The Startup Story 2: success rates and faulty filtering of opportunities

macho VCThere’s a terrific story by Sandy Plunkett on the subject of women and tech startups in The Age this week. It covers some of the issues I’ve alluded to in the previous post about startups, ‘The Startup Story and How bullshit it is’, only in much greater depth with a lot more expertise and experience.

I note that the manboys in the Startup Story have a 25% success rate – and that’s the ones that actually make it past the VC funding stage. Sandy talks about how rare it is for women to seek VC funding, but I wonder if it’s the other way around – that funders have an inherent bias towards those manboys, assuming they are more capable of handling large amounts of money without the distractions of family and so on.

I rather think it’s the reverse – women have proven themselves to be highly capable jugglers of time and resources if they can get a venture up and going without building in the concept of high growth and large investments. How many of the young men would just take their bat and ball and go home if there was no prospect of getting rich fast?

I’ve also got a serious question: could it be that women’s business ideas get filtered out much earlier in the startup development phase?

How would you react if a woman you met at a barbeque told you she was creating a babysitter app that helps parents pass on all the important emergency and practical information automatically? How much would you encourage her to work up her idea and pitch it to VCs? Would you judge her for letting her house become tip-like while she developed her idea? Would you change the subject to find out what her previous career was? How would the tech startup support world ever find out about her? How would she access the necessary expertise to get it designed and coded up?

Insert further research and reading here.



Big Money for Ladies

Dear Ladies,

We need to talk about big money.

It is Thursday afternoon, in a parliamentary democracy. As I twatch the two major parties

thrust and parry to and fro in this afternoon’s question time, I think about how lucky we are to be able to discuss things in the open. Most peoples of the world are not allowed to speak out publicly about what they want from the governments, or be represented, or question their elites. In Australia, we can and do.

This thought leads to the next one, the thought about all the questions that aren’t being asked, and whether that’s because they don’t matter, or because they’re too hard, or because we don’t know what we don’t know.

It is liberating and fascinating when you realise just how much of your life is made up of areas that you don’t know about or don’t understand. It’s like when you find out that Amanda Vanstone can have non-partisan conversations even though she supported some dreadful immigration policies, or when you find out that the guy on ‘Giggle and Hoot’, whose name really is Jimmy, is exactly the same in real life as he is on a children’s television show mostly famous for its lobotomal (neologism) scripts.

I had this boyfriend once who was a pretty good small business man. He was also loaded. He was a generous person but deeply sexist (so not so generous after all), so we parted ways, but not before he passed on his passion for spread sheets. In between almost-daily episodes of unbelievable sex, book-ended by cooking delicious, continental foods, he showed me his numbers. Rivers of dollars eddied into billabongs of income-producing thingummies, swirling around his accounts, into one and out of another, earning more money here, discarding waste there.

Once, we were due to travel overseas. The racehorse in which he held a share was due to run at a small meeting the day before. With a packet of money in the breast pocket of his suit (think it was $1000) he met me for lunch, intending to place specific bets straight afterwards.  The race turned out exactly how he wished it to, and he looked forward to spending the $7000-odd dollars on our trip.

Caught up in the romance of it all, he forgot to place the bets. So, no $7000. He was annoyed with himself for a couple of hours, vaguely disappointed for another day, and then got over it.

The point is, this guy, like so many other fat, entitled, manipulative, macho souls, was used to viewing money in the millions (household money) and billions (what he was aiming for in his business). And there are tens of thousands of other educated, middle class people who also see large numbers every day, including politicians and bureaucrats.

But single mothers, the caring people who help them, and Centrelink staff do not. To a single mother who’s been living on Parenting Payments and a casual customer service job, $100,000 is a lot of money. Most working people think the $20 million lotto jackpot is a lot of money.

How dare she, who works in the supermarket and drives a second-hand Camry, presume to even look at a politician’s budget? How can she possibly bridge the gap between her detailed expertise in running a family close to the bread line, and a government department that could perhaps waste the odd $20 million on an IT contract that didn’t work out?

And why would she anyway? This is a patriarchy characterised by masculine-style market competition for resources, with structures and customs that favour private information for people who are privileged, and which discourages public discourse about technical subjects. Experts are ridiculed, banks are bashed and economists are called self-interested liars. How can the average person ever really understand how three consecutive investment juniors at XYZ fund lost $9,000 of their super during the GFC?

