Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why I admire Entrepreneurs

Written by

One of my friends was asking me about why I am so active in the startup space. He knows I'm an enthusiastic angel investor , and he was wondering why I devote so much time, money and energy to this. 

Lots of people believe that my primary motivation must be financial, and that angel investors expect to get rich by investing in startups. Of course , that is the desired outcome, but the reality is that most of us will lose money when funding startups. This is because most startups fail , and it's very hard for anyone to identify which ones will win and which ones won't. 

It's not just that we are unable to pick the winners - it's also that the environment changes so dramatically that it's impossible to predict who will remain standing because of all the tectonic shifts which occur so rapidly in such a dynamic ecosystem. 

While I'll be happy if I make money on my angel investments, this is not my first priority. Now it's not that I want to throw my money away - it's just that I have realistic expectations from the financial ROI I am likely to get from this particular asset class.

The reason I am an active angel investor is because I have a lot of respect and regard for entrepreneurs, and I want to help them to win. I think they're very brave by being willing to tackle challenges which are likely to scare away most other people, and they are the ones who create true value in a capitalistic economy.

While people like politicians , share brokers , traders and bureaucrats have an important role to play in society, they are usually middlemen . If it weren't for entrepreneurs who are willing to stick their necks out because they have the courage of their conviction; the guts to start even though they know the odds are stacked against them; and the willingness to put up with the hardships and uncertainty which characterize an entrepreneur's life, there really would be nothing new in this world. They are the creators - the ones who start the fires, and I would like to be able to do my own little bit to support them. 

Now I am not doing it as philanthropy or charity. My primary metric is my LOI - my learning on investment. The world is a fascinating and interesting place, and talking to founders give you all kinds of insights which otherwise you wouldn't be privy to. They can imagine a better future, and I love their optimism and can-do attitude. 

Over time, you get attached to the founder and his dreams, and I have started thinking of the startups I have invested in as being my babies. The founders have given them birth, and I am one of the adoptive parents !

For example, I admire Ajit Narayanan because he is able to be a missionary and a mercenary, and do an outstanding job combining both these skills at the same time; I look upto Sandeep Senan because he is able to inspire children with his passion and creativity, and spark their innovative streak by allowing them to tinker with their hands; Ali is remarkable for being able to pivot with great agility , and he has been able to steer his company through rough times, even though his competitors have crashed after burning through a lot more money; and Abhijeet and Munendra have been extremely frugal and built a company which executes flawlessly on a remarkably consistent basis.

As an IVF specialist, I have a lot of depth of expertise in my professional life. Angel investing allows me to learn a lot more about the world than I would otherwise, and this experience can be expensive when the startup folds, but the lessons are priceless !

I am a consultant IVF specialist, who runs one of India’s leading IVF clinics at, along with my wife, Dr Anjali Malpani. We have founded HELP, the Health Education Library for People (, which is India’s first Patient Education Resource Center. I have authored many books, including: How to Get the Best Medical Care; Successful Medical Practise; Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First; and Patient Safety - Protect yourself from Medical Errors which are available free at . My passion is patient empowerment; and I believe that using Information Technology to deliver Information Therapy to patients can heal a sick healthcare system. I am an active angel investor (

Saturday, July 22, 2017

How Tim Draper leveraged Government and debt to Create his first fund

I am not known for being a great supporter of government programs, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank the SBIC program for taking a chance on me way back when when I was 26 years years old and starting out in the venture capital business. I was able to take a $2 million SBIC and use SBA's 3:1 leverage to have a fund where I could use their $6 million to start investing in tech startups.

I remember Marvin Klapp telling me I needed to have 10 years of investment experience, and I replied, "I have been investing since I was 10." He looked right down at his hands and said, "check!"

From that borrowed $6 million, I was able to build a record and a career that allowed me to finance over 1000 companies that have employed hundreds of thousands of employees, creating hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth for hardworking, driven creative people with dreams of a better future.

As of today, I have finally paid off all of my debt to SBA, so I wanted to show my appreciation for a group that was willing to stick their necks out for a green, unproven investor with a three page handwritten business plan.

So thank you Small Business Investment Company division of the Small Business Administration. Thank you Marvin Klapp, wherever you are.

