Today Wellington…tomorrow the world for ‘toys’ lending site?


 LendYour has been start-upping its way to life in a next door office to me.

A bit like a nosy neighbour, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Wellington Startup Weekend 2013 inspired web play (with an app to come) whose proposition is to ‘rent what someone else owns’.

In that same neighbourly way, I’ve also had the occasional kitchen conversation with co-founder Nicolai Thomson, who currently works for a business-oriented mobile phone company.

It has been interesting watching and hearing of the tribulations and triumphs of putting together a website and backend that firstly enables the owners of big ticket items such as motorhomes, boats and holiday homes to register their items, and then for a borrower to do so.

And though (inevitably) the commercial motorhome rental industry will see LendYour as competition, Nicolai feels the owner-oriented site has a couple of advantages beyond around 30% cheaper for the renter.

“Firstly, we have greater accessibility than the national companies,” he says. “There may be a motorhome in your home town, and you’re not restricted to taking onboard the amount of baggage you can take on a plane. Secondly, there’s a lot more character and individualisation of an owner’s motorhome, and that will appeal to a great number of people.”

Building the LendYour infrastructure to do so has taken a group of global developers/partners a number of months (though Nicolai’s originally British and is tapping into his contacts).

LendYour has had its first five paying customers, and Nicolai’s intention is to go worldwide with the site – though tailoring it for individual countries.

Unlike some competing temporary lend/borrow sites, LendYour is starting with expensive holiday-type ‘toys’, as this provides a better margin on which to build the business. Eventually, other, smaller, lower rental items will be included – essentially to flesh out LendYour’s total offer.

LendYour’s revenue model is based on owner members receiving 92% of the total charge for accommodation, and 70% for a motorhome.

One interesting feature of the site’s development has been both the learning exercise and partnering up for insuring items.

Nicolai says LendYour has obtained premiums through CamperCare that are usually much better than those available through traditional insurance companies. This premium insures both the motorhome itself and its contents.

Getting this liability/protection aspect of the business sorted out has been one of the solved headaches for the team, as up till now motorhome owners have had no way of insuring their vehicle when lending it out to a third party.

The full site is due to go live in February, and will eventually include the ability for hirers to add map-based travel information and photos – creating LendYour specific content which in itself creates more reasons for site visits. Initially this will be through static information and photos, with dynamic maps to be added later on.

The business is also up for inclusion as one of the Lightning Lab 2014 teams to be announced this coming Friday (31 Jan).

As well as the $18,000 ‘living costs’ (and commensurate acquisition of equity by the Lightning Lab investors), Nicolai sees the process would be extremely valuable for quickly learning more quickly on how to grow what has already been developed.

Using the neighbour analogy, it has been extremely interesting observing a type of toddler moving from crawling to now walking.

Whether the baby develops into a fully-fledged adult sprinting for all its worth – time will tell – and though I’ll no longer be a neighbour, I’ll watch with interest.

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A hidden gem in Callaghan Innovation’s business case?


Callaghan Innovation’s business case came out a week before Christmas among a flurry of keep it under the radar government documents released about the same time.

(Ironically, the business case appeared a couple of hours after sticK commented that it hadn’t turned up…though I’m not claiming any credit!).

As a some people commented, it wasn’t much different from CI’s Statement of Intent delivered in late July.

But, delving among the entrails is the first new, rather than inherited, scheme put up by the Crown Agency.

A repayable grants programme. (As described in their own words on page nine of the document it is):

Repayable Grants Programme: provides grants to technology-focused incubators in order to create and nurture new businesses based on promising areas of technology. This new programme will ramp up to providing 24 grants annually of $450,000. These grants must be repaid once the new businesses begin generating revenues.

Now there’s not much flesh or other information around this RPG, but what it essentially is, is a repayable loan if and when a fledgling company starts making money.

Israel (among a number of exemplar countries) has had this model for a number of years, as mentioned in the fourth paragraph of a guest blog by Daniel Saunders in VCCafe.

From what I gather, the main advantage of such a repayable loan is it recognises that many technology focused ventures are risky; a punt.

That being the fact, if they succeed, the money’s paid back. If not, ‘deems da breaks’.

It is also relatively simple to administer – and much less influenced by a bureaucrat’s whim (apparently).

So, a bit of a thumbs up for Callaghan Innovation…some innovation of its own.

We’ll look forward to seeing how the RGP is going to work in actuality, as Callaghan Innovation works towards its stated ideal of being a small R and big D in New Zealand’s R&D (research and development) landscape.

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PledgeMe co-flounderer’s words of wisdom


 You’ve got to give a bit of kudos to someone who calls themselves the chief bubble blower and co-flounderer (yes, spelling is correct) of a company.