The world I want to live in is one where we approach the financial literacy that Paul Keating thought was possible when he introduced compulsory superannuation, in the era when the TV news bulletins began to run stock market reports and Clem Dimsey’s race reports disappeared from the Channel 10 bulletin.
I want to live in a world where I can discuss funding allocations for Indigenous arts projects over the back fence with my neighbour, productivity at the local supermarket and defence spending at playgroup.

I want Australian women to be capable of questioning and speaking up about a $70 million black hole, seeing this mistake in NLP costings for what it is – a full 10% of the amount of money the ALP has taken away from single mums ($700 million) normally used to pay their living costs, coincidentally, a mere 50% of the amount of  money the government could collect from deadbeat dads via Child Support Agency ($1.4 billion outstanding), but which the mums are third or fourth in line for after the ATO and other creditors.

I want Australian women to be capable of unpacking what I said above without having their eyes glaze over.

I am going to nag you all about it until it gets done.

Steaming turds whose Sh!t don’t stink – some housekeeping

So. I have some housekeeping to do here.

I was having a coffee with a semi-old friend of mine who has just got back from living OS. Turns out, her old boyfriend had been so abusive some time ago that she felt she had to go and live in another country just to get away from him and, later, to recover.



I realised, to my chagrin, that he was one of my Facebook friends.

Violence against women and abuse of them is not neutral. Lots of people think they “musn’t intervene”, or “shouldn’t take sides” or that it’s none of their business etc. They feel terrible when they find out that someone they like has done something really wrong.

They say nothing, because what they want to say is yell at them , or ask them why they did it, or why they lied about it. But they pull back because they think the best thing is to say nothing. They think saying nothing but remaining friends with that person will send them the message that they support them but not their behaviour. Or that saying something might make that not nice person suddenly not like them anymore.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. An abusive man is abusive because he thinks deep down it’s okay and the only reason people talk about it being bad is to make everything sound nice. They think that underneath it all, other people also think men have greater rights than women and that they just need to get better at placating women.

So when a nice person stays silent to the abusive man, the abusive man gets the message that in fact, they’re correct – they messed up, and they weren’t good enough at placating the nagging bitch. Or whatever. They don’t know that most men want to be sick if they think about violence against women. They don’t know that many men have arguments with their wives all the time without threatening them or hurting them. They think everyone’s doing it, but they need to get better at covering it up, or come up with better excuses.

So, this acquaintance, and another friend who has supported him by staying silent, have to go. That is two less people on my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. And the world will be better for it. I urge you all to do the same. Get the turds out of your network. Not worth the smell.



From Chris Brown’s verified account….it was pretty promptly deleted – Imgur

Sick of Chris Brown and his type. May they go down in a blaze of syphilis or something like that.

From Chris Brown’s verified account….it was pretty promptly deleted – Imgur.

Getting your elders and betters to inadvertently goad you into action

I had a contact request from a former client recently (Mark Smith) (Hi!), whose business (Nexstep) I used to find very inspiring, and whose colleagues at the business also inspired me.

So I fixed up my Linkedin account to better reflect what I’m up to, including all this Haverin Books plotting and planning.

This is an expansion of what I wrote:

I am putting together a crowdfunding proposal for two product groups directly in my area of expertise. But I am taking my time over it as I want the company to be sustainable, and, therefore, the financial side needs to be sustainable. (Read – I am being a bit of a scaredy-cat).

Even though it will start out as crowd-funded, I would like to attract more serious, committed funding in the future and so do not want the venture to look like the first horse in the second race at Randwick or Flemington. (Read, I want to be taken seriously, even though I have called the business Haverin Books. Oh well).

These are the products I want to start with:
1. tourism souvenirs tailored to specific towns and their events – main market tourist information centres and cafes. Most VICs and tourist towns carry either old-fashioned, unattractive souvenirs or very trendy but non-location-specific souvenirs
2.a book for single mothers about looking after their legal and financial affairs – main market social services organisations’ clients

Both publications will have some freebie (and almost-freebie) side-products eg an app or online resource. Most resources for women are difficult to read for women who are time-poor and some of whom have not had the education to fight back when necessary (not understanding why lawyers say things in certain ways is an example of such barriers).

