Myriad Live 2017 with Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby

Myriad live with Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby

Posted by BeachCity on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Video Transcription:

Suzzanne: I have to say, he looks the youngest out of all of us.

Mark Sowerby: No I do not. I'm further away from the camera, that's why it works.

Chris: It's going pretty good.

Mark Sowerby: The further away you are, dark lighting, so it works.

Suzzanne: It does. Look at his smooth skin from here. I have to say, what's your secret?

Mark Sowerby: There's no secret. Bad living, no no.

Chris: Is swimming good for your health?

Mark Sowerby: Yes. The Blue Sky journey was a business we started in 2006 and the financial crisis hit us about 18 months in. We were investing other people's money, building our own business, backing other people as well and it was, honestly, a terrible time. The way I decided to deal with that was I completely stopped drinking at the time. I actually shaved my head to, number one, I wanted to remind myself every morning when I got up that in those situations everything that is gonna go bad does go bad. I told my team that when I stopped shaving my head I was signalling to them that things were going to turn around, that we're on the way back. That was for 18 months, 2 years, that I did that and I kept healthy.

Swimming, for me, has been good. It's sort of ... I'm not very athletic, my wife is very athletic. She does Iron man and all that sort of stuff. Swimming is quite meditational once you get into a rhythm. Takes the edge off of you. Typically I did it in the morning. There's a lot of insanity required when you're building a business, sense of crisis, urgency, just gives you that pain in the gut. One of the ways to take the edge off and to even solve problems is actually, I find swimming. Some people can run and do that. They can think, I can hardly breathe when I'm running so I found swimming to be the key. It just worked out that I wasn't smart enough to be one of those people that can drink and just be lazy and work their guts out, I needed to have all my faculties and a way to be relatively healthy and swim.

Suzzanne: I have to say, it's all about habits. Discipline and just maintaining that habit.

Mark Sowerby: Yeah, you get into that routine, you do get into that routine and what happens then is once you've adapted to level of ... It doesn't have to be a lot, but whatever you're doing in that routine, then when you don't have it you miss it. Your body misses that drive, that little bit of endorphin or the time out that it is getting, or whatever it might be. I knew in the business Rob Shand. He said, "What's going to be the key to me getting through all of this? To get fit. To get fit and stay healthy," and that's what he's doing. You don't have to do crazy stuff, but we were always then doing things and we did a lot of ... The other thing we did was we did a lot of meetings and work and things like with our private equity teams, good or bad, and we'd go diving off of Ningaloo Reef or the great white sharks. Just getting into nature and connecting and getting away from the funds and those things. Not just going on drinking parties, but we found that was really helpful.

Suzzanne: In these days we're getting so overwhelmed with information and overloading with everything that's happening around with us and distractions. We're procrastinating more just because we're wanting to rest our brain.

Mark Sowerby: We get really busy doing nothing now, and that was one of the nice things. If you do swimming each day I would settle myself down, I would sort of prioritise the things in my head. I'm a list maker, I'm actually so bad with lists I would write a list of things I've already done just to so I can cross them off, which is a bit sad. It's probably a bit OCD. In investing, the biggest problem actually is the noise. Even if I go back three years ago, I was getting 400 emails a day and trying not to have them. I decided not to get emails anymore so I stopped replying to people, I would just call them. I would say, I'm not going to ... I trained them up for a year or two and I got down to 40 a day which made a big difference.

Chris: Those internal emails.

Mark Sowerby: Internal, external, everything. That was everything. People learned to text me or call me and then I would-

Suzzanne: Respond?

Mark Sowerby: Of course I would, because then the discipline is you've gotta then call them back.

Suzzanne: You trained them, by the way.

Chris: There's only so much talk time in the day, right?

Mark Sowerby: There is, you'd get pretty good at having meaningful chats. So then I was spending more time on the phone, but then we're getting more done 'cause email is not a form of communication. That way you get it out of your life and it made a big difference, actually. Then I had more thinking time and just that noise peace again.

Chris: I'm of the same mind, I went vegan about three years ago and then I gave up alcohol for about three months and it was the best thing I ever did and now I touch a drop rarely. I had a mate's wedding. Yeah, we had fun, but-

Mark Sowerby: Yeah, I'm not going vegan. There's no way I'm doing that. My wife was there for a little while but there's no way I'm doing that. Certainly, now what I'll do is I still like to have a beer, but I might have two a week or four a week and, quite frankly, that probably does to me what 30 used to. You're just not used to it. I still have a couple of beers a week but that's it now and that's all I need.

