I studied aerospace engineering, and in my second year I did an exchange to China where I worked with a small team to make two unmanned aircrafts. It was really interesting to see and experience China’s massive push into STEM, it’s even accessible in small regional towns.
After I came back from China I wanted a job. But I didn’t want an ordinary casual job. I decided to try and ‘hack’ the recruitment process. I wanted a casual job that was interesting and fit in around my uni, but there weren’t any good ones around so I decided to apply for a heap of full time jobs and persuade them to take me on casually. This approach failed miserably! So I starting looking for companies that didn’t have HR teams. I turned up dressed for an interview at a web development company hoping they would think they’d missed my appointment and interview me anyway. It worked and I landed a job with a web development company doing sales and operations.
In this job, my bosses bought me a ticket to Startup Weekend which changed my life. You have to pitch an idea in 60 seconds to a group of people, then try and convince people to join your team for the remainder of the weekend. It’s kind of like the Hunger Games for people with startup ideas. A lot of ideas get scrapped, but you create, iterate, validate and launch a business - all in a weekend. I was instantly obsessed. Compared to engineering where you could be working on a bolt on a plane for six months, well maybe not that long, but you get what I mean - this had me hooked.
I started to devote a lot of my time outside of uni and work to developing a startup. I knew I was behind, so I set a target of interviewing 50 entrepreneurs in 50 weeks. I wanted to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could so I also bought over 30 books on startup methodology. I quickly came to the belief that practice makes perfect and creating a successful startup is a probability game, so on weekends I would reenact the Startup Weekend process by myself or with a few friends. My first business that made money was a condom subscription business and it quickly grew beyond my ability to purchase bulk stock from nearby pharmacies to maxing out Chemist Warehouse’s and Priceline’s national warehouse stock! I taught myself design and code to develop the first version of the website and after around a year it was sold to another entrepreneur.
During this time I also started Subservice, a venture technology firm that works with and invests in subscription service businesses. In 2013 this business got voted as a top 10 finalist in Shoestring Startups’ Startup of the Year Award - I was stoked. My next move, after being involved in a few other startup ventures, was to quit my job and build my own web development business, Capsule Digital. Our mantra was simple - build, bill and deploy daily.
I was only six months into this when Mark O’Neill approached me about joining PwC. Originally, I was hesitant, but being able to help develop and grow a team that builds and runs startups within a big corporate appealed to me. In the Ventures team, our remit is to develop consumer facing, commercially viable, global web and mobile applications. Nifty was our first project, followed by Airtax. We’re currently converting Nifty into a platform for a variety of offerings and are looking at another complementary product to Airtax that automatically the administrative burdens of running a sole trader business.
Around the same time when I joined PwC I also co-founded a conference called Future Assembly that seeks to make high-technology (such as autonomous drones and virtual & augmented reality) accessible and understandable to everyone. The conference’s purpose is to empower people to easily understand cutting edge technology relative to new and interesting ways it could be commercialised in various markets.
Ben Richardson is the Group Product Manager at PwC Ventures who builds web and mobile products that become self-managed, fully-funded startups.
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