Andrew Dowling – founder of Tapestry

A holder of multiple patents, Andrew has been a pioneer of Australia’s technology industry for the past two decades, with a career spanning software and technology through to strategy consulting and everything in between. He has lived and worked at various times in Australia, India, China and the US, and is author of two books about his adventures throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. With MBA degrees from INSEAD in France and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a Master’s thesis on social entrepreneurship, it was about time Andrew decided to knuckle down and do something useful.

One of the best things about working in an early-stage startup is that there is no “typical” day.”

Andrew is now the founder of Tapestry – which connects seniors to the people they love. He is also very actively involved in Sydney’s thriving start-up scene, and is both a mentor at Startmate as well as a long-standing member of Australia’s largest start-up working space Fishburners, where he provides advice and assistance to early-stage start-ups.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

When I stumbled across some of the statistics about social isolation in seniors, that was the ‘aha’ moment.”

My career has always been in technology, and a few years ago I did a Master’s thesis on social entrepreneurship — sustainable businesses that fill a social need. I was very inspired by this idea so I started looking at various social needs. When I stumbled across some of the statistics about social isolation in seniors, that was the ‘aha’ moment. One in ten seniors say they often or always feel lonely, and that the TV is their main form of companionship. I knew that there was something we could do about this.

How do you make money?

Tapestry generates revenue through subscription fees from our users.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

Ah, I wouldn’t want to give away any surprises, would I? Suffice to say we’re super-excited about what we’re doing with the Tapestry platform over the next few months, which will see it expanding to a range of devices and taking a real step forward in terms of product completeness and reach.

Based on your experiences, what is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to make an idea happen?

Just to be persistent, constantly knocking on doors, pitching your business, getting customers, negotiating with investors to get them over the line — whatever it takes. You just need to never give up.

What does your typical day look like?

One of the best things about working in an early-stage startup is that there is no “typical” day. One day might be focused on getting a new build of the product out the door, another on marketing or handling press interviews, or sales, hiring, pretty much anything. The one constant is that we religiously do a daily standup to talk about what we achieved yesterday, our goals for the day, and any help we need from others on the team to achieve them. Grabbing a coffee together before the standup is also part of the daily ritual.

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The Tapestry office in Ultimo, Sydney

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

Working in a startup is not a “normal” job — you need to be able to deal with high levels of uncertainty…”

I think the thing that surprised me most was how difficult it is to find employees who are really suited to working in a startup. Working in a startup is not a “normal” job — you need to be able to deal with high levels of uncertainty, are passionate about what you do, and are able to wear many hats (and do a great job on each of them). People like this are hard to find! But they do exist — and I’m happy to say we’ve now got a fantastic team and are really excited about what we’re working to create.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

You’re only going to be successful building a business if it’s something that can sustain your interest for years…”

You mean for a new business? I’m happy to give away lots of ideas for free, I’m too busy working on my own thing right now to do anything with them! Having said that, the advice I usually give to people stuck looking for an ‘idea’ for their startup is that this is the wrong way to go about it. In my experience it’s better to look at problems in the world that really annoy or frustrate you, and start thinking about how you might solve them. You’re only going to be successful building a business if it’s something that can sustain your interest for years … so it doesn’t matter if there is a great business to be made selling mobile derivative trading software (for example) if it’s not going to get you out of bed in the morning.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

I’m going to have to expand on this question, because there aren’t many companies which are strictly speaking in Tapestry’s ‘industry’, certainly not in Australia. But in the startup space in general there are a lot of companies doing really interesting stuff.

One company I really like at Fishburners is WattCost — a hardware/software device aimed at changing the way electricity metering and demand response is handled. It’s a really low-cost innovative solution that works with existing meters, which is the sort of thing tailor made for a startup to dream up, when all the incumbents are working on next-generation smart metering solutions.

What about internationally?

I really love Airbnb — not just because of it’s phenomenal growth and how they’ve handled it, but their focus on design, both of the product itself and the entire experience. But what makes Airbnb stand out for me is how big they’ve got from such humble beginnings — who would have thought a business designed around renting out your spare air mattress to backpackers could turn into a billion dollar business?

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

My masters thesis was on social entrepreneurship, which is probably a good indication I think it’s got a huge role to play. All businesses actually create social good in some way simply through the more efficient allocation of resources, but we’re seeing a lot of great companies built on business models specifically designed to improve the world in some way (and we think Tapestry is one of them).

Name 3 websites/apps you would recommend to our readers?

If your readers are primarily startups, then off the top of my head I’d list:

  • VentureHacks – for some great, down-to-earth, relevant and up-to-date advice on many things startup-y
  • Both Sides of the Table – another good blog from VC Mark Suster
  • As far as apps, all startups need to get disciplined about metrics very early on — you’ve got a plethora of choice out there so one site worth checking out is segment.io — will let you plug in a whole host of metrics packages (Google Analytics, KISSMetrics, MixPanel, Vero, etc) under the hood.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter? 

I make it a rule not to follow Australians on Twitter. Only Latvians.

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

What a great question. We’re certainly keen to find interesting, passionate people who are inspired by what we’re trying to do with Tapestry and would like to get involved … we see this as an obvious channel to find future team members, but also a way to give opportunities to people to learn about what it takes to succeed in a startup. Opportunities for interns, particularly when it comes to digital marketing, would probably be top of the list, but there are lots of ways people can help out.

Having said this, we have found that the best results with these sorts of things come from people who are a) able to commit to a reasonably predictable amount of time, b) have some previous experience & skills they can bring to the table, or at least be willing to figure out what they need to learn and go learn it, and c) are really sharp. We don’t right now have the capacity to train someone up in something if they can’t do a lot of the learning themselves.

We also expect to raise growth capital later this year, so there will be an opportunity for interested investors to come on board and be part of the Tapestry story.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

Another great question. I’d love to get suggestions from them on what I described as the biggest challenge that we face above — how to find and hire great high-quality candidates who are passionate about working in a startup like Tapestry. Suggestions welcome!

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Being in Ultimo means we’re a short walk to a range of great places in Surry Hills & Chinatown, so we’re a bit spoilt for choice, but our most recent night out as a team incorporated El LocoVini’s wine bar and Button Bar in Surry Hills … all immediately made it onto the fave list!

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment? 

This question made me realise I haven’t bought an Aussie song for months. The last one was Dance Bear by a band called Snakadaktal which is still at high school … a nice reminder to young entrepreneurs that there is no minimum age limit on being successful.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Sure! How does a year’s free subscription to Tapestry sound?

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