Would you like to earn free minutes and/or megabytes on your mobile data plan? Postr powers telco-branded white-label Android apps that show you tailored adverts on your mobile phone’s lockscreen, and reward you with free megabytes and minutes.
It’s a simple concept that’s had great uptake with Skinny in New Zealand – after less than a year out of the blocks with Skinny, they already have over 40,000 users across Skinny and their original B2C app Postr. They’re planning on launching with another major telco in NZ this year.
But the exciting action is overseas, and they’ve launched with “a telco” in Australia earlier this year (five seconds of Internet search revealed that the telco is Optus), and are preparing to launch in the Philippines and Indonesia in the next few months.
27 year old CEO Milan Reinartz arrived in New Zealand from Munich on a high school student exchange programme, and never left. While he was at design school, he started making money buying and selling cars, and generally trading. When he got his first job as a designer at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellington at age 20, he found he was making less money than he had the previous year as a trader. He decided it was more rewarding – mentally as well as financially – to work for himself as an entrepreneur.
He got involved in the startup scene through Alan Hucks at CreativeHQ, and did some design work for Yonix, Dash Tickets, and went through Lightning Lab 2013 with the Promoki team. Dash Tickets was acquired, and Promoki failed. You could say that Milan did his startup apprenticeship in this way.
One day in 2014 Milan got a txt from a friend in Germany who pointed him to Locket.com, a company doing opt-in adverts on lockscreens (since acquired by wish.com) and said, hey this is a great idea, and you could do a much better job with it. Whereas Locket had been focused on gaming and retail, Milan thought that this would be much more valuable to Top 200 brand companies and more suitable to personalisation. So he launched Postr, their initial B2C platform in early 2014. There was a problem though – customer acquisition cost was just too high compared to the value that the end user was receiving. So they pivoted Postr into a B2E2C model, partnering with mobile networks to help them differentiate and white labelled the app.
Given their traction in NZ, Australia, and Southeast Asia, they’re currently on a steep growth curve. Southeast Asia is particularly attractive due to the high Android market penetration there, and vibrant and growing mobile advertising market. Nowadays, Milan spends two weeks on the road in Asia with COO Roger Shakes, alternating with two weeks in NZ working in deals here and minding the shop with CTO and co-founder Mark Penman.
This isn’t only a speed-to-market play, it’s a be-the-f@#%!ing-best-out-there play
“This isn’t only a speed-to-market play, it’s a be-the-f@#%!ng-best-out-there play because it’s such a new space” says Milan. And the stats back up that they’re well on the way. They’re getting average revenue per user (ARPU) of over $2/month/user which is much less than their acquisition cost through the telco channel. Now it’s mainly a question of scaling.
And to that end, they’re raising a $2-3m series A, which has been mostly filled by existing investors plus new investors from Southeast Asia. Milan touts, “there’s still room in the round for additional investors, but you’d better get in quick!” Love it.
Their challenges going forward? “Setting up a truly international operation, within the ‘wild west’ environment of mobile advertising, the slow sales cycles, working with big organisations like telcos and the lack of talent and expertise in NZ around mobile ad-tech.”
The important thing is not to let your mind get bogged down, to keep going, be persistent, keep learning, and not give up for the wrong reasons.
I asked Milan what was the most important thing he’s learned in the last couple of years, and he said, “I think it’s a bit like walking a tightrope in the early stages and you often don’t know what’s going to work before you try. The important thing is not to let your mind get bogged down, to keep going, be persistent, keep learning, and not give up for the wrong reasons.”
It’s a tough job being a veterinarian. You can’t really communicate directly with your patients, and their owners are notoriously unreliable in the way they report their pet’s behaviour. Wouldn’t it be great if you could remotely collect data on your patients which showed how much time they spent running around, where they’ve been, when they’ve been resting, scratching, whether they’re eating too much or to little?
Well now you can, with Heyrex, the Wellington developed “Fitbit for pets” that’s exploding onto the world stage.
The Heyrex story begins with big-hearted scientist David Gibson who loved animals, and saw huge inefficiencies with the way animal health treatments were delivered. He believed that using technology it should be possible to detect changes in behaviour which were indicative of health problems a long time before symptoms appeared. With early behavioural detection, animals could avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort, and owners could avoid expensive remedial treatments after the problems had become acute.
By 2011 Gibson had developed a working prototype of Heyrex, based on dongle technology with a monitor station that looked like it came straight out of a 1950’s sci-fi film. But later that year, Gibson passed away from a heart attack.
Current CEO Nathan Lawrence was an early investor at that time, and was helping Gibson out with commercialisation strategy. The Board asked Lawrence to become CEO, and take the company forward. The new team took the concept, stripped it right back, rebuilt it based on 2.4Gb wireless technology with the back-end in the cloud, and started shopping the solution in the US and UK. The Company also did a customer segment pivot – aiming the new HeyrexVet monitoring service at vets rather than pet owners, as vets have existing relationships with pet owners, and the data and analytics are much more valuable to them.
Vets prescribe HeyrexVet monitoring as part of their treatment programmes, as it saves time and enables measuring effectiveness and adjusting treatments. There are several treatment programme modules which can be switched on in the cloud for specific treatment of animals. One such module is cage rest, which is critical to monitor for postoperative recovery. The vet places the wearable on the animal, and data starts flowing in showing how much time the animal is spending in the cage, in easy exercise, or running around. The vet gets an alert if the animal exceeds activity parameters.
