Opening up Chinese investment, distribution, and manufacturing to Kiwi startups.
For most NZ Startups, getting into China is hard – really hard. China is about as different to New Zealand as you can get in language, business culture, and scale. And yet it remains a massive prize: a market of 1.3 billion with global distribution networks and investors eagerly looking for opportunities in the rest of the world, and especially in New Zealand.
Fundertech is a startup looking to bridge this enormous yet potentially lucrative gap by providing connections with Chinese investors.
Founders Rob Thomas and David Liu have extensive experience in doing business in China. They’ve built up a relationship with the Chengdu-based Venture Capital Club, which operates as somewhat of a cross between an angel network and VC consortium. The club has hundreds of members, along with 21 VC funds and a number of Private Equity interests. In addition to investment showcases, the Venture Capital Club also runs training courses upskilling their members and helping them build relationships with the rest of the world outside China. Next month, well known New Zealand investor Tenby Powell will be a keynote speaker on behalf of Fundertech at the Venture Capital Club’s Chengdu Investment Summit.
Fundertech are also working with the NZ Consulate in Chengdu, and looking to foster better business, economic, and social with China, providing a boost to NZ’s presence in China and helping lift NZ’s performance on the world stage.
Fundertech is looking for New Zealand startups to invite to these investment summits to pitch to Chinese investors. They’re interested in SaaS, VR/AR, edtech, medical technology, food tech, and clothing and textile startups to present. They charge NZD 2900 for a package which includes flights, accommodation, translation fees – costs in the same ballpark to what you’d pay independently.
There is an application process – they’re only interested in companies that have at least a working prototype, some early stage sales, have completed initial market research in China, intellectual property unique to their industry, and a business plan. That’s not much different from what any seed investor might want to see.
If you’re interested in finding out more, check out the Fundertech web site, and fill in the contact form at the bottom of the page, or phone Rob Thomas on +64 21 704 423.
Most tradespeople are really good at what they do – be it plumbing, joinery, construction, or a myriad of other specialist trades. But like most of the rest of us many hate the admin part of the job – keeping track of costs, time, invoices, etc. Every hour spent doing admin is an hour not doing something that you love, like spending time with family in the evenings or weekends.
Tradify provides an app that makes it easy to keep track of time and materials working on client jobs, and integrates with accounting systems like Xero and MYOB so you can spend less time doing paperwork. It also covers employee scheduling, dispatching, and quoting so you can keep the whole team organised.
Born in Auckland, Tradify has many hundreds of customers in over 20 countries, although most are in Australia. They’re getting ready for a big global push.
Founder Curtis Bailey is a software developer by trade, and passionate about solving problems and making stuff work. He worked as a software engineer on a variety of business software, ERP, and mobile apps, but in the late noughties decided that his IT career was really ordinary. “Why am I doing this,” he asked himself, “when I could be extraordinary?”
When you wonder who you’re going to work for next, just look in the mirror.
Around that time, Xero was just gaining momentum. Curtis was blown away by how good the Xero user experience was, and was inspired that it was created by a Kiwi company, with an exceptional product, an exceptional brand, and an exceptional marketing team, going up against the big players and making a success of it. Curtis was inspired to build a business that hit the Xero quality benchmark.
In a previous life, Curtis had worked as an apprentice at an electrical engineering company. This gave him first hand experience of the admin pain tradies experience. He combined this with his ERP experience from previous jobs as a dev, and for the next two years spent nights and weekends building the first version of Tradify. In August 2013, the first version of Tradify went online.
In the first month he managed to attract two customers, and in the second month he got another six, and a year later, after attending some trade shows in Australia and getting great word-of-mouth referrals, he had enough revenue coming in to quit his day job and go full time on Tradify. The company has continued to grow at a good clip since then, and he’s continued bootstrapping by hiring additional people as revenue increased. He’s just recruited employee number eight.
