I caught up with Steve Carroll for a chat about all things innovation and how exactly does one become a successful innovator.
Steve had a lot of knowledge bombs to drop about the process given his experience in R&D tax for many years and now as founder of The Unleashed Zone including its membership network, the Innovation and Collaboration Network.
The way Steve views things was refreshing to me, because a lot of the time, ideas about innovation and how to do it well can be airy fairy and avoid making any real and solid recommendations.
Steve views innovation very differently, essentially seeing it as a management process, not an art form. He mentioned, “Yes, your project may not succeed because of technical or market issues, but if you properly follow the management process as an innovator, your opportunity to succeed bigger and sooner than you otherwise would have, goes up!”
Good news for anyone out there trying to get a new, risky project off the ground!
One of the cornerstones of Steve’s philosophy around innovation is ‘The S3 Journey’ through the valley of death.
The valley of death is that really difficult period between when a startup commences operations and is paying wages and burning through tonnes of cash, but doesn’t yet generate any revenue. It’s a tough time for any founder and can be really difficult to survive and make it out the other side with a busy model that works.
Steve helps founders to navigate this journey in three different ways by making it (S3):
- Shallower and
Let’s explore what each of these means:
What optimal decisions can we make to get from start to breakeven in as short a timeframe as possible?
The longer we hangout in this period where we’re making a loss and burning cash, the more difficult it can be to right the ship and build some momentum forward.
Because of this, we want to get from A to B is months, not years.
How can we make the trip through the valley of death as shallow, in terms of our accumulated losses, as possible?
How can we avoid wasting money or resources?
As founders, we can often get caught up spending time and energy on things that don’t matter or aren’t important to us in this particular phase of our business growth journey. One of the useful diagnostic tools that Steve has at his disposal is being able to determine what stage a business is at (what Steve refers to as stage 1, 2, 3 or 4) and what they should be focussing on based on where they’re at.
How can you generate the biggest return on your initial investment possible?
What is going to determine whether this is a 2x growth journey or a 10x growth journey? How do we bend the gradient of that curve upwards as much as possible?
Lots of different elements are going to impact on this decision such as product-market-fit, sales and marketing strategies, customer acquisition and retention, but the lens through which to approach these decisions is to increase our overall return on investment as much as possible.
Steve summarised by saying, “Every single decision a startup makes every day has the potential of being an S3 decision or not. At the end of the day, it’s not the conditions, it’s the decisions we make. The decisions we make are what impacts on startups and determines whether we achieve big success or, unfortunately, don’t make it through the valley of death.”
I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more. I love the fact that it emphasises a ‘no excuses’ approach for the business owner and places responsibility for success or failure firmly in the hands of the person controlling the reigns. The more we can do this as business people and not point the finger of blame, the better off we’ll all be.
Check out more wisdom-filled gems in my long form chat with Steve Carroll here:
Full transcript from the video:
Maitreya Speering 00:20
All right, so welcome, Steven to the growth trajectory podcast. Appreciate you coming on. Thanks for having me. It’s it’s very exciting. Yeah. I was just telling you, I remember catching up with you for a coffee a few years ago looking for a job from you.
Steve Carroll 00:37
And so at least it’s like, it’s a small group as well, industry that we work in. So it’s no surprise that we’ve crossed paths. And at least once, if not multiple times, obviously, you can’t do that a lot at the moment. Last year is, you know, we do work in a small industry. And, yeah, it’s great that we do overlap. We, we I don’t really say we compete, we collaborate, we feel like on in the industry, which is a nice way to to, to work with each other, even though we’re in different in different businesses. Yes, exactly. Right. And I’ve been following the changes that you’ve been making over the last few years. And you know, you’ve started The Unleashed Zone and the ICN, which is really exciting. They both look fantastic. So congratulations on that.
Maitreya Speering 01:22
I wanted to actually start to ask you about? Well, one of the great things about LinkedIn is you can sort of look at someone’s pre history, you can do a bit of stalking on their profile and find out what they’ve been up to. So I did a bit of that. And, yeah, you you started your career as an accountant at KPMG, way back in the late 90s. So I wanted to sort of ask you a bit about that. What was that like? And how was your experience at KPMG early on?
Steve Carroll 01:50
It was great! So I’ve, as a lot of us have done, I think probably all of us have done R&D tax as a, as a career path isn’t something you sort of tick the box, as you’re going through your studies, that’s for sure. So it doesn’t exist until you actually start doing it. Yeah, I came out of uni with, I had a science degree. And I was going back and I was doing an accounting. So I went back and did a masters accounting, because I’ve wanted to sort of get that mix of science engineering, sort of behind a sort of general background and a whole bunch of stuff uni. And but I really enjoyed the business side of, of learning, basically and applying. And then this random ad came up actually, I’ve got it somewhere I put it out a couple of years ago, this random ad came up in the paper looking for, for for graduates to have this mix sort of skill set. I mean, that’s me. And you know, that’s they do apply for everything. So I have a crack at that. And I was just really lucky to get it. I was actually I wasn’t number one on their selection list. I was number two and I was really lucky there’s a guy and put in the apprentice Big shout out to Neil. He was also on the team there. And he convinced them to to bring a second person on which was me. So my whole career is all thanks to a new I’d have no idea what I’d be doing if it wasn’t new twisting of arms. And getting me in the in the team. And I was really fortunate to join basically one Australia’s leading r&d tax teams, they KPMG still very, very strong r&d Tax Practice, but back in the day, yeah, there were huge in Melbourne and across Australia, very large and her team was was pretty good. So as was comparing to others, you know, joining a large international firm like KPMG you get to learn not just the skills and my original mentor that unfortunately passed away. Andrew Witten, Dr. Andrew Witten was a superstar absolute superstar with r&d tax and innovation in general. So I got to learn and feel who you might know as well for ensure exactly the partner there and you know, they had just so much experience, but also the the processes, the QA, ease, and those sorts of things that mean that you do have to follow process and procedure don’t just wander around like a cowboy and just do what you feel like, it’s like no, how do we you know, how do we engage with the client, how we manage the job? How do we do all the processes of the quality processes, as well as providing great, great support? So now we’re super lucky to sort of land in that environment with that team at that time as well. It was just just luck.
