Anteater is a Christchurch-based startup that offers locally grown skyprawns (locusts), lemongrass ants, and huhu grubs for sale, alongside imported Canadian cricket powder.
Yes, edible insects are a thing, an increasingly big thing. According to Global Market Insights the market for edible insects is set to grow to over half a billion US dollars by 2023. And clean, green NZ could become a premium supplier of edible insect products, if Anteater have any say in the matter.
Insects are all the rage in high-end restaurants. Regular customers include Roots, Vault 21, Antoine’s, Pescatore, and Kazuya as well as the nationwide Mexico chain. The ants are used as a garnish, and provide an intense burst of flavour. In a strange reversal, New Zealand ants taste like lemongrass, and Thai ants taste like Marmite. Locusts are similar in texture and flavour to freshwater prawns, hence the moniker “skyprawns”.
Rebecca De Prospo and Peter Randrup
Cofounders Peter Randrup and Rebecca De Prospo met at Startup Weekend Christchurch in April this year, where they worked on a startup to farm insects. They didn’t win any prizes, but they did validate the basic business concept. True to lean form, they pivoted on the Monday after the weekend to becoming a niche wholesaler rather than farmers, as they saw that this is where the value is.
Peter says that their initial pitch to Giulio Sturla, the owner and head chef at Roots Restaurant, was for cricket powder. Giulio wasn’t interested, but asked if they could source some local ants. Giulio asked, “I need 100g of ants by Tuesday – can you do it?” Peter thought “Oh sh!t”, but answered “Of course we can”, not realising just how many ants that is – around 300,000. He spent the next four days figuring out how to separate ants from dirt, but got there in the end. That’s the startup spirit! Giulio is now a regular customer.
Anteater were recently Grand Winner in Canterbury University’s Entre 85k Challenge, scooping up $22,000 worth of prizes.
As this post is published, Peter and Bex are in Thailand doing research into how commercial insect farming operations work there, and researching possibilities for trading insects between New Zealand and Asia. They hope to have a retail-ready meat substitute product on the market in the near future. Peter explains: “If you swap out one meal of conventional protein for insect protein per week, you’d be freeing up 100-150m2 of land. Every year you’d save your body weight in CO2 emissions, and tonnes of “blue water” – fresh water fed to meat animals.
What’s not to love? Give the product a go at any of the restaurants listed above, and keep your feelers out for insect-based meat substitute at a fine food retailer near you. Peter and Bex will be presenting at Ministry of Awesome’s Coffee and Jam in Christchurch at EPIC on Tuesday 8 November at 12:30pm.
And if you’re keen to meet amazing people like Peter and Bex, bowl up to a Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend Auckland takes place 18-20 November at Massey University in Albany, and Startup Weekend Environment takes place 25-27 November at Massey University in Wellington. More Startup Weekends are also planned next year around the country.
For most organisations, the basic unit of information is a document. We use documents to communicate with others, generate ideas, measure progress, make agreements, and much more. The last decade has seen the rise of collaborative document generation, of which Google Docs is probably the most familiar example. However, it’s not universal, and it’s not even fit for purpose for many applications. Adobe seized the high ground in the 1990’s with Acrobat, and PDF is the de-facto standard for universal document sharing and viewing. So how do you collaborate over PDFs with anyone, anywhere? Meet Kami.
Kami is a browser extension which lets you view, highlight, annotate, and collaborate over a fixed base document. You can add text, strikethrough, or basic drawings, merge documents, and add electronic signatures. It’s a simple concept with a solid core feature set, and of course the hard part is making it beautiful, lightning fast, and able to scale. And scale it does – with a small team based in Auckland, they currently service over 1.9m users and are adding roughly 12,000 users per day, mostly in North America, and almost exclusively by referrals.
COO Alliv Samson, CEO Hengjie Wang, CTO Jordan Thoms
Co-founders Hengjie Wang, Jordan Thoms, and Alliv Samson all met when they were students at The University of Auckland (UoA). They wanted to be able to take collaborative notes on their university study material, so they built a tool which they called Notable. With lecture slides on the left, and collaborative notes on the right, they had an MVP. They invited their friends to collaborate, and they soon had 50 users, and then 100, and then 300, and when they integrated into UoA’s homebrew Learning Management System (LMS) Cecil, they became a major fixture in the UoA community. But how to expand beyond that?
