difference? 

Tim Fung: Well, I would say you would see it at a capital allocation level. You have a crap load more in marketing and acquisition much earlier in a marketplace, because you understand that the product is the network effect. It’s the community that you’ve built. And so if you’re there tinkering with the software, you’re not building that community, and that community is a big part of the customer experience. 

Tim Fung: For example, if you have an awesome software platform for a marketplace, but there’s just no taskers on it. Or in other cases there’s no one selling products or whatever. It doesn’t matter how good it is, it’ll suck for customers. The customers will like, “This is crap. Wow! The browsing functionality is really, really fast, the latency is incredible, but there’s nothing to buy on this website.” 

Tim Fung: And so I think that’s different compared to say, great example Canva, which would be like, build that designer interface and make it kick ass. And if you just do that, i.e. just build the software, more and more and more people are going to hear about it and use it. And that’s how you get to scale. So yeah, two very different approaches, I think.

Adam Spencer: Let’s switch gears a bit, going to Tank Stream Labs. What’s the origin of the name? Can you tell me about that?

Tim Fung: Yeah, it’s totally uncreative. Basically if you look at the lane way out the back of the address, it’s called Tank Stream Way. And so we were like, “Let’s take that and then change it to labs.” But I actually do think the labs component of it was an interesting little thing. What we’ve realised is Tank Stream, it’s not really a property company at all. It really is just a community, and it’s similar to Fishburners, and similar to Stone & Chalk, and some of those other really great communities that got built. 

Tim Fung: People aren’t there to… They’re not paying for their desk. They’re paying to come to a place every day where they get to mingle and learn from other people, especially when you’re in a six person startup or something, or a two person startup or a one person startup, having that shared space and that shared knowledge and connection is pretty valuable.

Adam Spencer: Yeah. So you seem to be in the business of building communities. 

Tim Fung: Yeah. I didn’t really think of it outright that way. But I suppose that that is true. Actually I think, you know, that is the most powerful thing about the internet. When you really come down to it, most successful internet companies are somehow built on community, because that is really the fabric of what the internet can do that couldn’t be done before, is you can now have these scaled places where people can come together and interact. I think, yeah, most of the big companies or the successful ones are effectively somehow leveraging community or network effect.

Adam Spencer: The rise of the ecosystem in Australia, the growth and evolution of the ecosystem kind of coincided with iPhones and social networking. What else would you say helped really kick things off in Australia?

Tim Fung: Yeah, I think one of the most powerful things about any ecosystem I think is that you need to have proven success and proven experience. And that’s why you need sort of like a compounding effect. If you look at why Silicon Valley or San Francisco is so awesome, it’s because you’ve got like… I guess you had folks in the 60’s building silicon chips and then that experience and that capital got pushed into the next era, personal computing or whatever. Then that gets pushed into the next era of like eCommerce on the internet then that just keeps compounding.

Tim Fung: And so I think what we’re start to see in the story, which is like, so, so, so exciting, is people coming out to some of these organisations or having these experiences. Either building companies or learning from, working at other successful companies. And they’re getting funded now because there’s trust there. People go, “Oh, they know what they’re doing. Great. Let’s, go fund that.” And it just keeps compounding. 

Tim Fung: And I guess the VC then is like the fuel to that fire that sort of lubricates that process happening over and over and over again. But what I’m so excited by is seeing these companies that are getting funded now and it’ll be like, multi-generational, it’ll be like, “Yeah. I was there at Atlassian early days, learned how to do that, then built this company, exited that, and now I’m doing this company.”

Tim Fung: And that’s just really, really, really exciting. And I wonder if there’s any way that we can like turbocharge that even more like bringing people back. Airtasker, I’m really fortunate, three of our leadership team members we’ve bought back from experience either in the US or the UK. And I think that’s really great, because it sort of like injects that experience straight back into the Australian ecosystem.

Adam Spencer: Yeah. I think I actually just noticed. Is it your CMO ex-Facebook? 

Tim Fung: Yeah. So it’s funny, but our CMO’s ex-Facebook, our CTO is eight years at Amazon in Seattle. And then Patrick is our chief product officer. He’s come from Zip and also previously founded and exited a company in the US. I’m learning so much from them as much as, you know, I’m also their manager. So it’s really good that exchange of experience and skills.

Adam Spencer: How important do you think density is to an ecosystem? 

Tim Fung: Do you mean like geographic density?

Adam Spencer: Population, yeah.

Tim Fung: Yeah. I do think that it’s potentially becoming less important, because of how much stuff is happening on Zoom and video and all that sort of thing. But certainly when Tank Stream Labs even though we have had the pandemic. And that obviously did cause a bunch of people to go work from home instead of in an office. 

