Starting up success

SOLUTIONS: Andrew McCallum has worked with startups over many years and says budding entrepreneurs need to focus on the problem they are solving for people.
SOLUTIONS: Andrew McCallum has worked with startups over many years and says budding entrepreneurs need to focus on the problem they are solving for people.

You’ve just been appointed Entrepreneur in Residence at The Business Centre Newcastle for three months. What’s your brief?

My main focus is to help the entrepreneurs in StartHouse 100, the business centre’s new startup incubator focus and understand the problem that they are trying to solve, so that they can accelerate their business on the path toward profitability.

What sort of knowledge do you bring to the role?

I bring my knowledge of working with startups and innovation across different industries over many years, but more than that it’s the approach to problems rather than any particular knowledge that’s important. It’s really key to make sure that budding entrepreneurs drill down to the problem they are solving for people, and stop being so focused on their idea of a solution.

What goals do you have have as the EIR?

StartHouse 100 aims to help launch and grow 100 startups with greater diversity than many of the existing accelerators and incubators. Personally, I’d love to see the growth of more globally successful businesses based in regional Australia. 

Were there childhood signs your destiny would be in the entrepreneurial or tech space?

Hmm, nothing that comes to mind. I played a lot of sport and played a lot of music. I was always relatively good at maths, but never really into computer games or technology. I’ve always had quite a strong sense of wanting to help people, and I really believe that entrepreneurial endeavours should be based around solving problems for people. 

What was your first job out of school?

My first job out of school was delivering papers and also mowing lawns, they were temporary jobs where the main focus for me was to spend lots of time on my feet and walking as I was preparing to trek in Nepal which I did the year after I left school.

You were IT manager for Newcastle Taxis for seven years until 2010. What were the core challenges?

The company went through a number of changes, including being acquired by Cabcharge, while I was there. There were some really interesting technical challenges as well as we started building a GPS based taxi dispatch system. The main challenges were around navigating and working in a heavily regulated industry with many stakeholders. I was lucky enough to be given the flexibility and freedom in 2008 to create Australia’s first mobile taxi booking application back when the iPhone had just launched here.

You have been in a few digital technical director roles – how fast is the digital landscape changing and how does one keep up?

The landscape is constantly changing, the iPhone is only 10 years old. Rather than trying to keep up, I try to keep focusing on how best to solve people’s problems. It means you don’t focus on change for change’s sake, but you need to constantly search for better ways to make people’s lives better. 

You’re a founding partner of Digital4ge, a private incubator focused on mobile apps. How does it work?

Digital4ge is focused on helping people with ideas and experience realise their ideas even if they don’t have the desire, ability or time to jump into a new business themselves. Starting a new business and changing your life to suit that is very daunting, and it’s certainly not for everyone. We wanted to democratise entrepreneurship, and give everyone with an awesome idea the ability to see it realised.

You’re also a co-founder of Reffind in the recruitment sector. What’s its core function?

Reffind is focused on improving the employee experience at medium to large enterprises. This is done predominantly through improving the pre-hiring experience as well as the day-to-day employee experience through rewards and recognition.

What makes a good entrepreneur?

Strong opinions loosely held. The passion and tenacity to pursue your idea despite constant set-backs and challenges, as well as the ability to recognise and reduce any confirmation bias in strategic business decisions.

What led you to Newcastle and how do you find the startup ecosystem here?

I’ve lived in and around Newcastle since I was five, I live with my wife and four children at Mount Hutton, but have spent far too many hours on the train to Sydney. The startup ecosystem mirrors many of the best aspects of startup ecosystems around the world. There is a real sense of urgency, but more importantly a collaborative attitude where there are a lot of people now who just want to see some more awesome companies come out of the area. There are a lot of people who will help and assist in any way they can without asking for anything in return. We just want to see some real global powerhouses grow out of here.

Any innovation in the pipeline we should know about?

Absolutely, but far too much to name here. I’m currently raising a VC fund to focus on growing globally successful businesses based in regional Australia, and this will just increase the innovation pipeline further.

There are a lot of people who will help without asking for anything in return. We want to see some global powerhouses grow out of here.

Andrew McCallum