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Kami

Kami

Beautiful, collaborative, cloud-based document annotation

kami-logo2For most organisations, the basic unit of information is a document. We use documents to communicate with others, generate ideas, measure progress, make agreements, and much more. The last decade has seen the rise of collaborative document generation, of which Google Docs is probably the most familiar example. However, it’s not universal, and it’s not even fit for purpose for many applications. Adobe seized the high ground in the 1990’s with Acrobat, and PDF is the de-facto standard for universal document sharing and viewing. So how do you collaborate over PDFs with anyone, anywhere? Meet Kami.

Kami is a browser extension which lets you view, highlight, annotate, and collaborate over a fixed base document. You can add text, strikethrough, or basic drawings, merge documents, and add electronic signatures. It’s a simple concept with a solid core feature set, and of course the hard part is making it beautiful, lightning fast, and able to scale. And scale it does – with a small team based in Auckland, they currently service over 1.9m users and are adding roughly 12,000 users per day, mostly in North America, and almost exclusively by referrals.

COO Alliv Samson, CEO Hengjie Wang, CTO Jordan Thoms

COO Alliv Samson, CEO Hengjie Wang, CTO Jordan Thoms

Co-founders Hengjie Wang, Jordan Thoms, and Alliv Samson all met when they were students at The University of Auckland (UoA). They wanted to be able to take collaborative notes on their university study material, so they built a tool which they called Notable. With lecture slides on the left, and collaborative notes on the right, they had an MVP. They invited their friends to collaborate, and they soon had 50 users, and then 100, and then 300, and when they integrated into UoA’s homebrew Learning Management System (LMS) Cecil, they became a major fixture in the UoA community. But how to expand beyond that?

The team were accepted into the Velocity 100K Challenge, and met a great set of mentors and investors, many of whom are with them to this day. They took in a small amount of investment. They found the university market really hard work, so they extended their use case from students taking notes, and did a zoom-out pivot to anyone collaborating on documents. Two years later, they’re core market is still education, but they’re now focused on the K-12 sector (primary and secondary schools) in the USA.

Kami has a massive tailwind of environmental factors behind them, especially the rise of the browser as an operating system, and the associated explosive growth of Chromebooks in the education market. K-12 is an investment in the future as well: today’s K-12 students are the workforce of the future. Kami has integrated with Google Drive, as well as popular LMSs Haiku and Canvas. They provide an API which makes it easy to integrate with just about anything. Frictionless integration helps fuel explosive growth.

Their revenue model is easy to understand too – they provide a basic product for free with adverts and nobbled features, which you can upgrade to ad-free with improved collaboration and more features and support for a monthly fee. They offer paid plans for teachers (which include all of the teachers’ students), individual schools, and entire school districts.

Kami took the bold leap from focusing on University of Auckland to focusing on North America. While UoA was an interesting test market, the founders knew that the NZ market is just too small to build up meaningful numbers for a sustainable business.

Their technology stack uses a fairly standard combination of Rails on the back end, Angular on the front end, and infrastructure based on the Google Cloud Platform, with a number of third-party cloud-based services. Everything they do is data driven. Every time a feature is launched, it’s analysed to measure against hypotheses – does it improve usage, retention, and revenue? They use the data to get inside of the heads of users so they can really understand what drives them.

I was blown away that the tech that services 1.9m users is still being managed by only two people, and they’re both cofounders. It reminded me of how when they sold to Facebook, Whatsapp only had 35 engineers managing 450m users. That’s efficient scaling.

The Kami team has just closed an international investment round, combining existing investors (including Flying Kiwi Angels, Sparkbox, NZVIF, as well as a number of local angels), with some new angels and super angels. They had a serendipitous meeting with YCombinator’s Sam Altman and Founders Fund’s Scott Nolan recently, just before their round closed. Like many successful investment encounters, it didn’t start with a pitch, but rather with a conversation. Sam and Scott were super impressed – so much so that they went from “yes” to investment cash in the bank within 48 hours.

New Zealand investors take note: this is the way the professionals do it, rather than taking six months to say “no” as we so often see.

The investment will be used to double down on sales in the US market – more growth with a focus on revenue, and extending the product feature set to support that. Better onboarding and classroom management features should drive a significant uplift in growth. They also plan to expand the engineering team and set up a US-based presence in the next six months or so.