Tim Fung: People are sort of physical beings still and the fabric of the metaverse and like video calling and all that sort of stuff. It’s just not yet able to replace what physical connection does. So we’re in a bloody funny place right now because of the COVID stuff. That once things normalise, I do think people are going to want to have a lot more time in physical spaces together. And so I think density will matter again. 

Tim Fung: Albeit, it’s not five days a week for sure. I think we are working to something like one or two days a week. Yeah, interesting that you mentioned density, because I think there’s sort of the geographic density. There’s also the time density. I.e. at Airtasker where everything’s marketplace, but we talked about network effect in the office too. If everyone comes in one day a week, but everyone chooses a different day to come in. Like that’s kind of crap. If everyone chooses the same day to come in, that day will actually be really awesome. So I think that’s also important, the density from a time perspective, as well as geographic one.

Adam Spencer: Fast-forwarding to modern day. Can you comment on some of the gaps maybe that you observe in our ecosystem, where we can make the biggest improvements, biggest leaps forward?

Tim Fung: So it’s potentially a bit of a recency bias in this for where Airtasker’s at the moment, but I guess one thing that I would start with is saying that, software engineering in Australia is getting really, really strong. Which is great, because there’s lots and lots of software jobs I think being created and we’re really bringing in some great talent and there’s just a great deal of maturity here, I would say forming in software engineering. 

Tim Fung: I think though that what that presents then is, what’s the next layer up in sort of like the hierarchy of needs? If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy and starting a software company, I’d say the engineering piece is absolute base of that hierarchy. If you can’t get that right, don’t even bother. But the next level up is like the product management side of things.

Tim Fung: And I think that this is an area that’s really nascent, but developing in Australia. One of the things I guess I’ve noticed is, there’s probably not a strong degree yet of business responsibility yet in the product management experience that most folks have in Australia. What I mean by that is, I think when you get really sophisticated in product management, you’ve almost got like products running your profit and loss statement i.e. being responsible for revenue and being self-funding and sustainable and pricing and all these kinds of things.

Tim Fung: So I think we’re getting that first layer of product management pretty solid in Australia, which is the very foundational side of user experience and making sure that users are really happy. But I think that higher up in that hierarchy is getting the business side of that really matured too.

Adam Spencer: I’m assuming you’ve had a decent amount of exposure to other ecosystems around the world. Is there anything pops out to you in Australia that we just do better than anyone else?

Tim Fung: Well, this one is almost certainly perhaps a little bit inwards looking, but we actually do have an over, we over index in the success of our marketplaces and classified types businesses, i.e. like network effect businesses. If you have a look at Seek.com, from the first wave of internet, it’s actually like a juggernaut on global scale. I think REA, Realestate.com.au, also an Aussie homegrown company, juggernaut on a global scale in that space. 

Tim Fung: And with Airtasker, we are also sort of in our particular space of local transaction marketplace probably punching above the weight of what you’d expect, compared to say the US and the UK. What I kind of think here is interesting is that Australia’s an awesome pilot market for these kinds of build local, but then go and build it again overseas type models.

Tim Fung: I think, being a smaller country, you can build a network effect very quickly, be able to monetise that network effect quickly. And then you can go and invest that into scaling that overseas. And I think we’ve seen that Seek, we’ve seen it with Realestate.com. Menulog was a massive over indexer. So, yeah, I think that actually one thing that probably doesn’t get as much of a mention, because it’s less sexy than some of the global day one mega companies is potentially these sort of like local businesses that can be replicated again overseas.

Adam Spencer: Yeah, that’s how the US and the UK use Australia as a test market. That kind of thinking, right?

Tim Fung: Yep.

Adam Spencer: Do you have an unpopular opinion? Is there something about the startup ecosystem that you just firmly believe but you just can’t seem to get other people on the same page?

Tim Fung: The first thing is I would say that like, it’s a pretty healthy ecosystem, I would say. Like I do believe that for the most part, people are out there to help other people. I think one of the things that is potentially not that spoken about, is the zero sum talent acquisition space, which is that we’re all here to help each other until it comes to the fixed, zero sum nature of talent acquisition. 

Tim Fung: And that’s where there’s definitely a lot of argy-bargy going on between different companies you know, I think it’s actually not a bad thing at the moment, because it’s actually benefiting employees and making sure that people get paid at the right levels and what they’re worth. So I think that’s a good thing, but it’s probably not a very often spoken about topic, is how much in-fighting there is actually to acquire the best of them.

Adam Spencer: Yeah. This is the advice question that I ask everybody. And we can do this two ways. One is what advice would you give to a brand new founder, but also, what maybe one piece of advice would you give Tim 10 years ago?