The team were accepted into the Velocity 100K Challenge, and met a great set of mentors and investors, many of whom are with them to this day. They took in a small amount of investment. They found the university market really hard work, so they extended their use case from students taking notes, and did a zoom-out pivot to anyone collaborating on documents. Two years later, they’re core market is still education, but they’re now focused on the K-12 sector (primary and secondary schools) in the USA.
Kami has a massive tailwind of environmental factors behind them, especially the rise of the browser as an operating system, and the associated explosive growth of Chromebooks in the education market. K-12 is an investment in the future as well: today’s K-12 students are the workforce of the future. Kami has integrated with Google Drive, as well as popular LMSs Haiku and Canvas. They provide an API which makes it easy to integrate with just about anything. Frictionless integration helps fuel explosive growth.
Their revenue model is easy to understand too – they provide a basic product for free with adverts and nobbled features, which you can upgrade to ad-free with improved collaboration and more features and support for a monthly fee. They offer paid plans for teachers (which include all of the teachers’ students), individual schools, and entire school districts.
Kami took the bold leap from focusing on University of Auckland to focusing on North America. While UoA was an interesting test market, the founders knew that the NZ market is just too small to build up meaningful numbers for a sustainable business.
Their technology stack uses a fairly standard combination of Rails on the back end, Angular on the front end, and infrastructure based on the Google Cloud Platform, with a number of third-party cloud-based services. Everything they do is data driven. Every time a feature is launched, it’s analysed to measure against hypotheses – does it improve usage, retention, and revenue? They use the data to get inside of the heads of users so they can really understand what drives them.
I was blown away that the tech that services 1.9m users is still being managed by only two people, and they’re both cofounders. It reminded me of how when they sold to Facebook, Whatsapp only had 35 engineers managing 450m users. That’s efficient scaling.
The Kami team has just closed an international investment round, combining existing investors (including Flying Kiwi Angels, Sparkbox, NZVIF, as well as a number of local angels), with some new angels and super angels. They had a serendipitous meeting with YCombinator’s Sam Altman and Founders Fund’s Scott Nolan recently, just before their round closed. Like many successful investment encounters, it didn’t start with a pitch, but rather with a conversation. Sam and Scott were super impressed – so much so that they went from “yes” to investment cash in the bank within 48 hours.
New Zealand investors take note: this is the way the professionals do it, rather than taking six months to say “no” as we so often see.
The investment will be used to double down on sales in the US market – more growth with a focus on revenue, and extending the product feature set to support that. Better onboarding and classroom management features should drive a significant uplift in growth. They also plan to expand the engineering team and set up a US-based presence in the next six months or so.
Kami is a great product, and if you haven’t already, you should give it a go.
Matching emergency accommodation with those in need.
The current housing crisis and rising homelessness in New Zealand are causing a huge strain on emergency accommodation in shelters and the like. Most shelters do not have automated systems to keep track of their own availability, and no visibility over what’s available in other shelters. If you’re a person in desperate need of a place to stay for the night and you present at a full shelter, it can be really hard to find a safe place for you.
SeekShelter is a web app that manages shelter occupancy in real-time and provides transparency to other shelters in the area. If somebody turns up and the shelter is at capacity, they won’t be turned away with nowhere to go. The shelter can quickly refer the client to an alternative.
SeekShelter is a social enterprise arising from Startup Weekend Kapiti held in July 2016. CEO MJ Brodie has a day job working in payroll at a government agency, but spends a lot of time volunteering in emergency housing. Over a number of years, and especially recently, she noticed that when someone shows up at a shelter needing a bed for the night, it’s often hard to find. When a shelter is full, the often try to help people out by doing a ring-round of the other shelters in the region, typically with a five year old phone list taped to the back of someone’s computer.
MJ bowled up to the Startup Weekend and pitched her idea on a bit of a lark – she wasn’t sure whether anyone else would be interested. To her pleasant surprise, she attracted a great team, including Kelcey Braine who is working on marketing, Michael Thornton and Silvana Tizzoni, both working on comms and outreach, and CTO Paul Simpson. At Startup Weekend, they built a working prototype which provides a searchable database of occupancy, location, and any restrictions (eg men, women, children), and contact details. The shelters they talked to were very interested as were support organisations like the Salvation Army and the Coalition to End Homelessness. The Startup Weekend judges were blown away by the quality of the presentation and the prototype, and SeekShelter won the competition.
