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Digital Dreamers 3: Meeting the Aussie Mafia

Episode 3: They are 300 against the world, willing to risk it all and fed up with the lack of funding for entrepreneurs in Australia.

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They call themselves the Aussie mafia and, fed up with the lack of funding for entrepreneurs in Australia, they're pooling together at least $20 million to invest in themselves.

It's uniquely Australian ... The group now has members that can provide support ranging from legal advice, introductions to investors as well as the more mundane, such as finding a book keeper, getting a visa or getting advice on where to live 

The success of Australians in Silicon Valley - there are at least 65 Aussie tech startups over there - has created a new crop of millionaires who are sharing their knowledge, capital and couches with the next generation of hopeful founders.

The Aussie mafia (L-R): Bardia Housman (Startup House), Ryan Junee (Inporia), Geoff McQueen (Hive Systems), Elias Bizannes (StartupBus) and Patrick Llewellyn (99Designs).

The Aussie mafia (L-R): Bardia Housman (Startup House), Ryan Junee (Inporia), Geoff McQueen (Hive Systems), Elias Bizannes (StartupBus) and Patrick Llewellyn (99Designs).

Martin Wells, who moved to the Valley to launch Tangler.com and is now working on a new gaming start-up called Playcraft, said the "Aussie mafia" was now about 300-strong.

"It's uniquely Australian, and provides a way for all of us to stay in touch and help each other out," he said, adding his couch had seen "plenty of use".

"The group now has members that can provide support ranging from legal advice, introductions to investors as well as the more mundane, such as finding a book keeper, getting a visa or getting advice on where to live."

The Aussie mafia Facebook group ... entrepreneurs are helping each other get ahead in the Valley.

The Aussie mafia Facebook group ... Australian entrepreneurs are helping each other get ahead in the Valley.

But the Aussie mafia is about to move to the next level. Southern Cross Venture Partners managing director Larry Marshall, an Australian living in the Valley, said he was working with Startmate founder Niki Scevak to create a new venture capital fund based on capital provided by other successful Australian founders.

He said it would be at least a $20 million fund, and "we have close to that soft circled already" after a tour speaking to potential contributors.

"I don't think you can solve the [funding] problem by having some foreign fund come in," said Marshall.

The Aussie Mafia Facebook group is used to organise dinners and meet-ups between Australian founders in the Valley.

The Aussie Mafia Facebook group is used to organise dinners and meet-ups between Australian founders in the Valley.

"It's great US investors want to invest in Australia, great, but we gotta do something ourselves, we gotta lift ourselves up, and that means a healthy risk-taking entrepreneurial group that's willing to invest in itself."

Wells came up with the Aussie mafia name as a joke over beers one night several years ago when Australian entrepreneur Dean McEvoy was struggling to get funding for his startup Booking Angel.

Wells said it would be much easier if they were part of the PayPal mafia or Google mafia, the term given to the early employees of those two giants who cashed in big and went on to fund the next generation of successful tech companies. It could be called the "Aussie mafia", Wells joked.

"The term stuck, and has become a relative loose moniker to describe the group of Australian technology entrepreneurs here riding the next wave of the internet," he said, adding the associated Facebook group is used to run dinners and meetups.

"Ironically, the Aussie Mafia is becoming what we joked it might be."

Several members of the Aussie mafia - not to be confused with the Sydney Ducks crime gang in mid-19th century San Francisco - are profiled in episode 3 of the Digital Dreamers series, which launched on this website today.

McEvoy's success highlights the benefits of being part of the Aussie mafia. He toiled away on Booking Angel for almost five years until one of the mafia's elder statesmen, Marshall, told him his idea was all wrong.

"I'll never forget saying to Dean, you know other people said the same thing, 'mate forget it, spend six months and find the next thing - you're in the ecosystem now find the next thing'," said Marshall from his home in Palo Alto.

McEvoy found the next big thing alright. Wells introduced him to an early investor in group-buying sites, and McEvoy soon ended up launching an Australian version of Groupon called Spreets, which sold to Yahoo!7 last year for $40 million.

McEvoy stayed at Spreets until last week when he finished up to look for his next big idea. He said support from the Aussie mafia was invaluable.

"They took me in, introduced me around, gave me a couch or a spare room to sleep in from time to time and were absolutely instrumental in a lot of what I learned and the people I met in the Valley," said McEvoy.

Find out more in Digital Dreamers Episode 3.