2012 Reflection: The Year That Was

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read a number of reflective blog posts for ‘the year that was.’ I’ve always found it useful to reflect at the end of the year – before it all starts again. This time around, I’ve done a lot of thinking, but not a lot of writing. I’ve finally got around to writing something – so here’s my shot at a reflective piece for 2012.

In short 2012 was phenomenal! It was probably my most challenging year yet, but very rewarding. I started the year in Fraser Island, located off the southern coast of Queensland. There were a number of highlights in this trip, one of them being Lake Wabby – the island’s deepest lake.

Lake Wabby – Fraser Island

The year’s craziness kicked off with nothing else than TEDActive 2012 Full Spectrum. It was my first TED event and was absolutely fantastic. It really showed how big and inspiring ideas can be. TEDxMacquarieUniversity benefited from massive improvements in 2012 which I would partly attribute to the larger license and inspiration from TEDActive.

Danish Humanoid Robot “DK” at TEDActive

2012 was also the year where I made the bold decision to move from Sydney to Adelaide to pursue a brand new degree. I transferred to The University of Adelaide for a Bachelor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I was already loving the startup scene and consider myself an innovation enthusiast. So mid February, I packed up my room and headed off on a new adventure, via TEDActive in Palm Springs.

After an inspiring start to the year, I flew into Adelaide to pursue my studies. I had already missed one intensive. From this point forward, I felt like I was constantly in “catchup” mode. There were many ups and downs, many failures, but I can attribute all this to a sense of achievement – a sense that I have made it onto “the right path.” I succeeded in a number of areas. I failed in many others.

Lets start with some of the failures:

1. I partnered up with a good friend to submit a tender for a government project. We thought we had a good chance of winning the tender, so we put in a huge amount of effort to setup a business, design our branding and develop a website. The business was called Cinnovate. Our tender was quite extensive and we spent a lot of time putting it together. Unfortunately we didn’t get the job so we were left with a business and no work. We ended up using the business for a couple of projects, but the work we were doing was only short term. Essentially, our consultancy would (and should!) make our services redundant. A very good learning curve to ensure business is setup for the long-term. Cash flow (or lack of) can “kill” unfortunately.

2. I fell into the trough of sorrow with one of the social startups I have been working on. Unfortunately we haven’t made it out. You probably remember me banging on about RippleCrowd and a crowdfunding campaign that we were running. A huge thanks to those who supported us! Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the tipping point. We didn’t let that stop us though. We also entered the ZEN eChallenge in Adelaide. While we made it through to the finals, we didn’t make it out with a place. However,  we got a heap of feedback from various judges and mentors of which we are truly thankful for. We decided to look at the business model more thoroughly. We’ve worked on the idea tirelessly, but unfortunately we haven’t made it out of the trough. At this stage, RippleCrowd is on hold and we may be cutting our losses sooner than later. Nonetheless, it’s been a good learning curve.

The Startup Curve

Thankfully, both of these have resulted in a phenomenal amount of learning and have been dealt with amicably. I am grateful for this because I know a number of people who have suffered adverse effects due to sour business partnerships.

Now, some of the successes:

1. I’m proud of the move I made from Sydney to Adelaide. I could have stayed in Sydney studying a degree that fulfilled nothing but a qualification. Instead, I decided that everything I do must be driven by passion and reason. It wasn’t easy – especially at the start. There were many ups and downs, but I’m loving the place now. A number of opportunities have arisen as I immerse myself into the startup scene and the studies are going really well.

2. I helped grow a team that pulled off a TEDx event 3x bigger than the year before. As a team, TEDxMacquarieUniversity raised in excess of $40K to run an event that would inspire over 300 people in person and many more online. A huge thanks to our Partners that made this possible. We curated an amazing lineup of Speakers and Performers. On the day of the event, we trended nationally and internationally on social media. We managed to attract a phenomenal array of people that contributed to the event and attended on the day. The Team deserves a massive pat on the back. Good job Team!

TEDxMacquarieUniversity 2012 Team (Credit: John Kwan)

3. I helped grow a team that has fostered a community of collaborators and innovators in Adelaide. Vanessa Picker and I were new to Adelaide at the start of the year, and felt that there wasn’t enough happening in this space so we started a meetup called Collaborate to Innovate. Huge thanks to Shane Cheek who sponsored us in the early days and a thanks to E for Ethel (previous venue) and Our World Today (current venue) who kindly offered their space to us. We soon recruited John Baxter and Petra Dzurovcinova, both whom have become great friends. Collaborate to Innovate has now reached in excess of 180 members and is growing by the day. John Baxter has been a huge help, particularly in the last few months where we have been working on building a bigger and better team, and a sustainable community behind it.

4. I was part of the winning team at Startup Weekend Adelaide in November. Quite a lot of traction came out of that weekend for a startup we are now pursuing. It’s called DataMunch. While it’s early days for us, there are lots of exciting things happening this year. I’ll be keeping you posted on that.

The DataMunch Team: Winners of Startup Weekend Adelaide

Some of the things I am immensely grateful for:

1. My family.

2. All the other amazing people I have in my life: friends, colleagues, classmates, mentors, etc.

3. The inspiring events I attended here in Australia:

- TEDxSydney
- TEDxMacquarieUniversity (of course!)
- TEDxCanberra (and the TEDx AU/NZ Organisers Workshop)
- TEDxAdelaideWomen
- Startup Weekend Melbourne
- Startup Weekend Adelaide
- MEGA Pitch Day
- Plus lots lots more!

4. The inspiring events I attended overseas:

- TEDActive: Palm Springs, USA (Macquarie University – thanks for making this possible!)
- TEDxSummit: Doha, Qatar (Eiso Vaandrager – thanks for making this possible!)
- One Young World: Pittsburgh, USA (University of Adelaide – thanks for making this possible!)

5. The amount I have learnt in this jam-packed year. The learning never ends!

6. This list could be a blog post in itself. There are lots lots more!

So what’s in line for 2013?

I’m gearing up for a big year. The thing is, I need to cut the fat. I need to consolodate. I need to learn to focus and to say no!

I read a fantastic article recently about a man who quit being so accommodating. It was a “story of a man who found out what it was costing him, his family and his business career, to let himself be a universal Good Fellow, at the beck and call of every Tom, Dick and Harry who wanted him to do a favor.” An interesting read!

For me, this story emphasised the necessity of focus. I’ll be doing just as much work as I have done in the last few years (and probably more!) but I need to hone in on what’s right for me, my loved ones, and my colleagues.

I also need to quit being a perfectionist and Just F****** Do It! Alex Hillman writes about CTFD and JFDI here. In a similar vein, Bre Pettis and Kio Stark have written about The Cult of Done Manifesto. Both of these are great reminders to entrepreneurs about the importance of action.

A Regular Reminder

This year, my main focus will be DataMunch. In the first half of the year, I’ll be completing my studies at The University of Adelaide. Lucky for me, the final Semester is an Extended Project. For now, the travel will have to stop and so will the conferences. The rollercoaster is about to begin!

When will it all start?

On Sunday I’ll be attending RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). I have been kindly sponsored by the Rotary Club of Hunters Hill. Judith Curtin – thanks for making this possible!

On the 20th January, I’ll be flying back to Adelaide to pursue work with DataMunch. It’s going to be a big year but I can’t wait for it all to start!