SuchCrowd

De-risk events using a “lean” approach to ticketing.

I’m an exponent of Eric Ries and Steve Blank’s Lean Startup Methodology, the essence of which is (my formulation):

Run your startup like a science experiment – document your assumptions, validate whether or not they’re true, alter your business parameters (pivot) to incorporate your learnings, repeat until you either achieve product-market fit or run out of resources.

It turns out that startups aren’t the only thing that Lean can be applied to. SuchCrowd provides a lean approach to event planning. Not sure whether there’s a market for melodic death metal in Arrowtown? Before you go and book Lamb of God into the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall and set up a gig you’re not sure will break even, you can use SuchCrowd to validate your market. The SuchCrowd team calls it Lean Events Theory.

SuchCrowd lets you set up a tentative event, and start selling tickets. If you don’t get to the minimum number of tickets sold by a preset deadline, all of the existing ticketholders get a full refund. Once the event reaches the minimum number of tickets, the event is formally scheduled. The platform provides tools to help people passionate about the event share info about the event increasing the chances of getting to critical mass, and building the artists’ fan base.

It’s worked really well for events like the Popup Kitten Cafe and Startup Weekend Dunedin 2016. In the case of Popup Kitten Café, they reached their minimum number of tickets in only 40 minutes. And Startup Weekend Dunedin 2016 reached critical mass three weeks before the event – that’s two weeks ahead of the predecessor 2015 event. Clearly, it’s working.

You can even A/B test parameters around events like venue, time, ticket price, and so on. Get early engagement before pouring money down the drain marketing a product that the market doesn’t want. Lean. Next on the product line up – SuchCrowd is building a promotion engine which helps anyone with any level of tech savviness to promote their events on social networks and media easily and effectively so that event planners can get quick feedback on whether their event will fly.

SuchCrowd has now run 45 events between Dunedin, Christchurch, and Wellington, with one event also one in the US. They’ll be launching their Aussie platform before the end of August, mainly at the request of Australian bands who have toured NZ and loved the service.

Abbe Hyde, Jake Manning, Tin Htoo Aung
Abbe Hyde, Jake Manning, Tin Htoo Aung

I first met the cofounders Abbe Hyde, Jake Manning, and Tin Htoo Aung at Startup Weekend Dunedin 2015, where they were working on a company to handle online marking of university assignments. During the course of the weekend, they found that it was a busy market and not all that attractive, but the team stuck together and decided to do a “real” startup doing something else. Tin is from Myanmar (formerly Burma), where he was the CEO of a software development company that had built a ticketing system for the challenging Burmese market – challenging because they just didn’t have the infrastructure at the time (reliable Internet, payment gateways, etc) that we take for granted in New Zealand. When they started investigating the ticketing market, they discovered the number one problem shared by people running events was fear of not being able to sell enough tickets to break even. This is especially true of people running events with emerging talent. SuchCrowd was developed to solve this problem that remained unaddressed by any of the existing ticketing platforms.

These guys are lean machines. They currently in a sprint where they have a target of testing 10 hypotheses per day. This is a practice they picked up in Lightning Lab Christchurch, which they attended last year. They really loved the Lab, and strive to recreate accelerator culture in their company every day. Since the end of the Lab the team has tripled in size – they’re up to nine people, whose roles outside of work include being a comedian, two dancers, bass guitarist, and an actor.

They’ve just completed a raise of $150K using the Simmonds Stewart Kiwi KISS documentation that’s been hacked to meet SCIF requirements. That’s a real milestone – the first new investment type to be accepted by SCIF in over a decade. This funding will carry them through to the end of the first quarter 2017, when they’ll be raising a seed round.

If you’re running an event of any kind, and you’re not sure how many people you might be able to get to come, by all means check out SuchCrowd, and if you’re interested in following the antics of this creative team, email Abbe and sign up to their newsletter.

