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.

 

BioLumic

Using the near-magical properties of UV light to increase crop production.

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

biolumic2BioLumic increases crop yields by applying ultraviolet (UV) light to seeds, seedlings, and plants in very specific “recipes” to control their growth patterns. Stressing plants by shining UV light in the right quantity, at the right time in their development provokes a response that makes the plants hardier – bigger stems, bigger leaves, and better overall resilience.

When I first heard about BioLumic a couple of years ago, I thought, yeah, nah, that’s crackpot pseudo-science. But this technology is based on hard scientific research, and it appears to work. It looks likely to revolutionise commercial agriculture by increasing crop yields without genetic modification or chemicals – just add light.

Jason Wargent
Jason Wargent
Warren Bebb
Warren Bebb

BioLumic’s founder and Chief Science Officer is Massey University’s Dr Jason Wargent, a world-renowned expert on plant photomorphogenesis – the effects of light on plant growth and development. He’s published a Ph.D thesis on the topic and numerous papers, and is now working with CEO Warren Bebb and a team of 7 to commercialise his research. They have filed three patents which are currently going through local and international examination.

And it’s generating some stunning results. BioLumic are currently running trials with lettuce growers in Salinas, California – the USA’s major lettuce growing area. For head lettuce, they’re getting a 10% increase in the number of heads of lettuce per unit land area, resulting in a 25% EBIT uplift for the grower. For processed lettuce, they can achieve a 26% increase in tonnes per hectare – all without genetic modification or additional chemicals. Trials with corn are underway in NZ, with the first harvest expected in April.

The numbers tell a big story too. In 2016, they’ll be treating 35 million seedlings. The lettuce market alone in the USA is a $2b market, and fresh cut vegetables is an $82b market globally. If you add in seeds and cereals, that takes it up to $650b. And this market is growing – it’s estimated that the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050, despite a best-case scenario of bringing an additional 10% of arable land online by then. Something big is going to be needed to fill that gap, and BioLumic could be the answer.

They have a recurring revenue model based on installing equipment onsite, and then charge a per-plant treatment fee. They plan to set up operations and distribution in each territory that they’ll be operating in. They’re currently scoring key customers in the USA, and will branch out from there.

To date, BioLumic have run a seed round, a top-up round, an two angel rounds with participation from Manawatu Investment Group (MIG), NZVIF, ICE Angels, Enterprise Angels, K1W1, Massey Ventures, Sparkbox, and others. They have runway through mid-2017, and the next round is likely to be a mix of VC plus strategic investment.

BioLumic is a great example of breakthrough Kiwi agricultural ingenuity contributing to the solution of a serious world problem, and potentially creating massive value along the way.