Another module is weight management – a surprising 52% of dogs in the US are obese. When a vet puts an animal on a weight management program, the vet uses HeyrexVet to set a diet and exercise regime, using its database of over 4,000 pet foods and its ability to measure the amount of energy the animal is expending. HeyrexVet forecasts the rate at which the animal will gain or lose weight and measures against actual weigh-in data. If the animal isn’t getting enough exercise, Heyrex sends a message to the owner telling them it’s time to go out and exercise.
There are also modules to measure sleep disturbance, scratching relating to allergic reactions or dermatitis. A new heartworm recovery module will save lots of lives – if the nine month heartworm recovery programme is not strictly adhered to, the animal can die.
Research universities love this product – Heyrex currently supports projects in several US states, as well as Massey University closer to home. Most of these universities are using Heyrex to measure the efficacy of new treatment programmes. The University of New South Wales has used Heyrex to monitor tigers in zoos.
Heyrex currently have thousands of units out in the field, mainly in the US. For research clients, they charge $149.95 for the hardware, plus a monthly monitoring fee. For vets, they’re moving to a fixed monthly price based on a set number of units and services, which the vets can on-charge as they like. That’s Fitbit-for-pets-as-a-service. Over the last 12 months, their revenue growth has averaged 50% month-on-month.
The system is designed to provide a healthy return on investment for vets, with additional revenue streams available through product ordering. This helps vets defend their more traditional revenue sources that have been eroded by online pharmacies and bulk stores.
The Veterinary Services industry is significant. In the US alone, there are roughly 75m dogs and a similar number of cats, resulting in annual industry revenues of over USD 58B and growth at 6% per annum.
Currently, the team is small and tight. Along with Nathan, CTO Mark Solly manages the technology side of things while Sales Manager Kim Goldsworthy is leading the charge into North America. They also have four devs, a CFO and an accounts and admin person based in Kārori, but they’re looking to go hard on the USA this year.
They’ve just completed a raise of NZD 816K on Snowball Effect a few months ago, but they’re looking to score another 3m or so with significant input from strategics to fuel international expansion. It’s a hot industry – another player in the animal wearables space with revenues of less than 5m was recently acquired for 117m. The acquirer saw strategic value in the data.
Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt is famous for saying “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” There’s a large untapped market of pets out there who can’t type search queries or use phones. But the pets themselves represent a significant revenue opportunity, and can reveal quite a lot about their owners as well. I imagine when Heyrex gets acquired, it will be all about the data.
Heyrex are looking for additional investment as well as sales staff and developers who are passionate about this industry. Do make contact with them if you’re interested, and help another great New Zealand startup to totally own its category.
New Zealand is leading the world in entrepreneurship in government, and Wellington is poised to become a world leader in govtech. This is evidenced by the recent R9 Accelerator programme, in which government posed problems for combined public-private sector teams to solve in a 12-week accelerator programme. Demo Day was held last week at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, and the results were impressive.
One of the teams to come through the programme was Mibiz, sponsored by Inland Revenue to reduce the problem of high failure rates of new businesses, particularly among those formed by recent migrants. The team that rose to the challenge quickly reframed the problem into an opportunity: give every new business an expert network, with an initial focus on migrants.
Why the focus on migrants? They represent a huge missed opportunity for the New Zealand economy. Many highly qualified migrants arrive on our shores and are unable to find traditional employment for a variety of reasons – different qualifications from the NZ standard, lack of networks, and sadly, everyday racism. You’ve probably ridden in a taxi or Uber recently with someone who held a PhD or managerial position in the old country but couldn’t find a job in their industry here. Many of these arrivals have an entrepreneurial bent, international connections, huge resilience, and a drive to succeed, which makes them ideal candidates to start businesses. But they lack the networks and local context to help them succeed.
Mibiz is essentially a curated directory service for organisations providing services to new businesses, including accounting, HR, tax advice, marketing, and the like, some of them free, some of them paid. Mibiz facilitates connections between these entrepreneurs and service providers, and clips the ticket for 5% of the service fee. Everyone wins.
Amy Cotton, Andrew Bailey, and Jonnie Haddon
The Mibiz team is made up of Andrew Bailey, Amy Cotton, both from Inland Revenue, and Jonnie Haddon who used to run Rutherford and Bond Toyota’s online sales. And yes, Jonnie was a used car salesman (of sorts, even if not on the showroom floor) at one time and I can tell you that it is fantastic preparation for work in startups where the founders’ lack of ability to sell stuff is usually the number one obstacle to success.
During the programme, Mibiz held a number of meetups with migrant business owners to validate the problem and solution. Through those events and conducted interviews, 40 business owners have signed up for the service as early adopters. The were also able to attract 18 service providers, and have already facilitated seven connections between migrants and service providers in the few weeks since they launched their concierge service.
Mibiz are seeking $220K of seed funding from the government to further develop the service and launch a beta product, and then attract a critical mass of service providers onto the platform, which should take them into 2017. At that time, they’ll be looking for a combination of public and private investment to scale the service within New Zealand and potentially push it out internationally.
Will Mibiz take off? It’s very early days, but I’m super excited by government taking a punt on this team and the other R9 teams. I’ve never seen government employees move so fast, adapt so quickly, engage so fully, break down so many barriers, work so hard, and just get as much sh!t done as I have in the R9 Accelerator. I’m also heartened that New Zealanders, and the New Zealand government, care so much about new migrants that we want to ensure that we can fully utilise their talents and natural entrepreneurship, for the benefit of the whole country.