Maitreya Speering 04:37
Yeah, and then he decided to try your hand at a bit of business development for a while left KPMG to go do some some BD
Steve Carroll 04:45
Yeah, I guess. I so I went from capers to to them working in a small accounting practice for a while or it was my small medium accounting practice role, which was great. So the whole Okay. Well, I’ll see how I can go out and about. Well, then, Andrew again. So Andrew Witten was a was a driving factor in a lot of career decisions I made. He was studying engineering, but he was taking on an engineering firm with one of the partners I was actually working with in the Tax Practice and the accounting practice. And they asked if I wanted to come on board, because obviously, I had a pretty strong interest in business development, marketing and getting out and about seeing people. And so they asked me to come in the house as basically a bit of BD, but also just the internal admin management support, and taking care of r&d and stuff like that for internally with them. So that was a great little experience to go in house. And again, to sort of it was a really cool engineering practice, it was a mix of, if you like the workshop and the design and the engineering, so it was a really a really cool place to be. And you got to sit experience, you know, as an already tax advisor, you’re working on the outside come in. So I got to flick the switch for a little while to work on the inside, and really, really enjoyed that. But the best thing I found out about that was I missed r&d tax. So I’m used to actually doing r&d tax all the time. So yeah, luckily enough for KPMG took me aback. And so I went back and joined Phil again, and sort of really enjoyed to getting back into it. But it was a great Centrix engineering was the firm back in the day. And yeah, I love working with those guys. Huh?
Maitreya Speering 06:33
Yeah, I, I being on the inside of an r&d company, developing something is a very different experience. And I had the pleasure of doing that for a couple of years on a startup called Epic delivery. And yeah, it was something that I crave, like being not being the consultant being on the inside working with the founder trying to get something out there and create something new. Yeah, it was, it was an amazing experience. And I learned a lot from that. But again, it’s it comes with its own stresses and its own dilemmas. Which, which r&d Consulting doesn’t necessarily have as much of, and we found it very tough going and very difficult. But yeah, I totally relate to that experience of wanting to get on the inside and seeing what that’s like.
Steve Carroll 07:21
Yeah, and, and because, you know, I had a reasonable understanding, obviously, from my background and stuff, but yet until you’re in there, sitting down next to them working with them, when you’re talking to someone who’s an advisor or consultant, they tell you certain things and you take it, you know, you sort of push and pull it, but you take it to a certain extent on face value. So you Okay, let’s just go behind the scenes a little while, they’ve been telling me all this stuff. Is that what they actually do? You know, how are they actually interacting and working and everything else? Yeah, so it was. Yeah. And I love that as well. It’s good fun.
Maitreya Speering 07:57
Yeah. Cool. And then so after you went back to KPMG, made director there and then in 2012, I think it was made the switch to RSM. So what what motivated that change for you
Steve Carroll 08:08
just stuff again, so it’d be a capital gain. Love that. So that was it was six years, the second second run there. And the RSM opportunities sort of came up with regards to I guess, they wanted to build a practice. And so in the r&d tax world r&d, tax, and predominantly up until about that stage, being run primarily by the big accounting firm, so your KPMG view was towards PWC. And then a few small practice so like I went and went out on my own, there’s a few there was a few boutique firms and BDR, Natalie Laurie started doing the r&d tax of BDO. And so register but it was still predominantly before and a few others, but it was starting to get the other accounting firms could start to see the the opportunity opportunity that are missing and the impact that already tax has on their clients. So bringing that service in house. So our seven there’s a few other firms at that stage sort of talking around taking on doing more r&d tax. And because our sum was a national or international but national firm was also a unique opportunity where the head office was in Perth where I could come in start the team up from scratch and really have a crack at building up a basically an r&d Tax Practice on might you know from from from get go which was too good an opportunity to ignore they’re great partners, great people to work with. And they basically give me the freedom to say Steve just have a crack see how you can go build it and see what happens so Yeah, sort of content down so cool. I gotta have good see if I can see if I can do something here as well.
Maitreya Speering 09:50
Yeah, and so how did that journey go given you know, free rein license to go out and recruit a team, build all the systems and processes around it? Go the client by So how did that go? You’re there for eight years, I think.
Steve Carroll 10:02
Yeah, it is and thoroughly enjoyed it. So we ended up probably having the second largest team in PERS depending on time of the week and headcount. So, we had a practice in Melbourne and Sydney. So I partner in Sydney, I had directors, or principals, we call them in Melbourne and two in Perth. So across Australia, we had a very big practice. By the time I left, it was going really well. Great, great team, great people. And I guess our approach was always to deliver the absolute best service, regardless of who the client was big, small or medium. So it was always based on what we all do. But it was like, Okay, how can we deliver the absolute best service at all times? And what does that quality looked like? And how do we build a team around that, as we train them? How do we support them? And how do we find our client, which is something that we do quite guided, and the team around me did quite intensively with regards to how we get out and about to grow the practice. So obviously, growing the team was priority number one, but you can’t grow the team, as you get some fights and you can’t grow the team board, you got more clients. So making that business development and team growth and integrated part with the objective of being the best or equal best quality services providers we possibly be. We never wanted to lose a client because we either happy lose clients, if they wanted to go for cheap fee, which I don’t think ever happened what? Good once or twice, but they regretted it, of course. But otherwise, it was. Yeah, it was great fun. It was really cool to have a really big team.
