Ask any startup founder how important it is to have successful entrepreneurs and tech veterans around them to share their insights and experiences, and they will tell you it’s crucial.
When it comes to mentors who have a wealth of insights to share, it’s hard to go past Marcus Segal, who Sydney entrepreneurs will get the chance to learn from as he makes his way down under for the City of Sydney’s Visiting Entrepreneur Program.
Segal has amassed a wealth of experience over his 17 years working in tech: he was Chief Operating Officer [COO] of eMusic.com, leading the company through its acquisition by Universal Music Group in 2003; cofounded and served as CFO of Vindicia; and spent seven years at Zynga in a variety of roles, including SVP Global Operations, COO of Game Studios, and COO of Business Operations.
He is now giving back to up and coming entrepreneurs through a number of organisations. Having served as a ‘part time partner’ and mentor at Y Combinator, Segal is currently mentoring startups going through the Google Launchpad Accelerator, and is eager to come and share his knowledge with the Sydney community.
Interestingly, while he is now deeply embedded in the startup scene, Segal actually came to work in tech in a roundabout way.
“My dad is a professor of engineering and computer science so we always had computers around the house, and I had written simple games and things with friends when I was a kid. But the real excitement came when I was in college and Mosaic came out. I became intrigued by the potential of the internet, but it was still early days,” he said.
So, rather than taking up computer science at university, Segal studied an English degree.
He spent a few years making television, including the Emmy Award-nominated series ‘Sworn to Secrecy’ for The History Channel, deciding in 1998 that it was time to get an MBA and “blow up my life, quit my job, and take a pay cut to join a startup.”
The decision to study the MBA came as Segal realised he was “smart and driven enough” to grow a career in management.
However, while the English degree would have been fine for law school, which he had also considered at one point, it wasn’t ideal for a leadership position in technology and he needed further education.
However, Segal believes there has been a significant shift since he first entered the space 20 years ago.
“Back then you really needed an MBA but it is not necessarily the case today. Some of the best and brightest women and men I have met are self taught,” he said.
Also changing is the startup community itself – in that there is one at all.
“When I started out this did not really exist. Entrepreneurs were very competitive and not particularly supportive of one another. Now we support each other and celebrate each others’ wins. It’s much more collegial,” Segal explained.
“Also, back in the early days, the typical ‘boss’ was an old guy sitting at the head of a table barking orders. Now, thankfully, we have some diversity – though not enough – and most leaders operate in a more collaborative manner. This leads to richer discussions, more opportunities for employee growth, and much less stressful work environments.”
While he’s been based in Silicon Valley through his tech career, Segal believes the growth of Silicon Valley as a global tech hub over the last couple of decades means there has actually never been a better time for companies abroad to stay put and work where they are.
“It’s incredibly expensive to operate in the US right now, particularly in Silicon Valley. I think that’s why we are starting to see startup hubs really starting to catch fire around the world,” he said.
“Also, outside of the US, many governments are providing great incentives to entrepreneurs. I think we are living in the greatest era of entrepreneurship in human history.”
Looking to help local entrepreneurs is the City of Sydney with the Visiting Entrepreneur Program.
Aiming to strengthen the local startup ecosystem and help foster a culture of entrepreneurship, the first run of the program is taking place from November 20-30, with Segal joined by SheEO founder Vicki Saunders and Crunchbase CEO Jager McConnell for more than 25 community-focused events run in conjunction with 15 ecosystem partners.
Among the events Segal will be taking part in is the How to Grow Your Startup Workshop at Fishburners, one on one Office Hours with local founders at BlueChilli, and a dinner with the venture capital community, where Segal will join the local VC community to discuss ways of further spurring venture investment in NSW companies and venture practitioner best practices.
He will also be taking part in a networking lunch with the VEP entrepreneurs and more than 20 international speakers from StartCon at International Towers.
With access to advice and mentorship from successful entrepreneurs often cited as a challenge for Sydney startups, Segal is excited to share his expertise and insights with local founders.
“I hope that others can learn from the many mistakes I have made! I’ve got information to share on everything from how to raise money, how to attract and retain talent, and how build and launch great products,” Segal said.
He is also relishing the opportunity to expand his own horizons.
“I know next to nothing about Sydney’s ecosystem. I am looking forward to meeting the women and men who are building great companies in Sydney. Hopefully my advice will be useful!”
You can learn more about the Visiting Entrepreneur Program here.
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