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Making – and cancelled – Connections. A summary of a Founders #eNVIUS19 Study Tour to the US


This is part one of two. Part two can be found here.

As I sit in yet another Airport 19 days since I left on an adventure with the Flinders New Venture Institute #eNVIUS19 tour to the United States, I’ve had some time to reflect on the variety and quality of people we’ve met across the trip. In the first instance, the formidable and very well connected Matt Salier, director of Flinders New Venture Institute, lead the way with a brilliant schedule supported by the highly organised Rachael Hetherington. At last count I’ve added 32 new LinkedIn connections from face to face introductions and not just ‘hit and connect’ requests, but following on from meaningful presentations and conversations. I also now have the capacity to sit, with free wi-fi in the Virgin Lounge, after missing the last, final connection back home … but, what’s another five hours of a 28 hour trek …

From the West Coast to the mid West and across to the East Coast, we’ve had the pleasure of connecting with people across a wide variety of start up, VC, education and business ecosystems. Some of my highlights are listed below, starting at a number of sessions we had at WeWork on Montgomery Street, San Francisco, courtesy of our host Gabe Sulkes from the SFO Landing Pads initiative.

“No drama Obama! Don’t over dramatise, be fun, uplift others.”

Michael Masserman on Obama’s style of leadership

Mike Masserman, Head of Social Impact at Lyft spoke of staying true to your purpose and how it can be a huge differentiator to your business. Mike was a part of the Obama Administration and I was intrigued to learn more about Obama’s leadership style, particularly after reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming.

“Be specific and precise with your ask.”

Vicki Clare, Aussie Founders Network

The lovely Vicki Clare from the Aussie Founders Network reiterated the importance of connecting with like minded people. This is what the AFN does, it facilitates these introductions and helps new comers to the States side step mistakes previous Founders have made.

“You become what you think.”

Julie Demsey, Demsey Coaching & Consulting

Julie Demsey, Founder of Demsey Coaching & Consulting and all round generous soul spoke candidly about the importance of looking after ourselves as Founders. Being clear on what we want to achieve from our business and persevering with contacts, even if they take some time to get in front of. People are busy, it can take the right time and the right ask to get their attention. Keep trying.

Julie also encouraged us to know our values, be clear on what we want our life to look like because if you don’t train your mind to say beneficial things you will become what you think.

Next we walked across town to meet with Hugh Minson, Product Marketer at Salesforce, who kindly spent an hour of his time taking us through his intriguing story from appearing on Shark Tank, Big Brother experiences and landing a prime role with Salesforce. Hugh reminded me of the value of producing more assets and value for your customers, mapping the product journey and calculating where those friction points of engagement occur. Something that with a team the size of Salesforce can be more readily achieved. An item the team at TCPinpoint will focus on in the coming months.

“Do the right thing.”

Jeff Bleich, former US Ambassador to Australia

Jeff Bleich shared with us his extensive experience across digital governance and security and the importance a strong ecosystem plays in the engagement with technology. We need to ensure we re-humanise our technology to avoid overwhelm and create strong ecosystems by ensuring four key players collaborate effectively:

  • VC’s and Angel Investors;
  • Universities;
  • Tech companies; and
  • Government.

Jeff spoke of the importance of governments taking a risk when engaging with new technologies and sighted examples where this has paid off. It is true that people can feel angry and paralysed when it comes to technology. The onus is on us to be honest and continue open dialogue to diffuse the fear.

Venture Capital : Are you ready?

We had a number of presentations from Venture Capitalists on the west coast, both in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The biggest question which came out of these presentations for me was ‘are you ready’? Taking VC money comes with additional pressures and zero capacity to tolerate the tall poppy syndrome. As Duncan Davidson of Bullpen Capital spelt out, often the biggest CEO’s are huge personalities (think Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg), they have a big chip on their shoulder and they want to prove something.

“A start up is an act of rebellion.”

Ken Singer, Sutardja Centre if Entrepreneurship, Berkeley

This certainly tied in with Ken Singer of the Sutardja Centre of Entrepreneurship at Berkeley commenting that a start up is an act of rebellion. To this point, adversity is the seed to success where often Founders having experienced a problem they are attempting to solve being the key driver to success. Or failure, and it is clear from all presentations we heard in the US that failure is okay, it’s a sign of learning … … as opposed to the Australian environment where we haven’t quite reached the ability to accept that it is okay to fail, dust yourself off and try again.

The West Coast was a whirlwind of thinking big and flattening that Tall Poppy syndrome us Australian’s grapple with. The west coast flavour was littered with bright and opinionated connections born out of experience and bravery. Connections which will, if nurtured, help to propel us forward into new markets.

There was only one cancelled connecting flight on this part of the trip … the best thing about that? I made two new connections when we sought to solve our problem of how we get from Dallas to Austin. Discussion ensued and we went through the options: Uber, hire a car, risk getting on the later flight, bus. We opted for the latter and arrived 6 hours later, but at least we arrived. There’s that entrepreneurial problem solving spirit rising up for the challenge.

To be continued …