Imagining a Smarter Australia

| September 1, 2017

In 2006 my co-founders and I imagined a company that could serve the needs of independent artists, and those who bought from them. At the very outset we imagined this business could be started and operated out of Australia and could have a global presence.

Eleven years later some of this vision has been realised. Last financial year over $170 million in transactions went through the Redbubble marketplace and almost 3 million customers purchased products with 93 per cent of all sales were outside of Australia.

Redbubble is indicative of what may be possible for Australia. The first generation of Australian internet companies served primarily a local audience – think SEEK, REA and Car Sales. Since 2000 a new breed of companies has emerged with global aspirations from the start – Redbubble, Aconex, Atlassian, Envato and others.

The successful second generation have been audacious and have leveraged the advantages Australia has – most notably a lifestyle that attracts good people globally – and have overcome challenges peculiar to Australia, including: shortage of capital, a regulatory environment that is slow and unwieldy and a culture that is often disdainful of innovation and entrepreneurship.

This second generation, I hope, is adding momentum to a flywheel of growth. Australia has historically underperformed in scaling technology companies. Four of the five largest companies in the world are technology based, and all are American with  three of them created in the last 20 years. Their market cap is higher than the entire ASX 200.

We need to draw the lessons from the second generation. From Government down we need to leverage our great and sustaining lifestyle assets but not let that become a form of cultural complacency. Governments, rather than dwelling on the odd success, need to confront the reality that the regulatory environment is more often impeding innovation than facilitating it. Culturally we need to move towards genuinely celebrating those companies that are part of a smarter future for Australia, based on our people and skills.

If we can make the changes, then both the first and second generation technology companies will have a compounding impact. The people who have grown in these companies will stay on here to leverage their skills and expertise in new companies. The capital that these companies create will likewise be recycled.

Both of these things are already occurring, but it is early days and it is not hard to find the negative sentiments that can undermine the gains being made. The ossified cartels that have historically dominated the Australian economy have thrived by stifling innovation. These syndicates still have an undue influence over politicians and the media is often unquestioning in running their agenda.