Growing a startup in any country requires certain skills, but sometimes having a different perspective can be an advantage.
When I founded my first software startup in the United States, I realized that my Australian roots provided some unique insights.
I am currently the co-founder and CEO of WellSaid Labs, an industry leader in the AI voice business that went through a successful Series A last July and has over 50 employees serving thousands of customers.
I’m no stranger to building startups, having co-founded Ghosttruck, which connects users with licensed professional drivers and raised $3 million in venture funding.
Before Ghostruck, I was a former team member specializing in product development and branding at startups like Chime and MeetMoi (acquired by Match). I ran my own consulting firm where I managed various projects for Uber, WeWork, Microsoft, Docusing and T-Mobile. My degree is in Design and Technology from the University of Western Sydney.
Here are 4 big insights I got
You are not an island
First, building a network is important for any entrepreneur who wants to build a successful business.
A solid incubator in your farm might be a good place to start. Not only will you get the business support (and funding) you need as a new company, but it will also connect you to a pool of high-quality job candidates. It’s important to make sure your values, as well as your business goals, align with the framework.
To me, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence’s startup incubator program fits with what we’re trying to build an AI2 culture.
As an Australian in America, you’re an outsider so it’s important to be strategic and put yourself out there to meet talented and inspiring people.
For me, my time as an entrepreneur in residence at AI2 was incredibly helpful in meeting the brightest talent out there. The institute attracts people who are all driven to use AI for good.
US VCs are looking for startups that solve real problems
While much of the news from Silicon Valley is about technology that sounds like science fiction, the reality is that investors want to find products that have demonstrated demand in the market. That means innovations with practical applications are extremely attractive – education, production and customer engagement – which enterprises want to improve with technology.
I would naturally say that we Australians tend to take a more capital efficient and conservative approach to business as opposed to the “growth at all costs” mentality that pervades many American companies. That attracts VCs here in the States. VCs are looking for startups with a strong focus on teams, quantifiable data, and technology that are proven and impactful.
When it came time to raise a Series A round of funding a year ago, having a product that solved real-world everyday challenges made the value proposition clear.
Wellside Labs gives content creators an extremely easy way to scale their audio content production without sacrificing quality. Businesses understand how voice can build brand loyalty and increase engagement. Our clients have chosen us to create educational videos for kids, corporate e-learning tutorials, online advertising and customer service centers. These are the kinds of practical use cases that VCs agree on.
A down-to-earth style builds instant rapport and trust.
When we think about the software startup scene in the US, images of hyper-aggressive CEOs pop up in the media.
I prefer a more laid-back communication style to quickly connect with a client, colleague, or joint venture partner. I find it more effective to be approachable and keep the message simple.
It’s important to remember that AI is a very confusing area, especially when dealing with new customers and investors, who may not be very technically advanced. I’m always improving my messaging to better and more clearly explain what we do and the issues surrounding AI.
Marriage culture is important.
Wellside Labs is far from complete, attracting workers from all over the country. The company’s culture is one of diversity and inclusion, which is a real reason for WellSaid Labs’ success. No matter where they come from, I approach every tenant as someone I would call my spouse and that works well for me.
Many Americans have told me that they are simply surprised by how well we relate to each other in Australian culture. I see this as a compliment and a mystical power. A spouse is more than a manager than a leader over noise.
I care deeply about the people and talent we bring on board. It’s hard to start a big company when you’re small and without exposure in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or here in Seattle. But we like to focus on trying to instill a sense of ownership in each employee, because we are all building this together. That makes people feel valued and gives them a clear path to a meaningful career, and when they feel that way, they work hard to build a great organization. I like to think we’re building real businesses for real people.
- Seattle is ranked ninth Startup Genome’s annual Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings; It has risen one place from where it was last year. The region ranks second in North America for ecological intelligence.