The bigger question is whether New Zealand Government agencies can walk the innovation talk by backing promising public-private partnership teams with the resources they need to succeed – otherwise, they’re just accelerating people into a brick wall.
If you’re a migrant, a refugee, an NGO or government agency providing services to migrant business owners, Mibiz would love to talk to you – just drop them a line.
Crowdsourced professional post-production for user generated video.
These days, everyone is a videographer. We all have handheld video cameras in our pockets – they’re called smartphones. And while anyone can shoot footage of reasonable quality, turning it into a compelling clip is a specialist skill.
EditMate provides professional video post-production in the cloud, with high quality at a low cost. Why would you stuff about trying to teach yourself to be a video editor to produce a barely passable product, when for a few hundred dollars you could get a professionally produced product? Think of it as UberBLACK for video editing – they have experienced video editors scattered all over the world, just waiting to turn your pile of mpeg into a beautifully crafted clip.
Rachel King and Scott Stratford
EditMate was born when Scott Stratford was working in Sales at a full service video production company. He was regularly approached by potential clients who had their own self-shot footage they wanted turned into beautiful videos at a lower price point than his company could offer. Boston-based cofounder Rachel King was working as a producer and doing small editing jobs on the side, for friends with young startups that were shooting their own content since they couldn’t afford a traditional production company. One day it clicked – there was a significant unmet market need, and an opportunity for a scalable business.
So the two did the only sensible thing in the circumstances. They booked a trip to Bali, and spent the next three months living on the cheap, surfing, scheming, and setting up what was to become EditMate using contract software developers. They launched in January of this year, and have tripled their throughput in five months. Much of the growth comes from repeat business from happy customers.
That might sound a bit glib, but these guys are both lean and smart. The first version of their system is built on WordPress (just like the blog you’re currently reading) – there’s no point in prematurely optimising your infrastructure before your business model is settled. And although the company is registered in New Zealand and was gestated in Bali, the centre of gravity is now firmly in the US. Scott moved to Boston, and is learning as much as he can as quickly as he can about the US market. He’s avoiding the mistake that many Kiwi startups make wasting time in New Zealand learning how to distribute to a market of 4m people, when you could be out in the wide wide world learning how to distribute in markets that are orders of magnitude larger. They’re making sure they have their business model right in the US before expanding to the rest of the world. Big tick.
New Zealand and Australia are still very important to the team though. “Australia is a great market for us – they seem to just ‘get’ the importance of curated user generated content,” says Scott. And a significant chunk of their sales still comes out of Aotearoa.
They haven’t needed to take on any investment – they’re successfully bootstrapping, and if they can keep on tripling every five months, they’ll be delighted with organic growth.
EditMate are focusing on the B2B market. Business models in video production haven’t kept pace with technological progress. For businesses, there’s no real need in many cases to have a professional camera crew come in, and charge an arm and a leg for end-to-end theatre-quality video when you just want an explainer clip to whack onto your home page. While there is some competition in the crowdsourced video market, nearly all of it is aimed at consumers.
Their latest feature is a mobile app which lets you crowdsource the camera work. As an example, if you’re running an event, you can get your participants to install the app, shoot their own video, and it automatically gets uploaded into the cloud where it’s ready for processing by the EditMate crew. Nek minnit, voila, you have a professionally edited record of the event which can be used as a teaser, a promo clip, blog post, and many other uses.
EditMate is a great example of a business that takes away the pain of doing small, infrequent specialist jobs, instantaneously, using the cloud. They’re also a great example of a Kiwi business going global from day one, optimising the right things at the right times.
The feminine hygiene revolution in a box – better for your health, and better for your world.
Most feminine hygiene products have environmental issues. They account for 0.5% of personal landfill usage, and contain plastics, chemicals and lots of artificial stuff. I’d like to think that the things we put in intimate places in our bodies are pure and natural, but that’s not the case for most tampons.
The Organic Initiative (OI) is changing that. They’ve come out with a line of Fair Trade, Organic, GMO-free, hypoallergenic tampons, pads, and panty liners. No chemicals, toxins, plastics, perfumes, dyes or synthetics, just pure organic biodegradable cotton.
Cofounder Bridget Healy is a health expert, herbalist and nutritionist, passionate about bringing healthy, sustainable products to the world. Alongside Bridget, Helen Robinson is a business powerhouse – she’s been the VP Australasia of Pivotal, the Managing Director of Microsoft NZ, started up, ran, and exited a carbon credit registry, and a director of NIWA. Currently, Helen is chair of Network for Learning, and on the boards of ATEED and a number of other companies. Helen describes her first meeting with Bridget in 2014 as “yin meeting yang”, the ideal union of complementary attributes, and in early 2015 The Organic Initiative was born. They had no trouble raising a small amount of friends and family investment, organised contract manufacturing in Europe, and they were away.
OI is essentially a brand play, and speed is critical. They’ve wasted no time at all and have executed with laser focus. Early 2015 was about securing distribution agreements, and in October they began their roll-out to every Pak ‘n’ Save and 4Square in the country with a finely branded product at a similar price to the old-school competition. Eight months later, from a standing start with no brand presence, they own 2% of the tampon and pad market in New Zealand, and are growing 30% month on month.
Helen says, “I’m excited, pumped, humbled, and scared stiff by the fantastic market reaction we’ve received. We’re on a roll, and speed is of the essence – you have a limited window of opportunity to create a brand, drive market, build scale and market share. You don’t want to be the person who says, ‘hey I thought of that, but didn’t act’.”