Job Well Done

Making child’s play of household chores.

job-well-doneNobody likes doing household chores, especially kids. But a team from this year’s Startup Weekend Dunedin has figured out a way to make the allocation and completion of chores fun and rewarding for both kids and their parents, while at the same time bringing families together.

The game is played with physical cards, and works like this: at the beginning of each week, a family holds a game of Job Well Done. There are thee packs of cards: Tasks, Actions, and Rewards. The Tasks pack is pre-loaded with all of the chores that need to be done around the house – vacuuming, sweeping the decks, cleaning the kitchen, etc. Parents have to play too. At the end of the game, each family member has their list of chores that need to be done by the end of the week. Action cards let you do things like swap a task with another family member or receive a reward for a completed task. There’s one Butler Card in the pack which lets the player assign one of their tasks to another player, and they have to do it.

There are two types of rewards – family rewards (“go to the movies together”), and individual rewards (“have an ice cream”). But some of the rewards are actually booby prizes, such as “eat a new kind of vegetable that you’ve never had before”.

In their testing during the weekend, kids loved the game and got the idea immediately, and kids were even able to explain it to other adults.

As in other Startup Weekends, the team formed organically from three people who were all attracted by the idea of a game to motivate kids. It started out as a game to determine pocket money, but after the team got out of the building early on Saturday morning to validate the original idea, they quickly learned that a much bigger pain point for parents was getting kids to do household chores. They also learned from their interviews that any such game should meet these success criteria: consistency, clear expectations, small but meaningful rewards chosen by the child, and that the child should be able to wield some negotiating power. And so the game was born.

There’s a big potential market for this game – in their interviews of 85 parents, 68% of them said they had problems getting their kids to do chores. With 1.1m families in NZ, if the interviewees are a representative sample, that means there are over 750k families in NZ who might be attracted to buy this game. And with 52m families in the English-speaking world, the potential market size is over NZD 1.3b at a unit price of $25. The hard part, of course, is reaching them.

Anna Schmid
Anna Schmid
Ivan Mason
Ivan Mason
Hannah Sinclair
Hannah Sinclair

CEO Hannah Sinclair is an occupational therapist by trade, with an interest in motivation and behavioural change. She’s joined on the team by CMO Anna Schmid and Head of Game Design Ivan Mason.

Ivan has a blended family, and says that when faced with conflict over household chores, it can be easier to just disengage and do the chore yourself rather than being the bad guy and coercing kids to do their fair share. The trick, he says, is to have the game impose the rules, which puts everyone on the same footing. Hannah adds that while she doesn’t have any kids herself, she’s looking forward to using the game with her flatmates.

During the weekend, the team designed the game play, outsourced design of the game material to a UK-based designer who produced the goods overnight, printed the game materials for a few prototypes, and put together a Facebook page, a PledgeMe campaign, and a Shopify online store. The PledgeMe campaign has attracted more than $400 in less than 12 hours.

The next step is to get enough games out in the wild to test it properly and improve the game design. They’ll then know whether they are really onto something or not. They’re considering expansion packs, building in virality by adding trading card features, and partnering with organisations like supermarkets for distribution. They could seek investment, but this is a business that could bootstrap.

As for now, they’re immediately looking forward to getting some sleep after “running, running, running” non-stop over the weekend.

“Startup Weekend has restored my faith in humanity,” says Hannah, “I’ve never heard so many people in one place saying ‘I’m here to help'”.

There are lots of Startup Weekends coming up this year around the country.  Check out the Startup Weekend NZ web site for details if you’re interested in having a go yourself.

If you have kids and want to improve their participation in household work, do support the team and buy a the Job Well Done game on their PledgeMe page

I’ll leave you with their pitch deck from the Startup Weekend Dunedin Finale.

And that’s a job well done.

PocketSmith

Take control of your personal finances.

pocketsmithThe standard New Zealand startup playbook goes something like this:

  1. Come up with a great idea to solve a problem whose market pain you have experienced personally
  2. Form a team of cofounders
  3. Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  4. Get initial traction
  5. Raise investment
  6. Go global
  7. Exit

Most investors I talk to hope that the entire process will complete, from go to whoa, in five to seven years.