Tradify took on some seed investment early this year, and their investors (ex-MCOM legends Adam Clark, Graeme Ransley and Serge van Dam) have helped them really step up growth. They’ve become fanatically data-driven, and a lot more methodical about marketing – testing hypotheses, measuring results, iterating, doubling down on stuff that works, chucking out stuff that doesn’t. The next phase of the company is all about sales and marketing, stepping up the growth rate, and building Tradify into a massive global business. They’re planning on raising a seed round in the next few months to validate assumptions necessary to attack the North American market, and then go for Series A.
You need to be good at getting good at stuff quickly.
Curtis has found it really interesting making the transition from being a dev to being a CEO. He uses the analogy of making music to describe it:
“In order to write a song, you need to understand the elements of what makes a good song, and take an idea and turn it into reality with composition, orchestration, and conducting. Business is the same thing – a dev is focused on making a good piece of software, and a great entrepreneur is focused on turning an idea into the best possible business. You can’t be a musician if you can’t play an instrument, and you can’t be a dev if you can’t cut code. It’s the same in business – you need to gain the hard yards experience selling, hiring people, managing finances, and a hundred other things. You need to be good at getting good at stuff quickly. You don’t need to be great at it, but you do need to be quick, understand what’s required, and then hire people to do the job properly.”
His bottom line: “Why be ordinary? Let everyone else do that.”
In Other News …
The Project 2016 takes place in Auckland at AUT on 1 September. This year’s theme is creativity in business and beyond. They’ve got a great speaker lineup, and there are still a few tickets left.
The MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Asia Innovators Under 35 Awards nominations close on 9 September. If you know an outstanding young innovator deserving of international recognition, do nominate them.
Andrew Simmonds, Marie-Claire Andrews, and Rod Drury are hatching a conference with the working title Foundercon, by and for founders, “an opportunity for NZ founders to network the heck out of each other”. Watch this space.
The mission of Reyedr (pronounced “Rider”) is to connect motorcyclists with their machines in a way that transforms the experience by delivering crucial info about their bike, route and ride group through their head-up display (HUD) and smartphone app.
If you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle, you can appreciate that you need 110% of your attention on the road, and even looking down momentarily to view your speedo is an unwanted distraction. It’s essential to always keep your eyes on the road, on the lookout for any hazards coming at you. According to the Ministry of Transport, the risk of getting injured or being killed on a motorcycle is 21 times higher than for drivers of cars.
Reyedr is developing a HUD with universal helmet mount, to present critical data such as speed and navigation at eye level, so you can concentrate on the road at the same time as seeing your critical info, just like fighter pilots do. The HUD is powered by their app which optionally lets you stay geo-connected with your ride group, as well as your loved ones at home, so they can know your location, and that you’re safe. In case of emergency situations, Reyedr can also auto detect and send an SOS. Their app also has a social aspect which is designed to connect bikers to their community and discover new routes, through those who have ridden in in the past or to experience with those in your ride group.
Founder and CEO Kal Gwalani has a big vision that HUDs will become as essential and ubiquitous for motorcycle use as smartphones are for the general public.
Kal is equally passionate about motorcycling and entrepreneurship. His love of biking started at age 17 and entrepreneurship followed soon after, and by age 19 he had started his first venture for manufacturing auto accessories. When he moved from India to New Zealand in 2003, he promised himself he would return to motorcycling so he could properly enjoy the scenery. After a 20 year hiatus in motorcycling, he finally got back in the saddle in 2015.
During his 30 year career he’d built up extensive experience in high-tech manufacturing in plastics and composites, distribution of emerging technology products and business development. As soon as he returned to motorcycling, he found that the ride experience was missing a key ingredient, in terms of safety as well as enjoyment. This was the inspiration for the creation of Reyedr, to provide a safer and smarter connected ride experience.
Kal put together a team including a CTO Jens Steinigen, an experienced systems engineer and software developer, Simon Waters and Gary Klapproth, both creative technologists and mechatronic specialists. The team were accepted into Lightning Lab Auckland earlier this year, and used the time to validate their market and build a prototype.