Maitreya Speering 11:55
Yeah, excellent. Excellent. Yeah. I mean, you’re you’re always very big in networking, as far as I can tell, like your name would pop up in all these different circles around Perth. And you know, you’re, you’re down at spacecubed, or you’re at Perth angels events, or a Europe you know, all these different things and, and putting your name out there and the RSM brand. So I did notice that in the in the Perth market that the BD push was was something that you guys focused on and put a lot of effort into. And yeah, seems to work pretty well for you.
Steve Carroll 12:28
Well, guess I’ve always, even from when I started way back at KPMG. Our approach was always to be part of the community. And so what does that look like, and we enjoy it, because I think one of the unique things about being an r&d tax person is you get to see some really cool stuff. And you get to engage with businesses of all sizes and types and industries and technologies. And you just want more of it. And so you sort of, to grow the practice, or to enjoy the work to grow the practice, being out engaging in the places that the innovators hang out in, is really what we’re always been about. Like, that’s what my my friends are all in those places as well. So it’s sort of kill two birds with one stone. And so hanging out where the innovators like to hit the entrepreneurs with businesses liking to hang hanging up, and helping them not just with r&d tax, but when they’re on r&d tax journey, or they’re claiming artifacts, there’s so many other things that need help with networks and connections with. So what the other part to that was always about what’s going to find who the other experts are the IP people, the lawyers, the, you know, the specialists that our clients needed to know, in order to progress their businesses, and go to people hanging out in those places as well. Or they, you know, the people in those places know those people you need to know. And so building up the network to support your existing clients and obviously look for new clients. But also because it’s fun, you know, you just enjoy talking to people about their business, their journeys, and everything else that’s going on. And the benefit of working in some of the practices I was privileged to work in as well as we could sponsor and support stuff. So we could actually go okay, cool. I think you’re you guys are having a real crack. This is an industry event, this is a function, this is a something that’s making a difference to the ecosystem, that community. So we can sort of throw a little bit of support, whether that was offering a space through drink actual money, speakers, whatever that was, we were in the fortunate position to be at it. So go around and sort of say, okay, cool, if you need something, and I’ve got, I’ve got something left in my in my pocket. I help you out with it if I can. So you get that sort of privilege to go out, hang out in those places and also then see what the other missing pieces are to say. Okay, cool. Well, that’s seems to be a trend at the moment. what’s missing? What people wanting? How can we help fill that gap from our network or our context?
Maitreya Speering 15:07
Yeah, very cool. Very cool. So then after you’ve built that practice at KPMG, and built that team out nationally, you then look to do the unleash Sona and ICN. So that, to me is a quite a big shift. You know, you’re you’re an accountant, your senior partner at a firm, you’re you’re helping clients with r&d tax claims. And then you’re making a shift into a an innovation consultant where you’re helping companies in all sorts of areas to get their innovation off the ground to commercialize to get all the support, they need, the funding they need, all of that sort of thing. So I’m interested in how you found that transition. And and kind of, I mean, what motivated that transition, what was exciting about it for you, and you know what, you’re doing some of that already in your role?
Steve Carroll 15:57
Yes, yes. And yes. And yes. A lot of people say was the stupidest thing you could have ever done, Steve. I think eight years building is super teams great practice. It was absolutely humming. And I went Next, select GED. But no, I did it. Well, eyes wide open. And I think by hanging out with too many innovators, too many entrepreneurs are sort of rubs off on you and eventually go, Oh, I’ll do that as well now. So there’s a whole bunch of those sorts of things. I also personally needed a break from r&d tax and a partnership. For me, I got to a stage where I was reasonably burnt out. And starting your own startup is the stupid as ID you can ever have. Just gonna go from one level of stress and burnout to another but in an entirely different focus and strategy and direction. And I had been doing a lot of what we decided we want to do in the Unleashed zone. I’ve been doing bits and pieces for a few years. So I’ve been something that I’ve been working towards and building towards. And we spoke a lot of RSM about that when the partnership about how it might fit within RSM. And it wasn’t really that’s the sort of thing you can do in in an accounting practice, because it was way too random and different and out there. So completely open and honest with all the partners, and we had a very, very comfortable smooth exit. So they really wanted me on that process, which was really nice. And yes, I started the unleash stone with with that, that the innovation community, what can we do to continue to drive and support the innovation community? What are some of those missing pieces, and what we think will help with that? And so we started our startup with some visions and objectives, and trialed a whole bunch of different things to say, Okay, well, is it is this that, you know, something that he’s missing, or we think we can do more of, and yet, we’ve had a ball, trialing and testing different scenarios of, of where we can help accelerate innovation on what those missing pieces really are, that we think, you know, when we see a startup or an innovator, whether it’s a big, small or medium does business, it’s all effectively all the same roadblocks and challenges that they all have a different, you know, different steps along the journey. So how can we sort of try to help them get around those, or through those those challenges has been what we’ve, we’ve really looked at doing with the Unleashing?
Maitreya Speering 18:41
Yeah, yeah. And so how has that journey been over the first two years of starting the business?
