Mark Zmarzly, CEO and Founder of Hip Pocket, came to Queensland from Lincoln, Nebraska, USA with the Hot DesQ program. Hip Pocket are specialists in FinTech software, including the newly launched savings app Hip Money. All of its software is designed to help people make better financial decisions from their phones in under two minutes. Mark has skills and experience in banking, FinTech, sales, pitching, raising capital, and, thanks to his Masters in Creative Writing, storytelling. Mark grabs every opportunity he can get his hands on and his proactive approach is helping him get the most out of Queensland — but as Mark is a keen coach and generous with his knowledge and time Queensland is getting a lot out of him too! Mark tells us about his mentoring trip to Longreach, similarities between Queensland and the Midwest and gives valuable advice for any startup.
What has been the most surprising part of your participation in the Hot DesQ program?
The most surprising experience for me was the amazing mentoring trip to Longreach, Queensland, aka the ‘Capital of the Outback’!
A group of founders from Hot DesQ had the chance to go out there for one of Australia’s three Global Startup Weekend Women’s events. The event was a great success with many participants coming from as far as 10 hours’ drive away. The teams were as inspiring and driven as any team I’ve seen in Brisbane or back in the US.
In addition to the work we did with these amazing teams I had the chance to experience the country, including a trip to a working sheep farm and sleeping out in a swag by the river. A swag is a small tent with an open mesh canopy so you can fall asleep looking at the stars. I’ve never seen stars like that and won’t ever forget that experience as long as I live!
I owe that experience to our Longreach hosts, especially entrepreneur in residence with RAPAD, Daniel Johnsen.
During our time here I’ve had the opportunity to travel to the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Cairns, all of the Brisbane coworking spaces, Sydney, Melbourne, and New Zealand…but Longreach will forever be the most delightful surprise of the entire experience!
What is the Queensland startup community like — does it differ in Brisbane from other parts of Queensland?
I haven’t seen any differences in the quality of entrepreneurs or support networks as we’ve traveled around but I have seen each area focus on the industries, experiences, and lifestyles specific to their area. In Longreach the entrepreneurs were looking to solve problems that they’ve seen in their lives on a farm or with experience working in different rural industries. When people can tap their experiences of problems, then entrepreneurship can flourish!
How is it different or similar to other startup communities you have experienced?
Queensland reminds me a lot of the startup ecosystems back in the Midwest of the United States. Think Colorado to Ohio. This area has been dubbed the ‘Third Wave of Innovation’ by Steve Case, former founder of AOL. He believes the Midwest can win by staying focused on solving real problems and by working in partnership with the corporations that thrive in the Midwest because of its better cost of living and hard working people. These partnership can also help alleviate the lack of capital versus the coasts.
I see many of those same things here in Brisbane with a better cost of living than Sydney and Melbourne and a very healthy corporate ecosystem that is looking for ways to innovate. I believe this can be tapped to differentiate and grow.
What is the most common challenge you helped a Queensland team with?
There are two main areas we’ve been able to help quickly and that were consistent themes.
The first is in the area of FinTech (Financial Technology). It’s Australia’s fastest growing startup industry with 1 in 4 founders focusing on it and Queensland has grown from 4% to 12% of the total FinTech market in the last year. I’ve been working in banking and FinTech for 13 years now and have seen a lot from both the corporate and startup sides so being able to share these learnings and connections with organizations like FinTech Queensland or the Savr app founders has been a joy! Any ecosystem can benefit from bringing in people with deep experiences and connections in a focused area to help expedite the learning curve for similar organizations. Hot DesQ has several teams here in FinTech, AgTech, and other areas within Queensland’s focus.
The second is an area I LOVE and that’s pitching! This is a skill I’d love to see Queenslanders spend more time on and develop a bit more swagger. It takes time and practice but it pays off in dividends as you’re always pitching, whether it’s clients, employees, investors, or the community. It’s both art and skill and should be treated as such.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many founders ‘wing’ their pitch and that has negative impact on those founders and their businesses even if they don’t realise it. How you pitch is indicative of how you prepare and execute and people will label you quickly.
What has been the most rewarding part of your participation in the program?
The people we’ve met have been AMAZE-BALLS! I don’t know if it was because we had heaps of Queensland Government support or that of Fishburners or some key people who took a liking to us — people like Monica Bradley, Megan Harris, and Mark Sowerby — or the fact that we threw ourselves into the community with events and presentations but the response has been over-the-top and above our hopes! Without this community, we wouldn’t be close to what we feel is a key partnership that would have us relocate here long term and build here.
What advice would you give to Queensland teams to maximise the impact of the Hot DesQ teams?
Ask for what you want and make big asks! During our third week here, I was proactive in reaching out to every single Queensland hub that was a part of Hot DesQ to introduce myself and share how I might be able to help. Gold Coast, River City Labs, and theSPACE in Cairns responded quickly with requests and I did sessions or attended events for each. I was also able to arrange unique sessions for Fishburners, Little Tokyo Two, ilab, and others by continuing to reach out but if I was a coworking space, I’d be looking at every single Hot DesQ founder and asking them for the moon! We’re here to help and you only get what you ask for!
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