SeekShelter are now doing a second round of validation, fine tuning the user interface and making sure their minimum viable product will fulfill basic needs, and plan to release a pilot version for Wellington in October, with a nationwide release around the end of the year. While Phase 1 focuses on shelters sharing information with other shelters, Phase 2 will expand the search out to the public, so that people can search for emergency accommodation themselves, and agencies like the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Corrections, and local Councils can also help people find a place for the night. Phase 3 is planned to transform SeekShelter into “Airbnb for emergency accommodation” so that approved members of the public can offer beds in their own houses to specific types of emergency accommodation seekers. The accommodation issues in NZ are similar in many ways to those overseas, and SeekShelter are investigating ways for their system to be used in other countries, too.
Seekshelter have yet to crack a financial sustainability model. They believe they have strong case for funding by MSD, as MSD pays accommodation fees to motels and the like at the moment, and could save significant money by more efficient allocation of shelter beds.
They’re also interested in exploring using SeekShelter for the allocation of emergency accommodation after a natural disaster, which MBIE have expressed interest in supporting.
If you’re connected to an emergency shelter, or to an agency that refers people to shelters, you can help out by making them aware of this great tool to help make more effective use of a critically short resource, or contact the SeekShelter team to offer support.
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.
Payments NZ has announced a Fintech Innovation Challenge. Entries close Monday 12 September 2016.
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.
It’s worked really well for events like the Popup Kitten Cafe and Startup Weekend Dunedin 2016. In the case of Popup Kitten Café, they reached their minimum number of tickets in only 40 minutes. And Startup Weekend Dunedin 2016 reached critical mass three weeks before the event – that’s two weeks ahead of the predecessor 2015 event. Clearly, it’s working.
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.
Abbe Hyde, Jake Manning, Tin Htoo Aung
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!
Kitset.io allows anyone to build cross platform apps without the need to code. They use some pretty cool AI techniques to fill in the gaps between people and machines.
Graduates of the recent Lightning Lab Auckland programme, they’ve built kitsets for the hospitality vertical (restaurants and cafes) as well as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG – retail consumer products like groceries), and are in the process of expanding out into a wide variety of classes of apps.
Building your app is super easy, and if you get stuck, there’s always an AI chatbot to help you out. Deploying the app is even easier – one click, and you get an Android app, an iOS app, a mobile web site, a landing page, and a dashboard. If you’ve ever commissioned mobile app development, you’ll know that it usually takes months to complete if you can find a dev that’s willing to take you on, and it’s rare to walk away with change from $10K. Kitset lets you design your own app and deploy it in hours, and it costs only $69/month – that’s disruptive.
The idea for Kitset was born when CEO and founder Nick Mitchell was working at Accenture in London as a senior IT architect in the telecommunications industry. He would regularly tell his customers about the power of analytics, the future of social, and how machine learning and AI would change the way people do business – AI would be as revolutionary as the Internet itself.
At the same time, Nick was irritated by how long it took and how expensive it was to build apps – he felt that a lot of innovation was being curbed by unnecessary complexity and skills requirements. So he left Accenture and started creating a platform that would let anyone build an app. He spent the next 18 months proving out the technology he wanted to unleash on this task.
Nick’s general concept for bootstrapping this idea involved three steps:
Build a tool to build apps that’s so easy to use that anyone could do it.
Teach a machine to use the tool.
Teach the machine to understand natural language (English) instructions from a human, so that the machine acts like a software developer.
The system can now do simple tasks like “please change that to a blue background” or “send a txt message when this button is pressed”. The next phase of AI implementation will be to ask questions like “are there any apps or sites that you like the look of”, and then provide a template that draws from the design of the specified apps or sites.
Lead Developer Dominic Trang has a background in Android game development. His previous gig was with pharma company Sagitto where he worked on image processing software to detect counterfeit pills. They’ve spent two years together now building the tool, which is learning from the real world 24 hours a day.
Kitset’s market entry plan has four pillars. The most important one which they’re working on right now is strategic partnerships. They’ve recently closed a deal with ASB Bank focusing on restaurants and cafes as a beta test. Why? ASB knows that apps are a big pain point for their customers, and see Kitset as a massive value add at a low cost.
The second pillar of market entry is channel partnerships. They’re working with well known and some not so well known digital agencies to reduce their cost of providing great apps and web sites to their customers. Using Kitset, agencies can do a lot of heavy lifting quickly. There are a huge number of APIs you can clip together in an app, but it’s a right pain in the proverbial to wrap a sexy UI around them. Kitset makes this easy.