Steve Carroll 18:49
It’s been hard as all startups are. Definitely. And you learn so much like NES. The other reason I wanted to do it because I wanted to go deep in the topic for you know, so I could do I was doing bits and pieces of it when I was at RSM, which was great. But you couldn’t obviously you can’t go deeper if you’ve got, you know, 90 times on r&d tax, and it’s just a little template for sort of trialing what are we wanting to do in the unleash sign. So by going deep in it, the learning has been huge. It would be an understatement. And the premise of the journey of the startup follows or an innovator follows has, obviously we’ve really identified what that journey looks like, and really confirmed that all of the theory we had was correct. And it’s the stuff that we know inherently as, as people around innovation and those that do innovation, but what we’ve done is codifying it, to sort of say these are actually the steps. So we’ve really codified what those steps of a startup journey looks like, and what it feels like need to tick off as you go and what needs to focus on how you’re going to progress. And so the For the education around how to educate, so it’s great to know something, but how do we share that? That’s what we’ve been really trying to figure out is how do we do we share that knowledge, the education piece, so learning about how to educate on that, which is that, you know, online is, uh, you know, classroom is a one to one. And all those scenarios, we’ve trialed, and work through those two workshops and all that sort of stuff. But then also community, the biggest finding out of out of the journey so far has been, you know, being a business owner, whether you’re an innovator, startup, whatever it is, it’s a lonely journey. Because there’s so much pressure on your decision making, even if you’ve got a great team around you, and a great home life or whatever it is, having a start up particularly or being an innovator is actually really lonely and a really, obviously really exciting way really stressful journey. So that community of understanding appears, can’t be underestimated. And I probably underestimated when we started him, important that was going to be and so providing community potential up you know how to together there are loads of cool communities that innovative startups can join, but didn’t quite give them all the masses, what they really wanted from a community aspect. So community. And then the third piece of that, which is sort of what’s become really popular. It’s just updates on what’s going on in the total innovation community. So the biggest fighting we found is why innovation and Australian innovation to an extent but who is our test market is really good innovation ecosystem. It’s got really cool people really good services really good support. But the biggest problem with an ecosystem like why is innovation is it’s inefficient. Because it’s effectively still a small ecosystem. How an innovator or a startup progresses through those stages I was talking about is actually what causes them the biggest problem, because the ecosystem itself doesn’t efficiently move people around. And also, you know, someone like you like myself or yourself, if you join the ecosystem to know how to progress through. So you need to know the right person to help you get through. And that’s why inefficient because you’ve got to come through this mess to go Oh, great. Can you help me with my next step? Yeah, cool, of course, okay. But if there was a signpost over there for you, this is, this is where you are. Now, this is where you need to go next. That would help the ecosystem efficiency is really what we found. We tried to wrap around. So all the things that happen are great. So all the superstars and all the events and all the things are awesome. But there’s no glue between them are very hard. And that glue between them does exist. But it’s all personal. Like, I have to know who’s running that event, who has to know who’s running that event, who to pass somebody around. So we’ve found that by providing an Excel, we’ve got a calendar now. So we’ve built basically, web innovation calendar, so cool, which sounds super lame, and really, really basic. But actually there was missing because how do you know where to go? Unless you’re in the in crowd. And then you don’t even know that the events that are going on outside that. So why innovation calendar and a WA, weekly update email is really you know what it’s boiled down to say, Okay, we’ve got a calendar and a weekly email of what’s going on where it is. And you know what the options are? It ticks a lot of the boxes, because you can just cheat if you’re if you’re a service provider, or if you’re a startup or an innovator in a business, you get what’s going on again, ah, that’s cool. I’ll go to that. Or where’s something I need to catch up on? Oh, cool. Here’s a little thing. I’m just gonna do that. Like, it’s like, that takes care of a lot of the stuff that we’re sort of trying to do. So. Okay, let’s put an email out in the calendar. So that’s been the biggest final call.
Maitreya Speering 24:04
Yeah, awesome. Awesome. Yeah, that’s so cool. I mean, yeah, you talk about spending 90% of your time on r&d tax and having 10% left over to sort of tinker with some of this stuff. And then when you start the Unleashed zone, you then have the opportunity to dive deep and really get immersed in the ecosystem and really start pulling apart some of this stuff, codifying the journey, understanding how important the network in relationships are, the emails and the calendar and all that stuff, sort of tying together the pieces to help support entrepreneurs on the journey that they’re going to go through. Yeah, I relate to that in a lot of ways like there was always this pulling me to want to do more of that when I was at Deloitte in particular, I you know, Deloitte have an innovative focus and they would talk about digital and data analytics and things like that. And I went over to Melbourne for three months on a secondment to to immerse myself in that environment. for three months, and that was amazing, like I learned so much in such a short period of time and really got motivated, inspired to spend more time there. And to learn more, as much as I could, you know, and I guess that was part of the reason for going into epic delivery and training that startup world was it being around these people, and the energy rubs off, you know, that that entrepreneurial spirit and that, that belief in self and the ability to create whatever you can imagine and make it a reality like that, that is contagious? And yeah, it is, it is nice to be able to dive deep into to soak up the atmosphere and the energy and then be able to create something from that space. So yeah, I totally relate to that. And I was looking through your website earlier and looking at your reading list as well. And a lot of the books that you’ve put up there are books that I’ve read, like the Emeth revisited, and good to great and the innovators dilemma. Yeah. All in the bookshelf. Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s it’s not. It’s not that the information isn’t out there, or the recipes aren’t necessarily available. If you’re if you’re looking hard enough, but to know where you are in the journey, what you need, and who you should be meeting and talking to is very difficult. If it’s a black box that you’re not sure you know, what’s on the inside of it. So yeah, absolutely understand where you’re going with that.