PocketSmith, a great startup out of Dunedin, formed in 2008, got to step 4 (initial traction), and decided that the global market for personal finance wasn’t really ready for their product. So they’re waiting for the stars to align, and meanwhile will surpass NZD 1m in annual recurring revenue (ARR) this year, without having spent any money on marketing. The vast bulk of their 110,000+ users are are in 200 countries, with the majority in the US, then Australia and the UK, then NZ, and they’re growing at about 8% per month. They’re biding their time, waiting for the optimum moment to strike. They know that if they went as big as possible as fast as possible, they would have missed the boat. It’s all about timing, and that time is now.

PocketSmith answers basic questions about your personal finances: What’s my net worth? How does my power bill vary over the course of a year? What would happen if I trimmed my entertainment budget by $100 per month? How do I manage accounts in multiple currencies? This is all done with a very slick, easy to use interface, which automagically pulls data from your bank and credit card accounts, and cleverly classifies your transactions with not much intervention.

Jason Leong
Jason Leong

Cofounder Jason Leong says the product is centered on your relationship to your money. “For most people, budgeting is right up there with dieting and going to the gym – we want to make it fun and interesting to be in control of your finances. Our overriding goal is for people to have a better relationship with their money.”

It’s changing people’s lives. A high point for the team recently was when a user commented:

James Wigglesworth
James Wigglesworth
Bridie O'Leary
Bridie O’Leary

According to Jason, the product is just where it needs to be now, and so they’re starting a big international marketing push. They’ve hired a Growth Manager – Bridie O’Leary – to increase signups and conversions to the paid product, and are establishing a formal presence in North America through an agency. 2016 will be PocketSmith’s year. Co-founder James Wigglesworth spearheads a development team that continues to refine and innovate upon the core software.

Lance Wiggs
Lance Wiggs

Although they took in a small investment a couple of years ago from Lance Wiggs, they have yet to spend it; their strategy is to continue to fund growth out of cash flow. Lance loves their capital efficient parsimonious approach.

Jason believes that Pocketsmith is well placed to become the centrepiece in a personal finance ecosystem. Just imagine what you could do with an automation layer on top of your inflexible online banking access. Think IFTTT or Zapier for your money. They already have a developer API going – they invite you to give it a shot. As PocketSmith becomes the platform for personal finance, they are aiming to become a $100m+ company in the next few years.

I’ve watched these guys with interest since their humble beginnings, and I like what they’ve achieved. I use PocketSmith myself for my personal finances, and would recommend that anyone concerned about how they’re spending their money give them a go.

You can sign up for free at: https://my.pocketsmith.com/plans

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.

Timely

Appointment booking for service businesses.

timelyHere are the top six pieces of advice I give to startups: Love your problem. Know your market inside-out. Delight your customers. Start by picking one thing, and do it really well. Be global from day one. Don’t settle for less than the best cofounders, employees, investors, and advisors.

Timely never needed this advice – they just went hell for leather from the start.

Timely provides really simple cloud-based appointment booking aimed personal service businesses like hairdressers, massage therapists, and personal trainers. Customers’ clients can book and manage their own appointments online.  It surrounds this basic calendar functionality with great features like pre-appointment reminders, point-of-sale billing, and integration with popular accounting systems like Xero and Quickbooks Online.

They make money by charging users a monthly subscription. At $19/month in NZ, it’s great value. Users claim that it pays for itself on the first day of use. Like previous Startup of the Week Debtor Daddy, the key value for users is in freeing up their time to focus on charging clients for doing the work they love, rather than on tedious administration of their businesses.