Friday, July 21, 2017

HealthMatch - connecting patients to clinical trials

Before any groundbreaking new medication or treatment method is able to make its mark, each must first undergo clinical trials to test its viability on the people it’s intended to help – patients.
In Australia, thousands of clinical trials are conducted each year, with the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, an online registry of clinical trials held at the University of Sydney, citing above 140 clinical trials held in the month of June alone.
Wanting to help connect patients to clinical trials in a fast and easy to understand manner is Sydney-based healthtech startup HealthMatch. Through an app connected to an Australian government database of clinical trials, HealthMatch is able to shortlist a handful of trials relevant to a patient’s illness and individual profile.
Machine learning is key to how the app sifts through the thousands of clinical trial listings and returns recommendations, while the algorithm backing HealthMatch’s “structures and aggregates” listing data.
Once a patient has looked through the shortlisted clinical listings, they’re then able to proceed to the next step – offering to be contacted by the “trial coordinator”, which may be a university, research firm, or pharmaceutical company, to move forward with the clinical trial.
As the startup’s cofounder Manuri Gunawardena summarises, HealthMatch is about facilitating the “initial match” of patient recruitment, a stage which for a vast number of trials is never reached, due to a patient’s inability to access clinical trial listings.
“Right now, when a patient undergoes a clinical trial they’re reliant on their specialist, so if they have cancer they’re reliant on their oncologist to know what clinical trials are available,” she explained.
Specialists, however, often don’t have the time or resources to search through clinical trials for every one of their patients.
The result of this, she said, is a “game of roulette” for the patients, in terms of whether they will be able to access clinical trials and other treatment options.
As an alternative, patients can take up the initiative themselves and go directly to the government registry that lists all the different trials being conducted.
As Gunawardena explained, however, the glaring issue with this method is the fact that trial information isn’t exactly composed in picture book form, but rather detailed PDF documents packed with scientific terminology designed for specialists and other researchers to understand.
To ensure patients are able to understand a trial, HealthMatch ensures each are presented to the patient in an “easy to understand” way.
Searching manually also means that a patient has to answer the required questionnaires attached to each clinical trial which assesses their eligibility, a time-consuming process.
“So say if a patient has lung cancer, they might come across 500 clinical trials, they have to go through each and address the eligibility criteria,” said Gunawardena.
“For every trial there are a different set of questions that can be asked. One might ask about blood pressure, smoking history, while another will ask about the biology and genetics of your cancer.”
To condense the searching process, HealthMatch users create an initial “profile” for themselves, answering questions that feed into the machine learning and trim down the type of questions asked, and the clinical trials presented to them.
Previously working at a cancer research lab, Gunawardena had identified the recurring problems patients had when trying to find trials to participate in; she herself had patients coming up to her and asking for assistance in finding trials, which would lead to her spending days searching through the registries for any appropriate listings.
“I came across a case where two patients both had the same type of lung cancer. One of them had a parent who was a GP who was able to assist them well, and was able to get them on two clinical trials, one of which ended up being FDA approved. The other was just as motivated in looking for trials, but they just didn’t know who to get into touch with. Their oncologist didn’t know exactly the [range of] trials that were out there, so they ended up missing out. So the first patient went back to work, and the other unfortunately passed away,” she said.
“That was really the turning point for me where I thought, there really needs to be something to empower patients and give them better access. It shouldn’t be a matter of who your treating specialist is, or whether you’re from rural Australia or a city; the idea was being able to democratise that access to medical treatments. Patients are also becoming smarter these days as well, and want to know all the options that are in front of them.”
Pairing up with a colleague, a medical doctor who was also skilled as a software engineer, the two began development for HealthMatch, working beside Medicine Australia, a leading organisation dealing with clinical trials and pharmaceuticals, to ensure compliance around the app.
Supported by an early investment round, the startup built its revenue model around the clinical trials, where HealthMatch acts as a recruiter for the pharmaceutical companies, research firms, or institutions looking to gather patients.
“Pharmaceutical-sponsored clinical trials, and even institutional trials, have a budget for patient recruitment,” explained Gunawardena.
Often, she added, these sponsors struggle to find patients for their trials, and so they hire “contract research organisations” to go out and recruit.
HealthMatch bypasses these organisations, gaining a recruitment fee for patients who successfully commit to a trial.
Gearing up for launch in the next two months, the startup has opened its registration page for the app, ahead of a planned Series A seed funding round to be conducted in October.
One of its key assets is Arran Sclossberg , an Actuary, Doctor and all round rocket scientist ! 
Image: Manuri Gunawardena. Source: Supplied.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Launching Sydney's Startup Hub

Following today’s Sydney Startup Hub launch announcement, I’d like to share some additional information with you about upcoming opportunities for you and your clients. 