Chris: Just in case you didn't know, we are with Chief Entrepreneur, Mark Sowerby. We didn't actually intro you at all.

Suzzanne: We were waiting til the conversation, because he's just a human conversation about melons, man.

Chris: What is entrepreneur mean? What is Chief Entrepreneur mean?

Mark Sowerby: This idea came out of Israel, they set up an Office of Chief Entrepreneur in Israel and you've seen the success that they've had there. There are a number of elements as to why they are successful but that will tell you that this is one of the top three things. Part of the reason is, if you think about the problem is you've got the government want to create jobs. They want startups and they want people to take control of their dear things. They pay taxes and all the good stuff and it creates wealth. But, they are a slow moving machine everywhere in the world. Government is what it is everywhere in the world.

Then you have the startup sector, they are making 100 decisions a day. They are going at this pace, and you've got government going at this pace and so you need somebody in between to glue that together. The Chief Entrepreneur's office typically ends up with a mix of private sector/public sector. You are obviously pulling public sector people out that want to be in this space. The private sector are almost always people that have done their thing, made their money, and are giving back.

Suzzanne: You've created this loophole?

Mark Sowerby: Yeah. Because there's no screens for what we do, you've got to have things like Myriad and other platforms. The precinct which is our new startup area. You've gotta have those platforms with people to connect and for those random collisions. The Chief Entrepreneur's job is almost to glue all that together, is how I would describe it. But our job is to make stuff happen, and the stuff that we've made happen in the last 24 hours here is incredible.

Chris: Absolutely, absolutely. There's so many collisions and some of them even said, "You know I think that the cyclone and the rain's actually a good thing because I'm networking like mad. Everywhere someone's telling me I have to get out."

Suzzanne: We have to say, your job sounds like so much fun, by the way.

Mark Sowerby: It is. It's such good sector because everybody's trying and everybody's doing new stuff. They're mostly pretty young, they're energetic, and you can't help but feed off of that. It's impossible. You'd have to be completely not a human being not to get excited by that.

Chris: But age isn't a barrier, right?

Mark Sowerby: No, it's not but energy is. The reality is that energy and age are generally related but not always. There are a couple people here that are amazing that I know who I just can't believe how hard they still go. But the reality is you want fresh ideas and just seeing people ... It's almost the inexperience and naivety of youth, it's helpful in this case because you're much more open to their ideas, they're much more open to doing crazy stuff, they tend to say yes to everything. It's that stupid Jim Carrey movie Yes Man, you've got to say yes to everything. It's such a good rule. It is exciting and high energy. I think I'm always ... I'm not an activity based person, like I really want to see outcomes and we're starting to seeing that already from those connexions and networks. It's exciting, it feels like we're making a difference. I'm doing it for a year for free and I'll finish up in October but I'll continue to help out in the whole ecosystem.

Suzzanne: So what do you hope to see in the next 10 years?

Mark Sowerby: I think Queensland, if we execute well, we can own this space in Asia actually.

Suzzanne: You're already thinking global, I like that. You're thinking globally.

Mark Sowerby: We own in Australia I think, and we can own in Asia. If you look at ... Population size is not the recipe for success here. In fact, in some ways if it's too big ... You know, Silicon Valley didn't happen in L.A. I think there's a real opportunity for Queensland to own it, we sort of need to do it as well.

Chris: We need to diversify our economy, right?

Mark Sowerby: We do. People often talk about transitioning and diversify is the right answer. It's not transitioning away from the things we're good at 'cause they're actually growing. Agriculture is getting better and better all the time, mining's on the way back. They're the things we're good at, lets let them continue to get bigger but lets have some other strings to our bow and what are those things going to be? That's going to be all the stuff that's happening in this space today.

Chris: Well, maybe not coal production because, hey, tax saving our energy crisis.

Mark Sowerby: Yeah, but I think the problem with, to be frank around the antic, if you look at the recipes for success, if you're always very frank around ... If you look at ... There's two things that are key success factors in regional cities. One is cheap energy, actually. The cheapest energy you can get and we have absolutely manufactured a horrible position for ourselves there which is why manufacturing is going overseas. If we had policy to go with cheap energy, however you want to get that, that was a core competitive advantage we gave up for no reason, it's our incompetence.

Suzzanne: Do you know what's so funny, ironic jokies? We sold our gas out and now we have to buy our gas back. That's sad, that's bad economics.

Mark Sowerby: That's bad and it's all people that's the noise, right? People in leadership positions listening to stupid focus groups and the noise, not going, "Okay, lets make Australia great by using our core competitive advantage." Whatever source of energy that is, just having the cheapest energy would be good. The other one is connectivity. We're a wealthy nation, we should have amazing infrastructure and hardware.

