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Brisbane’s brain drain: Coen Hyde

Each year, Brisbane generates a surprisingly large, diverse pool of software developers. However, stories about outstanding people who outgrow Brisbane and move onto greener pastures are all too familiar. Some are headhunted, others relocate to start businesses or seek employment elsewhere. While you hear the occasional story of someone who’s returning to Brisbane after a successful stint overseas, on balance it seems the city is losing a large number of experienced developers who would otherwise be pillars of local technology companies. This series explores why all our friends are leaving Brisbane. We profile some of the talented developers who have left on the promise of a better career.

Coen Hyde

I first met Coen a couple of years ago at ActionHack. At the time, Coen was implementing a new layout for the site he co-founded: Wikifashion.

It looked great. I was impressed. Coen casually dropped some very respectable traffic stats (currently pulling in 50,000 uniques a month), but he was nonchalant about future plans: “I dunno, maybe throw up some ads or something?”

Fast forward a few years and the former Blue Dog Frontiers founder and Kondoot engineer now personifies the “California or bust” mentality. At the end of 2012 he packed his bags and moved to San Francisco with no external investment and no incubator or accelerator lined up. He moved simply because he figured that in San Francisco he would get better value for his savings as he burnt through them starting a new business.

What he did have was technical ability, plenty of experience with early stage businesses and a large captive audience with Wikifashion, where advertising supported Popbasic development. Enough to make it work.

In San Francisco, Coen bootstrapped Popbasic, a company that sells limited edition “micro” fashion collections. Popbasic’s service includes a surprise item in each collection, courtesy of one of their partner companies. In return, the partner gets exposure to a fashion-savvy audience and Popbasic’s customers add the latest fashions to their collections. Popbasic is already breaking even — an achievement Coen feels wouldn’t have been possible in Brisbane, where doing business is more difficult. “It’s a cultural thing,” he says. “The biggest benefit is that other companies are willing to work with you, even though you’re a ‘startup’.”

Popbasic has had greater success dealing with US companies to package its surprise items than with Australian counterparts. And it’s not just working with other companies. The US media is easier to deal with too: “Newspapers are also more willing to go out on a limb and cover you first, before someone else: we discovered that first with Wikifashion and again with Popbasic.” This seems to reflect a greater willingness in the US to give new technologies and companies a chance  — ironic given Australia is supposedly the land of the fair go. It’s a cultural gulf that, for one talented developer at least, is enough to keep him away from home.

When asked about the type of opportunities that would need to exist in Brisbane for him to consider moving back, Coen is frank: “I don’t think that is possible. Maybe if the opportunities existed in Brisbane to begin with I may not have left, but Silicon Valley is unrivalled in the ecosystem it provides for young internet based companies. I don’t see myself starting a mine anytime soon, so I’ll probably stay over here. Though I’ll definitely come back every once in a while and say hi!”

About clinton

A compulsive tinkerer. By day he works as a senior software engineer for NICTA, where he is part of a team creating structural health monitoring equipment being installed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. By night he embarks on projects of the DIY technology kind. While at The Edge, Clinton turned his attentions to 3D printers, investing time and care into getting a fleet of RepRap printers up and running. Clinton is the proprietor of 3D printing blog RepRage.