Artist impression

Supporting entrepreneurs supports jobs growth

One of the key outcomes highlighted in our Jobs for Future Report was the need to nurture entrepreneurs. As a direct result, we are creating the Sydney Startup Hub. It will strengthen our startup ecosystem, support a pipeline of future job-creating businesses, and underpin new jobs growth across NSW.

What can you expect?

The Sydney Startup Hub is set to open in late 2017 and marks the first of its kind in Australia. It will accommodate 2,500 people, include Australia’s leading incubators and accelerators all under one roof, and be unmatched in the southern hemisphere in terms of its size and density.

Located at 11-31 York Street in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, the Hub aims to foster collaboration, innovation and stimulate business growth. It will connect organisations to entrepreneurs seeking skills, advice, networks, investment and growth opportunities.

The Hub will feature a dedicated community and events space that will play host to a range of industry-related events such as seminars, launches and workshops. The program of activity will be delivered in collaboration with the Hub’s residents, industry partners and the wider startup ecosystem – providing terrific opportunities to showcase expertise, products and services.

A regional landing pad will further extend the reach of the Hub by connecting regional entrepreneurs (either remotely or physically) to the wider startup ecosystem. It will also provide practical support, such as facilities for regional startups needing to visit the Hub for business, events or investment discussions.

Coming soon

In addition to readying the Hub for opening, Jobs for NSW will shortly unveil an enhanced product portfolio. This includes the introduction of new loan products, plus refinements to existing grant and loan products, making it simpler and faster to access funding to support business growth. Details about these products will be available shortly and our Client Engagement Team can be contacted for more details.

Additional information

Our focus now is on readying the Hub for opening in late 2017 and we hope to welcome you there alongside the wider NSW startup ecosystem – it’s a significant asset offering terrific opportunity to further build our startup community and energise the sector.

If you or your clients would like more information about the Hub please see our press releasefact sheet and FAQs

You and your team can also visit our website, and follow us on Jobs for NSW FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest news. 

Kind regards,

Karen Borg

CEO, Jobs for NSW 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Leaving The security of a corporate job

In 2016, at 42 years of age, I enjoyed what I suspect was my last full-time corporate pay cheque. To be clear, I haven’t retired. I need to earn money. I have a mortgage and a range of dodgy start-up investments and I have a wife and three children who count on me to generate income for the family.

But a few things became crystal clear 12 months ago that have led me to embrace a different approach to my professional endeavours:

  • Security in corporate employment is illusory - I haven’t served out a notice period since Ricky Martin was Livin’ la Vida Loca in 1999. My senior executive contracts at two major Australian companies and one global company gave unilateral termination rights of my contract for ‘no cause’. With no access to wrongful termination legislation, the only real ‘security’ is your notice period or a prohibitively expensive court proceeding;
  • Everything in my life was upside-down and inside-out - I was an empty vessel at the end of each day and week. I wasn’t sleeping and was not my best in any of the important contexts like husband, father, friend. The key reward for this sacrifice went invisibly into my bank account monthly; and
  • I didn’t want what ‘they’ had anymore - I could see what was happening in the rare air of the C-suite of big corporate and regardless of whether I could have made it there, I knew I didn’t want what they had.

In the past 12 months, I have tested and learned, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I have worked hard. Where I have landed has been surprising, satisfying and rewarding in all relevant senses. I’m not stressed, but I am happier, healthier and I have found important things like creativity, enthusiasm and light heartedness have returned to levels I haven’t enjoyed for a decade.

A Portfolio Career

I have always enjoyed variety in my roles. Over the past decade, I’ve parlayed that interest into making investments in promising start-ups. While of dubious (and as yet unrealised) financial value, the experiences gave me interests outside of my corporate gigs and exposure to other industries, directorships and the world of venture funding.

When I left Medibank about 12 months ago, I both needed and wanted to try something different. I was fortunate to find two quite different opportunities of two days per week each. I spend one day a week on ‘other things’ that feed my soul.

