Tuesday, July 14

Jason Calacanis On Why He Chose To Bring The Launch Festival To Sydney

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Jason Calacanis is clear “a great founder can come from anywhere”, not just Silicon Valley. As Sydney gears up to host The Launch Festival Sydney, Startup Soda sat down with Jason Calacanis, the US Angel Investor with six Unicorns under his belt to ask, “Why Sydney?”

The Launch Festival is the largest startup event in the world. For the past ten years Jason and his team have hosted the festival in San Francisco, with a who’s who of attendees, guest speakers and startup founders all taking to the stage. This year however, the Launch Festival is coming down under and arrives on Sydney’s shores on the 19th and 20th of June.

According to Jason Calacanis now was an opportune time to take the Launch Festival on the road. In his home town of San Francisco Jason said that he and his team “are overexposed” and in order to find new opportunities he wanted to look further aboard.

In fact, Jason has already seen success from expanding his investment horizons with one of his hottest investments of the past couple of years being CafeX, the Hong Kong founded robotics company that now operates two (soon to be three) robotic coffee bars in San Francisco.

When determining the ideal location for Launch Festival Jason wanted to move outside of the US as

“choosing another American city would not be super impactful as those startups have an easy time coming to visit us in Silicon Valley”.

So with a preference to go international it wasn’t hard to find governments and industry bodies interested in bringing Jason to their country. In particular, Jason stated “I get emailed on a regular basis by countries that are offering loans or stipends to come to their country. But we don’t really need money. We have done well as an investment. We don’t try to make money we try to make impact”.

One of those countries to express their interest was of course Australia and as Jason pointed out the “US and Australia have had a wonderful partnership for the last couple of hundred years. We think there is a lot of collaboration that can occur between the founders and investment communities in both markets” and so Australia was firmly penciled in as an ideal location.

With his focus on ensuring he can make an impact, rather than just provide capital, Jason and his team did a research project on the number of Australian VC’s, stating “it’s not zero, but its not thousands”. So for a “founder in Sydney who makes the rounds to meet all the investors in the country its going to be done in two weeks.” This contrasts greatly to Silicon Valley where “theoretically you will never be done. Every time a a company like Google, Facebook, Uber or Dropbox does public we create another 500 Angel Investors and 2-3,000 millionaires, and they potentially turn to angel investing”

This essentially highlighted that Australia was a fertile ground where Jason could make significant impact by bringing The Launch Festival and his team to the country. Naturally, there was the usual Sydney v Melbourne rivalry at play and according to Jason “it went down to the wire”, with both cities putting forward “incredible proposals”. Ultimately Jason chose Sydney because when he talked to people connected with the ecosystem the feedback was that Melbourne already had all the conferences, well, at least a lot more than Sydney and thus more impact could be made in the harbour city.

This really gets back to Jason’s mission to make an impact, while still chasing investments for his fund and Incubator. The initial agreement with the NSW Government goes for two years, however there is an option to extend. The early signs are promising with more than 1,500 free tickets given away.

As Jason stated “we give our tickets away for free, making us different from money hungry conferences who see startups and the government as a revenue stream. We don’t see startups as a way to make a quick buck, we see them as partners”. With 1,500 free tickets issued there are always people who pull out at the last minute so the aim is to hopefully hit that 500 mark or more.

With that in mind Jason also highlighted the potential for additional programs and events to be bought to Australia. In The Launch Festival Sydney is a success then one potential idea includes running a Founder University course in the six months between conference dates.

*** This article is part of a series of in-depth articles based on our interview with Jason Calacanis. The full podcast will also be available shortly.

To learn more about Jason Calacanis you can:


About Author

Paul Towers is a passionate supporter of the Australian startup ecosystem and the Founder of Startup Soda. Originally, Startup Soda was solely a newsletter that helped curate the best content from the Australian startup community, more recently however it has turned into a media platform with the aim of improving coverage of Australian Startups, Founders and VC's.