This blog has very few original ideas. It has good ones, but they are all other people's. The majority of them come from a recent talk by Paul Graham who founded Y Combinator, a San Fran incubator that birthed Reddit, Stripe, Airbnb, Dropbox – it’s generally considered to be Mecca for startup nerds.
It’s 2am and YouTube’s ‘suggested viewing’ algorithm kept thrusting a clip in my face. After days of being too busy, I finally acquiesced
Paul grew up in Pittsburgh. He’d returned to give advice as to how the city could turn itself into a bustling startup scene. Slightly jaded from all the “ideas boom” chat being thrown around Sydney at the moment, I can’t say I was titillated at the prospect of another 26 minutes of “landing pad this” and “innovation nation” that.
It was pleasantly devoid of buzzwords.
His outlook of Pittsburgh’s startup scene was positive. Why you should care is because his appraisal of Pittsburgh has striking similarities to Sydney. Specifically, Redfern.
He encouraged Pittsburgh to try and become an attractive place for 25-29 year olds on account of the fact that startups are made of people, and the average age of the people in a typical startup is right in that 25 to 29 bracket. Having a portfolio of over $30Bn worth of startups has advantages. Like allowing the managers to workout certain trends, for instance, how old the most successful founders tend to be. Turns out that being in the 25-29 age bracket makes you most likely to be a successful founder. I’m a 23 year old founder and have no idea what I am doing.
Have you ever been to Redfern? Try and find someone who isn’t between 25 and 29. Sydney Uni, bikes everywhere, hipster cafe’s, trendy pubs and progressive politics make Redfern a cool place for young people.
I’m surmising here, but if we really want a ‘start up hub’ (part of my soul evaporates as I write that) in Redfern, then Paul Graham recommends that we continue to foster it’s hipsterness. We want to make it as hard as possible for founders to want to leave for greener pastures. For that Redfern needs to keep serving good coffee.
Something Australia doesn’t have is software engineers. Seek, Airbnb, Facebook and even Tesla have something in common: the majority of their products were made by people who know how to code. Australia has about 8 people who know how to code. I know 3 of them. This ‘ideas boom’ is going to need more.
Things could be turning for the better on this front however. Australia’s first coding bootcamp just opened up and it’s first batch of 20 students are already being churned into software engineers. The point of a coding bootcamp is to jam a Computer Science degree into less than six months.
Australia’s first coding bootcamp, the Coderfactory, is based out of Redfern. So here we will have young people in a trendy place that they like living in AND they have the skills required to start startups.
A primordial soup that could genesis an ideas boom.
The next council Paul gives is for UTS, USYD & UNSW to keep being world class STEM universities. I know, it’s like telling an overweight person that they should eat less. It’s so simple that it’s kind of boring. But it’s true.
Smart people will go to weird lengths to be at a prestigious University. However once they are there, we need them to not be afraid to want to use their knowledge. That means offering super liberal deferral policies so that talented people can become founders without fear of being kicked out of their degrees.
If Sydney wants to become a startup hub, it’s Uni’s need to stop claiming ownership of the IP that their students come up with.
Nearly all the unicorns over the past 20 years are software startups. Mainly because the product can be made is some wiz kids bedroom. Hardware startups have to put up with all this IP bullshit from Uni’s. But Universities wouldn’t have to lease out IP if they never owned it in the first place.
The last ingredient that the startup broth needs is investors. And the wheels are already in motion on this front. Turnbull’s already offering a capital gains tax exemption for start up investors as well as a 20% tax offset.
Some people in Australia like money. These people are usually quick to notice new ways to get it. Which means that startups are going to get more & more funding over next 10 years driving Redfern’s tech boom.
So Redfern could turn into a mini San Fran. Cool? I thought so, until a friend used the word gentrifying. I had no idea what it meant. He said it means “‘an economically booming suburb that pushes poor people away’”.
That shit has gone down big time in SF. It made me worried about what would happen if Redfern turned into a startup hub (which it probably will). Gentrification has already happened in Redfern; it’s in the first paragraph of Redfern’s Wikipedia page.
I’m worried a tech boom would make the fire blaze out of control.
But I think we can prevent a lot of the harms as long as we let Redfern’s existing inhabitants ride the wave too; employing locally, tech education scholarships like the ones The Coderfactory offers to Indigenous students, would help.
On the government level, we can implement rent control regulations that would allow people who have lived in Redfern for ages to not be squeezed out of their homes by a rent price boom.
A start-up hub would bring benefits to Redfern, we just want to make sure it’s current inhabitants are around to see it.
Gentrification is hard to stop. But there are definitely ways to manage the process so that we can protect people. We need to be aware of it because it happens kind of slowly and goes under the radar for the most part.
So share this with any 10x hacker boy-genius’ you know so that when they’re running Atlassian 2.0 out of Redfern in a few years, they might grow their unicorn without exiling anyone.