CXO Start-Ups

Why working for a startup was appealing for Phil Silverstone after 11 years at GE

Appointed earlier this year as Eventbrite Australia managing director, Phil Silverstone plans to grow the business by bringing his 16 years experience working for large corporates to the role.

Image: Eventbrite

Agile and smaller companies is where the future lies, according to Phil Silverstone, which was one of the main reasons why he left General Electric (GE) after 11 years to recently take on the Australian managing director role at Eventbrite.

Speaking to TechRepublic about his recent appointment, Silverstone said there is an opportunity for the startup community and large corporates to work together, pointing out the startup scene, particularly in Melbourne, has the great ideas while larger businesses have the experience of commercialising on them.

"In one way you're fuelling this ideas boom by building communities of startups so they can leverage off each other's expertise, but that's still not going to the step of commercialisation. What we need to do is bring the industry, establish corporate into that fold, so they can help open up their barriers and integrate these ideas to commercialise them," he said.

"I think the startup scene is positive, but I would describe it as great ideas, rather than great businesses."

SEE: Launching a startup: A primer for new entrepreneurs (Tech Pro Research)

While still a newcomer to the Australian startup scene, Silverstone believes access to capital is one major issue hindering on the opportunity for local startups to grow.

"Somewhere around AU$4 to AU$4.50 per capita is venture capital investment in Australia compared to AU$75 in the US or AU$170 in Israel."

Silverstone proposed one solution to overcome this is to create an ecosystem that will bring corporates--who have funds--into the startup ecosystem, while giving corporate the opportunity to learn how to operate with greater flexibility.

"There are a lot of government activities trying to create that ecosystem and it's a matter of bringing corporates along that ride... and break down some of those more traditional historic barriers in industry to enable a startup ecosystem in Australia to really thrive," he said.

The new kid on the block

Silverstone first found himself working in the financial services industry after completing what he referred to as a generic degree in Bachelor of Commerce at university, before taking off to the United Kingdom for five years, working for various top-tier investment banks.

But now with a total of 16 years of experience under his belt, Silverstone plans to immerse himself in Eventbrite's startup culture, something in which he has been looking forward to after working for such large companies for so long.

"It's more of a refreshing and can-do culture, and the office in San Francisco has hammocks and pinball machines, as expected," he said.

He admitted day one at work was "tough" from a wardrobe standpoint, noting the first thing he did was dry clean all of his suits before putting them away in the cupboard, and wondered about whether it was appropriate to wear a t-shirt into the office.

"I'm still trying to find the balance. But the reality is the cultural difference empowers you to be yourself and they value you for your ideas, and not the time you spend at your desk or how you look."

Mixing the old with the new

Silverstone pointed out, however, he does not plan to let his experience working at GE go to waste, believing his skills are easily transferrable. He plans to put in processes so Eventbrite will be able to maintain balance between growing and retaining the existing company's culture. He added given a lot of his work at GE was working with businesses that were in decline, he got really good at identifying areas of efficiency and hopes to bring that efficiency to Eventbrite.

SEE: Step By Step Startup Business Guide: The Modern Entrepreneur (TechRepublic Academy)

In taking up the leading position, Silverstone plans to use Eventbrite's global success to help grow the company's presence in the Australian market, believing it is his responsibility to localise product development so that it meets the needs of Australia's event organisers, and execute those to the market. In 2015 alone, Eventbrite catered for two million events globally.

"My role is pretty simple: It's about trying to figure out what we need to be doing and then help break down barriers for my team to do that," he said.

Part of the strategy will also be to grow the size of the local team, which has tripled since Eventbrite was launched in Australia two years ago.

"That's the uniqueness of the events industry. It's something we can relate to. We all go to events, there is a passion that ties us to the industry, and it's easy to go and talk to other people because if I go and talk about 'I work in corporate finance where I do senior secured corporate debt' that's pretty much the end of the conversation; whereas I work in events, people ask 'do you go to so and so, did you see this?'--it just opens people up."

While life at work is all about social events, it's a little different at the home front, with Silverstone being a father to three young children aged between six months and five years old.

"My events life is somewhat on hold, aside from being work related," he revealed, saying Wiggles' concerts are some of his highlights at the moment.

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