New Economy Media discovers that the Morgo getaway for super-successful tech entrepreneurs and aspiring tech founders is a learning experience like none other.
The daily event announcements within the innovation sector are nothing short of an assault on the senses.
Conferences, talkfests, panels, pitch nights and an unholy racket produced by a plethora of marketers in startup hubs across the country.
It’s often difficult to discern where the value may lie.
So where do tech giants that are serious about growing their companies and the founders committed to creating the next unicorns head for truly valuable insights?
New Economy Media attended the annual two-day Morgo event and found it an experience worthy of its stellar reputation.
Morgo’s intimate gathering at Byron at Byron Bay included speakers from some of Australia and New Zealand’s most impressive corporations.
But Morgo’s founder Jenny Morel is adamant the experience isn’t just about tech greats and that all the founders have valuable stories that enhance the learning experience.
“While it’s fantastic to have big success stories here too, I like to think we have contributed to the success of other founders on their way up,” she said.
Morel says that Rod Drury attended a Morgo gathering, prior to establishing his accounting software company Xero, now valued at more than $13billion.
“He now refers to Xero as his ‘Morgo baby,’ she said. “But everyone who is building a business has something to share.”
This year’s artificial intelligence-themed gathering was held at a tranquil venue nestled within a rainforest, directly opposite a stunning beach.
Morel said it’s just one of the many keys to the success of her gatherings where stories of success and failure are shared openly, and sometimes just for fun.
“We find that getting people away from the city and the pressure of work, into a nature-themed environment helps them relax and open up to other founders,” she said.
Humble keynote speaker Howie Xu opens the event speaking casually about how in 15-months he created and sold an AI and machine learning company, for a sum, rumoured to be in the billions.
Xu was also the founder of VMware, which achieved $4 billion in revenues in just 10-years.
Most recently his company TrustPath was acquired by Zscaler, where Xu now works as a Vice President. It’s no coincidence that since acquiring Xu and his technology, Zscaler has been named the fastest-growing company on the Nasdaq.
Xu insights about artificial intelligence are devoured by everyone in the room. He believes that in 2019, AI is still in its infancy and presents massive potential.
And, Xu doesn’t worry about AI acting independently.
“AI is smart, but humans are smarter,” he says, smiling. “It was once all about the software, but now it’s about software and AI combined. You watch it, it will eat the world.”
Xu boldly predicts that Fortune 500 companies that fail to embrace AI in the next 15 to 20 years won’t survive.
And, when he speaks about the importance of entrepreneurs demonstrating persistence, many in the small audience nod their heads in agreement.
“If you are truly doing something amazing, then you must persist,” he says. “Maybe it’s stubbornness, but it’s one of the most important things.”
Xu is the first of a group of entrepreneurs to share his story and insights.
Adam Gilmour, a former investment banker, and founder of the Queensland-based rocket company Gilmour Space Technologies tells the other entrepreneurs about his company’s recovery following the devastating launchpad failure of one of his rockets.
“It was a dark day in the company, and both men and women were crying,” says Gilmore. But the entrepreneur in Gilmore is evident when he explains how he rallied his workers telling them;
“Adversity is part of a rocket company – if you don’t fail then you are not a real rocket company,” he said.
Gilmore Space Technologies is planning its first launch into space in 2022.
But in typical entrepreneurial style, Gilmore is already focussed on the growth opportunities even further in the future.
“There’s a crack in the windscreen of the space shuttle that is thought to have been caused by a fleck of paint. When you are travelling at about 27,500 km per/hr, the destruction that can be caused by debris is devastating,” he said.
“There’s thousands of pieces of space junk flying around up there, and we see an opportunity in bringing old satellites and debris back down.”
Gilmour firmly believes that mining asteroids for platinum and other precious materials are also achievable in his future.
And, while his business is a far cry, the Agtech sector his story is no more or less compelling than the story of the next speaker.
The founder of AgriDigital, Emma Weston says she is “just a farmer,” yet she has created a blockchain-enabled platform that ensures farmers receive payments as their grain-laden trucks leave the property.
“It’s incredible, but $100 million has gone unpaid to Australian farmers in payments over the course of a single year,” she explains.
“I created AgriDigital to solve a problem for myself, and it has helped other grain farmers as well.”
The AgriDigital platform digitises the supply chain allowing farmers, traders, silo operators and consumers to trade more efficiently and safely.
The modest entrepreneur is matter-a-fact as she explains that 10-million tonnes of grain trade, valued at close to $2 billion, has passed through her platform since it went live two years ago.
Almost as an afterthought, she mentions that she and her team created Australia’s first stable coin to process transactions, linking its value directly to the Aussie dollar.
“The bulk of business has been in Australia, and we have just launched into the US,” she says. “So, I think we must be onto something.”
Weston’s plans to expand internationally are well received by those in the room who’ve already cracked the US market.
He provides everyone with a valuable lesson on leveraging partnerships when creating new products and expanding into new markets.
RoboticsPlus has built and provided apple packing machines for US growers. His robots perform the equivalent work of 11/2 to 21/2 workers as they gently position apples right side up, and stem and calyx oriented, in cardboard trays in preparation for market.
He tells the group that he’s partnered with one of the largest US apple packing installation companies to deliver and service the solution.
“Why wouldn’t we partner with experts in the business who can get us into the market quickly?”
Saunders and his team are also working to develop sophisticated harvesting technology that will delicately pluck mature asparagus from the ground.
He explains that they have also partnered with investors Yamaha, in working on some of their robotic solutions and manufacturing.
“Why would we try to build something that’s already out there, when we can just attach it to our automation technology,” he says with a grin.
Saunders is proud of another of their robotic solutions which now scales and records information about export log shipments at port gateways in New Zealand.
“Before we created this, workers had to climb onto trailers to record the barcodes and take measurements on each and every log,” he says. “It wasn’t particularly safe, and It took 20 minutes. We have reduced that to just 3 minutes.”
But Richard’s passion for helping business is evident, and he offers, perhaps some of the most important lessons of the day.
The self-confessed serial entrepreneur is light-hearted about his not-so-successful ventures that have played an important role in shaping his life.
“Have courage and have a big vision.
“The whole idea of being a lion and being in the jungle is that it’s not all about business.
Be the lion in business and in your personal life,” he advises.
Richards lives his creed. He has competed in the Hawaiian Ironman where he won his age group. And, he and his wife, a skilled optometrist, have a foundation that performs cataract surgery to restore the eyesight of disadvantaged children.
Every year he takes his family to Indonesia where he and his children are “hands-on” in helping with important charity work.
“We are showing our kids that we are getting on a plane and going and doing and helping. It’s wonderful stuff.”
Richards says his next venture will be an entrepreneurial school for children.
“Our schools don’t teach our kids the right stuff,” he says simply.
The inspirational and educational stories continue until the group breaks to workshop some AI solutions before enjoying dinner together.
It’s clear that they have developed a unique sense of camaraderie even though they were strangers a day ago.
Xu, a devoted Morgo fan, explains why the interactions are meaningful.
“As CEOs’ or founders’ we are lonely beasts,” he explains. “When you hear from other people that their problems are the same, it’s not so lonely.
When lonely beasts get together, and they find out ‘Wow, my problem is your problem – that’s very impactful.”
Jenny Morel’s summation of the Morgo experience is astute.
“These incredible people are what makes Morgo so unique.
When entrepreneurs of this calibre share their stories, you are suddenly witness to some of the most significant entrepreneurial lessons on the planet.”
Morgo’s 2020 two-day learning retreat will be held in Queenstown in September. More details here. www.morgo.co