Ask Nicely

Measure and manage customer happiness in real time.

asknicelyDo 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
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.

 

Mish.guru

Your Snapchat business dashboard.

mishSnapchat 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.

Tom Harding
Tom Harding

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, NZVIFBen 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.

Flick Electric

Disrupting the retail energy industry with price transparency and great service.

flickElectricity is the world’s purest commodity – you can’t see it or touch it, and you have no idea where the electrons came from that power your appliances. The equipment that manages electricity distribution is all automated. Why is it then that most of the power industry seems to be operating in the dark ages with respect to customer service, pricing, and information provision?

Flick has a simple business proposition: they put the customer at the centre of everything they do, give you electricity at the wholesale spot price plus a small well-known commission, and give you access to a wealth of easily digestible information that helps you manage your own power consumption.

The small, well-known commission is 40c per day plus 1.5c per kilowatt-hour (KWh) for a standard user. That amounts to the country’s least expensive power. Flick claim that even if you switch to Flick and do nothing to manage your usage patterns, you can save approximately 7% off your bill, because the major power retailers use their customers as a hedge against fluctuations in the wholesale market. The risk to Flick’s customers is that their bill may occasionally be higher during periods where the spot price is high.

But the real savings kick in when, armed with the reports about your usage you can view as a customer, you can change your usage patterns by deferring load into periods when the spot price is lower, for example running your clothes dryer and dishwasher at 4am. Flick claim that you can save about 25% off your energy bill by doing things like this.

Mid-2015, Consumer NZ ran a survey rating customer satisfaction of power retailers, and Flick scored a remarkable 96% satisfaction rating. They claim that everything about the company is so automated and well-engineered that there’s really nothing to complain about. All bills are paid by electronic payment, the customer web interface is excellent, and pricing is transparent. You can always know what your usage and charges are doing on a half-hourly basis, so there’s no possibility of being shocked by a blow-out bill.

Flick was registered as a company in July 2013, took on their first beta customer in December 2013, and did a soft launch in August 2014. In the past 18 months they’ve grown to be the tenth largest energy supplier in New Zealand with nearly 8,000 customers, growing by roughly 15% per month, and despite their small size, they are the supplier with the second largest number of net customers switching to them monthly, and the only one of the top 10 who is not vertically integrated.

There’s plenty of innovation yet to be applied in this space – for example peer-to-peer power. Your neighbour has a solar cell farm (they’re getting cheaper all the time) and could sell her power directly to you, via the Flick platform. Or, you have smart power points or Nest installed, and you want to interface directly with Flick, and only have specific devices – or even temperature settings – active only under certain pricing conditions.

Steve O'Connor
Steve O’Connor

I’ve known Steve O’Connor, Flick’s CEO and cofounder for many years, and recall him talking about setting up a power retailer in the early 2000’s – at the time, I thought he was mad. But he’s assembled a stellar team, including Simon Pohlen, Jessica Venning-Bryan, Jurjen Geerts, and Shannan Hargreaves. They have the broad and deep experience capable of making a major dent in the $9b market in NZ. And so far, they seem to be executing very well.

But the real prize is overseas markets. Flick are hatching plans for overseas expansion which will most likely be centered around licensing deals and joint ventures rather than direct entry.

So far, Flick has received funding from their original founders, an Angel round led by AngelHQ, a growth round, and then took on some institutional investment, which is a considerable achievement in such a short space of time, but reflective of the company’s rapid growth. They’re planning another investment round late this year, which will be aimed at bringing the NZ business to profitability, further improving the platform, launching several new initiatives in the retail space, and start seriously exploring the overseas opportunities.

You don’t need a particularly creative imagination to see a number of exit possibilities, but for the time being, they’re focusing on what great startups do – building and scaling a sustainable business with a fervently loyal customer base, delivering frictionless service, driving down costs to the consumer, and causing pain for the competition.

The Internet enables cloud-based, customer-centric, low-cost, transparent, on-demand businesses, and Flick are leading the way in New Zealand using this power to disrupt comfortable oligopolies. If I were a Flick customer, I’d be delighted, but if I were an incumbent power retailer, I’d be very afraid.

Publons

Speeding up science through the power of peer review.

publons2Scientific research is the key thing that moves our society forward, expanding the boundaries of human knowledge, enabling us to rigorously test which things are true, false, or needing further inquiry. It enables everything from cellphone technology to antibiotics.

The main output of scholarly research is published articles in peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is essential because it prevents incomplete or shoddy work from being accepted as scientific fact. The peer reviewers however don’t get any recognition or compensation for the work they do, and there is no standard system for rating the quality of their reviews. Finding the right reviewers for an article can be difficult too, and managing the review process is time consuming.

Publons solves these problems by augmenting the standard peer review process, improving reviewer selection, and giving authoritative credit to reviewers that they can use for career advancement. The net result is that the peer review process is shortened at the same time the quality of scientific output is increased. By turning peer review into a measurable research output, Publons provides a new lens through which the quality and significance of research, researchers, publications, and institutions can be evaluated and reported.

Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston
Dr Andrew Preston
Dr Andrew Preston

Publons was founded by Dr Andrew Preston and Daniel Johnston. After completing a Ph.D and post-doc work in solid-state physics, and publishing and peer reviewing a number of papers, Preston recognised the opportunity and started building the core of the Publons system. After being accepted into Lightning Lab Wellington 2013, Publons started building up its user base and inventory of journal articles.  They now have over 50,000 users, 285,000 reviews, and thousands of journals in the system. Just over 1% of all reviews generated in 2015 globally were recorded by Publons.

