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

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.

Postr

Earn rewards for adverts on your lockscreen.

postr-logoWould you like to earn free minutes and/or megabytes on your mobile data plan? Postr powers telco-branded white-label Android apps that show you tailored adverts on your mobile phone’s lockscreen, and reward you with free megabytes and minutes.

It’s a simple concept that’s had great uptake with Skinny in New Zealand – after less than a year out of the blocks with Skinny, they already have over 40,000 users across Skinny and their original B2C app Postr. They’re planning on launching with another major telco in NZ this year.

But the exciting action is overseas, and they’ve launched with “a telco” in Australia earlier this year (five seconds of Internet search revealed that the telco is Optus), and are preparing to launch in the Philippines and Indonesia in the next few months.

Milan Reinartz

27 year old CEO Milan Reinartz arrived in New Zealand from Munich on a high school student exchange programme, and never left. While he was at design school, he started making money buying and selling cars, and generally trading. When he got his first job as a designer at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellington at age 20, he found he was making less money than he had the previous year as a trader. He decided it was more rewarding – mentally as well as financially – to work for himself as an entrepreneur.

He got involved in the startup scene through Alan Hucks at CreativeHQ, and did some design work for Yonix, Dash Tickets, and went through Lightning Lab 2013 with the Promoki team. Dash Tickets was acquired, and Promoki failed. You could say that Milan did his startup apprenticeship in this way.

One day in 2014 Milan got a txt from a friend in Germany who pointed him to Locket.com, a company doing opt-in adverts on lockscreens (since acquired by wish.com) and said, hey this is a great idea, and you could do a much better job with it. Whereas Locket had been focused on gaming and retail, Milan thought that this would be much more valuable to Top 200 brand companies and more suitable to personalisation. So he launched Postr, their initial B2C platform in early 2014. There was a problem though – customer acquisition cost was just too high compared to the value that the end user was receiving. So they pivoted Postr into a B2E2C model, partnering with mobile networks to help them differentiate and white labelled the app.

Roger Shakes
Roger Shakes
Mark Penman
Mark Penman

Given their traction in NZ, Australia, and Southeast Asia, they’re currently on a steep growth curve. Southeast Asia is particularly attractive due to the high Android market penetration there, and vibrant and growing mobile advertising market. Nowadays, Milan spends two weeks on the road in Asia with COO Roger Shakes, alternating with two weeks in NZ working in deals here and minding the shop with CTO and co-founder Mark Penman.

This isn’t only a speed-to-market play, it’s a be-the-f@#%!ing-best-out-there play

“This isn’t only a speed-to-market play, it’s a be-the-f@#%!ng-best-out-there play because it’s such a new space” says Milan. And the stats back up that they’re well on the way. They’re getting average revenue per user (ARPU) of over $2/month/user which is much less than their acquisition cost through the telco channel. Now it’s mainly a question of scaling.

And to that end, they’re raising a $2-3m series A, which has been mostly filled by existing investors plus new investors from Southeast Asia. Milan touts, “there’s still room in the round for additional investors, but you’d better get in quick!” Love it.

Their challenges going forward? “Setting up a truly international operation, within the ‘wild west’ environment of mobile advertising, the slow sales cycles, working with big organisations like telcos and the lack of talent and expertise in NZ around mobile ad-tech.”

The important thing is not to let your mind get bogged down, to keep going, be persistent, keep learning, and not give up for the wrong reasons.

I asked Milan what was the most important thing he’s learned in the last couple of years, and he said, “I think it’s a bit like walking a tightrope in the early stages and you often don’t know what’s going to work before you try. The important thing is not to let your mind get bogged down, to keep going, be persistent, keep learning, and not give up for the wrong reasons.”

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.

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.