Not long ago I embarked on a short adventure; 11 days in Texas without knowing anyone there. I’d been invited to speak at a conference about Digital Kids Media so stayed on to test Austin’s Startup scene. I put feelers out to my Aussie contacts and asked Google for some suggestions. Both came back with Capital Factory (CF).
A Skype meeting with the always helpful David Camerlengo US Commissioner from Trade and Investment Queensland set me on an email path to a co-working desk at CF. A phone catch-up with Patrick Hanlon, Australian Trade and Investment Commissioner added some more great tips and contacts. Then I was on my way.
Austinite’s warned me that staying at The Domain was too far from Downtown. When I arrived at the bus stop on Day One to find it and the bus deserted, I wondered if they were right?
I’m an early starter so found the bus an easy option. 40 minutes pass in a flash when you’re working, and a healthy walk at either end helped substitute for the gym that I never got around to visiting.
For anyone who knows CF and is wondering how in the world a visiting Aussie hot-desker got herself in that spot? I was invited by a happy startup team who’d just been funded and were moving to CF offices! 😊
Public transport in Austin isn’t widespread, cabs are expensive so I uber’d home (is that a verb now?) each night. Compared to Brisbane, Austin Uber’s are cheap!
Austin versus Brisbane
Broad generalisations, personal view and arguments welcome
AUSTIN, Texas, US
BRISBANE, Qld, Australia
|Taking photos of presentation slides||Ask first||Everyone does it|
|Co-working Kitchen magnet: free food||Absolutely||Yep, run fast|
|Startup Ecosystem||Austin-centric||Growing state-wide focus|
|Pre-revenue teams of size||More than you’d think||Not often|
|Air Conditioning||Bloody freezing, always||When needed|
|Angel Network||Well-established, easy access||Expanding, not as integrated|
|Venture Capital (VC) Funding||Massive||Emerging|
|Crossing a road||Look left, then right (life-saving)||Look right, then left (easy)|
|Internet speeds||Joyously fast||Abysmal|
|Everyone has a Startup||Yes||No|
|Co-working space music||R&B, Jazz, Rock & recurring Oasis in women’s bathroom?||Lazy fall-back to Top Chart Hits (my fault)|
What made me feel at home?
When I go somewhere new I’ll “have-a-chat” to anyone who returns my smile 😊. I found (or suspect they found me after a day or 2) many early-stage startups keen for some pitching practice to further validate their ideas.
I was in a safe environment to share ideas and experiences, and this reminded me of Fire Station 101 (FS101) where I spend most of my waking hours in Australia. We don’t have cool Austin-flavoured phone booths at our hub, but it was refreshing to see lots of people pace when on the phone as I do, and like FS101, CF is big enough to get plenty of exercise that way.
One of the other things I did in Austin was a pitch to three local ecosystem stalwarts. Before my trip, I found a blog post from Paul O’Brien (one of the 3) titled: “What Stickers on Laptops Say About Your Startup Community”
I’d avoided stickers on my laptop thinking they were the domain of developers with good tech skills (that is not me!), however Paul’s article resonated with me as a stranger going into a new space. So, I grabbed some sticky logos from my Aussie contacts and decorated my Surface Book.
Trends have now changed so I only saw stickers on about 25% of laptops, but as Paul’s blog suggested they opened conversations and brought people to me. My “labelled” laptop is now about 50/50 Australian and US stickers.
One of those stickers has me the envy of some of our Startup community at FS101. A great event I went to was“Building Successful Tech Businesses with Brett Hurt (Bazaarvoice Co-Founder & data.world CEO)”.
Blatant call to action: Brett, if you or any of your team luck on this blog, please send some stickers to data-focussed developer fans at 101 Limestone Street, Ipswich Qld 4305 😊
I’m bootstrapping Wantu, so every penny counts and I factored that into my travel budget. I was going to title this “keeping it fresh” but as you can see I raided Whole Foods for not so fresh or healthy pre-prepared options to sustain me at my Airbnb “office/kitchen bench”. Getting home late each night meant finding easy food options to fuel me stepping back into Australian time-zone emails and Slacks.
Two disappointing culinary Texas finds for me personally were:
- So many things are pickled (yuck)!
- Gluten-free means lettuce-wrapped ☹
My unused items went into the CF 16th floor Communal Fridge.
I wonder if the Margarita bottle & 6-pack Apple Ciders have disappeared now? 😊
Diversity, changing the world from Austin
There’s a whole blog post to be written on this topic, but I can say that Austin kicks goals when it comes to equality in the innovation sphere. The emphasis on inclusivity across gender, culture, sexuality and disability is front-of-mind and a strength within the Austin Startup Sector. I was privileged to connect with Sara Brand from True Wealth Ventures whose article “Women will control the majority of U.S. investable assets by 2030” articulates a solid vision for the future, particularly for women.
Capital Factory Welcome Mat
CF embraced and included me as part of their community. The ground floor CF face is awesome, I loved the Star Wars themed 5th floor, but it was the 16th floor that kept drawing me back and not just for the mega-sized bean-bags.
I knew I was somewhere special on Day One when we had to evacuate the building due to a fire (drill?). After traipsing down 16th flights of stairs in boots with heels, I bumped into MassChallenge Texas MD Mike Millard (from my pitch panel) who introduced me to CF Co-founder Joshua Baer. The first thing he asked is “who do you want to meet?” and pulled out his phone to see how he could help. That first-day interaction is a perfect example of my Austin Startup Land experience
Among many, there were two people who made my time at CF especially good. Ali Syed is the CF Global Development Coordinator and always busy. Yet Ali took time to regularly check on me, facilitate introductions and even sit down at the end of a long day to join in and add value to a great Office Hours mentor session.
Gordon Daugherty MD at CF and for their Accelerator would have to be the nicest person in Austin! We had lunch together every day as a prequel to his Founder’s Academy week-long workshop via Shockwave Innovations. I lucked the timing of my trip perfectly to be able to attend Gordon’s quarterly course and can highly recommend it!
Too many Events?
As well as day-to-day work, I managed to squeeze a lot into my 11 days!
- 2 group dinners
- 5-day lunch and learn workshop
- 3 social networking events
- 5 panel &/or presenter events
- Awards night
- 4 office hour mentoring sessions, one which extended to a fun lunch and another now morphing into a much-appreciated business partnership
Note for future – build in more sleep-time
What I learned in Austin
- Take more time to explore the environment
- Every day I disembarked at Austin History Center Station, yet I’ve no idea what it was inside other than a missed cultural activity
- I rode the bus through some awesome-looking neighbourhoods, but was working from dawn to well past dusk so didn’t end up exploring and, I should have
- Follow the rules to avoid jet-lag
- When you get in a lift after a bunch of young software developers in Texas, it still smells like a high school locker room just like it does in Australia
- I spent my airfare money to Austin because someone thought I had something worthwhile to share with others in my domain of fun with kids. Should I have gone if I didn’t have a speaking gig? Probably not.
- Travelling to Austin just for the sake of your business is best for later-stage startups ready to scale internationally
- Would I do it all again, and do I want to go back – YES!
At my pitching event, there was mention of bringing me back to Austin for SXSW in March 2018. It is already on my calendar!
I’m excited to be part of the Startup Catalyst, Female Founders Mission. I am grateful to have been selected as one of just 5 women for sponsored support from Advance Qld who also run the highly success HotDesQ program. HOtDesQ encourages international Startups to grow and give-back in sunny Queensland. So thanks to many, I’m about to hit the skies again as we ready for:
- a full re-build of Wantu
- onboarding pilot corporate customers
- seeking Seed funding