Steve Carroll 26:31
Yeah. And that’s why I put it That’s exactly right. Everything does exist. It’s sort of like but you know, the successful. So what are the success factor? What is it that makes an innovator successful, or startup successful? And so you can go read a whole bunch of those books, as well as the reading list of their four and those sorts of things. And you can talk to those people. But you got to find the list of the books, and then you got to find the book get hot. They’re all there. Like, let’s just see if we can shortcut it for you. So there’s easier to find that stuff. And the recommended ones instead of reading, you know, 100 books has to I reckon that’d be a good starting point. Yeah. Okay, cool. It’s realistic. And that’s it. So and it’s, and I think we’re always talking about this, the biggest my biggest thing has always been, and this goes right back to Andrew Whitman, I started to KPMG is where my actual journey on innovation started was Andrew not r&d tax, but innovation. Innovation is a management process. It’s not an art form. It’s not magic, it’s not science, yes, your project may not succeed because of technical or market issues. But the process that you follow as an innovator, whether you’re a startup or an innovator in existing business, if you follow the management process of innovation, then your opportunity to succeed and to succeed bigger than you otherwise would have answered sooner than you otherwise would have goes up. But when you go to learn innovation management, or startup management, you go to learn the little bits of it. But what is the whole journey look like? And how can I just sort of jump through those hoops at the right stages? And that’s really what we’re sort of how do we get that innovation management theory, which is management practice 101, but isn’t really understood. And so, any bit you can go one on one, because there were some awesome consultants around that understanding? Okay, so this is not magic science. This is a process that you can go one on one with, but how do we get that to the masses as easily as possible, so that then if they choose to use awesome consultant to do it, well, Greg, they can find that consultant really quickly and really well. But in the meantime, how can they know what to do where to go? What’s next? We basically call it being execute. So we sort of say, you’re staying at the valley of death, the startup journey through the valley of death, we want their journey to be eschewed. And what we mean by that is, we want it to be shorter, whether it be shallower, whether it be steeper, so what decisions can they make through the valley of death, that means to get from start to break, even or making some money, hopefully, we want to make that as short as possible by making good decisions as shallow as possible. So by still making good decisions, and not wasting money, or resources, and then get stigma so how can you get a bigger returns as possible? So every single decision, a startup or an innovator makes every single day makes a skewed decision or could make an execute decision. And as the saying goes, it’s not the conditions, it’s the decisions we make. And so believing the conditions that the startup isn’t the reason it does or doesn’t succeed. It’s making the decisions that a good startup should make makes the difference between good big success and unfortunately not getting to the the magic land of of out of the valley of death. Yeah, Ice Cube. This is how we sort of summarize it.
Maitreya Speering 29:53
Yeah, cool. I like that shorter shallower and steeper. That’s a good yeah. Good way to remember that. And yeah, I I totally agree with you about the decision making process and the importance of that. I mean, one of the best things about being an r&d consultant is you get to see so many companies across such a diverse range of industries and diverse sizes and skill levels and everything. And you can kind of start to just through observing what works and what doesn’t. And over the long run, you can get an intangible feel for how that process plays out again, and again and again. And it seems to be there are common factors that play out. And I’m interested in. So when you say, making good decisions, conceptually, that lands for sure. But I’m interested in how, as entrepreneurs, do we make good decisions?
Steve Carroll 30:50
Excellent. And you’re right, that, like you said, at the beginning, as an r&d tax, and so on. So 20 odd years, 1000s of projects are basically worked on. And you see the sick, The Good, the Bad, and the ugly. And that’s, you’re exactly right. So you see it, because you just have to you just see that he or she will see, you know, wish I could have told you that before you got there. And then you know, I’ve seen that before. And that’s what so that’s your that’s inherently what’s been sucked into the brain that sort of comes out in different forms. But the decisions in that’s where we decided that it was critical. So basically, I put a diagnostic together started with a diagnostics, he’s 14 factors. So if you continually reassess these 14 diagnostic issues, everyone has diagnostic, but you know, just basically, we could break it up into those good and bad issues that you need to continue to assess. And that was the first part. I mean, cool. And that was what I was been doing for a while in different ways. So playing the diagnostic in bunch of ways. But then as we started to roll that out in the unleash, so we started going actually, there’s a missing piece here, it’s actually defining the stages that the business is into, then apply the diagnostic decision making process on top of, because that’s the biggest mistake, a business or startup won’t know where it is on that valley of death. They know they’re in that valley there. So actually, funnily enough, not not enough businesses know they’re in a valley of death. So it’s a first learning point is that you’re in a valley of death, they go, Well, I guess this is the standard pathway. Oh, that’s me. Yeah. But then they go, okay. And they then don’t know what decisions to make, because they’ve got a million decisions to make. As a startup, we have to do everything at once, what feels like we’re gonna do everything at once. We’ve got to make all these decisions. So what happens is we revert to form, what are we comfortable with? What do we like to do? What do we think we should be doing is normally what we want to do, not what we have to do. So taking that, you know, gut instinct, piece adware as well, to an extent that still helps by saying you’re at this stage. And when you’re in this stage, these are the critical issues you focus on, what often happens is they’re in a stage, but they’re doing the fun stuff that goes further along the pipeline, all the stuff that they don’t need to do yet, or they haven’t done yet they get to that stage, and they left all these things undone. And we all know, that’s one of the biggest issues. It’s like, there’s all these little skeletons in the closet that they’ve ignored. And that’s going to bite you at some point. And it does. And it’s no, it’s about getting that shorter, shallow, steeper, is if your point work or say stage two, for example, which is your sort of getting your MVP and your first clients organized. If you’re in stage two. Don’t be focusing on scale up issues yet. Don’t be like, don’t try to build your MVP and against the status, the technical issues, don’t try and build your MVP for full scale. Know that at some stage, you have to build a full scale model, whether it’s a physical product, or software doesn’t matter. These are the same issues across all industries, maybe a little bit different logic, obviously, that same issues. Don’t be doing that yet. That’s a waste of money. And you’re probably going to have to watch it, roll it rebuild it anyway. Because you’re going to find stuff that you have to build. So at stage to focus on