Whether you call New Zealand’s first crowd-funding platform PledgeMe a startup is debateable, as the 18 month company is still alive, kicking and more importantly growing.

Said, co-flounderer Anna Guenther gave a short presentation to Wellington’s Entrepreneur’s Club recently, highlighting the mostly ups, and a few of the learnings for PledgeMe that has so far raised $2.1 million across 470 successful fund-raising projects.

PledgeMe’s business model is a 5% success fee commission (with an additional 2.8% to pay for credit card fees). And while of course earning your way is important, you get the feeling Guenther’s absolutely enjoying enabling mostly community projects with an average size of $3500. Apparently 49% of all projects receive their funding target.

I suspect she’s excluded from this average size figure their most successful fund-raising – a $207,000 Christchurch sculpture initiative (matched by Westpac, and with an additional $180,000 sent in by cheques!).

The oldest successful fund-raiser was 82 year old Stu Buchanan, a jazz band leader who crowd-sourced (including from three generations of students he’s taught) enough money to put together his first ever album. He ticked it off his bucket-list!

Guenther gave the following wisdomettes for anyone starting up. Being an internet wizard, she’s also put these points up so you can check it out on Dropbox.

  • Choose the right partner
  • Have a hard conversation at the start around a shareholder agreement. The discussion can focus around the who’s idea it was, the writing of the business plan, other expertise brought to the table. What are people going to be contributing now and down the line?
  • Ask for help – a coffee or beer can be empowering in the knowledge and networks that result
  • Sometimes you have to jump (code is never ready!). Have a launch party, then you have to begin
  • Build networks without expectations. In 12 months, you never know, those contacts could ignite
  • Surround yourself with smart people. You don’t want to be (or think you are) the smartest person in the room
  • Design. The best dollars spent are at the start – and that means making the brand look good and people wanting to connect with it
  • You can’t compare your feelings inside, with others’ outside website. In other words, what other startups show as their exterior view, in no way matches the undoubted angst and sometimes indecision that goes on inside. (Guenther acknowledged Rowan Simpson’s advice on this one)

Geunther also encouraged taking any opportunity to speak at other peoples’ events, launches, meetings as a way of spreading the word/love.

When asked if she thought that the recent launch of an NZ-oriented Kickstarter would affect PledgeMe, she felt no.

“We’re different, and we believe that local is important to us,” she says.

“But indeed, if anyone wants some advice about putting a project up on Kickstarter, or on PledgeMe, give me a yell.”

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Callaghan Innovation’s evolution gets curiouser and curiouser


The analogy of Alice in Wonderland, and curiouser and curiouser comes to mind with Callaghan Innovation.

That and a type of ennui as the 14-months-in-existence Crown Agent struggles to come into life.

Firstly, rumour has it (from a number of well-informed people) that minister of everything Steven Joyce is sitting on CI’s business plan.

Such a business plan was meant to be delivered not long after (but never really defined) CI’s Statement of Intent which came out in early July.

So six months later all we still have is a generic SOI of what Callaghan Innovation will do.

How, (the hard part) is still to be revealed through this business plan. Which, by inference means Steven’s just a bit wary (and one suspects weary) of it.

But wait, there’s more.

In the meantime, there’s been an announcement of a new stakeholder advisory board for CI.

As the press release says:

“This panel of experts will support the Callaghan Innovation Governance Board to deliver fresh thinking, and offer a diversity of perspective and experience that will help grow New Zealand’s economy through science and innovation.”

Intriguing.

The Callaghan Innovation board was announced in January.

Just what has it, and more particularly its chair Sue Suckling been up to since then?

And, with the advisory board on-board as well, who is going to be responsible for what?

sticK always argued that the cart was in front of the horse in effectively scrapping the old IRL without defining what the new entity would do, or how it would do it.

While building the plane while you fly it may be OK for bootstrapping startups, doing the same with 400 or so scientists and engineers already employed is a much less validated process.

You have to suspect that Steven Joyce wishes he’d backed the well-planned potential morphing of IRL into an Advanced Technology Institute model, similar to say Taiwan’s ITRI.

The other exemplar that has been touted is the Danish Technology Institute. Callaghan representatives (and dozens of other NZ science people have visited this over the past decade).

Both ITRI and DTI are applied science/engineering-heavy entities that work hand-in-glove with industry and academia to turn prototypes and concepts into sellable commercial products.

Both have a well-defined mandate; they know their role.

Which, for all the commercialisation-speak of the embryonic Callaghan Innovation; it is still a long way off defining.

Quite where and how the new CI stakeholder advisory board will ‘advise’ Callaghan Innovation will be fascinating.