Kami is a great product, and if you haven’t already, you should give it a go.

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.

Tradify

Tradify

Taking the pain out of admin for tradespeople.

tradify-logoMost 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.

Curtis Bailey

Curtis Bailey

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.

Reyedr

Reyedr

Safer and smarter connected motorcycling.

Reyedr-Logo-Small-uai-516x115The mission of Reyedr (pronounced “Rider”) is to connect motorcyclists with their machines in a way that transforms the experience by delivering crucial info about their bike, route and ride group through their head-up display (HUD) and smartphone app.

If you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle, you can appreciate that you need 110% of your attention on the road, and even looking down momentarily to view your speedo is an unwanted distraction. It’s essential to always keep your eyes on the road, on the lookout for any hazards coming at you. According to the Ministry of Transport, the risk of getting injured or being killed on a motorcycle is 21 times higher than for drivers of cars.

Reyedr is developing a HUD with universal helmet mount, to present critical data such as speed and navigation at eye level, so you can concentrate on the road at the same time as seeing your critical info, just like fighter pilots do. The HUD is powered by their app which optionally lets you stay geo-connected with your ride group, as well as your loved ones at home, so they can know your location, and that you’re safe. In case of emergency situations, Reyedr can also auto detect and send an SOS. Their app also has a social aspect which is designed to connect bikers to their community and discover new routes, through those who have ridden in in the past or to experience with those in your ride group.

Kal Gwalani

Founder and CEO Kal Gwalani  has a big vision that HUDs will become as essential and ubiquitous for motorcycle use as smartphones are for the general public.

Kal is equally passionate about motorcycling and entrepreneurship. His love of biking started at age 17 and entrepreneurship followed soon after, and by age 19 he had started his first venture for manufacturing auto accessories. When he moved from India to New Zealand in 2003, he promised himself he would return to motorcycling so he could properly enjoy the scenery. After a 20 year hiatus in motorcycling, he finally got back in the saddle in 2015.

During his 30 year career he’d built up extensive experience in high-tech manufacturing in plastics and composites, distribution of emerging technology products and business development. As soon as he returned to motorcycling, he found that the ride experience was missing a key ingredient, in terms of safety as well as enjoyment. This was the inspiration for the creation of Reyedr, to provide a safer and smarter connected ride experience.

jens

Jens Steinigen

Simon Waters

Simon Waters

Gary Klappwroth

Gary Klapproth

Kal put together a team including a CTO Jens Steinigen, an experienced systems engineer and software developer, Simon Waters and Gary Klapproth, both creative technologists and mechatronic specialists. The team were accepted into Lightning Lab Auckland earlier this year, and used the time to validate their market and build a prototype.

They’ve narrowed their market down to the age 30+ market of leisure riders, that ride on day trips or tour on multiday trips, who are typically well off and techno-savvy. Of the over 30 million such people in the developed countries, Reyedr will is starting off by targeting riders in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Reyedr have a prototype now built from off-the-shelf components, but are working towards designing their bespoke miniaturised HUD, which will be contract manufactured. Stage two of product development will include the ability to include communications and other data sources into the HUD, by connecting to external sensors including RPM, tyre pressure, as well as to newer motorcycles for ride settings such as ABS and traction control.

The centrepiece of the system is the Reyedr app, which the team is building as both the “operating system” for the HUD, but also as a standalone app with safety features and for the social aspects of motorcycling.

The app is presently in alpha testing and will soon be released to some testers at Auckland Harley Davidson before the beta goes out to their “Rider Advisory Group” (RAG) of 80 riders in September. They plan to present the Reyedr HUD at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2017, with support from Callaghan Innovation and NZTE who are excited about the prospects of getting more NZ hardware startups out to the world.

Reyedr is at the early stage of a big play and at the cusp of a large opportunity. They are currently raising their first round of capital, mainly to fund further hardware development, and will be raising another round mid-2017. They’re particularly looking for investors with experience in hardware startups, manufacturing and a passion for motorcycling and innovation.

If you want to find out more as an investor, connect with Kal through LinkedIn. For bikers interested in the Reyedr HUD or app, sign up at www.reyedr.com, and for updates or follow them on Facebook.