A key part of their success story is a great board. In addition to the two cofounders, the board comprises Dr Emma Parry (Next Magazine Woman of the Year in 2010, Gynecologist, now Chief Medical Officer of OI), Susan Peterson (ex General Counsel for ANZ bank, now on Wynyard, Trustpower, Vista Group boards), Tracey Grant (head of Risk for PWC NZ) and Sussan Turner (ex CEO of Mediaworks, pro-Chancellor of AUT, deep experience in tertiary education). How many startups do you know that have a six person, all-women all-star board? It goes further than that though – the 40-strong staff are all women too.
This team is running fast, and New Zealand is only the first stop. Although the bulk of their sales are through retail distribution, they’re selling a significant amount of their product through online direct sales in New Zealand and overseas. They’ve just organised their first distribution arrangements in China, and started shipping last month.
“Why on earth would you enter the Australian market, when for the same price, you can go anywhere in the world?”
When I asked Helen when they were going to launch in Australia, her answer was music to my ears, and reflected the advice I give many startups. She said, “Why on earth would you enter the Australian market, when for the same price, you can go anywhere in the world?” NZTE have been very helpful in getting OI into China, and the brand values are well aligned with New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand.
They’re also running lean. “Our biggest challenge is predicting and enabling growth, but not investing too much too quickly. We’re learning as much as we can as fast as we can, and trying to make our mistakes on a small scale so that we can enjoy success on a large scale. It’s a hard balance to strike but we’re achieving great results.”
Being a guy, I’m obviously not in OI’s direct target market. But the women in my life are keen on products that are ethically produced, healthy, and damage the environment less than the alternatives. Me too!
And being a guy won’t stop me from celebrating this great team’s success in taking a simple idea to the world with strong, quick, and purposeful execution. These gals are doing something difficult, and they’re doing it well.
You can buy the product online at www.oi4me.com – there’s even a subscription service, à la Dollar Shave Club – never get caught short again.
Making the world a safer place, one dangerous location at a time.
WATCH OUT, YOU’RE ABOUT TO STEP INTO A SINKHOLE!!
There’s an app for that. It’s built in Wellington, it’s being used all over the world, and it’s called ThunderMaps.
ThunderMaps enables businesses and governments to crowdsource hazard locations, and then let employees and citizens know when they’re in danger in real time.
Employees and citizens can enter hazard data from a mobile app, which is then used to warn people, analyse trends, take corrective action where possible, and generally reduce risk and improve safety. Think “Waze for danger.”
They integrate with over 500 services including Google sheets, Zendesk, Salesforce, Slack. They also have facility to integrate open data sources such as weather, fire, police callouts, earthquakes, etc. Integration is also two way, so you can pull data from ThunderMaps into other systems.
ThunderMaps charges clients with a small monthly per-user charge, plus a one-time setup fee for large organisations that want to “show leadership” with their own branded app.
In New Zealand, health and safety is a big issue, especially with the introduction last month of regulations under the new Health and Safety Act. In the new post-Pike River regime, company officers and directors can end up in prison for not taking all practical measures to provide a safe workplace. It has been, and will continue to be on the board agendas of all of the NZ boards I’m on.
It’s not only a local issue – health and safety is a global concern. Globally, 6,300 people die per day, and 1m people per day are injured in work-related accidents. That’s shocking. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 4% of global GDP is lost due to injury or death at work. That’s expensive. We investors often talk about “pain points” in a figurative sense, but this pain is very real.
Although the company has only been trading for 23 months, they already have 10m dangerous locations recorded in their database, and they’re gunning to make that 100m in the next year. They’ve gone from zero to 17 staff worldwide in that period, and currently have 200+ customers with over 8,000 users. Revenues are growing at about 20% month-on-month. They recently won a European Union tender for city wide implementations, and have made sales to three European cities so far. Other customers range from big organisations like Downer EDI Works, TBfree NZ, Gannet Offshore, World Wildlife Fund and the NZ Fire Service, right down to medium and small businesses that just need a simple way to make health and safety easy.
As an example, TBfree NZ is charged with eliminating bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand. Wandering around cattle farms can be a dangerous business – there are all sorts of hazards like terrain, chemicals, and dogs. The main source of TB is possums, and trapping possums is also dangerous. ThunderMaps helps reduce risk by documenting these hazards and automatically making the people at risk aware of them with location-based alerts. Being concerned for and looking after employees helps TBfree NZ attract and retain staff. Governments prefer to let out contracts to companies who take health and safety seriously, and so ThunderMaps makes it easier for its customers to win RFPs. Everybody wins.
Clint van Marrewijk
ThunderMaps is led by CEO Clint van Marrewijk, who was looking for the next big thing after completing his earnout period when Kiwibank bought Gareth Morgan Kiwisaver. I first met Clint at Startup Weekend Wellington in 2015, so I guess can say that I knew him before he was famous. He’s put together a stellar team, and has attracted top talent to his board including local heroes JD Trask and Victoria MacLennan. CTO Chris Noldus has an extensive track record in just about in more open source technologies than you can name in one breath, and was the guy who developed the iPredict prediction marketplace. They have offices in The Terrace in Wellington, London, and Gothenburg Sweden.
