Tall Poppy Syndrome Brings Us All Down
Airtree Ventures partner Josh Henderson discusses Aussie, UK and US startup styles.
David Rohrsheim Are you worried that the “Ideas Boom” may be forced to take a back seat in the current political climate?
John Henderson Yes. Tech City and the governmental emphasis on the innovation sector played a surprisingly important role in pushing the UK tech ecosystem forward. It changed the national dialogue and helped growth companies recruit folks who historically would have joined Google, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Linklaters or others. I’m hopeful that we’ll see bipartisanship on the importance of this issue in Australia.
Alan Jones Do you notice differences in the way Aussie startups approach AirTree vs the way UK startups would pitch to Whitestar? What’s good/bad about that?
John Henderson Great question. Even at White Star (which has offices in London and New York), we noticed a big difference in style between US and UK founders. It’s obviously a generalisation, but with similar traction US founders were often more confident, less self-deprecating and able to articulate a bigger vision of world domination. My sense is that Aussie founders lean more toward the UK approach and could sometimes lift their ambitions. That said, there’s a fine balance between confidence and hubris…
Nick Crocker People always talk about what Australia can learn from Silicon Valley. What can Australia learn from the tech ecosystem in London?
John Henderson I actually think Australia can learn a huge amount from the UK. In the last decade, the UK (and specifically London, Cambridge & Oxford) tech scenes have exploded. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this which I can’t summarise in this AMA, but perhaps the biggest single shift was the national dialogue around startups and entrepreneurship. Founding (or, perhaps even more importantly, joining) a startup became an acceptable and encouraged path for the brightest young people in the country. Suddenly the top graduates stopped joining Facebook, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey or Linklaters, and started joining Transferwise, King.com or Deliveroo instead. Organisations like Tech City and Entrepreneur First played a huge part in this shift in dialogue. I think we have the beginnings of that same phenomenon starting now in Australia. Blackbird have done a wonderful job on this front and we’re trying to help at Airtree too.
Harry Stebbings Your co-founder Nick D’Aloisio was extremely young when you started Summly. What did you see in him that made you confident that he’d make a great CEO?
John Henderson I wish I was Nick’s co-founder rather than just an early employee! Nick had just turned 16 when I met him and already had incredible technical smarts, passion and charisma. It was a killer combination in someone so young and I just had a feeling he was going to build something huge. I knew I could help and had to be a part of it.
@Taryn Williams What would you look for when choosing a VC — knowing all the things you know now?
John Henderson I would do extensive reverse due diligence on my VC prior to investment. I’d ask to speak to founders they’ve backed in the past as well as their current portfolio and get a real sense of whether they helped, how much value they added, and whether they lived up to their promises pre-investment. Also, don’t underestimate the signalling value of your early investors for your later rounds. Finally, do you like them as people and share the same values? If you’re building a big company, you could be partnering with your investors for 5–10 years or more. This is as long as many marriages, so if you don’t get on now, what will it be like later…?
@Audrey Khaing-Jones Given AirTree have invested in a lot of marketplaces, what advice would you give to earlier-stage marketplace startups that you’ve found can help them to unlock growth sooner?
John Henderson There is always a constraint on one side of the marketplace. Usually it’s supply. Focus all your attention on the constrained side. Be relentless about it.