They’ve narrowed their market down to the age 30+ market of leisure riders, that ride on day trips or tour on multiday trips, who are typically well off and techno-savvy. Of the over 30 million such people in the developed countries, Reyedr will is starting off by targeting riders in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
Reyedr have a prototype now built from off-the-shelf components, but are working towards designing their bespoke miniaturised HUD, which will be contract manufactured. Stage two of product development will include the ability to include communications and other data sources into the HUD, by connecting to external sensors including RPM, tyre pressure, as well as to newer motorcycles for ride settings such as ABS and traction control.
The centrepiece of the system is the Reyedr app, which the team is building as both the “operating system” for the HUD, but also as a standalone app with safety features and for the social aspects of motorcycling.
The app is presently in alpha testing and will soon be released to some testers at Auckland Harley Davidson before the beta goes out to their “Rider Advisory Group” (RAG) of 80 riders in September. They plan to present the Reyedr HUD at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2017, with support from Callaghan Innovation and NZTE who are excited about the prospects of getting more NZ hardware startups out to the world.
Reyedr is at the early stage of a big play and at the cusp of a large opportunity. They are currently raising their first round of capital, mainly to fund further hardware development, and will be raising another round mid-2017. They’re particularly looking for investors with experience in hardware startups, manufacturing and a passion for motorcycling and innovation.
Run your startup like a science experiment – document your assumptions, validate whether or not they’re true, alter your business parameters (pivot) to incorporate your learnings, repeat until you either achieve product-market fit or run out of resources.
It turns out that startups aren’t the only thing that Lean can be applied to. SuchCrowd provides a lean approach to event planning. Not sure whether there’s a market for melodic death metal in Arrowtown? Before you go and book Lamb of God into the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall and set up a gig you’re not sure will break even, you can use SuchCrowd to validate your market. The SuchCrowd team calls it Lean Events Theory.
SuchCrowd lets you set up a tentative event, and start selling tickets. If you don’t get to the minimum number of tickets sold by a preset deadline, all of the existing ticketholders get a full refund. Once the event reaches the minimum number of tickets, the event is formally scheduled. The platform provides tools to help people passionate about the event share info about the event increasing the chances of getting to critical mass, and building the artists’ fan base.
You can even A/B test parameters around events like venue, time, ticket price, and so on. Get early engagement before pouring money down the drain marketing a product that the market doesn’t want. Lean. Next on the product line up – SuchCrowd is building a promotion engine which helps anyone with any level of tech savviness to promote their events on social networks and media easily and effectively so that event planners can get quick feedback on whether their event will fly.
SuchCrowd has now run 45 events between Dunedin, Christchurch, and Wellington, with one event also one in the US. They’ll be launching their Aussie platform before the end of August, mainly at the request of Australian bands who have toured NZ and loved the service.
I first met the cofounders Abbe Hyde, Jake Manning, and Tin Htoo Aung at Startup Weekend Dunedin 2015, where they were working on a company to handle online marking of university assignments. During the course of the weekend, they found that it was a busy market and not all that attractive, but the team stuck together and decided to do a “real” startup doing something else. Tin is from Myanmar (formerly Burma), where he was the CEO of a software development company that had built a ticketing system for the challenging Burmese market – challenging because they just didn’t have the infrastructure at the time (reliable Internet, payment gateways, etc) that we take for granted in New Zealand. When they started investigating the ticketing market, they discovered the number one problem shared by people running events was fear of not being able to sell enough tickets to break even. This is especially true of people running events with emerging talent. SuchCrowd was developed to solve this problem that remained unaddressed by any of the existing ticketing platforms.
These guys are lean machines. They currently in a sprint where they have a target of testing 10 hypotheses per day. This is a practice they picked up in Lightning Lab Christchurch, which they attended last year. They really loved the Lab, and strive to recreate accelerator culture in their company every day. Since the end of the Lab the team has tripled in size – they’re up to nine people, whose roles outside of work include being a comedian, two dancers, bass guitarist, and an actor.