To discover that there was a term, ‘portfolio career’, that described what I was doing, and had been talked about since the 90’s was strangely comforting. In “The Empty Raincoat”, first published in 1994, Charles Handy described a portfolio career as being where you exchange working full time for one company with working on multiple things at once. Built around the notion of the paradoxes that impact our lives, together with his thoughts around paths to navigate those paradoxes, Handy’s book is extraordinarily relevant notwithstanding the time that has passed since its first publication.

What has been most important in my transition from corporate executive to a portfolio careerist has been the flip on the learnings I mentioned above.

First, security. Diversification of my income stream has an inherent element of security. It would be extremely unlucky (though not impossible) for both paid roles to finish at the same time, which gives me a reasonable level of comfort and sense of security.

Second, turning things right side up. Each week I feel like I’m starting at zero, and that the work I’m doing is so inextricably linked to value I create for my clients and the money I make as a result that I feel a connection between effort and return. I also know I’m bringing the best version of myself to the workplace, with energy and enthusiasm replacing stress and exhaustion.

Third, no more next level. Two days per week means the people I work with understand that I’m working to make them successful, not to get their jobs, or the corner office. I feel a genuine sense of purpose, without any of the politics, jostling or general carry on that is such an intrinsic part of corporate life.

Finally, I’m fortunate to have found a way to make as much or more money as I did in my former life, with greater fulfillment and purpose, and a sense that my ‘career’ is back in my control and on my terms.

Is a Portfolio Career for you?

When I chose this path, I felt my way through. I did not even know of the term portfolio career until recently. For me, I am sure that a portfolio career is the right path. I’m keen to connect up with others who feel the same and to find a way to provide some support for those that are looking to make a change.

It is not without risk.

In the Harvard Business Review this month, Michael Greenspan writes about some of the key considerations before you quit to embark on a portfolio career. The article is worth reading in full, but the point that resonated most for me was the change in pace that could come as a shock when you’re used to 200+ emails a day, the feelings of importance when you’re a senior leader and the contrast that comes when you’re in your house hoping the phone will ring or your email will be replied to.

Undoubtedly, finding the right clients that see the value of what it is you offer in the time you’re prepared to offer it is a daunting prospect. I’ve been using my spare time to work on something to make this element of a transition a bit less daunting, and will be announcing it later this week, so watch this space.

For me, the important question was what did I ‘need’ in order to be free. What I found tremendously empowering was being able to say that once I’d hit a certain number for the week, that anything else was a bonus, and I really feel that when I’m working.

Charles Handy’s equivalent of this idea used a doughnut analogy. He suggested that like a doughnut, you need to be clear on what is the core part of your portfolio, being how you make sure you earn enough for you and your family’s needs. But beyond that core, other ‘work’ you did could be for interest, for a cause, for the stretch or because it was fascinating or fun.

What now brown cow?

I am a lucky Gen X’er. I see Millennials for whom the idea of a portfolio career is as obvious as the fact that Facebook is so yesterday. And I see the search for meaning and purpose hitting senior people in and around my vintage, and the feeling of being trapped by the illusion of certainty and security, the legacy of their parents approach to employment and the fear of being left behind, cast aside or being unable to pay for kids school fees or the family holiday. I understand those feelings very much.

But if you’ve read to this point, then I suspect you’re either

  • someone who has already liberated themselves, but wants to feel less like Robinson Crusoe and connect with others going through the same experience; or
  • someone who is thinking about making a change for themselves and their loved ones.

Whichever one you are, please send me a LinkedIn invitation and you may also like to request an invite to a new LinkedIn Group I’ve set up here. called the Portfolio Career Group.

Kogan closes above ipo price

AFR post

One year and four days after debuting on the ASX boards, shares in online retailer Ltd have finally closed above their initial public offering price. 

And the catalyst? founder Ruslan Kogan started the company in his parent's garage in Melbourne in 2006. founder Ruslan Kogan started the company in his parent's garage in Melbourne in 2006. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Kogan's expansion into all sorts of utility services, from its fastest growing business unit Kogan Mobile to the recently announced fixed-line NBN services and broadband deals with Vodafone. 

Investors reckon Kogan founder Ruslan Kogan has a few more of these sorts of deals up his sleeve, with the most logical path to shift into Australian energy retailing. 

Performance of shares since listing, versus the all ordinaries, online retail index and retail index, ...
Performance of shares since listing, versus the all ordinaries, online retail index and retail index, according to S&P Capital IQ.  

It's all about capitalising on the company's customer base, and using its brand to drive revenue. 