Ideas are great, but sometimes they get in the way. Given the choice between doing something cool and shipping product, shipping product will always win…
Why The Terrace and not Cuba Street? The team culture is very focused on getting stuff done. Clint says, “Ideas are great, but sometimes they get in the way. Given the choice between doing something cool and shipping product, shipping product will always win at ThunderMaps. We’re running a business that saves lives, not an agency.”
They’ve been mainly self-funded by their founders, and they’ve taken on a small chunk of angel investment. They’re working toward raising Series A late this year to fuel international growth.
We currently live in an era where for the first time, everything is becoming knowable. The facts that can save your life risk being drowned in an ocean of big data. ThunderMaps organises this critical knowledge into accessible, actionable, and auditable alerts. While we can’t completely eliminate risks – we’ll never be able to fence off every sinkhole – we can identify and mitigate those risks. ThunderMaps is one of those rare apps that might save your life, or the lives of one of your coworkers or family members some day.
Measure and manage customer happiness in real time.
Do you really know how much your customers like your product or service? Really? If so, you’re probably measuring your Net Promoter Score (NPS), the global standard for measuring customer loyalty.
If you’re not familiar with it, NPS is the result of asking your customers a one-question survey: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” Promoters are people who rate you 9 or 10. Passives are people who give you 7 or 8. Detractors are people who give you 6 or less. Simple equation: NPS = % Promoters – % Detractors. As a business, you want your NPS to be as high as possible. Apple recently scored 47, and Citibank -41. Smart companies employ NPS as a board-level metric.
Ask Nicely is the Auckland-based startup that is leading the world in measuring and managing NPS. They launched in December 2014, and are already taking the market by storm, with thousands of users in over 80 countries. They’re growing at 25% month-on-month, with over 90% of this growth coming from the US.
They are the classic well-focused startup – they do only one thing, but they do it extremely well. They can get you up and running and measuring and managing this critical metric in minutes. Their customer list is very diverse, including household names like Seagate, Rackspace, Xero, as well as an NBA franchise and the world’s largest network of phone-based psychics. It would appear that even psychics value independent assessments of customer satisfaction.
John Ballinger and Aaron Ward
The idea for Ask Nicely was conceived in a late-night session in a Ponsonby cafe in April 2014 when co-founders Aaron Ward and John Ballinger decided to “do for surveys what Twitter did for blogging”. In true Lean Startup fashion, John built a rough prototype over the next couple of days, and they knew they had a viable business when 11 out of 12 companies they showed it to said they’d pay for the service. From idea to validated MVP in a fortnight – stunning.
For much of the next two years, the company operated out of John’s garage in Ponsonby. They are mindfully building an Exponential Organisation (XO), using external resources for as much as possible and focusing on the hard bits where they add the most value. And like an XO, they integrate with a wide range of products that exchange data with systems their customers are already using. Currently, these include Salesforce, Intercom, Slack, Klipfolio, Mailchimp, Mixpanel, Desk.com, Zendesk, Groove, Helpscout, Freshdesk, Shopify, Zapier, and Geckoboard, with a number of others in the pipeline. They see integrations as one of their key growth channels. The other main growth channels are pay-per-click advertising and content marketing. Aaron claims that their cost per acquisition is very low compared to the average customer lifetime value. Organic referrals also play a significant role.
The team has expanded to five people this year, with two sales people based in the US, and another dev in Auckland.
The users clearly love it. Ask Nicely has the highest satisfaction rating for its category on G2Crowd. Their main competitors, Satmetrix and Medallia, are enterprise solutions with price tags that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, while Ask Nicely starts at USD 49 per month. Given that they’re the only serious tool in their bracket, they’re on the way to owning this category.
Over the last two years, they’ve raised two small seed rounds from ICE Angels, AngelHQ, K1W1, NZVIF, and a few others. Last month, two years to the day after coming up with the idea, Aaron and John returned to the Ponsonby cafe for another late night session, this time plotting their Series A raise. They’re preparing to build out their team and accelerate US momentum. If you’re a member of an angel club, keep your eyes open for this opportunity when it comes round.
Ahead of the Series A, Ask Nicely are looking for a PHP dev to accelerate delivery of an ambitious product roadmap and architect the platform to perform at massive scale.
Aaron says the big goal is to tackle a meaningful global problem, helping businesses achieve better results by delivering great customer experiences, owning that category, and doing it from New Zealand.
You could say that with Ask Nicely, New Zealand is yet again helping to make the world a happier place.
Nobody likes doing household chores, especially kids. But a team from this year’s Startup Weekend Dunedin has figured out a way to make the allocation and completion of chores fun and rewarding for both kids and their parents, while at the same time bringing families together.
The game is played with physical cards, and works like this: at the beginning of each week, a family holds a game of Job Well Done. There are thee packs of cards: Tasks, Actions, and Rewards. The Tasks pack is pre-loaded with all of the chores that need to be done around the house – vacuuming, sweeping the decks, cleaning the kitchen, etc. Parents have to play too. At the end of the game, each family member has their list of chores that need to be done by the end of the week. Action cards let you do things like swap a task with another family member or receive a reward for a completed task. There’s one Butler Card in the pack which lets the player assign one of their tasks to another player, and they have to do it.
There are two types of rewards – family rewards (“go to the movies together”), and individual rewards (“have an ice cream”). But some of the rewards are actually booby prizes, such as “eat a new kind of vegetable that you’ve never had before”.
In their testing during the weekend, kids loved the game and got the idea immediately, and kids were even able to explain it to other adults.