But, if the advisory board chairman Andrew Coy (magnetic resonance equipment-maker Magritek chief executive) wanted to help the country and his own company’s growth, he could do much worse than suggest dusting off the ATI model.

It could be just the thing to bring to a Mad Tea Party.

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We’re getting over our notions of shame around business failure


I’m putting the proposition out there that we’re getting over our collective Kiwi hang-up about startup and business failure.

That is, whereas in the past we’d write somebody off for having tried, and been not successful in a new business venture – these days we’re much more inclined to encourage them to dust themselves off, and get on with something else.

From that point of view, we’re becoming much more American in our attitude to ‘failure’, and as long as it is failure for the right reasons, are inclined to regard it as experience.

This was the basis of a speech I recently had the privilege of giving to the NZ Institute of Patent Attorneys in Wellington.

Now, there’s no academic research that’s been carried out on this change in our collective attitude; not that I could find anyway.

And, in checking with Professor Sally Davenport of Victoria University’s School of Management, she doesn’t believe there’s been any study of this kind either – but being ever-entrepreneurial herself, would be keen to research the topic if some funding was available.

In talking about some of the anecdotal evidence for the proposition (see below), Sally made the following observation.

“It is how these things become normalised. We’re getting over the tipping point.”

So, and based pretty much on a gut feel, what’s some evidence that we’re collectively over a tipping point with regard to business failure.

Item 1.

Lightning Labs.

Now this Wellington (and nationwide) initiative to fast track good ideas into investor-backable businesses saw nine February startups, pitch to would be financiers in May.

Four of the startups garnered over $2 million in investment between them. Just as notably in a September press release was the unashamed dealing with and description of what the unsuccessful fund-finders were up to.

Some are still building their business model, one’s taking an amateur sports funding concept to South America, and the other teams have moved onto other ventures. But, they’ll all be back for LL II next year. To all extent and purposes, this LL press release was a recognition, if not a celebration of failure, and of its absolute value.

Item 2.

The TIN 100 report, though in this context the discussion around the report which came out in late October.

TIN 100 report founder Greg Shanahan gets to meet a fair number of the founders of these companies, including those of the TIN 100+, those smaller companies (less than $2 million annual turnover) hovering outside the main group.

“Most were baby-boomers, most were grey-haired,” says Shanahan.

What he didn’t say, but is sure to be the case is that a fair number of these CEOs will have known previous non-success.

This age group belies the notion that all entrepreneurs are in their twenties – and backs the stats that it is older people who actually begin more startups than younger (see a couple of studies, here and here).

The other ‘advantage’ of baby-boomer entrepreneurs is we’re more prepared have a go. At our age, failure is in fact NOT trying.

Item 3.

The Dead Startup Society.

A couple of years ago, the idea of getting together to commemorate a business failure would’ve been an absolute non-starter. But the packed-out attendance of this offshoot of Lean Startup Wellington on November 20 showed how cathartic people found the experience (I’ll get up next time to demonstrate my non-success).

As the Dead Startup Society said on its Meetup page:

“Many of us have been involved in startups that have failed – some quietly, some spectacularly, most somewhere in between. Come along to reflect and share our failures and the lessons we’ve learned from them.”

If there is anything that demonstrates a change in attitude, it is an ability to take the mickey out of ourselves.

Laughing about failure, after you’ve swallowed its bitter pill, takes away its stigma.

This part of our NZ tall poppy syndrome (the knocking machine) is no longer the invisible anchor preventing those of us who have failed for the right reasons, from getting out there and having another go.

Live long and prosper – as Star Trek’s Spock would say.

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The problem around, and more importantly some answers to, cranking up our startup ecosystem


Let’s hope for our sake that ‘Five ways New Zealand can accelerate a sustainable high-tech ecosystem’ doesn’t receive a “not invented here” rebuff from government and others.

(You can get an executive summary at the above link, or, by sharing it through social media, receive the full document).

Because Linc Gasking, the co-founder of Free Range Ltd, has put a powerful dollop of his own and others’ thinking into a 64 page document that seeks to short-circuit startup success in New Zealand.

It reads like a (much better written than usual) management/technical document. It also comes complete with footnotes, attributed quotes and insights that support the five key learnings and recommendations.

Gasking’s looked at other countries’ models, interviewed dozens of successful (and sometimes not so successful) entrepreneurs and venture capital firms, and got a real feel for what works; and conversely what doesn’t.

Given that globally startups and innovative high-growth companies create a disproportionate percentage of net new jobs, Gasking wants New Zealand to up its game.

A colleague made the observation that it would’ve also been interesting to carry out a longitudinal study of the startups that have come out of the likes of Peace, Switchtec, Deltec and Azimuth (among others) over the past 10-15 years, though this would have required a much more in-depth study than Gaskin had time for.