It's one small cap fundies will be watching heading into reporting season. 

Kogan listed at $1.80 a share via Canaccord Genuity this time last year, and had never traded above that mark until Monday. 

To be fair, it is one of the few retailers to hold its ground over the past year, as investors react to soft consumer conditions in Australia and fears about Amazon's impending push into the country. 

The company's shares are also lightly traded with CEO Ruslan Kogan and executive director David Shafer holding a 69.4 per cent stake between them. 

Half of their shares come out of escrow at the upcoming full-year results, with the remainder scheduled for release next year.

However, fundies expect they'll be reluctant to let too much of the stock go. 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

AirTasker an Ozzie Startup having raised $32m and going from strength to strength

Turning small tasks into big money

The gruelling task that moving house can be was the inspiration for the online marketplace startup that’s now grown to be a household name and is attracting big investment. Business View spoke to the co-founders of Airtasker, Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui, about their journey.


In June, Seven West Media led a funding round for Airtasker that raised $22 million. That brought the total amount of capital the company has raised since launching in 2012 to $32 million. 

Its co-founders, Tim Fung and Jonathan ‘Jono’ Lui, have certainly come a long way since the days when they were ferrying customers’ fast food orders around.

Amaysim grace 

Tim Fung and Jonathan Lui met while studying at the University of New South Wales. It wasn’t surprising they were around the same age. However, they were amazed to discover how much else they had in common.

“We’ve both got two sisters. Tim’s father and both my parents are Hong Kong Chinese. We were both born and raised in Australia,” Lui says.

More importantly, while Fung studied marketing and Lui telecommunications, they were both ambitious and entrepreneurial. Post graduation, both went to work for prestigious corporations offering glittering career paths. But they soon resigned themselves to becoming the first hires at a scrappy startup.

“Tim was working at Macquarie Bank. He quit to be the first employee at Amaysim, the Australian telco founded in 2010 that now turns over more than $200 million a year,” says Lui. “Then he convinced me it was a great opportunity and that I should leave IBM and join the team, which soon grew to around 150 people. 

We both learnt an incredible amount from the five founders of Amaysim. Several of them are still our mentors to this day. We helped the Amaysim guys build their business up. Then, in late 2011, we resolved we would try to do the same thing they had.”

Moving on 

The now legendary Airtasker origin story involves the then 28-year-old Fung asking the then 27-year-old Lui, along with several of his other mates, to help him move house.

“We all agreed to help out but we kept saying, ‘We’re all busy. We’d prefer to just give you some money so you can pay someone to move all your stuff to your new flat’,” says Lui. “Tim and I thought, ‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea for
a business’.”

“We did some research and discovered nobody seemed to be offering anything like it in Australia. There was TaskRabbit, which had launched in 2008 in the United States, but it was operating more as a labour hire agency, effectively employing people then selling their services.

“We didn’t view that as a scalable proposition, at least not for people like us with limited access to capital. We decided to go with the marketplace model. People would post tasks on our platform and other people would bid on them.”

Starting an online marketplace may seem a logical enough business idea in 2016. However, as Lui points out, that wasn’t the case in a country that was then rather less focused on agility and innovation. “You have to remember that this was before startups became cool,” he says. “It was before anyone had heard of the sharing economy. There was only eBay. That’s how we sold our idea, as the eBay of tasks, where we’d take a 15 per cent cut of the transaction.”

Fung and Lui tapped friends and family for funds to turn the lights on at their new venture. They then found their Amaysim background allowed them, somewhat to their surprise, to secure $1.5 million early on.

“At that point Airtasker wasn’t much more than a PowerPoint presentation,” Lui laughs. “It was unheard of in those days to raise that kind of money. But there were some investors who knew us from our time at Amaysim. They chose to back us.”

Teething problems 

Airtasker’s co-founders did pretty much everything in the early days. That included the tasks posted on their platform. “We’d be driving around Sydney at 2am, picking up KFC and delivering it to people’s houses,” Lui recalls. “That was good because it gave us an understanding of what the pain points were for people using Airtasker. It provided insights into how we could improve processes, make the experience smoother for both those posting and providing the task.”

Those insights were useful but they didn’t provide much help with the existential threat that soon confronted Airtasker. Lots of people had signed up to do small jobs but few were being posted. It wasn’t a surprising outcome given Airtasker was a new business with a limited marketing budget attempting to get people to do something they had no experience doing. Nonetheless, it led to what Fung views as an embarrassing and costly mistake. Lui prefers to remember it as a valuable learning experience.

