Matt Fairhurst of Skedulo Compares the US and Australian Tech Scenes

Matt Fairhurst of Skedulo Compares the US and Australian Tech Scenes

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As founder and CEO of Skedulo, the Brisbane-based mobile scheduling platform, Matt Fairhurst (above right with co-founder James Davies on the left  )  is better placed than most to comment on the cultural differences between the Australian and Silicon Valley tech scenes. Now boasting offices in Brisbane, Sydney, San Francisco and Vietnam, his deep understanding of each region’s intricacies stems from the necessity to get each office working as part of the greater Skedulo team. While the learning curve has been steep, Fairhurst has put a concerted effort into first identifying the cultural gaps, then bridging them. And Skedulo’s continued success shows that the apparent differences are far from insurmountable.

So what exactly has Fairhurst learnt over the journey?

A Global Mindset

Skedulo recognised early on that their product had potential which reached far beyond the shores of Australia. This allowed the company to keep one eye on a very international future, and sculpt their culture accordingly. “6 months after starting the company we were selling to customers in the US and Canada”, Fairhurst explains, “so we’ve always had a ‘global from day one’ mindset”.

He began by putting in place a highly visible universal goal and vision; something that every employee – no matter what their location or role – could buy into. This universal goal is the glue that binds the team together, and is reinforced by a variety of other strategies.

Treating Each Region as Unique

While there are certainly similarities that can be found between the two countries, as Fairhurst began to set up offices away from the original HQ in Brisbane (in both Sydney and San Francisco) he realised that he couldn’t simply tar each region with the same brush. Each comes with a unique culture, and the differences in the development of the tech scenes, particularly when comparing Brisbane to San Francisco, couldn’t be more dramatic.

“It’s nice to be a slightly larger fish in a smaller pond in Australia – I think that’s helped us build a world-class engineering team quickly and attract wonderful people that are extremely interested in solving difficult problems”.

While attracting and retaining the top talent in San Francisco might be slightly more difficult, Fairhurst has learnt to work smart, and feels as though there are plenty of opportunities to be found in each market. “I think it’s naïve to look at Silicon Valley and try to emulate/beat it at its own game”, he says. “The US tech scene has a great capacity to absorb and cultivate very single-focus, light consumer apps and companies. Some of these are great but I think it’s a challenge for Australian founders to really think about building companies that solve fundamental problems for people or businesses, rather than creating the next snapchat filter for dog lovers”.

Bringing Together a Disparate and Culturally Diverse Team

So with the teams in each of his offices possessing their own unique identity and culture, how has Fairhurst gone about bringing these teams together? Over and above using smart collaboration solutions to allow for the simplest communication possible (Skedulo are heavy users of Slack), the company has put real effort into fostering a sense of camaraderie between the camps.

“I personally spend most of my time in our San Francisco office and thoroughly enjoy the process of bringing some of our Australian culture and way of working/approaching problems to the team here”, says Fairhurst. “We try and integrate events and team activities on a global level – our March Madness and NFL fantasy football competitions have great levels of participation from all offices – often with Australians winning, which is fun to see. Celebrating Australia day and other national events on a global level helps build the connection between office cultures as well”.

Because there are cultural similarities between the US and Australia there’ll always be a temptation to compare the two countries in whatever ways possible. But the reality is that the tech scene differences are huge, and comparisons, while tempting, can be misguided. That said, companies like Skedulo are lighting the way when it comes to walking the tightrope between the two markets, catering skilfully to the strengths and weaknesses of each.

But some things, Fairhurst says, are constant across all tech markets; “The desire to be part of a winning team working on interesting challenges with a high visibility of results is universal”. And Skedulo appear particularly adept at offering just that.

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