Kitset.io

Kitset.io

Build cross platform apps without coding.

Kitset.io allows anyone to build cross platform apps without the need to code. They use some pretty cool AI techniques to fill in the gaps between people and machines.

Graduates of the recent Lightning Lab Auckland programme, they’ve built kitsets for the hospitality vertical (restaurants and cafes) as well as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG – retail consumer products like groceries), and are in the process of expanding out into a wide variety of classes of apps.

Building your app is super easy, and if you get stuck, there’s always an AI chatbot to help you out. Deploying the app is even easier – one click, and you get an Android app, an iOS app, a mobile web site, a landing page, and a dashboard. If you’ve ever commissioned mobile app development, you’ll know that it usually takes months to complete if you can find a dev that’s willing to take you on, and it’s rare to walk away with change from $10K. Kitset lets you design your own app and deploy it in hours, and it costs only $69/month – that’s disruptive.

NIck Mitchell

NIck Mitchell

The idea for Kitset was born when CEO and founder Nick Mitchell was working at Accenture in London as a senior IT architect in the telecommunications industry. He would regularly tell his customers about the power of analytics, the future of social, and how machine learning and AI would change the way people do business – AI would be as revolutionary as the Internet itself.

At the same time, Nick was irritated by how long it took and how expensive it was to build apps – he felt that a lot of innovation was being curbed by unnecessary complexity and skills requirements. So he left Accenture and started creating a platform that would let anyone build an app. He spent the next 18 months proving out the technology he wanted to unleash on this task.

Nick’s general concept for bootstrapping this idea involved three steps:

  1. Build a tool to build apps that’s so easy to use that anyone could do it.
  2. Teach a machine to use the tool.
  3. Teach the machine to understand natural language (English) instructions from a human, so that the machine acts like a software developer.

The system can now do simple tasks like “please change that to a blue background” or “send a txt message when this button is pressed”. The next phase of AI implementation will be to ask questions like “are there any apps or sites that you like the look of”, and then provide a template that draws from the design of the specified apps or sites.

Dominic Trang

Lead Developer Dominic Trang has a background in Android game development. His previous gig was with pharma company Sagitto where he worked on image processing software to detect counterfeit pills. They’ve spent two years together now building the tool, which is learning from the real world 24 hours a day.

Kitset’s market entry plan has four pillars. The most important one which they’re working on right now is strategic partnerships. They’ve recently closed a deal with ASB Bank focusing on restaurants and cafes as a beta test. Why? ASB knows that apps are a big pain point for their customers, and see Kitset as a massive value add at a low cost.

The second pillar of market entry is channel partnerships. They’re working with well known and some not so well known digital agencies to reduce their cost of providing great apps and web sites to their customers. Using Kitset, agencies can do a lot of heavy lifting quickly. There are a huge number of APIs you can clip together in an app, but it’s a right pain in the proverbial to wrap a sexy UI around them. Kitset makes this easy.

The third pillar is direct sales. These are high touch at the moment, but the platform is nearly ready for use by the general business public.

And the fourth pillar is bigger ecosystem players, especially large hosting and service providers, like Microsoft Azure, AWS, or Digital Ocean. One could imagine the likes of Dropbox, 99 Designs, or Basecamp being interested in a product like this as well. Kitset drives traffic, usage, and brand leverage through these partners, who could also become potential acquirers.

In the short term however, they’re looking for additional strategic partnerships with banks and telcos, especially outside of New Zealand. All the while, they’re building up their secret-sauce protectable IP, their AI stack.

Post Lightning Lab, Kitset are putting together a small bridging round with people close to the company to last them through the rest of 2016. Early next year, once they’ve proven their technology and start getting some real traction, they’ll be doing a seed round with typical NZ seed round parameters to start scaling overseas. Keep an eye out at your local angel network for these guys.

Meantime, they’re looking for another developer who wants to get in on the ground floor building up this really interesting technology. If Javascript is your thing and you’re a MEAN (Mongo, Express, Angular, Node) developer, do get in touch with them.

Here’s their pitch from Lightning Lab Auckland Demo Day:

Geo AR Games

Geo AR Games

Get your kids off the couch and physically active outside with augmented reality (AR) games.

