Haymarket HQ founder Brad Chan is on a mission to drive interest within the startup and VC communities in the immense opportunities in Asia. Located in a super-cool warehouse space on Dixon Street the heart of Sydney’s Chinatown, Haymarket HQ is a grassroots catalyst.
A third-generation Australia-born Chinese, Mr Chan says the opportunities presented by the growth markets in Asia – coupled with Australia’s diverse workforce and existing cultural links into the region – should make a focus on Asia a no-brainer.
And yet our mainstream business is strangely lethargic. Top-down political efforts to mobilise the community have fallen flat (remember the whitepaper on Australia in the Asian Century? Neither do I), and the mainstream startup players still take their lead from Silicon Valley (or in the case of FinTech, from London.)
Like all but a handful of players in Australia, Mr Chan is quite new to the startup ‘scene.’ He’s still got a day job as CEO of the Banna Property Group, the family-owned property investment group (and owner of the building in which Haymarket HQ is located.) But he is very active and very energetic.
I spoke to Mr Chan recently about his own business journey into the New World of tech startups, and about the Genesis of Haymarket HQ (It was set up as part of a Banna Property Group philanthropy program as a “profit for purpose” venture, with 100 per cent of net returns distributed to an identified set of charities.)
But it was also set up to address a market need. And that was to build a startup network of entrepreneurs and investors and mentors with Asia experience to drive a renewed focus in connecting Australia to the region.
If you about what the next Australian ‘overnight success’ might look like, what our next “unicorns” will be focused on, it’s not necessarily going to be in the image of Atlassian.
They will just as like be Australian startups with ethnic-Asian founders, an Asia – or specifically China – focus, and maybe even Asia-sourced capital. These companies have already been founded.
Harmarket HQ focused on companies that are going global from Day One. Mr Chan isn’t espousing a philosophy that says focus on Asia to the exclusion of all else. But he is saying the trend among many startups has been to overlook Asia as they try to get traction in markets of Europe and the US which they perceive as less complex.
In this interview, Brad Chan talks about some of the cultural issues Asian Australians face in business. He is frank about the ‘bamboo ceilings’ that exist in mainstream Australian business.
But mainly he talks about opportunity, with the same kind of optimism that is characteristic of entrepreneurs.
Australia’s tech and tech-enabled StartupLand has all the right ingredients to build incredible businesses in the region. Huge export earning ventures, built here. But we’ve got to get on with it.
“One of the advantages that Australia has – and particularly in Sydney – is its very diverse population. [As a country] we have very strong links back into the Asia, but they are links we are probably not using effectively,” Mr Chan said.
“And we have large numbers of expats who have worked over in Asia and who have come back here and who are not really utilizing the skills and experience they’ve built up over there.
“So there’s a real opportunity that we’re not taking advantage of – the skills the connections and the experience. This is one of the great strengths we have got in Australia.
“My own view is that Asia is a massive opportunity [for Australian startups]. And you don’t really need to be an Asian founder. But you do need to understand Asian markets,” he said.