An expat Australian, WellSaid Labs CEO Matt Hocking, shares 4 lessons on building a startup in the US

Growing a startup in any country takes a certain set of skills, but sometimes having a different perspective can be an advantage.

When I founded my first software startup in the United States, I found that my Australian roots provided some unique insights.

I’m currently co-founder and CEO of WellSaid Labs, the industry’s leader in AI voice for business who successfully went through a Series A last July and has more than 50 employees servicing thousands of customers.

I am no stranger to building startups, having co-founded Ghostruck, an innovative marketplace that connected users with licensed professional movers and raised $3 million in venture funding.

Prior to Ghostruck, I was an early team member specialising in product development and branding at startups like Chime and MeetMoi (acquired by Match). I’ve also ran my own consulting firm where I led various projects for Uber, WeWork, Microsoft, Docusign and T-Mobile. My degree is in Design and Technology from Western Sydney University.

Here are the 4 biggest insights I found

 

You are not an island

First and foremost, building a network is essential for any entrepreneur looking to build a successful business.

Finding a strong incubator in your field can be a great place to start. Not only does it provide the business support (and funding) you need as a new company, it also connects you with a pool of high-quality job candidates.  It’s important to make sure that your values, as well as your business goals, align with the incubator.

WellSaid CEO Matt Hocking

For me, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence’s startup incubator program AI2 culture fit with what we were trying to build.

As an Australian in America, you are an outsider so it’s important to be strategic and put yourself out there to connect with talented and inspiring people.

For me, my time as an Entrepreneur in Residence at AI2 was incredibly helpful to meet the brightest talent from all over. The institute attracts people who are all driven to use AI for good.

 

US VCs want startups that solve real problems

While much of the news out of Silicon Valley is about tech that sounds almost like science fiction, the reality is that investors want to find products with a demonstrated need in the market. That means innovations that have a practical application are extremely attractive – education, production, and customer engagement – are what enterprises want improved by technology.

I’d say by nature we Australians tend to take a more capital efficient, conservative approach to business as opposed to the “grow at all costs” mentality that permeates many American companies. That appeals to VCs here in the States. VCs are looking for startups with a strong focus on team, quantifiable data, and technology that is tested and viable to make an impact.

When it came time to raise a Series A round of funding a year ago, having a product that addresses real-world daily challenges made the value proposition clear.

WellSaid Labs gives content creators a super easy way to scale their voice content production without sacrificing quality. Businesses recognise how voice builds brand loyalty and increases engagement.  Our customers choose us to make their educational videos for kids, corporate e-learning tutorials, online ads and within customer service centres.  It’s these kinds of practical use cases that have really resonated with VCs.

 

A down-to-Earth style builds fast rapport and trust

When we think of the software startup scene in America, images of hyper-aggressive CEOs are all over the media.

I prefer a more laidback communication style to quickly connect with a customer, coworker, or venture partner. I’ve found that being approachable and keeping the message simple worked best.

It’s important to remember that AI is a very nuanced area, especially when speaking to new customers and investors, who may not be super technical.  I am always refining my message to explain how we do what we do and the issues around AI better and more clearly.

 

Mateship culture is an advantage

WellSaid Labs is completely remote, attracting employees from across the country.  The company culture is one of diversity and inclusion which has been a real factor in WellSaid Labs success.  Regardless of where they come from, I approach each hire like someone I’d call a mate and that has served me well.

Many Americans have told me they are surprised how easily we call one another mate in Australian culture. I see this as a compliment and a secret power. Mate means more than being a manager, more than a leader on a pitch.

I care deeply about the people we bring on board and finding talent. Whether in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or here in Seattle it’s tough when you are small and starting out without the exposure a larger company would have. But we like to focus on trying to instil in each employee a sense of ownership, because we are all building this together. That makes people feel valued and gives them a clear path to a meaningful career, when they feel that way, they will give maximum effort to building a great organisation. I like to think we are building real businesses for real people.