The third pillar is direct sales. These are high touch at the moment, but the platform is nearly ready for use by the general business public.
And the fourth pillar is bigger ecosystem players, especially large hosting and service providers, like Microsoft Azure, AWS, or Digital Ocean. One could imagine the likes of Dropbox, 99 Designs, or Basecamp being interested in a product like this as well. Kitset drives traffic, usage, and brand leverage through these partners, who could also become potential acquirers.
In the short term however, they’re looking for additional strategic partnerships with banks and telcos, especially outside of New Zealand. All the while, they’re building up their secret-sauce protectable IP, their AI stack.
Post Lightning Lab, Kitset are putting together a small bridging round with people close to the company to last them through the rest of 2016. Early next year, once they’ve proven their technology and start getting some real traction, they’ll be doing a seed round with typical NZ seed round parameters to start scaling overseas. Keep an eye out at your local angel network for these guys.
Here’s their pitch from Lightning Lab Auckland Demo Day:
Change business behaviour through conscious spending.
Do you care about the planet and want to make the world a better place? Do you only want to buy from businesses that are sustainable and ethical? Do you want to earn tangible rewards for it?
Let’s face it – businesses do their business with varying degrees of care around how they treat the environment, their community, and their employees. As a consumer, what can you do to support businesses that that behave well? Simple answer: Download the Conscious Consumers app (iPhone or Android), find a business near you that aligns with your ethics, buy from them, collect loyalty rewards, and sleep better at night knowing that you’re helping make the world a better place.
In order to participate, businesses must be accredited – they can apply for badges such as Recycling, Composting, Fair trade, Generosity, and others, which all have specific, measurable accreditation standards. Businesses are audited on induction and every year to ensure that they’re complying with standards.
The benefits to consumers are clear: you can have confidence that the restaurants and cafes you frequent are ethical businesses, and earn loyalty rewards. Hospitality businesses use the Conscious Consumers data to attract new customers whose values are aligned to theirs, and find out more about their customers – what they care about, how much they spend, and how frequently they visit.
They have more than 300 businesses and 10,000 consumer users across New Zealand.
The previous version of the app required users to ‘check in’ at the businesses. The new version takes a feed directly from Paymark, and automagically credits your spending from those businesses as it sees your transactions come through. Their secret sauce is tokenising technology, which enables this to take place without your EFTPOS or credit card details being stored.
Melissa Keys and Ben Gleisner
Conscious Consumers started as a paper directory back in 2008, when cofounders Ben Gleisner and Melissa Keys got together with a few of their friends from uni and started the 42collective. The book showcased Wellington businesses that were achieving sustainability metrics, and they received a grant of a $5,000 from Wellington City Council to promote it. They also ran local events to promote sustainability and local businesses that supported sustainability. Over the next few years they attracted funding from the Ministry for the Environment, the Ākina Foundation, and several other councils, and in 2012 they released their first app to help conscious consumers find restaurants and cafes, and collect loyalty points for trading with them.
… business will change if consumers demand it …
They’re making measurable change in the way hospitality business operates. According to Ben, they’ve supported over 50 businesses to start recycling and composting – that’s the equivalent of more than 1,000 households. Their theory of change is that businesses will change if consumers demand it. Up until now, there hasn’t been a way for customers to easily recognise and reward specific business behaviours that matter to them, but now businesses can tie increased revenue back to specific behaviours on their part. It closes an important feedback loop that creates a virtual cycle improving the way we interact with the environment as businesses and consumers.
In May this year, they closed a $600K equity round from high-net-worth impact investors. The round was only open for a few weeks, and was quickly filled. With this investment, they plan to grow to 25,000 users by May 2017, multiply revenue by 4x, expand into other verticals such as food retail, clothing, homeware and hotels. They’re continuing to validate their product in New Zealand, but the next capital raise will be to enter one to three overseas markets, which will likely be done on a city-by-city basis. Post-raise, they’re just as agile and lean as they’ve always been. “It’s easy to burn money when you’ve got it, but we’re used to being incredibly frugal and we want to continue that” says Ben.
I was impressed with how quickly they were able to raise $600K as a social enterprise, but as they say, a professional is someone who makes a hard job look easy, and it only took them seven years to become an overnight success.