Suzzanne: Including internet.

Mark Sowerby: And we should have amazing software, and the other piece of connectivity is the people. We're doing our bit with the people, the government needs to do its job with software and hardware. We haven't got that either.

Chris: How're our government going with regards to helping move us forward?

Mark Sowerby: I think on the state government side, what I really like about the Advance Queensland programme is as government, it's hard to take the risk to do the things that they have done. You've always got the naysayers out there and the press having a go at you. They've got a four hundred and five million dollar programme, which is pretty big for this sector, but there's lots of small bits. They haven't gone, "We're going to bid on the sector" or anything like that, they just said little small bits, lets see what works. Lets recalibrate that to make it even better and give it more money, and the stuff that doesn't work we'll let it die.

We're seeing already the programmes that are working, and that is all this stuff that's happening here, what's happening naturally, but at the end of the day someone had to put Myriad on. So the government underwrote it. They underwrote the precinct. Even though that's a commercial tendency there and you pay, someone had to take the lease. They are doing their catalysing piece. I think the state government is doing everything that it can do, as a government can do. I can't imagine how they can do it a better job as a government, cause it's not easy as government. It is up to us now.

Chris: Okay, cool. One last question. I think you've actually answered it, but in terms of innovation are we a red, amber, or a green here in Australia?

Mark Sowerby: We're a green on innovation, we're a red on entrepreneurship. If you think about innovation, ideas, research as one bucket, well that's one bucket. We have so much of that. Josh Lerner from Harvard who did the report on our ecosystem said, "I've never seen a state with more R and less D." We have the idea set, we don't have the people who can turn nothing into something. That's a different skillset.

Chris: And that's what Beach City are here for, to help teach capability around entrepreneurship.

Suzzanne: We have [lection zen 00:11:55] across the street, but we have to have our hardware here. I've seen some really capable young people doing it. I've just had a conversation where he made an amazing headset that's so comfortable in terms of making music festivals go the next level. Can you imagine the connectivity in terms of IoT people and all that? We have it, we just should have more hardware.

Mark Sowerby: You need to know who those people are and you have to find them. The good things about Myriad and the precinct is that people are going in there motivated to meet the person that's going to help them succeed in what they're doing. They aren't going into a ticket box to say I had a really good meeting today and did bugger all with it.

Suzzanne: In the same thing he was, "There's so much support there. I'm not going anywhere else 'cause I believe Brisbane is the place to be."

Mark Sowerby: It's happening here. I think people know now that it's happening. There's the confidence that's built in the local community already. What's happening now is the light bulb is starting to go off with those that haven't been involved. They're going, "Okay, I can see how this might be the next place that might go. Might be." And we still have to deliver that, but all of the elements are there.

Suzzanne: That's exciting.

Chris: Yeah, it is. It really is. For those, I guess startup entrepreneurs, budding entrepreneurs, that can't make it to events like Myriad, what do they do? Can they just walk in to the precinct and go, "Hey, I need help." What's your advice to them?

Mark Sowerby: The first thing is to just start. There's lots of interesting ways to start. You can walk into the precinct cause they want it to be who they could be here. The reality is that there's always ways through. There's programmes-

Chris: There's a cyclone.

Mark Sowerby: There is a cyclone. But other than the cyclone piece, which is not that big a deal. We'll be back tomorrow so that'll be fine. People often find reasons not to start, and so, just start. If you're younger I think a really good place to start are all the incubators and the hackathons and things. That's a really good place to meet people and learn. It's good fun, it's high energy, it's bit of a party. It's hard work, but it will test you to get you to start thinking about crazy stuff and there's lots of that happening now across the unis but across the commercial side as well.

Chris: Beautiful.

Suzzanne: Can we have one more thing? How can people connect with you? Is it-

Mark Sowerby: Sure, so-

Suzzanne: Not emails.

Mark Sowerby: Yeah, not emails. So-

Chris: We should give out his mobile number.

Mark Sowerby: Advance Queensland has the Chief Entrepreneur's office, and we'll end up being our own actually separate office. How I would describe ourselves, we're funded by government but owned by the community so we all run ourselves. We're just transitioning into that now. Advance Queensland, eventually there will be a Chief Entrepreneur's website you can just go to, but right now it's Advance Queensland, look up Chief Entrepreneur, you'll find us easy. It always gets through.

Suzzanne: Thank you so much, I learned a lot just talking to you as well.

Chris: Yeah, me too.

Mark Sowerby: Thanks guys.

Chris: Thanks guys.