As in other Startup Weekends, the team formed organically from three people who were all attracted by the idea of a game to motivate kids. It started out as a game to determine pocket money, but after the team got out of the building early on Saturday morning to validate the original idea, they quickly learned that a much bigger pain point for parents was getting kids to do household chores. They also learned from their interviews that any such game should meet these success criteria: consistency, clear expectations, small but meaningful rewards chosen by the child, and that the child should be able to wield some negotiating power. And so the game was born.
There’s a big potential market for this game – in their interviews of 85 parents, 68% of them said they had problems getting their kids to do chores. With 1.1m families in NZ, if the interviewees are a representative sample, that means there are over 750k families in NZ who might be attracted to buy this game. And with 52m families in the English-speaking world, the potential market size is over NZD 1.3b at a unit price of $25. The hard part, of course, is reaching them.
CEO Hannah Sinclair is an occupational therapist by trade, with an interest in motivation and behavioural change. She’s joined on the team by CMO Anna Schmid and Head of Game Design Ivan Mason.
Ivan has a blended family, and says that when faced with conflict over household chores, it can be easier to just disengage and do the chore yourself rather than being the bad guy and coercing kids to do their fair share. The trick, he says, is to have the game impose the rules, which puts everyone on the same footing. Hannah adds that while she doesn’t have any kids herself, she’s looking forward to using the game with her flatmates.
During the weekend, the team designed the game play, outsourced design of the game material to a UK-based designer who produced the goods overnight, printed the game materials for a few prototypes, and put together a Facebook page, a PledgeMe campaign, and a Shopify online store. The PledgeMe campaign has attracted more than $400 in less than 12 hours.
The next step is to get enough games out in the wild to test it properly and improve the game design. They’ll then know whether they are really onto something or not. They’re considering expansion packs, building in virality by adding trading card features, and partnering with organisations like supermarkets for distribution. They could seek investment, but this is a business that could bootstrap.
As for now, they’re immediately looking forward to getting some sleep after “running, running, running” non-stop over the weekend.
“Startup Weekend has restored my faith in humanity,” says Hannah, “I’ve never heard so many people in one place saying ‘I’m here to help'”.
There are lots of Startup Weekends coming up this year around the country. Check out the Startup Weekend NZ web site for details if you’re interested in having a go yourself.
If you have kids and want to improve their participation in household work, do support the team and buy a the Job Well Done game on their PledgeMe page.
I’ll leave you with their pitch deck from the Startup Weekend Dunedin Finale.
It’s convincing, until you look at the From address, view headers, and mouseover the button to discover a bit.ly link
An astonishing proportion of the web server traffic from which you’ve just fetched the page you’re reading now is scriptkiddies attempting to break in through brute-force password attacks. An even bigger problem for high-volume transactional sites like Paypal and Kiwibank is phishing, where attackers email you and lure you into entering your login credentials into a bogus site. The obvious and common solution to this problem is mandatory two-factor authentication (2FA), but it makes for a clunky user experience and is laborious to implement.
Auckland-based ThisData lets site owners take a different approach: continuous authentication. Only ask people to validate their identity if and when there’s a reason to doubt they’re really who they say they are. So for example if I have a usage pattern of logging in from the same city, with the same IP address, on the same browser, using the same cookie set, and do the same again, there’s an extremely good chance I am who I claim to be. On the other hand, if I suddenly log in from a different continent using a different operating system, or through TOR, you might want to double or triple check my credentials.
Pricing starts at $99/month for 500 users, and goes up in usage tiers. They’re considering introducing a free usage tier to get people going. But it’s early days, and they’re still refining the pricing model.
Founder Rich Chetwynd has run the full startup cycle before. After founding educational software company Litmos in his bedroom, building it into an international concern, and selling it to US-based Callidus Software four years later, he decided it was time for a well-deserved break.
“I got bored though,” he says, “I wanted to ride the rocket again”.
So Chetwynd started Revert.io, a cloud backup solution. But very quickly he recognised that backups are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and the much bigger and less well served opportunity was to prevent break-in and data loss in the first place.
He pulled in CTO Nick Malcolm, one of NZ’s top Rails devs (and erstwhile cofounder of 2011 Startup Weekend Wellington legend usnap.us), and the dream team was born. You’d have to call the change from Revert.io to ThisData more of a reboot than a pivot, but it was a definitely the right move.
Chetwynd’s rocket is about to reach orbit. After the reboot in February 2015, they went on to raise $1.2m from a number of local and offshore angels alongside the Punakaiki fund, did a zoom-out pivot from working specifically with Google apps and Salesforce in February of 2016 to bringing this intelligence to any app. They’re now monitoring over 10,000 end users for a variety of customer types, and are about to onboard another 50,000 for their first big enterprise. They’re architected for scale on AWS, and ready to go much, much bigger.
As great as it sounds, they’re not at the stage yet where the solution sells itself. Building your customer base and distribution is always hard work, especially from New Zealand. Chetwynd spends roughly half his time in the US, and the rest of the time running the team from GridAKL.
Their overarching mission is to make the Internet a safer place for everyone. There are hundreds of thousands of insecure apps and sites in the wild. Chetwynd’s asks app and site owners to ask yourselves, how valuable is the data is your app or site protecting, and how adequately are your users protected?
Ask yourselves: how valuable is the data your app or site is protecting, and how adequately are your users protected?
If you’re the owner or investor in a transactional app or web site and your team is not protecting your company against attacks using a solution like ThisData, I’d want to know why.