Timely now has customers in over 70 countries, but they’re concentrating on three key geographies: Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. They have over 4,000 customers and are growing by roughly 10% month-on-month with a very low churn rate. Their growth strategy is based on inbound marketing, working with trade associations and partner networks. But they’re getting a lot of business coming through the door by reputation, social, and SEO/SEM which is great. There’s a lot of competition in this space, but once a customer is in, they’re hooked. What makes Timely stand out is dead-easy user experience.

What’s the secret to success? Know your market inside-out. Delight your customers. Start by picking one thing, and do it really well. Be global from day one. Don’t settle for less than the best cofounders, employees, investors, and advisors.

Ryan, Will, and Andrew
Ryan, Will, and Andrew

Timely’s CEO Ryan Baker has been round the block a few times with his cofounder Andrew Schofield. Their previous venture, BookIt, provided booking and payment services for the travel industry, and was acquired by TradeMe in 2010. The third cofounder, Will Berger, also worked on BookIt after it was acquired by TradeMe and became TravelBug. Their team is a “who’s who” of the Dunedin entrepreneurial scene, and the stellar lineup is rounded out with directors MOD (the artist formerly known as Michael O’Donnell) and Rowan Simpson, along with legal counsel Sacha Judd. Timely sets the benchmark for team quality.

I asked Ryan what their biggest challenge is as a startup and he told me without hesitation that it is overcoming obscurity. “There’s a big global market out there and we know our customers love us. The challenge is reaching them. If your readers are looking for ways to help NZ startups, get them to recommend us to their friends in NZ and overseas. Next time you’re getting your hair or nails done ask the stylist if they’ve
heard of Timely.”

Although the nucleus of the team is in Dunedin, the rest of the 27-strong team are spread out across New Zealand and around the globe. They don’t have a formal office, but instead all work from home (or anywhere) using a “remote first” philosophy. Great tools like Slack, Hangouts, gdrive, 15Five, Trello, and Help Scout encourage constant communication and team cohesion, but the real trick is creating and maintaining a culture where everyone feels they are playing in a team, and have an impact on the success of their business.

The “remote first” nature of Timely’s business culture resonates with their target market, many of whom are small businesspeople juggling work-life balance.  As more New Zealand startups expand globally, and more people generally adopt portfolio careers, I suspect this fully networked business model will become much more common.

Timely are always looking for good people to join their team, and the good news is that you don’t have to be based in Dunedin to join this great group of people making life easier for small business owners around the world.

NomosOne

nomos-logoNomosOne is a SaaS company that automates the life cycle of commercial leases. Its main features include automated document generation and management, the ability to connect all stakeholders in a transaction, as well as instant reporting on property performance within a portfolio and reminders for important events like rent reviews and compliance filings.

They have hundreds of users including some big-name accounts in New Zealand and the UK, and have been growing at 33% per month. Revenue comes from an onboarding fee, followed by monthly subscriptions. They ambitiously aim to be a $1B+ company in five to seven years, and want to own the property management software category.

david bromleyjanine manningjonny-mirkinFounder and CEO Jonny Mirkin recently moved from Dunedin to London to set up their European office. Jonny is a lawyer with an MBA who was solving his own problem – managing all of the legal documents around property transactions, ongoing maintenance of compliance documentation and reporting. The rest of their 15-strong team is based in Dunedin including CFO Janine Manning and CTO David Bromley.

I asked Jonny what their biggest challenge has been to date, and he answered with a common refrain that I often hear from founders: balancing the drive to build the business versus spending time fundraising.  NomosOne is raising a significant round at the moment to make a big sales and marketing push, with some money reserved for additional development. Since starting in 2011, they’ve raised several smaller rounds, which according to Jonny have all been oversubscribed.

NomosOne’s target market is businesses that own or manage at least 10 properties, including property managers, property funds, law firms, retailers, supermarkets, ports, chain restaurants/cafes, marinas, breweries, infrastructure companies, telcos, banks etc.

NomosOne is also currently hiring salespeople in Auckland – if you know anyone who has experience in their target market and can sell SaaS, do get in contact with them.  They’re also have positions for a couple of devs in Dunedin.