Eating glass and going global

Interview with Trent Bagnall – Co-founder, Slingshot

Trent Bagnall has built a career championing Hunter startups. He’s started and scaled successful businesses out of Newcastle himself, including QMASTOR which he listed on the ASX at the age of 29. Now as co-founder of corporate startup accelerator Slingshot, he brings corporates and startups together to help them grow. Trent tells us what makes a good entrepreneur, why startups are like bands and about his first ever business – a pizza shop.

Your innovation

I co-founded Slingshot in 2012. It’s a corporate startup accelerator which has cultivated many Newcastle success stories. Startups are like bands, they start in garages, have no-one to answer to and are driven by emotion and passion. Corporates are like the old-school rock labels, they have existing customers and channels, but a lot of corporates think that they’re great innovators and they’re not. We bring those two forces together, skills in starting with skills in scaling. We’re currently connecting organisations such as News Corp, Qantas, Caltex, Lion, QANTAS, HCF and Governments with startups from all over Australia and the world to help them find innovative ideas to grow their business. The most exciting thing has been generating $575m worth of companies of which $160m was from zero, with nothing but a PowerPoint deck.

Your story

My first foray into business was Cardiff Pizza Express, which I started with three uni mates in 1992. We didn’t have any money and made plenty of mistakes, but it was an awesome little business where I learnt a hell of a lot. After uni I went into a graduate program with a commodity testing company. I was given a piece of software to manage that tracked coal from stockpile to port. It needed a lot of work on the product and sales to make it succeed. There was no money to develop it, after getting some good traction QMASTOR was listed on the ASX in 2001 with 3 people and not much revenue. It took us the next 5 years to build the tech, but we ended up with 110 employees and offices in Australia, South Africa, Brazil and US. We got acquired in 2011 for $30m.

I left and spent time in Silicon Valley and came across the most famous accelerator, Y Combinator, it had recently produced two companies Airbnb and Dropbox. Co-founder Craig Lambert and I kicked program off the first Slingshot program in 2012. Early we were trying to teach corporates how to think like startups. And that’s the genesis of the corporate accelerator program that Slingshot runs today.

Your business and team

My co-founder Craig Lambert is a guy with a lot of marketing and sales expertise and one of the founding team of Yahoo Australia. He was a great match with my operations and investment background. Without working as a team with Craig, Slingshot never would have happened. Slingshot today has about 20 people in it, all of them we met through networking.

Innovation support

If you’re passionate about it go to the meet-ups, events co-working spaces, travel to some of the global innovation hubs, get out and build your network up.

Why Newcastle

If you think about the best tech hubs globally, they’re often in the second largest city in the state. San Francisco, Boulder (Colorado), Austin, Manchester. There’s less noise. You can talk to senior management at local businesses and connect easily with the CEO. If I was in Sydney, no chance, there would be three EA’s to get through. The other thing is that there’s a lot of collaboration, you have to because there’s not enough people to compete against. The days are gone when you need to move to Silicon Valley on day one, there’s
no reason why you can’t grow a great global business out of here.

Your biggest challenges

Resilience is an unfair advantage that entrepreneurs need to have. I learnt that really early on. I launched my prospectus for my new company on 13 Sept, two days after 911. Every other prospectus that was in the market got withdrawn. The startup founders that succeed are the ones that get kicked and kicked and keep getting up. It’s definitely true that running a startup is like eating glass – you start to like the taste of your own blood. Also, all the best entrepreneurs I know are well travelled. Do it in your early 20s, it gives you the ability to talk to customers, interact with different cultures, meet new people, negotiate contracts, work from the bottom up.

The future

We’re taking it global, we’ve done roadshows in NZ, there’s good opportunities in Asia, I think we can take this model back to the US. Before we overscale we want to make sure we’ve got what we’re doing now down pat. I’ve got no exit strategies, I’m really enjoying it actually.

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