They’ve just completed a raise of $150K using the Simmonds Stewart Kiwi KISS documentation that’s been hacked to meet SCIF requirements. That’s a real milestone – the first new investment type to be accepted by SCIF in over a decade. This funding will carry them through to the end of the first quarter 2017, when they’ll be raising a seed round.
If you’re running an event of any kind, and you’re not sure how many people you might be able to get to come, by all means check out SuchCrowd, and if you’re interested in following the antics of this creative team, email Abbe and sign up to their newsletter.
Making open source culture more accessible to governments, established businesses, startups, and the public.
[See below for a special limited offer]
If you know me at all well, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Open Source. I run Linux on my laptop (OK, it actually runs in a VirtualBox on Windows), and I believe that I negotiated the first Open Source software development contract with the New Zealand Government in 2003. This week’s Startup of the Week is not your traditional two-hackers-in-a-garage startup, but rather a conference and community that has the potential to turn New Zealand into a world leader.
Open Source // Open Society ran its first conference ran last year, and the organisers and participants were so thrilled with the results that they’ve committed to making it an ongoing annual event. The main purpose is to celebrate open source culture and its potential impact on wider culture and society. There are four basic principles: Participation, Collaboration, Transparency, and Freedom to innovate, and they can disruptively transform the way we interact with each other, the way we do business, and the way we govern ourselves as a society.
According to cofounder Anthony (Ants) Cabraal, New Zealand is the perfect place to have this discussion. “We have a really progressive public sector, we’re ambitious, and we’re ready to lead the world in designing new ways of collaborating to bring about more open government and more democratic engagement.” And Kiwis have a knack for contributing – I don’t have any stats to hand, but I’d venture to guess that New Zealand is near the top of the table for highest number of open source contributions per capita of any country.
Ants says that the idea for OS//OS started in 2014 when Github planned to come to New Zealand to hold their first user conference outside of the United States. Linc Gasking had a vision to take advantage of this and turn it into something much bigger, just before leaving the country to focus on 8i. With not much time left before the conference was scheduled to take place, Ants and cofounder Silvia Zuur managed to “catch the grenade just before it hit the ground” and turn the conference into a resounding success, with 380 people attending.
Ants says that scaling from year one to year two has been really interesting, building the brand, and establishing a trajectory and direction. Everything about the conference will be bigger and better this year – more sessions, more speakers, more workshops. This year, in addition to the conference, there are three additional associated events. The first one was Open Data Day which took place on 7 July. There will also be a Collaboration Café on 18 August, and an Open Source Hackathon at Enspiral Dev Academy on 20 August.
For a conference like this to work, it needs a really strong voice from innovators, people willing to think outside the box, and startup entrepreneurs. In other words, people like you. It will be a rare chance to learn from and connect with global leaders in open source thinking for technology businesses, and extend your networks across the tech, business and government sectors.
To that end, we can give you a special offer of half-price tickets to OS//OS for subscribers to this blog. In order to qualify, you need to be a registered subscriber – just fill in the form on the subscribe page, and respond to the confirmation email. We’ll send out the promo code and instructions to subscribers only on Thursday 4 August. But be in quick – we only have 15 tickets to give away.
If you miss out for some reason, you can get full-price tickets from the OS//OS site.
Hopefully this year’s OS//OS will be a hit, and we’ll look forward to many more years of conference like this that bring together the government, tech, and innovation communities. I’ll see you there.
You probably knew that Wellington is a hotbed of game design, and that there are a lot of interesting edtech startups here as well. Gamefroot sits at the fascinating intersection of these two worlds, and they are really taking things to the next level.