This week, they’re launching a major campaign including social media, engagement with their existing user base, working with their business customers as a channel, and large non-profits that are aligned to their values. You too can help make the world a better place by being conscious about your consumption.
Get your kids off the couch and physically active outside with augmented reality (AR) games.
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to play games on their handheld devices. So much so, that it can be difficult to get them outside, even on a fine day. Geo AR Games lets them do both at the same time, augmenting public open spaces into exciting “mixed reality” play areas with a combination of real-world, virtual, and social features.
Let 12 year old Chris show you how it works:
Geo AR Games have two games out now: Sharks in the Park, and Magical Park. Sharks in the Park can be played in any open space in the world that’s at least 60m x 60m. They’re going to release a “world builder” next year which will enable kids to build their own games using a library of 3D models and animations. Think “Minecraft outdoors”.
Magical Park works only in specific locations selected by a local council, and has a specific set of council-selected experiences.
The games have built-in safety features, for example content disappears as the player approaches the edge of the play area, and the player will see a big stop sign on the screen when they get within 15m of a road or other hazard.
The games deliver on the promise to get kids running around outside. Initial data show that the average game session is 30 minutes, and kids run an average of 500m to 2km during a session. Kids don’t notice how much running they’ve done, as they’re too immersed in the game. And the games are social – even though each kid has their own device, they are playing in real life with each other, talking to and yelling at each other.
Both games are attracting a high level of interest from local governments, who want to see increased use of public spaces, and provide healthy, fun activities on them. Councils have been trying to find a way to use technology as a hook to get families out-of-doors for years, and this is potentially the solution they’ve been looking for. Auckland and Wellington Councils have launched trials, and other councils are queued up. Initial feedback is very positive.
Councils also see value in the game for marketing their other services, so for example winning a game of Magical Park could potentially get you free entry into the nearby public swimming pool.
Mel Langlotz and Amie Wolken
CEO Mel Langlotz has a career in visual effects and post production. She met CTO Amie Wolken when they were working together at Augview, a company that specialises in Geospatial Augmented Reality visualisation of infrastructure asset data. Amie has a unique combination of degrees in Law, Animal Biology/Psychology, and Computer Science. Amie quickly rose through the ranks at Augview from programmer to manager and ultimately director. The two had a vision of commercialising AR technology so that users could be fully immersed in an outdoor interactive experience, and be part of the storytelling. While infrastructure payed the bills, Mel and Amie knew that a far more exciting world lay ahead.
During this period, Mel was having huge difficulty in convincing her stepdaughter to get off the couch and play outside. And so the idea for Geo AR games was born.
In late 2015, Mel and Amie formed their new company, and immediately applied, and were accepted into Chile’s women-only S-Factory pre-accelerator incubator, which gave them a USD 20,000 grant. During S-Factory, they applied for and were accepted into the women founder led Lightning Lab XX accelerator programme. Mel arrived back from Chile literally the same day that the XX programme began. And they’ve just heard that they’ve been accepted into Te Papa’s Mahuki incubator programme, which begins in August. The team will be delivering outdoor AR exhibitions for Te Papa, which marks the beginning of developing a platform for AR cultural gaming experiences.
They’re a top team in a new, fast-moving field. They’ve been working together in the geospatial AR environment for three years now, which is more experience than most others can claim – they’re early adopters and first movers. They have complementary skills and really enjoy working with each other.
The game is based on the Unity platform, which provides the ability to deploy on both Android and iOS using a single code base. The game is fully contained in the download, so it doesn’t need to use mobile data during play. There are a number of difficulties in making a good geospatial AR game. The really hard part is understanding and dealing with the nuances of GPS – there are lots of environmental and device variables that affect accuracy and smoothness. On the AR side, it’s really hard to create content that looks realistic in the real world. It’s challenging to integrate data from the device’s sensors to keep the objects stable and look like they are part of that world rather than just overlaid. There’s a constant tradeoff between stability and accuracy.
They’re currently raising $300K to further develop the games and world builder, to sell to more local governments in New Zealand, and to begin exploring the overseas opportunities. They’ve already raised a successful NZD 10K Kickstarter, so you could say they’re out of the starting blocks.
They’re also looking to hire devs, with any combination of the following skills: C#, Unity, modular programming, game development, mobile app development (iOS, Android native plugins), AR or VR, computer vision and image processing, GNSS.