Tim Fung: Yeah, I make it. Maybe we can start with some advice to myself. I think, and I’ve actually heard this from a couple of other founders who experienced a similar thing. When you’re a founder often you’re not an expert in anything other than what you founded and the problem that you’re trying to solve. But you’re often not an expert in a lot of areas that you actually have to end up overseeing, assuming that you stay in the leadership of your company. 

Tim Fung: And it’s very easy to lose conviction and start listening to other people too much. And I think it’s important to be able to keep conviction without being closed or not being curious and not being respectful of others. I think it actually can be very easy to go the other way, which is to hire really, really smart people.

Tim Fung: And then actually to listen to them a little bit too much to follow their direction too much. So you got to maintain a bit of conviction and that can be really hard to do. Especially when you’re working with people who frankly, on paper are just amazing. When I look at some of the folks in my team, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this person is really, really, really smart.” And they are, that said I’ve been working on this same problem for 10 years. So you got to be able to balance out conviction versus also staying open. 

Tim Fung: I guess for an early stage founder, the way that I might open up that slightly would be that, you’re going to get advice from like a lot of externals as well, from mentors and from people you raise money from and all this kind of stuff. And equally there, I think it’s easy to want to take on all of those opinions. But then what I started realising is that heaps of them would be contrarian. 

Tim Fung: Some of them would be like, “All you got to do is work on the culture, work on that.” And someone else would be like, “And at the same time focus all of your energy on growth.” You’ll be like, “Ah, that’s not really possible to do both of those thing.” So I think you’ve also just got to know that there’s probably no right answer and nobody knows it all. So, again, you’ve got to form your own opinions and pursue them.

Adam Spencer: Is there anything that we missed in the story of the ecosystem? How we kind of got to where we are that you can comment on? 

Tim Fung: I guess its one interesting thing to maybe comment on is, there were so many people along this journey who… When you think about the startup ecosystem, now people mention Atlassian, they mention Canva, they mention SafetyCulture. But actually there’s this whole long tail of people who are building some really cool stuff and contributing to this ecosystem in various different ways. 

Tim Fung: Some of those companies didn’t scale, some of them completely went kaput. Others just became small businesses, et cetera. But I think it is worthwhile recognising all of those smaller companies and stories that sort of contributed to this because it isn’t just like Canva and Atlassian and SafetyCulture equals startup ecosystem. It’s all the people that are out there giving it a crack, letting the $25,000 angel cheque, hiring two people, doing some interesting stuff, maybe selling their company to somebody else, rather than scaling it into some big thing.

Tim Fung: And actually I find that that’s why the co-working spaces are this great, almost like central hub of life. And when you go to these co-working spaces and you go to the Thursday night beer night, which we used to be able to have before the pandemic. That’s really the beating heart, I would say of the startup ecosystem in Australia.

Adam Spencer: Last question, on the same line, I’m trying to put together a documentary here that will, as wholly and truthfully tell the history of the Australian startup ecosystem. We want people from all corners to listen to the story, investors, founders, academics, policy makers, everybody. Do you have a message for one of those groups or all of them? What do they need to hear from Tim?

Tim Fung: Well, I’d say one of the biggest things behind building any ecosystem or movement, is that you’ve got to believe, and you’ve got to talk a little bit ahead of where things are actually at today. And when I think about it, if you think about Silicon Valley and San Francisco and all that, part of the reason why their hub and their ecosystem is so amazing is because they shout out from the rooftops. They keep telling us. Proudest people in the world. We’re in Silicon Valley. This is where it’s at. They’re making movies about it. They’re talking about it. Their government talks about it.

Tim Fung: I think we need to do that in Australia. I think we tend to be a little bit more humble and like, “Oh, no, no, no. Don’t talk it up too much.” Rather walk the walk than talk the talk. I think talking the talk is important. And I think if we can convince more people from around the world that Australia’s a great ecosystem, and that lots of stuff is going on here, then it’s self-fulfilling. So I think we’ve got to start talking a little bit ahead of where we’re walking.

Adam Spencer: Well, I fully support that idea because that’s what I’m trying to do here with Welcome to Day One, is shout out from the rooftop, how amazing our founders are.

Tim Fung: Totally. There’s so much awesome stuff that we have done in Australia. Like I mentioned all those internet 1.0s, like the Seek, Carsales, REA, we kind of don’t roll them into the story, but they were definitely the early folks. 

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 startup ecosystem. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.

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Credits

Production Credits

  • Andy Jones
  • Will Tjo
  • Alex Carpenter
  • Alan Jones
  • Oliver Gaywood
  • Aleshia Spencer

Special Thanks

  • Sorrel Osborne
  • Alan Jones
  • Murray Hurps
  • Maria MacNamara
  • Peter Davison
  • Pete Cooper

Music Credits

Music by Lee Rosevere

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