We’re on a break – and we’ll be back in 2017. Seasons greetings to everyone, and best wishes for an innovative and productive new year!
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.
In a world where livestock contribution to CO2 emissions and global warming is a serious issue, it makes sense to look at other sources of sustainable food. Farming insects can produce up to an order of magnitude more protein per unit land area, with a much lower environmental impact than farming cattle or sheep. Anteater’s mission is to “accelerate the advent of sustainable agriculture”.
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”.
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.
Beautiful, collaborative, cloud-based document annotation
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.
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.
They’re looking to fill a number of positions to help fuel growth, including engineers who love working in startups, and North America based sales and customer success people. Job descriptions are available on the Kami site.
Kami have a great story of doing one thing really well, and doing it globally in a narrow but large and growing market. They’ve worked hard, and deserve the traction and success they’re now enjoying.
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.
Taking the pain out of admin for tradespeople.
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.
Spark CEO Simon Moutter is planning on setting up a $100m fund to fill the gap where Corporate VC lives to help NZ early stage businesses with commercialisation and internationalisation.
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.
What kind of events would you like to see in the tech sector? Please fill in Verve’s quick survey.
“In Other News” is a new experimental feature of this blog. If you’ve read this far, like it, and want to see more, please let me know.