Technology innovation and making the leap from smaller markets


The front page of the IT section in today’s Australian Financial Review sports as its largest story a review of our Web 2.0 in Australia event, titled “Start-ups weave future around social web”. It starts off:

“It’s a dreary Sydney afternoon in early June, but social media consultant Ross Dawson couldn’t be happier. He’s surrounded by the cream of the Australian internet start-up community, who are buzzing as they discuss how the next-generation worldwide web will be built.

Mr Dawson’s Web 2.0 in Australia conference on June 6 was a landmark event for Australia’s internet community, bringing together a host of entrepreneurs who had previously only been connected online.

A couple of years ago, this event would not have been possible because there wouldn’t have been enough people to take part.

The numbers of Australian internet start-ups are booming at the moment as local entrepreneurs join the global rush to build web applications and hope to make a fortune along the way.

“I’m amazed at how rapidly they’re coming out at the moment,” Mr Dawson said. “In the last six months, it’s been a really rich scene.””

The article goes on to examine various Australian success stories, including some of the companies showcased at our event, such as Omnidrive, Atlassian, and Tangler, as well as some recent Australian tech start-up failures. The article ends:

“Mr Dawson said ultimately most Web 2.0 start-ups would fail. “It’s the sign of a vibrant ecosystem that people are coming in and out,” he said. As for whether any of them will grow up to be the next Google, Mr McManus said the next big internet company to come from outside of the US would probably come out of China, rather than Australia or New Zealand.

Population size, he said, was a critical factor, unless a firm started in Australia and expanded overseas.”

Great to see these issues being highlighted. As was discussed in detail at the conference, there are two major paths for start-ups in Australia: addressing the Australian market with localized services, or creating services relevant to the global market. Even in a connected world, the latter almost invariably requires having a physical presence in major overseas markets, at the moment almost always the US, though potential Europe, and increasingly Asia.

I’m particularly interested in studying more generally at how smaller economies can nurture start-ups that move into global markets. Language, distance, time-zones, culture, economic strength, connectivity and the strength of national diaspora all impact how this is best done. For India, Israel, Ireland, Australia, or Estonia, very different dynamics are at play. Over the next year or two we’ll be releasing studies and frameworks that look in detail at the issues in successfully leaping from smaller markets to the global stage.