The bottom line is that you can put on a sad face if you’re a script kiddie or spear phisher, but the rest of us will sleep easier at night.
Legendary seed investor and SoftechVC founder Jeff Clavier looks for companies to invest in that have “three asses”: A smart-ass team with a kick-ass solution in a big-ass market. ThisData are on a steep trajectory, with an all-star team with a simple-to-implement but difficult-to-replicate solution to a highly painful problem in a massive market.
Watch out universe, here comes Rich Chetwynd riding the ThisData rocket.
There are few things more powerful than selfless love. When we are at our lowest points emotionally, receiving a loving gesture from someone, even a stranger, especially a stranger, can be life changing.
Nic Murray and Marie Fitzpatrick are theGood Bitches Baking. They have a very simple recipe for spreading happiness throughout society: bake someone a cake, just when they need it most. Recipients include women in refuges, homeless people in shelters, elderly folk in hospice, and many more. Some of the recipients have never tasted home baking. It sounds almost twee, but the universal appeal of receiving something sweet and made with love when you feel you can’t cope, and helping lift an unfortunate stranger out of a shit situation is extremely compelling. I met these Bitches at TEDx Wellington, where I thought they stole the show. Their idea isn’t only worth spreading, it’s running away with them.
It’s so compelling, that in the last 18 months they’ve set up 10 chapters of Bitches in New Zealand from Whangarei to Invercargill, and have another 18 chapters waiting to form. They’re struggling to cope with demand. They have no plans to expand overseas at this stage, but are happy to share their intellectual property with anyone who wants to take their model global.
The Good Bitches philosophy is based on the simple ideas that “doing something is better than doing nothing”, and that everything turning to shit is not an inevitability. We all have the power within us to positively affect the world around us, and the Good Bitches provide an easy to use template for making people happy.
Doing something is better than doing nothing. Everything turning to shit is not an inevitability.
Nic says, “Baking is something people enjoy doing anyway, it’s not a hardship. There’s a widespread desire in the community to ‘do good things’, but people don’t know where to start – they don’t know if they have permission to do something personal for a stranger.”
Marie adds, “Just doing something leads onto doing other things too. There’s a common story for Bitches: it all starts with a batch of scones, and then they find other needs that they can fill in their community. It gets people thinking about ways they can help others, beyond putting money in a box or even baking.”
The Good Bitches system is designed so that people can do as little or as much as they can fit into their lives. They feel like they’re contributing to their communities, but also to something much bigger. And the connection that Bitches have to each other helps strengthen the community too. When bitches get together, there’s lots of storytelling and heartfelt discussion – shared purpose for a good cause.
They are changing peoples lives – and it’s a virtuous cycle. One Wellington recipient was recovering from domestic violence in a Women’s Refuge, and said that the notion that a stranger cared enough about her to bake her a cake just to cheer her up was life-changing. Since then, she’s become a Bitch herself, and now bakes for others – this has been an important part of her healing process.
They’ve now reached an inflection point where runaway growth is threatening to outstrip their ability to service their community.
“We’re staffed by volunteers, who can only spare a few hours per week each, and sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. In people’s busy lives, especially women juggling careers and whānau, volunteer work can’t always take top priority. As we grow as an organisation helping thousands of Bitches do great things in their communities, we need a professional coordinator or two being paid for their efforts so that this work gets the priority it deserves, and keep up our standards for the quality and timeliness of the support we provide.”
Having a paid coordinator would free up the founders to focus on outreach, growth, and telling the story.
Nic and Marie know all about juggling. They both have full time jobs as project managers. Nic works with ACC and NZTA on young driver safety, and Marie helps organisations to be compliant with the new Health and Safety legislation.
But hiring paid staff requires funding. Their dream is to be sustainably funded through a combination of grants, government funding, private donations, and branded merchandise. Running a social enterprise is tough, even when you’re clearly making as big a difference as the Bitches are.
Marie says, “to some extent, we’ve been making shit up as we go along, but we’re continually lifting our game. The future is really exciting, but to grow and really make the most of this opportunity we’ll need to be strategic, plan carefully, and support our chapters well.”
Back in August 2014, a standout team won the competition at Startup Weekend Education in Wellington, solving an important societal problem – raising the financial literacy of school children. Over the weekend, they built their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a gaming platform for kids to earn virtual currency (funny money) at school, and then save, invest, trade, loan, borrow, buy virtual goods, and generally learn how to work with money in a safe environment. They validated the riskiest assumptions in their plan, explored partnerships with banks, and brought on their first customers.
Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength. They went on to win the BNZ Webstock Startup Alley competition in early 2015, launched in New Zealand schools, and are now used by over 7,000 students in nearly 500 classrooms, mostly in NZ, but with a handful overseas.
Even more remarkable is that this growth has been driven mainly by word of mouth and teacher referrals within the school system. They haven’t needed to take in any investment. Other than the $20K prize they won at Webstock, they’ve had no non-revenue cash inputs. They’re currently profitable, and they continue to grow at a good clip.
Banqer lets students earn virtual money through a number of means. The most common method is to get rewarded for completing tasks, doing good deeds, and exhibiting responsible behaviour. For example, if you’re want to be the classroom rubbish monitor, you might have to apply for the job, and then you’ll get paid in virtual currency. Students can spend their virtual money on privileges, such as selecting a movie to watch in the last week of class, preferential classroom seating, or “owning” virtual goods. Some teachers even let kids buy their way out of doing non-critical homework. Students save their money to earn interest, or invest in their classmates’ virtual businesses. How students can earn or spend their virtual currency is entirely at the discretion of the classroom teacher.
