Straw Planes or Why Mark Suster is The Most Important Tech Blogger in the World…for Startups Outside of the US


By challenging common messages that come out of the Valley, Mark Suster is adding more value to non-US startups than any other tech blogger in the world


Many startup entrepreneurs do not realize that their world has been proselytized by a small group of men from the West Coast of the USA. The key figures in this “how to build a modern tech startup” movement are:

– Michael Arrington

– Ron Conway

– Paul Graham

– Eric Ries

– Steve Blank

That’s not a statement about the validity of any of these fine men and/or their opinions that have helped many, many startups throughout the years.

Rather, it’s an observation about the limited number of voices consistently making it through the noise at the moment.

This is only compounded by distance.



I recently had the chance to catch up with Charlie O’Donnell, a great guy, an experienced tech startup industry player and a strong advocate of the NY tech startup scene. If you get a chance (and you have something relevant to talk to him about) make sure you try to catch up with him while you’re in NY. You won’t regret it.

While talking through ways I could connect the Sydney and NYC startup communities, Charlie made a really interesting point about “ Cargo Cults” and his observations from speaking with some non-US startups.

For those unfamiliar with the concept – here’s an overview:

“Cargo cult activity in the Pacific region increased significantly during and immediately after World War II, when the residents of these regions observed the Japanese and American combatants bringing in large amounts of material. When the war ended, the military bases closed and the flow of goods and materials ceased. In an attempt to attract further deliveries of goods, followers of the cults engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation landing strips, aircraft and radio equipment, and mimicking the behaviour that they had observed of the military personnel operating them.”

The underlying idea is that Cargo Cults lack a deep understanding of the outcome they’re trying to replicate, resulting in less than optimal outcomes…

Charlie’s feeling was that many foreign tech entrepreneurs lack an understanding of the context in which Messrs. Arrington et al’s messages are disseminated and their startups suffer as a result.

In other words (OK, in my words…) many foreign startups are building “straw planes”.



Now let’s be clear, this doesn’t apply to every startup or startup community outside of the US, (or more specifically outside of the West Coast tech centers of the US)

For instance we have some great momentum and excellent startups in the Australian tech startup community:

As examples, in the past 12 months or so:

Atlassian – closed a $60M round

OzForex – closed a $70-$110 Million round (numbers weren’t disclosed)

99Designs – closed a $35 Million round

Spreets – Had a $40M exit less than 12 months after starting

There are also a number of world-class startups that haven’t taken funding recently and great community initiatives like:

PushStart – A set of community focused mentor driven activities to help Australian startups.  (Disclosure: I’m a co-founder at PushStart)

Startmate – A startup accelerator with great people involved

Fishburners – A tech co-working, collaboration space like General Assembly in NY or TechHub in London that are acting as hubs for thriving tech startup communities.

On top of this we have great online communities and regular events like Open Coffee Sydney, Silicon Beach Google Group (and Friday drinks) and many others.

We also have excellent community people (too many to name) and technical talent.

For instance Google has always had a great engineering division in AU – look at Maps and Wave as examples (alright Wave mightn’t be the best example, but the team itself was kick-ass and many have gone on to work at and start exciting companies around the world)

Despite all of this I also see strong signs of the Cargo Cult amongst many local entrepreneurs as I’m sure, if we’re being honest, you do too (particularly if you’re reading this outside of the Valley)



Then along came Mark Suster – an experienced tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist – which is why his blog name – “Both Sides of the Table” – is so appropriate.

What he does is provide context – i.e. he’s explaining to the Islanders the details of the war and why that has resulted in the planes being there – not just showing up with an airplane and saying if you build something like this good stuff will fall out of the sky.

Here are 3 sample posts/presentations (and I love the fact Mark does a lot of speaking gigs) highlighting what I’m talking about:

The Co-Founder Mythology – a great presentation explaining why startups don’t HAVE to have 2 founders @ 50%

Lean vs Fat Startups – again, he gives context to the Lean startup discussion and dares to challenge its place amongst the immutable laws of startups.

The Harder I work, the luckier I get – dispels the Overnight success myth that the world keeps hearing about out of the Valley



Don’t get me wrong – there are other wonderful tech bloggers in the US but many write with what appears to be the presumptive notion that we have the context to understand what they’re saying and to form our own opinions on the matter.

That’s why for startups outside of Silicon Valley, those striving to learn and grow without wanting to move to the Valley (and there are a gazillion reasons why you might not want to do that)  no-one is adding as much value as Mark Suster at the moment.

And for that he should be recognised.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Role Model Investors | interesante

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