just the MVP as the techies of your which is 100%. Correct. Be lean. But also, where’s your first client? Have you got your shareholders agreement organized, you have all those boring things that have to get done at stage one, and two, don’t get to stage three, I’ll go do that. So it’s about get showing them where to get. So if you go on a road trip, I’ve got some videos on the examples. Here’s the road if you’re on road trip, you need a map. And you need some directions. If that’s what the valley of death is, it’s a road trip. And if you don’t know where you are on that journey, but also what the next step is that’s coming up, you don’t pack pack your car with the right stuff to get through the next step. So you drive up to that gate point and you go, Oh, I didn’t know this. I needed a visa to get through this jackpot. You drove home, get your vision come back and you just wasted your time. So your journey is now longer and deeper. So knowing what that what you have to do right now and what the next roadblock is going to look like. means that your decisions are better you focus on these issues. Now, you still have to have an idea of all those future big issues. But you don’t spend your time and money and resources on those future issues with practice on the downs. And so that’s what the decision is about is what are my priorities right now. And if good, you don’t let people we don’t know what we don’t know. So then it’s about going finding the right people that are experts at stage two. So you go to the advisors that know how to deal with Stage Two stuff, you don’t go to advisors are really good at Global International audits. When you’re at stage two, you go, they’re awesome. And they will be able to help you fully and they want to help you and we want them to help you when you get to stage four and five. You need a local x, y and Zed that understands you, but is the right fit for what you need. And that sort of stuff. That’s what we’re talking about with decisions. It’s what do you need? And who are the people that can tell you what you need? For the stage? Not for the future stage. But for the stage right now?
Maitreya Speering 36:06
Yeah, yeah. Beautiful. I really liked that. Because it. So my experience with epic delivery is something very similar to what you’ve just outlined, where I don’t want to throw Ryan under the bus too much Rhino Silva and shout out to Ryan, he was he was the founder of that company, and very brilliant at what he did. But um, what I found that we did was, we fell back to what we were comfortable with, and we weren’t necessarily doing the things that were important to us at the stage we were at. And it’s so easy to do things you’re comfortable with, and difficult and challenging to do the things that you know, are important and urgent. But because they’re challenging, you find an excuse to avoid doing them and avoid confronting them until it’s too late. And it Ryan is a brilliant software developer and brilliant designer. So we built a very beautiful app, more than an MVP, I would say it was it was really sleek, and really well designed and functioned really well. We could have gotten away with the with the leaner, meaner, less polished version. And we we focus too much on pricing models and how runners were going to be compensated and all that rather than just simply acquiring customers alike, we acquired enough customers to test the model and it worked, customers loved it and everything. But we didn’t build the network and the relationships, particularly for us with cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets, things like that, that were really going to drive user growth early on. And we left that we kind of left it too late. And then we started pitching at Perth angels, we didn’t get any interest there. And, and then competitors came into the market and made it really difficult, like a really, really steep uphill climb to try and win that battle. But yeah, what you’re saying really resonates about doing the things that are comfortable rather than doing the things that you know you should be doing. And not going too hard on the MVP, just getting it out there and testing it in the market.
Steve Carroll 38:16
Absolutely. And, and you know, one of the really, so we get through stage two, we call when we were three and four. And stage three, is about starting to build the marketing funnel effectively. And how are we going to scale not the product, but the marketing and the sales? And that gets skipped a lot as well. So because then we then have to get funded and everything else. But like you said, so we get those early adopters On we go awesome. And so one of the things we teach is that that early adopter curve to say great, and then is that crap crossing Crossing the Chasm, it’s it’s, again, standard theory, you get early adopters, and you assume you can go from early adopters to the mass market. And that’s a massive, again, just innovation theory or marketing theory, one on one that most of us don’t know until it’s too late, crossing the chasm is a big issue. And we need to start to address that in stage three, not leave that to later. Because again, we can’t raise money because the investors know that that’s a big issue. And they go well tell us when you’ve you’ve developed your marketing funnel, more sophisticated version, no, not built it out. But you can prove that you’re not just come when early adopters, but you can basically if you’ve got your marketing metrics, right, you know, if we throw some money at that, it will generate more clients. And that’s what we get wrong a lot of the time is how do we turn it from early adopters into mass market? Obviously we can build the ticket out. But how do we scale the marketing funnel in the sales process? And that’s the stage three four issue. Give we often skip that we go proven an MVP, got some early adopters. Now let’s go get a whole bunch of money to scale it and get you still got to prove a little bit to scout like and And so many conversations around funding issues with funding r&d tax is obviously fabulous. And grants are great when they work. But understanding how equity and debt and other funding mechanisms play on that journey, and motion Australian innovators, West Australians particularly don’t know how to be investor ready. So we’ll go to an angel group, they call them ready, and they know you’re not and why what’s wrong? And so that six months we spend, which we have to getting ready for a fundraising, we don’t actually get ready for a properly yet because we don’t get our house in order for what they want to see. We assume they just want to see some MVP and some early clients. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. But they you’ve got to give a bit more than that. Or it’s a seed investor, not an angel round and knowing difference between an angel round and a seed investor not saying we don’t get taught that sort of stuff was you big ecosystems, you’re successful ecosystems, we compare it to like mining, compare the mining, if you’re going into mining NWA, you could walk into any office, and they’ll say, Okay, you’re at this stage on your exploration to mining journey. Therefore, these are the sorts of investors you speak to this, how you prepare for that investment round. And this is what you do. And then after you’ve done that, you get to these guys, and this team helps you with this. And then it’s an absolutely the roadmap for following from kicking dirt, or before you even kick dirt, to selling it, exiting Whatever it looks like. It is a well, trodden pathway that the experts, which are lots of them know how to follow. Because it’s happening who for 100 years? Well, we’re trying to do you feel like that’s what’s missing in innovation in the startup journey. It’s like, okay, well, we’re gonna it’s what’s random? And again, it’s not random. There are steps in all of the steps more likely to succeed than five.
