Are Australians too laid back?

This morning Viki Forrest one of the most well-connected Australians working in Silicon Valley who has helped startups raise in excess of $43 million dollars, spoke at Deakin University in Geelong in partnership with Hacker Exchange and SPARK Deakin.

Viki describes her purpose in life is “to help Australian founders scale” and part of the challenge is the size of the Australian market . Here’s the key takeaways from the intimate round table discussion

Round table discussion with Viki Forrest at Deakin University.

Round table discussion with Viki Forrest at Deakin University.

  • Startups often got to the US expecting to replicate what has worked in Australia — it’s 13x larger economy so certain things must change

  • The biggest difference is the pace at which we do business, Australians tend to feel and and operate at a ‘cautious pace’ carefully producing quality products. Founders should ask themselves — how quickly do you take input from customers & let that impact the product road-map?

  • Relatively speaking Australians take time to make decisions, ensuring they get it right slowing down partnerships and business deals.

  • Messaging: founders need to work on their communication and messaging and focus on being interesting, impactful and super clear. This is across the board from networking, to websites and to how you answer a phone. Speaking on her own experience of when she first arrived to Silicon Valley.

I was so boring that people walked away from me without saying anything. It wasn’t until I made friends who told me how boring I was that I changed that. It would take me 10 minutes to explain something that could have been said in 1 minute
  • Scale: in Australia we hire sales people vs in the US founders utilize a channel model where they partner. For instance one software startup who scheduled shifts was originally planning to go from fast food store to fast food store until they realized that would be impossible with the numbers in the US. Instead they partnered with a payroll company as a distribution channel to sell.

  • Venture Capital: VC in the US focus on growth at all costs, whereas in Australia the tendency is towards profitability. The challenge for founders is to understand the different approach business in terms of growth vs profitability. The founder of Car Next Door Will Davies wrote about this dilemma here.

  • The strongest attitude a founder can cultivate is that enthusiasm and excitement from their vision but also being grounded in reality

  • Metrics: Measurement is key for keeping focus, for instance calling at least 20 leads a day if you’re in sales (which every founder is at the beginning if not forever)

  • Lifestyle Business vs Startups: Australians often are looking at a comfortable lifestyle business — this is backed by the evidence that the backbone of our economy is small business, whereas startups are founded by those who have ambitions to be global. There’s nothing wrong about either approach, but they have different approaches.

  • Specific jobs vs generalists: in the US there’s jobs like ‘email marketing’ that will pay up to 150k USD, and very niche jobs because the market is big enough, whereas here we have a lot of generalist roles. Viki found herself to be practically unemployable when she first landed in the US even though she had many years of work experience.

  • Ambition: Despite working 70 hour weeks, Viki considers herself to have a very balanced life and always gets enough sleep, does exercise and eats healthy. That kind of work ethic is championed in the US, whereas in Australia it’s not necessarily what people aspire to. When it comes to building a global business, rarely does that happen between 9am–5pm.

If you'd like to spend more time learning from experts like Viki, work on a startup idea, and explore international ecosystems, The Hacker Exchange is currently taking applications for their June 2019 Global Innovation Program: Singapore


This program qualifies for academic credit, and if you’re a Deakin student there’s $3000 Study Abroad grants available for eligible students.  Applications close 14 April.

Viki Forrest at Deakin University’s Waterfront Campus in Geelong

Viki Forrest at Deakin University’s Waterfront Campus in Geelong