House Rules

En­tre­pre­neur Elias Bizannes cre­ated Start up House, a sup­port com­pany that helps US-based star­tups suc­ceed. Here, he shares some key life lessons with his younger self.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - NEWS - As told to DAN F STA­PLE­TON

Elias Bizannes on how he be­came an en­tre­pre­neur.

DEAR ELIAS, your ed­u­ca­tion at St Aloy­sius’ Col­lege on Syd­ney’s Lower North Shore helps to set the tone for your ca­reer. At school, you are su­per-in­volved: ev­ery­thing from cadets and de­bat­ing through to found­ing a stu­dent news­pa­per. You also con­ceive and mas­ter­mind the school’s first Year 10 for­mal, which gen­er­ates $10,000 in ticket sales. The next day, you’re de­posit­ing the pro­ceeds at a lo­cal bank and a school teacher, who is also wait­ing in line, de­clares you are an en­tre­pre­neur. It’s the first time you’ve heard the word.

While at the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney, where you study com­merce, you launch the Jour­nal­ists So­ci­ety, which pub­lishes a mag­a­zine about stu­dent pol­i­tics that causes quite a ruckus and is syn­di­cated by news­pa­pers around Aus­tralia. You know that you have a knack for bring­ing ideas to life, but tell your­self that en­tre­pre­neur­ial projects such as the so­ci­ety should be done for fun, and your ‘proper job’ should be in fi­nance.

After uni, you take an ac­count­ing job at Price­wa­ter­house Coop­ers ( PwC), where you re­main for three years. One year in, you be­come an ‘in­tra-preneur’ by suc­cess­fully rolling out blog­ging and wiki tech­nol­ogy (then in their in­fancy) across the firm. Work­ing for PwC teaches you valu­able lessons about how big com­pa­nies run. You ob­serve that hav­ing many in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in a sin­gle work process al­most al­ways re­duces ef­fi­ciency and cre­ates de­lays. You rea­son that hav­ing small teams would make it eas­ier to move quickly. You also ob­serve that many staff are con­sumed by of­fice pol­i­tics and try­ing to prove their worth to peers. Your time at PwC makes you re­alise work­ing for a large, es­tab­lished com­pany isn’t for you. In­stead, you de­cide to strike out on your own.

You think mov­ing to Sil­i­con Val­ley will give you the best shot at be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful tech en­tre­pre­neur. You re­lo­cate to the US and, as a first step, take a job over­see­ing the fi­nances of a search-en­gine startup called Vast.com. You work long hours, but still find the time to con­ceive your first busi­ness, Star­tupBus, which aims to bring to­gether tech en­trepreneurs to par­tic­i­pate in

72-hour brain­storm­ing road trips. You have only just launched the Star­tupBus web­site when TechCrunch, the big­gest tech blog at the time, runs a story on you. Sud­denly, there is huge de­mand for the first road trip. It will cost $20,000 and you only have $500 in the bank, but some­how you pull to­gether the funds. Three weeks later, 25 en­trepreneurs con­vene, in­clud­ing Bran­don Leonardo, who goes on to co-found multi­bil­lion-dol­lar firm In­stacart with other mem­bers of the Star­tupBus co­hort.

This early suc­cess gets you think­ing about Sil­i­con Val­ley’s nor­mal startup in­cu­ba­tion process and how it might im­prove. Your goal is to cre­ate an in­cu­ba­tor that cuts young en­trepreneurs’ liv­ing costs while giv­ing them a prime net­work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. And so Star­tupHouse is born. It of­fers ac­com­mo­da­tion, work space and tech fa­cil­i­ties, plus ac­cess to men­tors and peers. The best Star­tupBus par­tic­i­pants are of­fered places.

The ‘all-in-one’ con­cept is a suc­cess, and you soon hire staff to help run the com­pa­nies. But not all em­ploy­ees share your pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. One day, you’re talk­ing to your sis­ter about the staffing sit­u­a­tion and she says, ‘Why don’t you just fire ev­ery­one?’ Im­pul­sively, you end up fir­ing the en­tire team. This turns out to be a gift to your staff — an op­por­tu­nity to start afresh.

Your de­sire to keep in­no­vat­ing pushes you for­ward. Dur­ing

2014 and 2015, you ex­pe­ri­ence an on­go­ing health is­sue and get frus­trated with the dys­func­tional United States health­care sys­tem. You join with two health pro­fes­sion­als to work on a startup, Ut­most, that aims to ac­cel­er­ate the cur­ing of dis­ease.

In late 2017, you de­cide to scale down Star­tupHouse to fo­cus on Ut­most. You also get of­fered the role of CEO of Zoom Sys­tems, which had $75 mil­lion in sales in 2017. It’s stan­dard Sil­i­con Val­ley prac­tice these days that ev­ery­one has a day job, a startup they work on at night and a cryp­tocur­rency port­fo­lio — so you ac­cept the role (and fire half the staff on ar­rival). San Fran­cisco isn’t per­fect, but liv­ing there gives an in­sight into traits that can hold Aus­tralians back. For ex­am­ple, the Amer­i­cans you deal with tend to com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fi­ciently. You de­velop a rule that in­tro­duc­tory emails should be a max­i­mum of five sen­tences and should cover who you are, what you do and what you want. A sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple ap­plies to meet­ing peo­ple in per­son. When you meet Aus­tralians in San Fran­cisco now, you can’t help but no­tice how much they ram­ble. It makes you re­alise you’ve truly be­come part of Sil­i­con Val­ley.

FROM TOP Sil­i­con Val­ley, where Bizannes re­lo­cated to fol­low his tech dreams; in his role with Zoom Sys­tems, Bizannes works along­side brands such as Ben­e­fit Cos­met­ics and Ne­spresso on new retail con­cepts.

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