Geo AR GamesIf your kids are anything like mine, they love to play games on their handheld devices. So much so, that it can be difficult to get them outside, even on a fine day. Geo AR Games lets them do both at the same time, augmenting public open spaces into exciting “mixed reality” play areas with a combination of real-world, virtual, and social features.

Let 12 year old Chris show you how it works:

Geo AR Games have two games out now: Sharks in the Park, and Magical Park. Sharks in the Park can be played in any open space in the world that’s at least 60m x 60m. They’re going to release a “world builder” next year which will enable kids to build their own games using a library of 3D models and animations. Think “Minecraft outdoors”.

Magical Park works only in specific locations selected by a local council, and has a specific set of council-selected experiences.

The games have built-in safety features, for example content disappears as the player approaches the edge of the play area, and the player will see a big stop sign on the screen when they get within 15m of a road or other hazard.

The games deliver on the promise to get kids running around outside. Initial data show that the average game session is 30 minutes, and kids run an average of 500m to 2km during a session. Kids don’t notice how much running they’ve done, as they’re too immersed in the game. And the games are social – even though each kid has their own device, they are playing in real life with each other, talking to and yelling at each other.

Both games are attracting a high level of interest from local governments, who want to see increased use of public spaces, and provide healthy, fun activities on them. Councils have been trying to find a way to use technology as a hook to get families out-of-doors for years, and this is potentially the solution they’ve been looking for. Auckland and Wellington Councils have launched trials, and other councils are queued up. Initial feedback is very positive.

Councils also see value in the game for marketing their other services, so for example winning a game of Magical Park could potentially get you free entry into the nearby public swimming pool.

Mel Langlotz and Amie Wolken

CEO Mel Langlotz has a career in visual effects and post production. She met CTO Amie Wolken when they were working together at Augview, a company that specialises in Geospatial Augmented Reality visualisation of infrastructure asset data. Amie has a unique combination of degrees in Law, Animal Biology/Psychology, and Computer Science. Amie quickly rose through the ranks at Augview from programmer to manager and ultimately director. The two had a vision of commercialising AR technology so that users could be fully immersed in an outdoor interactive experience, and be part of the storytelling. While infrastructure payed the bills, Mel and Amie knew that a far more exciting world lay ahead.

During this period, Mel was having huge difficulty in convincing her stepdaughter to get off the couch and play outside. And so the idea for Geo AR games was born.

In late 2015, Mel and Amie formed their new company, and immediately applied, and were accepted into Chile’s women-only S-Factory pre-accelerator incubator, which gave them a USD 20,000 grant. During S-Factory, they applied for and were accepted into the women founder led Lightning Lab XX accelerator programme. Mel arrived back from Chile literally the same day that the XX programme began. And they’ve just heard that they’ve been accepted into Te Papa’s Mahuki incubator programme, which begins in August. The team will be delivering outdoor AR exhibitions for Te Papa, which marks the beginning of developing a platform for AR cultural gaming experiences.

They’re a top team in a new, fast-moving field. They’ve been working together in the geospatial AR environment for three years now, which is more experience than most others can claim – they’re early adopters and first movers. They have complementary skills and really enjoy working with each other.

The game is based on the Unity platform, which provides the ability to deploy on both Android and iOS using a single code base. The game is fully contained in the download, so it doesn’t need to use mobile data during play. There are a number of difficulties in making a good geospatial AR game. The really hard part is understanding and dealing with the nuances of GPS – there are lots of environmental and device variables that affect accuracy and smoothness. On the AR side, it’s really hard to create content that looks realistic in the real world. It’s challenging to integrate data from the device’s sensors to keep the objects stable and look like they are part of that world rather than just overlaid. There’s a constant tradeoff between stability and accuracy.

They’re currently raising $300K to further develop the games and world builder, to sell to more local governments in New Zealand, and to begin exploring the overseas opportunities. They’ve already raised a successful NZD 10K Kickstarter, so you could say they’re out of the starting blocks.

They’re also looking to hire devs, with any combination of the following skills: C#, Unity, modular programming, game development, mobile app development (iOS, Android native plugins), AR or VR, computer vision and image processing, GNSS.

Contact the team if you’re interested.

