Networker

I did the Company Directors Course in January and graduated in September. I was one of the youngest in the group. I have always thought governance is really important to organisations and wanted to understand it better.

If you’re a founder or director of a startup, you need to understand your roles and responsibilities and know how they differ from your day-to-day execution. The younger the startup, the less likely it is to have proper processes in place, but they’re incredibly useful when growing and building your board.

Understanding directorship also makes a founder more savvy about who they invite onto the board and when is the right time to do that.

The role-playing on the last day was an interesting and productive exercise. I felt my experience as a judge on hackathons was helpful. It brings you back to the basics.

We run an annual survey and, to date, we’ve captured data on 3881 startup founders, potential founders and supporters. I’m lucky enough to do a roadshow around the country meeting people running amazing enterprises.

This year I went to Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Bunbury, Brisbane, Toowoomba, Cairns, Canberra, Bega, Bendigo and McLaren Vale. I have two objectives — to see what’s going on and to blog about the significant talent across the country pioneering technology. I want to see more people connecting and sharing the wins. Every year it grows. More minds mean better outcomes.

The highlight of my trip (this year) was visiting the owner of Mainie (Charmaine Saunders) in Cairns. She buys art from regional Indigenous artists, has it digitally printed (on to silk scarves, tops, wraps) and a proportion (of the profit) goes back to the artists. When I plan these trips, I reach out to my networks. I get really good traction just listening to people talk about their startup and their idea.

They just want to be heard.

Our whole tour is about networking — although I think of it more as community and ecosystem. Personally, I don’t like it when I go into an event and think, “Oh, I have half an hour to network”, when really it’s just, “Let’s have a conversation”. Social media has subconsciously created the value of the network with millennials — they’ve grown up valuing community and networking for both personal and business matters. They have connections all over the place.

Many business coaches talk about the “network mindset” and the “value provision component”. The idea is that you move away from the fear-based thinking — where you position yourself as a competitor — to a point of “How do I provide the most value?”

With the network mindset, you must value network creation — and value diversity within that network. A lot of senior executives and board members value their peer network, but how about connecting with a junior or middle-level person. It’s vital to remove the blinkers of that peer-to-peer network groupthink, to understand people from different backgrounds and have different touchpoints — especially if you are consumer-facing, but your target market is not the one you identify with. Self-referencing is dangerous.

It’s vital to remove the blinkers of that peer-topeer network groupthink, to understand people from different backgrounds... Self-referencing is dangerous.

If social media isn’t your thing, you might fnd it useful to engage with your kids, or to be a mentee rather than a mentor. Leave your ego behind and just have conversations. Don’t be too strategic about it. You’ll come across things you otherwise wouldn’t, which builds up your knowledge and makes you more interesting and valuable. You can go back to your fellow executives or board group and say, “I was talking to this founder the other day, who was telling me about the difference between Ethereum and Ether (a new blockchain-based sharing platform and its cryptocurrency)”. It makes you more at ease with, and accepting of, other people.

Talking to more founders, I think, would make directors more at ease with the possibility of a younger person joining their board. This would help improve diversity. The Company Directors Course constantly emphasised the importance of inclusivity and diversity — and for questioning the status quo; of continually redefining what the culture is and making sure the risk profile is understood.