Gamefroot makes it easy for anyone to become a game designer. They’ve built a platform which lets anyone make an HTML5 game using a great library of templates and objects, a super-easy Scratch-like scripting language, drag-and-drop construction, and instant publishing to the web, or iOS, Android, or Chrome stores. They have over 110k users from all over the world, and tens of thousands of games on the platform. You can try some of the games out on gamefroot.com, or have a shot at making your own game on make.gamefroot.com. There are some excellent tutorials to get you going. Here’s a 5-minute video which takes you through the process:
The idea for Gamefroot started in 2005 when founder Dan Milward wanted to make games, but didn’t have the programming experience to do so. If you cast your mind back to the dark days of prehistory before the iPhone, you might remember the only real mobile platform was Nokia feature phones with 320x320px resolutions. At the time, there were only about 30 games available for Nokias. They published the first version of Gamefroot on Facebook, and almost instantly there were hundreds of games available. But Nokia in their wisdom pulled the underlying Flash technology from their phones, and that was that. Then in 2007, the first iPhone came out, and Gamefroot had another go at publishing games on iPhones. But Steve Jobs pulled Flash technology from the iOS platform, and that was that.
In addition to Dan Milward, the team includes David Thornycroft, Ben Richards and Stefan Le Minh. Gamefroot resources are designed in partnership with the education sector and normally involves working with teachers and other game designers from the sector. They have some high powered advisors as well, including game reserach fellow Dr Bronwyn Stuckey, Network for Learning’s Pete Hall, NZ e-learning teacher Marianne Malmstrom and the ubiquitous angel investor Trevor Dickinson.
But why should game design be so compelling for educators? The New Zealand curriculum has largely moved past teaching kids facts, and focuses on teaching kids how to learn and integrate that knowledge into their daily lives. This seems to be particularly effective for STEM subjects. In order to design a game to express what you’ve learned in class, you need to know quite a lot about the subject, and you get the bonus of having a game that makes it fun for someone else to learn that subject as well. Oh, and you learn to code as a by-product. As examples, biology teachers have commissioned students to design games to build their own fungi, and English teachers are using Gamefroot to teach kids how to develop text-based games.
There’s a real shortage of teachers capable of teaching these things to kids, which is where Gamefroot’s paradigm of designing a game on a canvas, applying pre-fabricated game mechanics, easy scripting and customisation all within a hosted UI comes into play. The scaffolding process is important in helping people learn how to write games, and mimics the Khan Academy and Hour of Code.
The NZ Council for Educational Research (NZCER) wanted to know if this approach to learning is both cognitively engaging and educationally sound, so they commissioned a study on “Game-coding workshops in New Zealand public libraries” which was published earlier this month. Senior Researcher Rachel Bolstad concludes that Gamefroot inspired kids to want to make their own games or apps to sell, and boosted their interest in a possible future career in game design, coding, or programming. She also identifies the potential for this technology to help redress gender imbalance in this field, as well as supporting more Māori and Pasifika into the field.
Gamefroot is currently pre-revenue, but they’re about to start charging schools for providing classroom-specific tools. It’s a mass-market play, as schools don’t have huge amounts of cash to invest in this area. The USA will be the main target.
They’ve already had a lot of exposure in the USA mainly thanks to teacher word-of-mouth, and have active collaborations going with teachers and education providers in that market.
They also have active collaborations with the game industry, where there’s a critical shortage of game developers. Game design companies are eager to inspire as many kids as possible into the industry, and they see Gamefroot as one vehicle for doing this. And as a kid, what could be more fun than building games using assets from your favourite game designers?
Gamefroot has raised $150k to date from private investors, has had some support from Callaghan Innovation for R&D, and attracted service revenue from companies that want specific games developed. They’re planning on raising a seed round in the near future, specifically targeting investors with experience in the edtech sector that will help them break into the US Market. Their end game is strategic acquisition by a major edtech company or a platform player.
Here’s a great opportunity for you, dear readers: if you design a compelling game on the Gamefroot platform about the NZ startup scene, I’ll offer to feature it on this blog. Have fun!