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

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Growing a startup in any country requires certain skills, but sometimes 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 am currently co-founder and CEO of WellSaid Labsthe industry leader in AI voice for businesses, which successfully completed a Series A last July and has more than 50 employees serving thousands of customers.

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

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

These are the 4 biggest insights I’ve found

you are not an island

First and foremost, building a network is essential for any entrepreneur who wants 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 financing) you need as a new business, it also connects you with a pool of high-quality candidates. It is important to ensure that your values, as well as your business goals, are aligned with the incubator.

WellSaid CEO Matt Hocking

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

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

For me, my time as an Entrepreneur in Residence at AI2 has been incredibly useful to meet the brightest talent around. 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 Silicon Valley news is about technology that almost sounds like science fiction, the reality is that investors want to find products with a demonstrated need in the market. That means innovations that have practical application are extremely attractive – education, manufacturing and customer engagement – ​​which is what companies want to improve through technology.

I would say that we Australians are naturally inclined to take a more capital-efficient, conservative approach to business, as opposed to the ‘grow at all costs’ mentality that many US companies are permeated with. That appeals to VCs here in the United 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 funding round a year ago, having a product that tackles everyday challenges in the real world made the value proposition clear.

WellSaid Labs offers content creators a super easy way to scale their speech content production without sacrificing quality. Businesses recognize how speech builds brand loyalty and increases engagement. Our customers choose us to create their children’s educational videos, business e-learning tutorials, online advertisements and within customer service centers. It’s these kinds of practical use cases that really resonate with VCs.

A down-to-earth style quickly builds rapport and trust

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

I prefer a more relaxed communication style to quickly connect with a client, colleague 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 with new clients and investors, who may not be super technical. I always refine my message to explain better and more clearly how we do what we do and the issues surrounding AI.

Mateship culture is an advantage

WellSaid Labs is completely remote and attracts workers from all over the country. The company culture is one of diversity and inclusion, which has been a real factor in WellSaid Labs’ success. Wherever they come from, I approach every employee as someone I would call a buddy and that has served me well.

Many Americans have told me they are amazed at how easily we call each other partners in Australian culture. I see this as a compliment and a secret power. Mate means being more than a manager, more than a leader on a field.

I care deeply about the people we bring on board and finding talent. Whether it’s in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston or here in Seattle, it’s hard when you’re small and starting out without the fame that a bigger company would have. But we like to focus on instilling a sense of ownership in every employee because we’re all building this together. That makes people feel valued and gives them a clear path to a meaningful career, if they feel that way they will put in maximum effort to build a great organization. I like to think that we build real companies for real people.

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