Publons’ revenue model is based on fees collected from publishers to integrate into the platform, and charges to academic institutions and research funders who pay for access to tools that help them monitor and evaluate their research interests.

Preston moved to London mid-2015 to be closer to his main market – academic publishers. Much of the future growth of the company will be globally from the UK, while product development and operations remain in Wellington.

Publons recently closed a significant investment round for a small stake in the company by the fifth largest academic publisher in the world, SAGE. The investment will provide enough runway to last eighteen months or so as the company continues to expand its partnerships with publishers, grow its user community, and prove out the revenue model.

Publons is hiring devs, growth hackers, sales people, and a product manager in both Wellington and London.  Do get in touch with them if you’re interested.

Disclosure: I’m Chairman of the Board of Publons, and part of the AngelHQ syndicate that provided their seed investment.

2015: The year in review

2015 has been a watershed year for the startup scene in New Zealand.  When I started this Startup of the Week blog in September, a number of people asked me, “are there really enough great startups in New Zealand to feature one every week?”  The answer is a resounding yes!

Had you asked me about New Zealand startups in 2010, I would have told you that there were patches of awesome, and things looked like they were just starting to come together. Five years on, things are really pumping, as evidenced by:

  • Thriving startup hubs in the main centres: Visit GridAKL, BizDojo, CreativeHQ, or The Greenhouse and you’ll be under no illusion that healthy and diverse startup activity abounds.
  • Entrepreneurial buzz in the regions: The BCC (Palmerston North), and Bridge Street Collective (Nelson) have been going from strength to strength for several years, and we’re seeing new players emerge in Whangarei, Tauranga, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, and Dunedin.
  • Finally, the rise of Ag Tech startups: In prior years, there was a paucity of agricultural startups coming out of New Zealand. Now, with companies like Engender, CropX, BioLumic, eBee, and others, this sector which builds on NZ’s natural strengths looks like it’s getting to critical mass.
  • Meetups are mushrooming: I seem to be getting a couple of announcements for new startup-related meetups every month in Wellington. Startup Garage and Lean Startup Wellington how have over 1,000 members each. People are getting together, which is great.
  • Startup Weekends continue to thrive: There’s no shortage of newbie entrepreneurs starting their entrepreneurial journey through Startup Weekends. We ran 11 events up and down the country this year, with 736 participants – both records. Many of these participants are now fully plugged into the scene, some running their own startups, some working for others, and some busily hatching plans. And some qualifying themselves out, having decided they’re happier in their day jobs. Win.
  • Accelerator ramp-up: Lightning Lab ran three programmes this year – Auckland, Christchurch, and Manufacturing (Wellington). The dust hasn’t settled yet, but this is likely to have resulted in 10+ new startups achieving funding, networks, and a path to global success.  Oh, and another 10+ startups being qualified out after a short sharp experiment – to me that’s also an important success statistic. The Government R9 Accelerator broke new ground, and will be doing round two this year. Vodafone’s Xone will be opening in 2016. And there are others.
  • An explosion in angel investment activity: AngelHQ‘s Dave Allison told me that as at the beginning of December, not including any of the Lightning Lab companies, the club had 12 open investment deals. I can’t remember a time where there were more than 3 or 4 deals open at any given point in time. Given that nearly all angel club deals in NZ are now syndicated between clubs, I’m sure that the menu at ICE Angels, Enterprise Angels, Manawatu Investment Group, Venture Accelerator Nelson, and Otago Angels are growing in a similar fashion. Post-earthquakes, Canterbury Angels is also off to a great start. And there are a host of unofficial syndicates forming around the country too. There’s never been a better time to be an angel investor.

ICE Angels summarised the year’s angel activity with this nice Prezi – thanks guys!

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Victor W Hwang, author of “The Rainforest“, and cofounder of Global Innovation Week (HT: Andreas Stefanidis)

“Despite outward appearances, the Startup Movement is not just about startups. It is actually a deeper cultural shift that cuts to the heart of the human condition. It reflects a dissatisfaction with the way much of the world has gone for the last several decades. It marks a transformation in how we view our societies, how we convene our communities, how we create value together as human beings. It’s a counterpoint to the governing economic paradigm – what economists call neoliberalism – which has prized efficiency and productivity above everything else, even when it has corroded relationships that bond us together in our communities and social networks…

“Innovation is not a solo sport. It thrives in supportive, diverse, connected, pay­it­forward ecosystems. It dies in selfish ones. Building a startup – indeed, bringing any innovation to life – is hard enough already. The last thing you need is distrust, high social barriers, and cynicism from those around you. You need people who are willing to believe in you. Because human beings innovate together in teams.”

Thanks for your support this year, reading and spreading the stories of NZ startups going global.

If you’re involved in the startup scene, good on you for taking risks, sharing your energy, and pursuing your passion – you’re making the world, and New Zealand, a better place for everyone.

If you’re a bystander, a dreamer, or an armchair startup enthusiast, there are plenty of ways for you to get involved in 2016. Just contact any of the organisations mentioned above, and start forming the connections that will enable you to become part of the success story we’re all creating together of New Zealand as a global entrepreneurial powerhouse.

That’s it from me for 2015. Have a great break, and we’ll see you in February.