Techboard correspondent Matthew Parker from MitchelLake recently spoke with Bradley Delamare, CEO of Tank Stream Labs who have been very busy expanding. Since becoming anchor tenant in the recently opened Sydney Startup Hub and preparing to launch in Perth, Tank Stream Labs is now the largest tech co-working space in Australia by floor area. Bradley is also a member of Techboard’s Panel of Experts for NSW which provides a valuable input into the monthly Techboard Ranking. Matthew spoke with Bradley about Tank Stream Labs growth plans and corporates partnering with startups.
Matthew Parker (MP): So before we kick off, congratulations about your launch into Perth. Why did you decide to expand into Perth specifically, and what can we expect from Tank Stream Labs, Perth?
Bradley Delamare (BD): There were a number of reasons behind our expansion to Perth. We have an important partnership with EY and an opportunity arose to work closer with them in Western Australia. For us, it is important to build relationships with corporates that want to help startups and contribute to their growth. Having previously worked for EY and with them being involved with Tank Stream Labs (TSL) since 2015, we knew that by expanding our partnership, this would only benefit the success of startups.
Another key factor for us was to try and connect the East and West Coast. Given the geographical location of Perth, it can be quite isolated from the other major cities in Australia. Over the past 12 months, we have noticed an increase in the number of startups heading across to the East Coast from WA. By bringing the existing TSL community to Perth, we can really help WA startups connect with the East community. In addition, it brings new opportunities to startups on the east cost. There are many investors and corporates located in Perth which could provide new opportunities to east coast startups that they previously might not have had exposure to.
Perth is also closer and on the same time zone to Asia. For TSL, this is vitally important as we have international partners in the Asia Pacific region and we want to expand our reach to Asia. Perth gives us the perfect platform to achieve this. We are aiming to officially open our office at the start of March 2018.
MP: Two years ago, what convinced you to take the leap into Tank Stream Labs (TSL) from your role at EY?
BD: When I was working at EY I was looking after the sector for startups and running the partnership between EY and Tank Stream Labs. When the role became available the Board already knew me very well, we had built a great relationship, the founders here knew me well, so it was a natural fit.
They really caught me at a critical point in my career. I had spent 10 years in a corporate role, and I think at some point you need to make a decision to either keep moving up the hierarchy or look at yourself and think; is it time to do something different. Throughout my career I’d had these moments of reflection, but working at a company like EY can really offer a diverse as there is huge variety of different roles you can do internally plus move internationally. But there is a moment where you think are more opportunities internally vs externally to move your career in a different way?
This was what I felt was more appropriate for the next stage of my career. I had been involved with startups and entrepreneurship throughout my career and so this was always something that had been my passion, so when the stars aligned it was an obvious decision.
MP: What made you the right person to run, now, the largest tech co-working space in Australia?
BD: I started my career as an accountant, and had moved up through the ranks in a corporate environment gaining lots of different experiences, running large teams and advising CFOs, CEOs, and Board members of some of the largest corporates in UK and Australia. At the same time, when I joined Tank Stream Labs it was still an early stage business and so they wanted someone who could come on board, improve the operations of the existing business successfully and put in place ambitious expansion plans. I believe that with a relatively long career in the corporate world, I had accumulated the right right skills in order to achieve this.
MP: What role do you think coworking spaces have to play in building the startup ecosystem in Australia?
BD: I think they are hugely important to the growth of startups and small businesses. Recently we saw some statistics that 72% of Australian startups are in an accelerator, incubator or co-working space, which I think is a reflection of the power and benefits of being parts of these spaces. There’s lots of benefits to working around like minded individuals and entrepreneurs who can share their knowledge and experience with and have opportunities to collaborate with. The whole emphasis and theme of a co-working space should be community. You need to build a community that helps businesses succeed, grow and scale. It’s hard to do that, but if you build the right community you build the right teams within that who want to work together, share knowledge and share experiences, and I think that’s really powerful. It’s definitely one of the benefits of working in a co-working space. Other benefits are financial, it’s a lot more affordable to work in a co-working space than getting your own office, as well as the flexibility, so your teams can fluctuate depending on your business plans. Co-working spaces are also very connected to the likes of investors, corporates, Governments, media etc. All of these relationships are important to the growth journeys of startups and early stage businesses.
MP: You have spoken about cross-pollination, how does Tank Stream facilitate this?
BD: Well just as a few examples of this actually happening, we’ve had companies who may need help with a particular issue i.e marketing, website design, market research, coding in a specialist area etc, and we’ve seen businesses within Tank Stream come together to provide the skills required. They may provide their staff for example, or founders come together to work through the problem, or they may have been through the same issues so will be passing on their previous learnings. In addition, companies have also connected another company in the community to one of their other clients or connections. We’ve seen examples of it all. We at Tank Stream Labs are very supportive of cross-pollination. We make it a requirement for our business that if Tank Stream Labs need assistance or services, we ensure we reach out to our community and use as many resources as possible. For example, we use companies in our community for our marketing activities, website design, PR/comms requirements, social activities….. the list goes on. We believe it is important that if we want businesses to cross-pollinate, we set the tone from the top.