In 2016, one of Banqer’s main focus is building partnerships with players in the financial services and allied industries. As an example, working with their partners in the real estate sector, they recently released a real estate module. Students can buy and invest in virtual properties, for which they might need to take out (virtual) mortgages, and then earn rental income to pay off their borrowings. They might need insurance though, in case of a virtual natural disaster like an earthquake or volcano eruption.
Banqer’s revenue model is simple: after a 30-day free trial, students pay $3.50 per term, which drops to $2 if they sign up for multiple terms. They have a retention rate of over 70%.
Banqer have just announced a partnership with Kiwibank, which will cover the costs of Banqer for students whom the subscription fee would present a financial hardship. Good on you, Kiwibank, for helping uplift the financial literacy of those who might need it most.
Kendall Flutey is the inspiring leader who pitched the idea at Startup Weekend, pulled together an all-star team, drove progress, and went on to bootstrap her startup to widespread adoption, profitability, and international expansion over the last year-and-a-half. She has a fascinating back story, which you can learn more about at inner.kiwi. Kendall is a contemporary hero: she received a BCom in accounting and a Masters in Entrepreneurship from Otago, learned to code in the first cohort at Enspiral Dev Academy, cut her chops as a dev at Abletech, and founded her first startup, all before her 25th birthday.
Overseas expansion is squarely on Banqer’s radar in 2016. Due to similarities in the school systems, it will be straightforward to enter the Australian market.
But the big opportunity is the USA. As part of the Webstock prize, Kendall spent some time based at the Kiwi Landing Pad exploring the US market. She learned that financial literacy is more of a focus in high school in the US, and that group is where the real opportunity lies. As it stands, the current Banqer product is designed for primary school students, and it would be difficult to extend the product in a way that both primary and secondary students would find suitable. So much of the focus in the second half of 2016 will be building a new product from the ground up, suitable for high schools.
The past 18 months has been a huge rollercoaster ride for Kendall. Her advice to entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park. I question what I’m doing all the time. Taking risks and dealing with uncertainty are daily activities, and go hand-in-hand with sleepless nights, self-doubt, stress, foreign situations, pulling yourself out of your comfort zone, fulfilling the expectations of strange audiences, and laying down the train tracks as you’re driving on them. But it’s all worth it when you can see the positive change you’re making in the people around you.
You can help raise the financial literacy of our tamariki in New Zealand, and help the Banqer team by recommending Banqer to anyone you know in the education system. If people learned how to manage money from an early age, our society might be a much happier place.
Snapchat is a brilliant concept – it created an entire market in visual ephemera. The genius is in the longing that it creates once the moment has passed, for something that can never again be recaptured – which makes that moment all the more precious. So simple, compelling, engaging, and easy to use.
If you’re a brand trying to get your message out, however, Snapchat is a nightmare to manage. Enter Mish.guru, a system that makes it easy for brands to manage their Snapchat presence. Without tools like Mish.guru, you have to manually manage your Snapchat client base individually on your phone – imagine your dream come true, and you have 100,000 followers – you’d have manage them individually – on your phone. Ouch!
Mish.guru provides basic information that is absolutely critical to any business running a social media campaign. You can easily see how many followers you have, how many people have viewed your story and snaps, and a number of other metrics. You can also automatically rebroadcast selected user generated content to help build your campaign, and automatically track customers from initial engagement though to product purchase. Think of Mish.guru as the missing Snapchat feature set for businesses.
They’re currently working with some big name brands in New Zealand and overseas, like Spark (snapsparknz on Snapchat) and Paramount Pictures (ParamountFilms).
They currently have a mixed product and service-based business model. Snapchat is new for many businesses, so there is a significant market helping businesses conceive, establish, and run campaigns – you could say that Mish.guru are their own first customer in this respect. But they see the big game in providing a subscription-based product that enables businesses and agencies to manage their own campaigns from cradle to grave.
Their current revenues from this hybrid model are nearly NZD 1m per year, and their product revenue is averaging growth of 20% per month.
I first met their CEO Thomas Harding in Lightning Lab Digital in Wellington in 2014. Their original business was called Cavaltech, and produced 3D-printed horseshoes specifically made for individual horses. We called them “Zappos for horses”. Unfortunately, while it was a great concept, the technology just didn’t perform well in the field – they had problems keeping the horseshoes stuck to the horses’ feet. So eight weeks into the twelve-week accelerator, they rebooted their business as Mish.guru, and have never looked back.
I asked Tom what the key to survival was across such a massive pivot. “Resilience”, he replied, “that’s the single most important quality in a startup team.” Their current team has Tom, a CTO, four devs, an intern, and sales people in Australia and NZ. They’re looking to hire another sales specialist on the US East Coast.
Mish.guru has scored investment from AngelHQ, Sparkbox, ICE Angels, NZVIF, Ben Young, and a few other individual angel investors. They’re using this investment to transition their main revenue stream from service to product as they build their market. Their product revenue is growing at 20% per month, and that growth has been achieved without any spending on marketing. Snapchat’s growth is still exploding – Snapchat recently passed 100m users, and those users are watching over 7 billion video clips a day.
The trick to a great Snapchat campaign, Tom says, is inspiring and then making the most of user generated content – let the users tell your story for you, rather than bombarding them with advertising. But to do that, you’ll need some great tools, like Mish.guru.