Maitreya Speering 41:52
Yeah, totally. Totally. Yeah. Very cool. So I noticed that you’ve recently taken on a role at Innovate Australia as well, I wanted to ask you a bit about that row. How are you enjoying that? And what what are innovate Australia doing to help the innovation scene?
Steve Carroll 42:09
Great, thank you. Lovely, innovative Australia. Team. So yes, I’ve, I’ve come on board as volunteer CEO, which is wonderful, really enjoy it, they’ve got an awesome brand. So. So Peter, and Adam and the rest of the team, the board, and whatever behind in about a year, I’ve done a really good job for six to eight years, running deep innovation topics, effectively around tech. So you know, deep on the hygiene issues and bringing great speakers, or whatever the tech topics are of the of the moments. And they’ve done a great job of bringing those people together and building a community around them. So we’ve got a huge mailing list. And they do wonderful events and have done wonderfully. So they’ve asked me to come on on board, to help them out, basically, now to stabilize that a little bit and grow it, take it to the next level. So that’s really what we’re about. It’s like, okay, how do we provide even more value to the innovation community? So what do they need? What does that look like? And what do we deliver to the innovation community? So they great, so the deep tech topics? Absolutely. Because if you’re, if you’re interested, or you’re currently in or want to get into it, use hydrogen is a great example, even though there’s now hydrogen society, which is based in Spain out of University Australia. For example, if you’re, if hydrogen is the issue that a lot of innovators or a lot of businesses need to understand, then we’re going to run an event on it in April, and it’ll be here and this is what we’re going to bring with everyone superstars. And then the next one will be on batteries, or whatever those topics are AI. So we’ll keep doing that, because that’s what people appreciate a need. But what we’re also now intermingling with that is deep, not the innovation funding pathway. So while you go bring them deep into innovation topics, there’s still that gap between what are all the different funding options for an innovator and where do they apply? And how do I get them. So we’re bringing in the experts now to train as well as support on the funding options for innovation, because it’s not just r&d tax, even though it’s often forgotten directly tax applies is already tax. But it’s also not just one grant, there’s all these different pop up grants that appear every now and again. So what are they? It’s not just one version of equity, equity comes in different ranges and don’t ignore the debt because debt can apply in these scenarios. And this is how so bring those topic expert in that explain when and where the funding options fit that valley of death journey and or corporates journey so that they don’t have to then go again, it’s that time to find the experts. So if you’re an innovator, where do you go find out about the funding options or that come in so you come and see me? Yeah, that’s great. So Stuart Wouldn’t want to promote that. But there’s also the opportunity for an association to say, here’s the list of stuff. Now, if you’re at this stage, you need to go think about all these stages, you need to think about already tax. And this is an introduction to it. And now here’s all the experts to do that for you. And so in about Australia is going to bring in the tech topics to continue the tech topics, but bringing these funding overarching training sessions or seminars that anybody can attend to, okay, I’m at this stage. With what there isn’t any get free innovation, surely you’re you’re there. If you do this, this and this, you can basically get some debt at the right times. If again, you’re investor ready to get ready, or whatever that looks like. That’s what we’re trying to do within about Australia, is to enhance the innovation ecosystem by bringing the right topic experts, which is technical and estate funding, and we’ll expand that out. We call it the boring topics. Counting stuff, legal stuff. tech guys, that sort of exciting. So people think they’re really cool. We hear that we’ll just do. But yeah, those sorts of boring topics that the show has been doing the fun sexy topics, which is great. The less that bringing some of those boring topics that made the fun sexy stuff work.