Fung and Lui decided to abandon their original business model. They hit up large companies, including some run by personal friends, for work. Soon there were plenty of jobs coming in – such as huge letterbox drops for real estate companies – but managing them soon turned into a nightmare.

Most of the people doing the tasks – chiefly school and university students – were honest and hardworking. But not 100 per cent of them. Vetting all those entrusted with completing tasks was impossible. When, to take just one real-life example, boxes of pamphlets were discovered to have been thrown in a bin
rather than delivered, Fung and Lui were left to explain how that happened to angry clients threatening not to pay.

“It was a good learning for us,” Lui says. “We went from doing single food deliveries to co-ordinating the logistics for 40 people doing flyer drops across Australia. I saw it as an experiment. But, yes, it became clear we needed to get back to being eBay rather than trying to manage a retail store.

“Still it set us up to partner with large businesses later on in a way that didn’t involve Tim and I taking responsibility for ensuring tasks were completed satisfactorily.”

Hitting on the magic formula

After its early misadventures, Airtasker acquired a couple of Australian competitors – Occasional Butler and TaskBox – that had launched around the same time. It entered into some lucrative partnerships with other ‘digital economy’ businesses, such as EatNow, DeliveryHero and UberX. It also joined forces with News Corp’s CareerOne, one of Australia’s biggest employment websites and part of Monster Worldwide Inc, the world’s largest job network.

“We now share the tasks advertised on Airtasker on the CareerOne site,” Lui says. “The people going on CareerOne are between jobs and looking to earn some money, so there’s an obvious synergy there.

“With the likes of EatNow or DeliveryHero, we can help supply the labour those companies need to, for example, provide merchandise to restaurants or deliver food. That sometimes involves us tweaking our offering. We may need to offer food delivery jobs at a set fee of $10 rather than have people bid on them.

“Nonetheless, it’s still the company and the person delivering the food interacting in that eBay-like way.”

Creating a new industry

As Lui sees it, Airtasker is a force for good.

“The first point I’d make is that we’re not supplanting an existing labour force,” he says. “What we’re doing is creating a whole new industry. A few years ago, you couldn’t get someone to come around to your house to change a light fitting or chase a possum out of your roof – not easily and at an affordable price anyway. Now you can.

“Secondly, there are a lot of people that find it difficult to access a conventional job. That can be because they’re an older person or an inexperienced, younger one. Airtasker provides a way for those people to be part of the workforce, to earn money and stay active.

“When we started Airtasker it was mainly school and uni students but now we get a lot of semi-retired people. Another interesting development is that Airtasker isn’t just something people do on a moonlighting basis anymore. There are a lot of people now working full-time hours doing tasks and making a good living out of it.”

Airtasker has also worked with insurance companies to minimise some of the issues that can crop up when either business owners or individual citizens hire independent contractors.

“Let’s say you engage someone through our platform to paint your lounge room or reception area and they knock over a can of paint, ruining your carpet,” Lui says. “Airtasker workers are covered for third-party liability. So the people using our platform know that if an accident happens – and they inevitably do sometimes – they are covered.

“We’re also liaising with insurance companies to develop income protection products for our workers. These kind of policies will ensure they’re not left in a difficult situation if they, say, fracture their wrist and are unable to complete any tasks for a couple of weeks.”

One final task: world domination     

It’s been a while since Fung and Lui have had to deliver fried chicken or oversee leaflet deliveries. “We recently welcomed our 600,000th registered member,” Lui says.
“We’ve got about 35 staff. We’re seeing $45 million of transactions a year.”

In a sense, within four years of launching, Airtasker has succeeded in establishing itself as the 800-pound gorilla of Australian task marketplaces.

“Yes, it would be possible for a local company to launch a competing online marketplace. Or for one of the big foreign players to try to expand into Australia,” Lui says. “That’s not something we’re complacent about, which is why we’re always trying to stay two steps ahead of the game. However, we’ve developed a lot of intellectual property around how to make this kind of online marketplace work.

“We’ve assembled a great team. We’re building brand awareness. Plus we’ve got more than 200,000 reviews of people who’ve completed tasks. That helps people have peace of mind using our platform. They can know they’re hiring someone who has proven themselves to be responsible. Given all that, I think it gets a little harder for a competitor to come into the market.”

