Brad Deveson on startups, exits and ecosystems

First in our Bondi Innovator series is local startup mentor Brad Deveson – watch the video to hear his inspiring story. The full transcript is below.

Ross :
Right Brad, what’s your story?

Brad Deveson:
Hi Ross, story. Well, as you can see by the gray hair, the story starts probably a long time ago, but I’ll skip forward. I was in a whole bunch of funk bands for awhile. So if anyone needs a damn good funk guitarist, call me. My friend was also in the band and he said, “Brad, you should get into programming.” And I said, “Sounds really bloody boring. Go away.” I got into programming, came back to Australia at that point. This was, I should say the mid 80s, the mid to late 80s. Learned all sorts of weird stuff like RPG and COBOL. Got a job doing that stuff. Then got another job, doing more other stuff where the PCs were slowly coming in.

So mini computers went out, PCs came in, networks came in. So I was programming and designing systems by that point. So going into a customer and saying, “What do you need? We’ll build it.” After probably about four years of that, one day, I thought, “I can do this myself.” That’s called an entrepreneurial seizure. I think. How hard can that be? So I started a company, basically developing custom software for people. That was in 1991. And we banged along. We grew, had a whole bunch of customers. The cashflow was good, except it was very lumpy because we had big projects and then no projects, too many people, not enough people. anyone who’s in the custom software business knows that.

So we were looking for a product and one of our customers said, “Look, we’ve got all this problems with our Amex cards. Can you help us?” And we thought, “Oh, that sounds very boring. But yeah. Okay.” And fast forward, I suppose, is we dumped all of our project work and we pivoted. It wasn’t called pivoting back then. But that’s what we did, to focus purely on expense management. The company’s called Expense8 if anyone’s interested, it’s still going.

I sold that in 2014, and basically from that point on, I’ve been working with a bunch of early stage startups, really. So with the University of Sydney, they have a thing called Incubate, which is one of the accelerators there. Just started off doing some stuff with the University of New South Wales as well. And I’ve got a sort of a trailing retinue of startups and scale ups at various stages. So that’s sort of what I’m doing.

Ross :
What are your current ventures?

Brad Deveson:
Well, those current ventures basically is it, so I’ve got a sort of a gig with University of Sydney. They have a thing called Proto X, which is their pre incubator, I suppose. So you’ve got an idea. You think it may have some legs, so it’s a sort of fast track to push you through the, I suppose, the lean canvas methodology and come out at the other end, either thinking, “No, it was this real crap idea,” or you’ve pivoted, or you’re ready to go to a proper accelerator. And similar stuff with the University of New South Wales as well. So it just mentoring basically.

And yeah, just having fun, not traveling, unfortunately, which is what I would be thinking about my trip to Spain at this point of the year, but no.

Ross :
So why do you choose Bondi region to live and work?

Brad Deveson:
Yeah, that’s a good question. Because I came back here in the 80s, like I said, so I ended up in Manly because my mum was there, and then anyone who’s living with their mum in their 30s is like, got to get out of here. I ended up in Erskineville, or dog shit city as I used to call it, and then met my now wife. And she said, “I am not living in the inner city. You are moving to the eastern suburbs as soon as this leaks goes.”

So we ended up in Bondi because of her actually, but now I wouldn’t live anywhere else basically. We’ve got a house here. I love the sort of the cosmopolitan, I like the fact that it still hasn’t been gentrified to hell like a lot of other places have been. I like the fact that we’ve got some dingy back streets still, and some little… I think one of the very first wine bars actually, I like the odd glass of red wine. So that I think it’s a small shop and wine bar sort of hiding up in a back street behind Bondi. And obviously the beach is good. Yeah. So it’s just a really cool vibey place.

Ross :
And so what do you think we need to do to drive innovation and entrepreneurship to be even more in the eastern suburbs?

Brad Deveson:
Yeah, well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? So my thinking is this community has got a whole bunch of people and hopefully we’ll grow a whole bunch of people. When I’m talking to early stage startups, often their ideas are real crap, especially if they’re from universities. It’s like, “How can we make university food better for students?” And my thing is, look for problems, problem hunting, become problem hunters, talk to people. What do you do for a living? What’s the most boring thing in your job? How does your job work? Why do you do that? That sort of stuff.

So I’m basically on the lookout for that sort of thing in Bondi. And I suppose what I’m trying to find out, I’m actually having a meeting, thank you, Ross, for organizing it, with some people from the council. And I suppose I want to ask them, “What’s keeping you up at night? What’s the problem that you’ve got in Bondi that you want to fix?” Because we’ve got a whole raft of people in this community, this Bondi community here, that are very smart and have got all sorts of ideas and lots of experience.

And if you throw a gnarly problem at them, you’ll probably get more crazy ideas than you bargain for, but yeah, what the hell? So let’s give it a go. So yeah, long story short, let’s find some gnarly problems. Let’s put them to the community, and let’s form little mini teams. Think of it like a motion picture. You know, here’s the storyline, let’s get the team together. Let’s produce the movie, present it and see what happens out of that.

Ross:
Fantastic. So wonderful to have you as part of the Bondi Innovation Alliance Community, Brad.

Brad:
Thanks for asking me, Ross.

Ross :
It’s very cool. Yeah. Let’s make it all happen.

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