It is generally quite organic here, but the good thing about the ecosystem in Australia is that everyone wants to see everyone else succeed. People are really helpful and are generally willing to give time or resources. One of our core roles is to help facilitate this. If we ever identify an opportunity or something that’s happening elsewhere in or out of TSL we speak to startups that could be impacted by this just in case it’s beneficial to them. Our events are also really popular, we run events across different sectors or themes. Even just the social events help connect and bring people together.
We measure our success by the success of the businesses at TSL. If one of our businesses has raised funding or signed a big client or expanded internationally, all these things help us succeed. If they succeed, we succeed. We have a large number of well known successful businesses that are doing some great things, so that brand association helps us significantly. We also run quite a lean, efficient operation. We try to keep things pretty simple, but also quite fun. We are serious but you do need to encourage businesses to have fun and enjoy themselves, so we provide opportunities for people to do that. This could be social events, or our wellness room. We run coaching or mentoring or sounding board sessions, so if they’re feeling stressed or need advice they have people who they can speak to in specialist areas.
MP: How do you think the Sydney Startup Hub will contribute to the growth of the technology ecosystem in Australia?
BD: Creating one centre where there is going to be multiple startups is a great idea. It’s going to create a centre where all entrepreneurs and businesses can come together, help each other and network together. There’s so many corporates out there and businesses that want to work with startups and sometimes it’s difficult to identify what exists, so having everyone in one space will really help. Startups will also have closer ties to government which is important. Various Government departments will be based in the hub and being able to work closely with the government will allow them to get better access to information on regulation, grant applications and other services that the government offer to support the growth of startups. Finally, there’s going to be a big focus on corporates for them to play a role here. I think corporates play a really important role in the startup ecosystem and I often describe them as the gate-keeper to customers, knowledge and experience. So having all the startups under one roof will create a great environment to improve those relationships.
MP: What do you think is the right way for corporate partners to interact with startups?
BD: Looking at corporates in general, they can view at startups as disruptors, and some are. But corporates shouldn’t fear that, they should look at it as an opportunity to collaborate. If a start-up can make a business more efficient or grow its customer base then there’s great opportunities for these startups to work with the corporates as clients. I feel we’re noticing a change in the attitude of corporates to work with startups over the past 2 years. Before that they were perhaps a bit apprehensive, but now you see are starting to see more openness for them to work with startups. Many of these enterprise businesses have already been around a long time, and it’s likely they’ll still be here in 50 years, but they should be looking to startups on how to improve their process and how to innovate for the customer.
There’s a few different ways corporates should be thinking about interacting with startups. Number one is internally, “how can a startup help my business and how can it make our operation more efficient”. Then secondly, “how can it benefit the employees” for example to make them think like entrepreneurs by being in close proximity to startups. From an external perspective, it’s “how can the startup help grow my business, grow my customers or provide different services to our customers”. Finally, there’s also an opportunity for corporates to work with customers to improve relationships with their customers. You’re seeing this a lot with professional services firms, banks and software companies and their actively trying to connect these startups as a value add to their clients.
MP: How do you feel the Australian startup ecosystem has evolved since you started your role at Tank Stream?
BD: Well one would be that attitude from corporates to work with startups. The government are also playing a more active role, there’s more programs, more incentives, more funding available to startups. Then also the shift in focus at Universities, with more consideration taken around entrepreneurship with the creation of innovation centres at most of the main Universities. This is making the younger generation think that setting up their own business and becoming an entrepreneur is a legitimate option.
We’re also seeing more people wanting to start their own business or just get involved with startups as an employee. The accessibility of funding has had a significant impact to all of this. There is more funding at every stage of the funding journey than there ever has been. So ultimately a lot more people with experience are jumping into startups later on in their career. Typically many of the founders we’re seeing have a good 10/15 years of experience behind them before starting a business, but there is also growth in the number of younger founders.
MP: What are you seeing as the most consistent challenges for the startups at Tank Stream and what have you done to address this?
BD: Talent 100% and funding, but that is not new to people. Talent is definitely an issue though. But you’re starting to see younger people starting to think about this more, more education programs on entrepreneurship and the skills associated with setting up business, this might change with more university students coming out of these degrees and taking roles in startups straight away. But especially from a development standpoint, it’s always a challenge. Funding is always hard, it has become more accessible, but there is still a risk averse attitude in Australia compared to other countries in the world.
The other one is the constant debate around focusing on Australia or going global. Should you go global from day one or should you test in Australia, conquer the local market and then go global later? This is definitely an issue for lots of businesses, as the Australian market is small. If a business has serious growth ambitions does it scale quickly and go global early on? But then you come across issues over investing in expanding without a concrete focus and sometimes causing the businesses to fail. So it’s a constant debate which I don’t think anyone has ever cracked and is very much dependent on the business product or service.
Visit TankStream Labs Website.