The life of a startup

I haven’t written a post in a while, and for good reason… I’ve been snowed under with my startup. So what’s it like working in the startup world?

Well it’s a lot of work… hence the lack of blog posts. Honestly though, I would love to be physically snowed under right now and not just metaphorically. The mountains are covered in the snow and the alps are calling me to their slopes. But alas, my startup is far more important at this stage. I hope to give you an inside look into this crazy world, and give you a bit of an understand around the insane hours, late nights, and weekends we all work.

Talk about insane, this is what our desks look like!

As many of you would know from the various articles, Twitter posts, Facebook updates, and LinkedIn messages, I’ve been running my own startup sitting with the Melbourne Accelerator Program. Our company, Black AI was one of ten startups accepted into this year’s intake. We are all very excited to be here and while it’s hectic at times, it is one of the best experiences I’ve been through (so far, we’ll see how long this lasts).

Black AI and Harrison Cleaver (Mass Challenge) at the MAP Launch Night
The Black AI team and Harrison Cleaver (Mass Challenge) at the MAP Launch Night (left to right; Keaton, Harrison, me, Sebastien, Karthik)

Someone once asked me to “give a run down of my day-to-day workings”. This is an interesting question to ask a startup person, because almost every single day is different. Yes there is the usual answering emails, following up on leads, catching up with people for coffee, and managing the social media stuff, but there are also tonnes of other exciting, unknowns happening almost every week. Sitting with MAP means random things will occur; an entourage of corporate people flowing through the space, stopping to ask what you’re working on and requesting a demo once they find out it’s something “cool and techy”, the Governor coming past to see all the startups (and get on a Bajaboard!), the serendipitous (I love that word) meetings, pitch nights, meetups, unannounced mentor drop-ins, the free food which sparks weird conversations, the kinect dance parties, and, my favourite, those times when everyone celebrates the wins of all the other teams. Take Nura for example. If anyone hasn’t seen it yet, it’s the most successful Australian kickstarter campaign ever! They raised over $1.8 million, leagues ahead of their $100,000 ask. Each of the teams, colleagues, and coworkers here at LAB-14, were giving Nura high fives all around the office, asking to see the video, sending the link around, and all sharing in this amazing success story. This is definitely the best part of being involved in such an awesome accelerator program; the support and help contained within this building is incredible. I can’t wait to see what we are all able to achieve working together.

The 'organised chaos' that occurs at LAB-14
The ‘organised chaos’ that occurs at LAB-14

It sounds so good, so what’s the catch?

Now it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and lollypops. Many people have a glamorous misconception of startups; being able to work for yourself, making a truck load of money, and just having fun. Yes some of this is true, but the reality is startups are hard work. Running your own company is hard work. It requires very long hours, a lot of effort, and huge sacrifices on everyone’s part. Many startups will often fail, leaving only a handful of “success” stories. Basically, if you are in a startup just to “make money working for yourself”, you are going to fail. In fact, you are probably more likely to win the lottery. On the other hand, if you are passionate about what you want to achieve, the difference you want to make, and you believe in yourself and your team, then there is nothing you can’t accomplish! The best startups are those who stick at it in the tough times, because there will be tough times. I just described all the fun, awesome, exciting things happening here in the office, but there is another, darker side. Just be aware that if you want to do a startup, do it for the passion, the team, the good you can bring to society, the economy, people’s lives. This is what will keep you going through the late nights, endless hours of paperwork, and bowls of mi-goreng.

So why do I do it then? What keeps me going? I’m glad you asked! For me, my startup is an exciting whirlwind adventure where I believe we can make a massive difference. We are building a system which will hopefully improve the lives of millions of people, save billions of dollars, drive the economy, and bring about a new age of technology. It’s a thrilling time to be involved in the tech scene with advances moving forward so quickly. We are riding a wave which bring about changes to almost every sector of our world. It’s awesome… and yes, a little scary. There has also never been a better time to be involved in startups around Australia. The word startup is no longer an exotic synonym hailing from somewhere in the Valley of Silicon, but rather an integral part of the Australian economy and corporate environment. Many large companies are adopting lean startup methodologies, thinking much more innovatively and creatively. Startups are also a key driver in the employment world. The companies coming out of MAP for example have created over 120 jobs, raised over $10 million in funding (this is so out of date now that Nura is kicking goals), and generated over $5 million in revenue (also probably out of date). This is fantastic news for us. Everyone knows I’m a great advocate of Melbourne, and the entrepreneurial culture in this city is only continuing to grow with these companies. It’s not just MAP either, many other places such as York Butter Factory, Inspire9, Teamsquare, Collective Campus, and more house heaps of startups. There are even big “startups” like Zendesk and Slack coming to Melbourne. Go Melbourne!

Loving my startup

Okay, I went on a bit of a tangent there, so back to why I love my startup and why I keep doing it. Aside from the insane difference we can make, and the awesome products we can build, we have a killer team and I love working with them. I met my cofounders at hackathons and we’ve all become such awesome friends, so close in fact that most of us are housemates! I know the other startups here think we’re crazy, how we pretty much see each other 24/7, but hey, if you love them enough, why not??? The other thing I love about working with my startup is the connections, interactions, and types of people I get to meet. Not to say I wouldn’t have met them anyway, but it is a different vibe and relationship when you meet someone in the startup context, as opposed to the Events Coordinator for a big innovation hub (my former role at Carlton Connect). The pitch nights are another one of my favourite things. If anyone has ever seen me on stage, you’d know I love talking in front of a crowd, getting everyone excited, and presenting something very new and different. Having a startup gives me the opportunity to do this on a regular basis. Although I do have the chance to MC a number of other events around Melbourne as well. And most of you pretty much know I definitely haven’t given away the hackathons. In fact there are a whole lot of them coming up in August, so check them out here.


Well, I think that’s certainly enough from me at this stage. I haven’t written a post in a while so I don’t want to swamp you all at once. I have some ideas for other posts coming up, but if there’s anything you want to here about, let me know in the comments or reply to me on Twitter.

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