If the big players that have invested in Airtasker – Seven West Media, NRMA, Australian venture capital fund Exto Partners and Shanghai-based Morning Crest Capital – have their way, it will enter other online marketplaces of the world.

While Lui’s not about to show his hand about his company’s plans for world domination, he does admit the “blue-sky vision is to be a global business”. “Australia is a great market for us. It’s a wealthy country. It has a good mix of higher-income, time-poor people and underemployed but skilled people looking to earn extra income. That is not necessarily the situation in other parts of the world. Plus, if we expanded overseas there would be language and cultural barriers.

“We’d need to develop different services and features tailored to local markets. But none of those are insurmountable problems.
As you’d expect, we’re looking at the two markets everyone gets excited about – the US and Asia. The dream is to expand within the next few years.”

Lessons from the "start up nation "

How can Israel: a country of only 8.4 million people, located in one of the most politically unstable regions of the world, and boasting few natural resources be at the epicenter of a thriving startup culture and a global hub of research and development? I was fortunate to visit Israel this May, with a view to examining exactly that, on an Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce Trade Mission co-led by Carol Schwartz and Elizabeth Proust. While Israel’s innovation reputation has experienced a similar meteoric rise to that of Silicon Valley in recent years, let me give some context for those less familiar with the country often referred to as the ‘Startup Nation,' as to why Israel is of such a global interest: 

  • Israel has the highest concentration of startups in the world; 
  • It is a major destination for venture capital, receiving twice as many investment dollars per person as even the United States – and 30 times as much as Europe or China; 
  • Over 60 Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ, which is more than all European companies combined; and 
  • They have done it at a pretty quick pace- Israel has accelerated from oranges being their largest export 20 years ago, to technology now being a $US50 billion GDP contributor.

There's so many contributing factors to this extraordinary growth story that this could become a War and Peace length long read if I'm not careful! So, I'm going to steer clear of discussing policy settings (like the role of Israel's immigration policy) and Israeli institutions like YOZMA, the IDF- for those interested in these aspects of Israel's journey, Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Paul Singer comprehensively covers them. However, I did want to distil some more informal observations from our trade mission that provide interesting food for thought for those of us wondering how Australia might be able to grab a slightly bigger slice of the innovation pie. 

Here are my four big takeaways from our trade mission: 

1) They start ‘em young- One of our speakers was a mother of a seven-year-old boy, who commented that parents in Israel a decade ago hoped that their children would grow up to be a lawyer or a doctor; now those same hopes are for their children to be entrepreneurs. Parents (through both school and extracurricular activities) are focused on finding ways to connect their children with programs that give them early entrepreneurial exposure: opportunities to take risks, and to learn about the machinations of solving commercially valuable problems and the day-to-day work involved in running a business. As this parent commented, “The new measure of success is: has your child had an exit by 21”. 

This hits on the head of a conversation I continually find myself in with principals and educators across Australia: how important it is we create the conditions to allow children to “fail safe” within the schooling environment. Irrespective of whether they are destined to be an entrepreneur, in an increasingly non-linear and fluid career landscape, the skills of adaptiveness, inventiveness, and problem solving will be critical for all young people. This demands not only a shift in our pedagogy but, as several of the parents on our delegation commented, a shift in parenting. We need to ensure we are encouraging our young people to take on risk, despite the statistical reality that this’ll sometimes mean they don’t succeed, to help them build the capabilities that position them for a greater likelihood of success in their post-schooling life. 

2) There's power in a coordinated national narrative- Everyone we met was singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to the ‘Startup Nation’ and the incredible success and international competitiveness of the Israeli tech scene… it was as though every Israeli we met was an unofficial ambassador. There’s a lot to be said for focusing your nation (not to mention foreign eyes, interests, and investors) on such a positive and compelling narrative… it has no doubt played a significant role in the materialisation of the nation’s innovation ambitions. While we may not have the same rampant global success story when it comes to technology and R&D, it did make you reflect on our tendency in Australia to downplay the individual and collective successes our country has had, and continues to produce. We should be proud of the phenomenal startup stories of companies like Atlassian, Canva, and Airtasker, and the R&D success stories of Caterpillar, Sirtex, and the cotton industry- just to name a few. The more visible these stories become, the more role models we will have to inspire others to cast out in pursuit of their own unique contribution. 

