Left-leaning, tech-obsessed and passionate about startup businesses, Western Sydney University graduate Alan Jones is not to be confused with the right-wing shock jock who shares his name. As technology powers a new wave of entrepreneurial success, Alan is surfing the opportunities. The Applied Communications Studies graduate works as a ‘startup evangelist’ coaching people who want to launch technology-driven businesses.
“People can make software out of ones and zeroes and it can land anywhere in an instant.”
Based at startup accelerator BlueChilli, Alan believes now is the most exciting period for entrepreneurs in Australia’s history. “They don’t have to put stuff on ships to send it overseas,” he says. Alan’s enthusiasm for breaking new ground began during his uni days as one of the first communications students in what had previously been a teacher’s college. “There were great opportunities to jump up and get things started,” he says. For Alan, this included launching the campus’ first student newspaper and helping set up its first computer lab. “It was a formative experience and helped me gain confidence to become an entrepreneur later in life,” he says.
After graduating, he worked for large PR agencies and was temporarily seduced by the big end of town. “We were coming out of the peak yuppie era where it was all about having an expensive suit, a European car and Ray-Ban Wayfarers and for a while I forgot what I was all about and went after those things too,” Alan says. This path took a turn after 1997 when Alan joined a US tech startup that wanted to launch in Australia. “This company that nobody had ever heard of became Yahoo,” he says. By the time he left Yahoo in 2002, Alan had become the product director for the Asia-Pacific region.
“I find it hard to work in large corporations where risk holds people back from experimenting. I’m much more of a fiddler.”
Having made some money, he decided to pursue passion projects, from a record label to a stubby holder for baby bottles and online video startup HomeScreen Entertainment. “I love getting things done,” Alan says.
Now that he’s supporting other peoples’ fresh ideas at BlueChilli, Alan continues to have plenty of his own. Last year, he was in the first team from outside Darwin to join the annual Beer Can Regatta, sailing a boat made from 5,000 plastic wine bottles.
The team used the journey to raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers.
“There are people trying to get on dodgy boats and sail south to Darwin, while we were trying to build a dodgy boat and sail north to Darwin,” Alan says. With plans to focus on more social ventures, Alan also intends to increase his portfolio of startups. “We’ve seen so much change in tech startups between 1997 and 2017 – I can’t wait to see what will be possible in 2050,” he says.