Maitreya Speering 46:22
Yeah, cool. Awesome. And looking. Yeah, no, that’s great. That’s, that’s, that’s perfect. I’m looking at your website as well, you’ve got a ICN Pitch Night coming up on the sixth of April. So
Steve Carroll 46:36
salutely, we’ve got a rip a pitch night, we’ve decided as well. So there are, there are a few pitch nights every now and again. We’re turning the Pitch Night concept a little bit upside down and back to Frank to see if we’re doing a trial or a test for WA on. Let’s mix this pitch pitch thing up a little bit. I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew. We’ve got I think I’ve got 2425. But what we’re doing is two minute sprint pitching. So got two minutes. Go ahead. I’ve done a little bit of vetting just to say okay, cool. You’re so but it’s also pitching for yes, there is a pitching for money. Definitely. So a lot of them are pitching for investment. But they’re also pitching for support. So there’s nothing we’re training. So what skills do you need? What promotion do you need? What is it that’s going to help you progress? So what is your current issue that if you can unlock this issue, you will move faster and better and quicker. So we can get 20 to 30 pitches, go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang networking session. So, so there’ll be the pitching and then networking to so then connect with people. So since I can help you or know somebody that can help you. So it’s Pitch Night at the Museum, sixth of April. So obviously, hybrid online as well. So we’ll be running the online version, so people can watch and also online breakouts, really just to mix it up. And just see how it works. See if it does help in web startups that needed to kick along, and therefore earliest age. So we’re looking at making what we call stage two, three, which are the ones that have or are doing the MVP. So hopefully, most of them have got their MVP built. And they have either currently got their first clients or looking for their first client. So that’s the sweet spot that we’re pitching that we’ve got pitching. So it’s what we call stage 237 of them are a bit further along, and some of them are a little bit earlier just to give them a chance to promote themselves. So we’re, we’re looking forward to really, really being like,
Maitreya Speering 48:49
very cool. Sounds awesome. I like the fact that you’re mixing it up. And it’s not necessarily all about money. It’s about what support marketing’s you know, advice, things like that, that they can they can look at, and yeah, short and sharp two minutes, and then see what happens. Let them go for it. Exactly. And you never know. I mean, it might be you know, one of the one of the 25 that you’ve got pitching just happens to meet someone on that night that can support them through the next phase of the journey and and you never know until you put something like that out there do
Steve Carroll 49:19
exactly a number of the pictures well I’m looking forward to them to meeting each other because we says already textbook where you see it all the time, see these trends come through suddenly you’re doing for projects in a certain space. And that’s, that’s come that’s come I think that in the picture as well. There’s like, there’s a number of projects that are all around about the same sort of thing. So I’m really looking forward to those people meeting and seeing and meeting each other. Okay, well, it from a laziness perspective. I now don’t have to do the introductions, but I have to go okay, cool. I’ll email you and you and connect you together, which is normally what we’re doing. We love doing it. But now I can shortcut that and say, Hey, you just come here, and you get to buy so it’s sort of, it’s sort of like a cheat is a way for me to help connect a lot of those people because I know they need to meet each other anyway. And but also really diverse. Another thing that we know is already textbook we know how diverse the technical and industry perspectives are and who with regards to random innovation all over the shop. And I’ve been fortunate enough to do a whole bunch of stuff with the ignition program occurred for many years since it started. And one of the beautiful things about ignition I’ve always loved this super diversity of it as in you will get every style of person project industry technology through there is not selecting any winner industries, it just go all come here have a crack, you’re an entrepreneur, that’ll do. And that’s what we’ve saved up. We want a range, because there’s well we know that that’s interesting. And you never know what comes out of diversity.
Maitreya Speering 50:50
Totally, totally. Very cool. All right. So the last question I have for you, it’s always the same question every podcast. But it’s a little bit different for you today, because you’re an r&d tax expert. The question I like to ask is, What is your experience with the r&d tax incentive been? And how do you think it helps startup companies? So you can answer that question in whatever way you want? But I’ll throw that over to you.
Steve Carroll 51:16
But there’s a reply. So someone’s asking yourself a question. This is great. To hear I get it now. r&d tax. And by not doing r&d tax for a bunch of time as well. It’s really has highlighted how absolutely fundamental it is to every single innovator. If you’re watching and you haven’t done your r&d tax or considered and or you’ve made an opinion on your eligibility for r&d tax, if it’s based on your mates opinion. It’s wrong. Every single r&d tax assessment is on your situation and what you need to consider. And every single person that is serious about doing that r&d should be considering that because it is the fundamental is the only standard accessible r&d funding mechanism in Australia. So I don’t care if you’ve you’re paying tax, you’re not paying tax your massive your little it does not matter if you’re serious about your innovation in any way, shape, or form. Don’t assume you know what the application process looks like. And even if you did it three years ago, and you I can’t claim it now because we all know what happened two or three years ago, it was it was not fun. Being an r&d tax Person A few years ago, we thought what was going on? It is back to good times with regards to appropriately being assessed, reviewed, and so on industry, awesome. Ato awesome. The eligibility process is hasn’t changed, which is great. Because those of us that do it, we know it intimately, so that you can understand who does or doesn’t qualify and why. So yeah, I don’t think I can make it any more direct than that, that you are not serious about your innovation, go r&d, unless you have serious assessment. And you’re treating it seriously is not free money, it has never been free money, you’ve got to document more than ever, which is great. So your r&d management practices need to stick right up. If you want the money it is available if you meet the criteria, but treated as an investor already taxes, the government is investing in you. So treat it appropriately documented, manage it, keep your timesheets, do all the boring stuff that actually returns a benefit to you in dollars in your pocket. As
Maitreya Speering 53:36
Yeah, brilliant. That’s great. That’s fantastic answer, Steve. I expected as much from you. Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for for giving me an hour of your time. I really appreciate it and nice to hear all the amazing stuff that you’re doing in the in the innovation ecosystem and, and yeah, fantastic to be running things like this for for early stage startups. Because I know from firsthand experience, how needed it is and I’m sure the companies that you’re working with are very grateful for your expertise and experience in this in this area. So yeah, appreciate you coming on and sharing your wisdom with us.
Steve Carroll 54:14
Maitreya, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s so awesome. Well, well done for you for doing this because it takes a lot of time for you. I’ve done some of this stuff myself as well. I know how hard this is. And it’s a massive give back for you to share this sort of stuff and make this effort. So thank you for inviting me it’s an absolute privilege to have this opportunity and well done and thank you for organising it.
Maitreya Speering 54:37
Awesome mate! Thank you very much, Steve. Take care, all the best.
Steve Carroll 54:41
Have fun, bye!