“I had a tough choice to make – work hard to build the design business back up again or fold it all and do something I had been dreaming about for years, doing a startup.”
We all start somewhere
The road to building a startup can take many different paths and this has never been more true than in the case of Brett Geoghegan – serial entrepreneur, startup mentor and the Accelerator Director of CityConnect. Brett’s personal story highlights the tenacity required to succeed and why he brings such tremendous empathy and expertise to guide startups as they build their business. The highs and lows of Brett’s journey – even including a period of homelessness – makes him intimately familiar with the key objectives underpinning CityConnect, of making our cities more liveable, inclusive and prosperous.
From his first sale at age 5, reselling buttons from the floor of his grandfather’s workshop, Brett invented and dreamed his way through school and university, eventually landing himself a copywriting role in which he thrived. Brett quickly learned the lay of the land in the advertising world, and after a short stint working in-house, he started his own highly successful design agency in 2001. The GFC reduced his client-base dramatically and Brett had a hard choice to make: rebuild his company or take a dive into startups, something he had dreamt about for years. Spoiler alert: startups won. At 35, Brett sold his house, packed his remaining belongings into a suitcase and booked a flight to San Francisco. It was not going to be easy but you’ll see his journey makes Brett uniquely skilled to lead BlueChilli’s smart city accelerator.
The ups and downs of Silicon Valley
Brett arrived in San Francisco in 2011 with an idea called Musyo, an incarnation of his music business ambitions. Unbeknown to Brett, the product was far too similar to Spotify, which had just launched in Silicon Valley. Despite this, he went on and knocked on door after door with his pitch, aiming to raise some seed capital for Musyo. At this point we wish we could say that upon arrival his pitches were greeted with open arms, funds were raised and his startup was launched, but that’s not always the case in the startup world. Brett spent the next few months trialling alternative ideas, pitching and rebuilding plan after plan. Silicon Valley was not kind and eventually led to a stint on the street for Brett – finding the most basic food and places to sleep day by day. But this didn’t deter him.
They say when you get into an extreme situation – particularly a situation where your very survival is threatened (and I definitely felt that at times) – your mind goes into overdrive to figure out how to survive and get yourself out of that situation. For me, survival felt like it depended on having a successful startup. It was my key to escaping.
Brett spent his nights cooped up in McDonald’s utilizing the free wifi and learning how to code. Enter his next startup, Hubwall: a simple way for anyone to curate directories around topics of interest. Hubwall received significant traction and engagement, but ultimately Brett’s underpinning technology was not robust enough to withstand yet another challenge… hackers.
Never stop creating
Upon returning to Australia Brett had developed a thick skin, a growing network in the US, experience with multiple startups, and a new skill set for coding. His passion towards building a startup was unwavering. Brett continued to experiment with coding and started working in the startup industry, providing feedback and advice to founders and also delving into product development.
“I had the joy of working with some amazing startups and founders, continuing my passion for product and user experience design, and felt my journey was continuing.”
In 2013, Brett was doing some consulting for a company and spotted some outdated software in use. Cogs started turning and an idea began to crystallise. The idea was for a product called Inductly, and Brett had a rough plan and a base pitch. He took a chance and pitched his idea at Startup Weekend. Inductly took out third place and was accepted into Startmate soon after.
Brett spent the next three months continuing to build the startup alongside his two co-founders, before moving Inductly to San Francisco. After a short time it became clear that he and his partners had differing ideas about the direction of the company, and Brett ended up leaving the project during the capital-raising phase in San Francisco. While it was hard to leave the project, Brett walked away with an abundance of learned experience from his time building the company. He continued for a short time in San Francisco but eventually felt the urge to head back to Australia.
Brett moved fast once back on Australian shores. He promptly sold some software he’d developed to a mapping company and did a stint working for CloudMGR, overhauling the user experience. Just over a year later, we were lucky to have Brett join the BlueChilli team as Entrepreneur-in-Residence, heading up our Brisbane office and he’s now the accelerator lead for our CityConnect program.
What does this mean for you?
Brett has learnt first hand the resilience required to succeed in the startup industry. He has personally experienced the key areas of risk that BlueChilli has identified for startups: team, timing, traction and technology. If you are accepted into the CityConnect program, you will have the opportunity to workshop and develop your ideas, working alongside Brett and our team to build, launch and begin commercialising your startup.