The co-founder of failed startup incubator Pollenizer just told of 'one of the worst days' of his life

Phil Morle of Pollenizer (right). Photo: Facebook.

Pollenizer co-founder Phil Morle has spoken publicly for the first time of the heartbreaking decisions that led to the shutdown of Australia’s first startup incubator.

In February, news broke that Sydney-based Pollenizer would be closing down after nine years as a beacon in the Australian startup scene. The organisation had in recent times started advising corporates on how to get involved in the entrepreneur community, but the move failed to satisfy financially or spiritually.

“We are entrepreneurs and we get out of bed in the morning to do something massive, and while it is certainly possible that Pollenizer could have continued indefinitely as a boutique consulting business, everyone on the team is motivated to do something huge and change the world somehow,” Morle said in February.

“In the end we just couldn’t see the path to that, and now the important thing for me is that the amazing team around me get to move on and do amazing things.”

In a frank talk at the CeBIT technology conference in Sydney last week, Morle explained the mechanisms behind the scenes that led to the decision to close, recalling one specific incident when he realised that the Pollenizer journey was over.

He explained the ideal business model for corporate consulting was that Pollenizer would have intellectual property big businesses love so much that they would want to pay for it. With that in mind, Morle went to one of his biggest corporate partners with a proposal to collaborate on turning the work Pollenizer had done for them into a product.

“I pitched this freakin’ awesome idea to a partner who already absolutely loved everything that we were doing and was already paying us an awful lot of money,” Morle said.

But the partner rejected his pitch, saying that they wished to “commoditise” the content they had developed, for it to be “in everybody’s hands for free”.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” Morle said.

“At first I took it as an affront. I walked away thinking ‘that’s really horrible, after everything we’ve done for you’. But actually it wasn’t – it was an insight. It was a learning.

“What I was hearing was the tension in our business model, where to make our customers good, they needed to be able spread everything we were doing together. And our model wasn’t allowing for that.”

Morle was fronting the conference audience to warn current entrepreneurs of the signs that indicate when they should walk away from their startup, just as he had done with Pollenizer.

“The message I want to leave you with (is) actually that (closure) is not a bad thing. It’s a great thing and perfectly okay to do, especially in these times of great change.”

In 2013, Morle revealed to Business Insider that Pollenizer had made $3 million in revenue but only just broken even. At the time, the company had turned $5 million of venture capital into a $20 million portfolio.

This year’s closure led to 22 people losing their jobs, but it saved enough funds to fulfil promises made to the startups still left in the incubator portfolio — Lawpath, HiveXchange, Mezo, CohortIQ and Spot.

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