3) If they bottle ‘Chutzpah,' we need to import it! Watching presentation after presentation from Israeli entrepreneurs (particularly the young women) you couldn’t help but being impressed by both how young they were and the incredible confidence they conducted themselves with. You walked away with the sense that it didn’t matter how many naysayers tried to talk them down, or how many setbacks they faced, they were going to find a way to make their vision a reality. The Yiddish words Israeli’s use for this attitude is ‘chutzpah’; the meaning of which is loosely akin to ‘audacity’. While Australian culture is known for cutting down our ‘tall poppies’, in Israel chutzpah is celebrated. 

I couldn’t help but juxtapose these confident young Israelis, with focus group I’d had a week earlier with a group of Aussie teenagers; unanimously the topic they wanted the most time and focus to be devoted to was: ‘how do we build confidence?’ While anecdotal, their suggested focus is consistent with the litany of youth surveys and mental health studies we have seen come out over the past few years that suggest uncertainty, anxiety, and stress amongst our nation’s young people are dramatically rising. I probed a few of our speakers to try and get to the bottom of the apparent confidence chasm between the youth of our two nations, and one of the things they kept coming back to was the period of service young people did in the Israeli Defence Force. Their comment about the three compulsory years of military service was not intended to advocate for conscription but to draw attention to their country’s preparedness to put faith in their young people by giving them significant responsibility at an early age. Those in the elite squads of the Israeli Defence Force (the ranks of which have a high correlation with teams of successful Israeli start ups) are running enormous budgets and strategic military operations before they are out of their teens. It’s a crucible for confidence and resiliency development- not to mention a rapid-fire learning curve. While I'm not remotely advocating for conscription, it did make me think about how important it is that we create more vehicles through which to give young people responsibility: greater project based/entrepreneurial learning challenges through school and universities; an equivalent to the AYAD program to second young people into non-profits and start-up roles; and accelerated industry leadership structures or co-leadership models. 

4) Industry and academia have to get into bed with one another- While Scientific American magazine ranked Australia as 12th in the world’s best 40 countries for science, our record for translating publicly funded research into commercial outcomes is poor. Australia ranks 33/33 in the OECD for businesses collaborating with universities and publicly funded research organisations. In Israel there wasn’t a meeting we had where the importance of the close, interdependent relationship between academia, government and industry wasn't talked about. According to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, Israel leads the world in the number of researchers per capita and is second in research and development. 

One thing that was very apparent with Israeli universities is that they’re not particularly interested in the number of journal articles their faculty have published, they benchmark themselves on the number of patents filed and the commercialization of student and researcher IP. At Yissum, the technology transfer arm of Hebrew University, representatives proudly talked us through the investment and specialist capability the University had devoted towards commercialising its IP and the returns they’ve secured. Yissum has registered over 9,300 patents covering 2,600 inventions, has licensed out 800 technologies and has spun-off 110 companies. Successfully commercialised Hebrew University technologies currently generate over $2 Billion in annual sales. 

Additionally, there seems to be less focus on graduates getting placed into jobs, and more interest in students creating their own. Technion, a science and technology research university north of Tel Aviv, has a strong mechanism to engage entrepreneurs: every student undertakes a mandatory Minor in Entrepreneurship. Technion transfers into the economy 100 student-led businesses a year, with revenues that exceed $US32 million. It left me thinking about the criticality of ensuring that as part of Australia’s higher ed reform conversations we’re thinking about changes to incentives, benchmarking and funding structures to support greater coordination between academia and industry. 

Before I finish, it’d be remiss of me not to slightly recalibrate the glowing portrait I’ve painted of the Israeli economy... there is another side to the story. Only an estimated 15% of the population is either directly or indirectly engaged in the ‘start up nation’ ecosystem. While Australians are eager to tap into more of the incredible Israeli innovation, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re fortunate to have strong existing industries (like education, mining and agriculture) that (despite their challenges) are strong contributors and solid employers. One social entrepreneur's observation was that the same amount of coordinated effort that catalysed Israeli innovation now needs to be put into ensuring Israel spreads the benefits of across more of its populace. 

The Israel Trade Mission was an incredibly interesting and valuable learning experience- due in large part to the diversity of our 30-strong Australian delegation, and the incredible efforts of the Chamber and our two leaders, Carol and Elizabeth. My sincere thanks to everyone involved! 

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