These are the human beings I want to start it with: long-term unemployed single mums (or dads). The team will:
1) turn over in a controlled manner, fairly frequently, because the goal is to support people in a workplace whilst they train for something they want to be in the wider world. Sort of like a half-way house for ‘homeless workers’. There it is. I buried the lead.
2) as much as is legally and ethically possible, provide extra support compared to normal workplaces (eg going to see a counsellor would not raise an eyebrow or be taken out of personal leave)
3) this is going to require buy-in from a social service agency of some sort as I will need a partner with this kind of expertise.
4) this will also require partnership with a vociational training organisation of some kind.
5) the traineeships would be things like customer service, bookkeeping, graphic design or its precursor.
6) provide a radical model for what’s possible in terms of workplace flexibility. For example, install a washing machine and dryer in the back room? Provide old fridges and freezers in the back room so workers can either trade backyard or homemade food or simply get online grocery deliveries. ie incorporate things that give families back some time, where it does not really impact on the business (who’s going to care if an employee is away from her desk for the 2 minutes it takes to transfer washing?).

So you can instantly see the problem. The product and the workforce do not, at the moment, match. But I will keep at this idea until I can out the puzzle together correctly. Thus this blog.

This business is based on the idea that disadvantage is not necessarily caused by lack of intelligence or ability. Down the road from where I live, there is Wesley Fire and Clay, which has re-invented what we might have once called a sheltered workshop into something vibrant and enmeshed in its community, which interacts with the public at fairs and markets.

This business is based on the principle that there are many talented, thoughtful, energetic women (and men), who just need a bit of support whilst they train, in addition to learning the skills they don’t teach you at TAFE or uni: how to be both a commited, loving parent and a skilled, valuable worker at the same time, with minimal conflict between the two.

Note: there is another business that could be built along these lines but I don’t have the skills to start or run it: a cafe that has a catering arm that provides healthy school lunches to schools which don’t have their own canteens.

So this is classic Jenny MacKinnon. Couldn’t just yearn for a healthy business that makes money. Turns her back on the obsession with growth/replicatability. Wants instead the ‘replicability’ to be about spreading personal growth and dignity rather than increasing EBITDA. And I don’t care if someone rips off my idea – in fact, wouldn’t it be fantastic?

Find a husband and STOP having babies part 2:

:“It’s the Inequality, Stupid.”

The eleven charts created and shared by Mother Jones’ Gilson and Perot show the other side of the story; the privilege enjoyed by the writers of the assholery in my previous post.

Haverin Books – the Experiment

This is the intro to Haverin Books. Haverin Books is the business I want to start and build, rather than the other business I used to own, which sort of started itself and I ran after it. The other blog, Haverin Observations, is more about the content, whereas this blog is about the form.

I want Haverin Books to cause good for me and for other people in my community. I want it to be part of a community, not just an office in which people work 9-5 and hope for the best, who occasionally get together for somebody’s birthday.

I want it to be a social enterprise, but I need to support a family and play catch-up with my superannuation, so it’s not a ‘pure play’. What is a ‘pure play’ these days anyway?

So this blog is about the journey towards finding the right market to match up broadly with the kinds of things I can make, and the appopriate design of the business itself to make sure it is sustainable and does in fact fulfill its goals of supporting me and bringing good to its community.

I don’t even know whether it should scale.

Next post will be about all the things Tom McKaskill taught us at Swinburne in the Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. That bootcamp subject known as Opportunity Evaulation, but which really should have been called Opportunity Strengthening/Maximisation.

There were a whole bunch of rules we learned, that we were taught to think, breathe and live. I didn’t agree with all of them, although I could see that they ‘worked’. So I’m going to test them out against the ideas that come up in this blog.

For example, we were obessessed with ‘scalable’. For a pitch to pass the sniff test, it had to be genuinely scalable. Why? Some of my female classmates, in particular, said that. Why does it have to be scalable to be a great business worth spending time on? And what is scalable anyway? What if the business model is not so much franchise as ‘copy’? What if you give away the franchises? What is they’re not even really franchises?

I am also going to float some ideas about product, and what’s sustainable. And about regional Australia, as I love people and businesses that make stuff – and not just the obvious tosser stuff like marinated olives or handmade cider.

Well, this is the start.

Jenny MacKinnon