If you want to give it a go yourself, you can download Magical Park (iOS or Android) and head down to any of the following parks –

In Wellington:

  • Kainui Reserve, Hataitai
  • Adventure Park, Whitby
  • Avalon Park (cycle circuit), Lower Hutt

And in Auckland:

  • Domain – museum
  • Domain – duck pond
  • Victoria Park
  • Pukekohe Hill
  • Roberta Ave
  • Onepoto A
  • Onepoto B
  • Okahu Bay
  • Harbourview
  • Long Bay

I’ll leave you with a lightly edited version of Melanie’s pitch on Demo Day – the investment parameters have been removed.

Disclosure: I’m a trustee in a trust that invested in the Lightning Lab XX Limited Partnership, which owns a very small stake in Geo AR Games.

EditMate

EditMate

Crowdsourced professional post-production for user generated video.

EditMate_300pxThese 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.

Scott-Rachel_300px

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.

Here are a couple of samples of their work:

OI – The Organic Initiative

OI – The Organic Initiative

The feminine hygiene revolution in a box – better for your health, and better for your world.

Oi-logo

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.

Helen Robinson

Helen Robinson

Bridget Healy

Bridget Healy

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.

Ask Nicely

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.

 

ThisData

ThisData

Harden your security with two lines of code.

thisdata-logoThat’s right, add two lines of JavaScript onto your login form and you’ll be making your web site, and the world, a much safer place.

paypal-phish

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 script kiddies 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.

All of this is done with the addition of two lines of JavaScript on your login form, which hides a sophisticated back-end analysing geolocation, behavioral analytics, and secret sauce IP. For app and site owners, implementation effort is trivial with enormous and immediate payback.

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.

Rich Chetwynd

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.

Nick Malcolm

Nick Malcolm

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 a dev and want to give ThisData a spin, check out their easy-to-follow documentation, and then give it a go. You won’t regret the hour or so it will take you to implement.

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.

Mish.guru

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.

InsuredHQ

InsuredHQ

Insurance company Infrastructure-as-a-Service.

insuredhqThe insurance industry is ripe for disruption from cloud computing. In the bad old days, each company developed its own proprietary IT systems which created a high barrier to entry for new players.  And it’s a big industry – over $1 trillion in the US alone.

Auckland-based InsuredHQ provides a feature-rich but easy to use cloud-based quote and bind system for insurance companies and brokers. The product was borne out of a desire to improve insurance services in emerging markets, and facilitate the distribution of microinsurance. Once launched, the founders quickly found that there is also a very large market in existing insurance companies wanting to replace their clunky server-based IT infrastructure to more modern cloud-based services.

This business has a social mission. There are 4 billion people in the world who can’t access insurance due to unattractive margins for existing players, and high barriers to entry for new players due to limited technology options. By automating as many of the processes as possible, and cutting costs through simplifying business processes and service offerings, InsuredHQ makes it economically viable to service the long tail of the world’s underserved potential insurance customers.

And they’re starting to get some interesting traction. After launching in March 2015 with a broker in Samoa, they also have companies up and running in South Africa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. They’re now implementing a full insurance company rollout in Curaçao and working on implementation agreements with several others. Their product is ready for scale, and they’re collecting leads without putting any money into marketing.

InsuredHQ’s global rollout strategy involves working with technology integrators who have on-the-ground experience in the developing world. They are currently finalising agreements channel partners in Africa and Asia.

Competition seems to be weak – at a recent microinsurance conference they attended in Morocco, they were the only technology provider present. The big players are notable in their absence, and InsuredHQ seems to have the first mover advantage in what should expand to be a significant global market.

They make money through a set-up fee, a monthly subscription, and a small commission on insurance closed through the platform.

They are already a global company, with their head office in Auckland, development spread between Australia, Bangladesh, and India, and their recently hired Global Sales Director in Hyderabad.

Pauline Barratt

Pauline Barratt

Matthew Davies

Matthew Davies

Anthony McNaughten

Anthony McNaughten

Founders Pauline Barratt and Matthew Davies are joined on the InsuredHQ board by Anthony McNaughten. Pauline closes the deals, Matthew looks after operations, and Anthony works as a non-executive Chair.

InsuredHQ are embarking on an angel investment round of NZD 1.5m to expand the sales team and provide 24 months of runway. Previous investors include McNaughten, some family members, and a bit of industry strategic seed money. If you’re interested in this opportunity, talk to Anthony.

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.

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