As Michael blogged early last week, on Thursday I flew to Canberra to meet with Ministers and Shadow Ministers to discuss small business development and innovation in the online retail space in Australia.
I arrived at Australia's Parliament House to a 21 gun salute. It was spectacular and as we craned our necks from the taxi we were informed that the Malaysian Prime Minister had also arrived at Parliament House.
Hosted by PayPal, we were invited along with Paul Greenberg, Co-Founder of Deals Direct and Vahid Ta'eed, Co-Founder of Envato to present the issues that we face as small online businesses in Australia. We had the pleasure of meeting with:
- Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy;
- Bruce Billson, Shadow Minister for Small Business;
- Belinda Dennett, Senior Advisor, from the office of Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; and
- Nick Sherry, Minister for Small Business.
Visiting Parliament House was incredibly exciting. In our meetings we covered off a reasonable range of issues and most importantly, we left with the agreement that our current frameworks were created with only bricks and mortar retail in mind and so require revisiting by our government to embrace online retailers and spur on small business development. Michael has already outlined some areas where we see specific gaps in previous posts, so at the risk of repetition, as I similarly outlined to a minister who asked what I'd do if I was prime minister for the day, here are the points in short:
- Grants - The majority of business grants in place make requirements for eligibility that are impossible for many small online businesses to meet. For example, Commercialisation Australia's requirement of a patentable concept or strong design is impractical for many small businesses. It assumes no value in a business that may have many other barriers to entry that contribute to value in a business.
- Education - My thoughts on this evolved since last Monday's post. For Australians to become global online business leaders, change must start in the education system. Subjects taught in business school must incorporate better online business instruction so that this is a natural aspect of business in the minds of tomorrow's business people. This point is prompted by a comment left on the Power Retail blog for us in response to Monday's cross-post. Further, we should also encourage more students to study software engineering with a view to producing more and better digital minds domestically. It goes hand-in-hand to say that it is important that innovative Australian online businesses have the support to grow in to global leaders, as it will be their task to become big enough and interesting enough to keep these graduates in the country.
- Postal Services - Often the most difficult part of our customer experience, our postal services are currently below par, particularly internationally. We heard noises of commitment to change on Thursday on this front and I look forward to seeing the evolution. Thanks to Jeni for her input on our blog on this point!
- GST - This issue has prompted a productivity enquiry and was merely acknowledged in discussions without need for further exploration.
- Banking regulation - Banking options available to small businesses in Australia are often financially onerous and time consuming to set up and maintain. We love using PayPal because it circumvents the majority of these issues and has helped Shoes of Prey to grow more quickly than we could have otherwise. There is a need for regulation reform so that there is room for more innovative banking solutions for small businesses. You can expect submissions to commence on this in the near future.
Our discussions were positive and it's exciting to have had the opportunity to seed our concerns and give context to these concerns with government. We now have some clear paths through which to continue discussions and hopefully inspire change. I think realistically it will take time for change to be implemented, but acceptance of the ideas for change under the focus of the productivity enquiry is certainly clearance of the first hurdle.