By the same instance, the quantity and quality of government institutional memory which would know about the follow-on contribution that startups from these original companies made to the economy would probably be pretty limited.

The same colleague also felt that an examination of a similar sized country such as Denmark and Finland could have been informative. But we’re all wise after the event.

Gasking’s own words describe why cranking up the startup scene is so important for New Zealand.

Ecosystem 1

The five recommendations are:

Five ways

The best thing about this document is it isn’t only describing the problem.

Most of what he suggests as a remedy would cost diddly-squat – and could arguably be one way to profitably employ some of the money with no home that seems to be hanging around the MBIE/Callaghan Innovation nexus.

What it will take in the first instance though is for government, and the minister of everything Steven Joyce to give this document’s recommendations serious consideration.

This is a proposed solution to a problem, as opposed to being a solution in search of a problem.

It deserves much more than a perfunctory glance.

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KiwiNet and the sell of commercialisation


There’s always something to learn at commercialisation workshops.

KiwiNet, the group-hug of university and CRI commercialisation units held a Wellington-based forum around understanding customers.

So, here’s couple of interesting bits and pieces from the day – of which I was only able to attend some of, so this is in no way representative.

KiwiNet chair Ruth Richardson, also sits on the KiwiNet Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund (PSAF) investment committee that evaluates ideas put forward by its members – before such ideas are put forward to MBIE.

She gave some investment criteria tips for the ±30 attendees.

  • The ‘sell’ usually comes in your answers to the question and answers, not in the initial presentation
  • Show your enthusiasm
  • Bring your principal investigator if you can
  • Bringing a representative from the business partner can work very well
  • External expert advice can add substantial value
  • Demonstrate value right along the supply chain
  • If you’re unsure, try a project review
  • Listen to the committee and address the concerns
  • It’s OK to fail

Magritek CEO Andrew Coy (risking, he reckons the wrath of his work colleagues) considers that the drivers of a successful academic scientist and commercialiser (who could be a scientist) are different.

Difference/orientation between an academic scientist and a commercial scientist

Science Commercial
Ideas Execution
Best Good enough
Right Successful
Thorough Fast
Publish Secret
Individual Team
Funding Investment and return
Wide ranging Focus
Happy PBRF Happy customer

Coy commented that sometimes universities get very tied up in trying to value intellectual property, before any money has been made from a possible venture.

“Share in the future value, not today’s costs,” he says.

He gave the example of Stanford University. The university owns any IP that comes from its scientists while they’re working there – but the university then licences it back to the inventor for a dollar. They then have a huge incentive to make the technology worth something.

Finally, Coy says rather than attempting to tie up any intellectual property in patents and the like, “the best IP is about making it work in reality,” he says.

“You want something that is hard to do, and you have to do lots of little things right to achieve it.”

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‘Always be pitching, looking for feedback’ – Wipster’s Rollo Wenlock


“Get your idea out there as much as possible, pitch it to everyone, even to strangers in a cafe, see what happens. If it doesn’t resonate, you probably don’t have anything.”

That was Wipster head sherang’s advice given at Wellington’s Entrepreneur’s Club in mid October.

Wipster was part of the Capital’s Lightning Lab initial inductees, and successfully pitched to 150 investors at Demo-Day in Mid-May. This capital raising brought in $600,000 for the startup – though this took a fair bit of too-ing and fro-ing, and it wasn’t till August that the money was locked down.

The cloud platform based service allows work-in-progress videos to be easily shared with team mates and clients, who can annotate feedback directly on the video.

Essentially, it streamlines the whole video-making process, with the video itself becoming the canvas for all communication to go through.

Compared to endless email chains which require naming a particular timestamp of the video, and then the editor having to go back and forwards from email to video, it is a neat solution to a problem says Rollo Wenlock.

He’s been in the video/film production and editing arena for a number of years, so is well versed in the frustrations of getting a final, edited and agreed by all participants, video out the door.

Considering that Wenlock had his lightbulb moment for what became Wipster only last November, he and Wipster have come a long way. Admittedly, Wipster’s been testing ever-improving versions of their product to those who have signed up as Beta customers.

But more importantly, the company’s about to hire a rockstar marketing/sales person whose sole focus will be to get out and sell to some of an estimated two million video-makers around the world, with a November 1 release date for a thoroughly tested product.

This includes staying in touch with, and letting some of the 2000 people using the software know what is happening, and using them to test and help refine Wipster.

Wipster now also has a board of directors, a chief technical officer, designer, front end developer, “and myself”, says Wenlock.

But he’s a passionate promoter of Wipster, and leading the charge while learning new skills along the way.

He’s also clearly having a lot of fun in the new role.

“We’re always one step from failure; but by putting yourself in the firing line, there’s always the chance you’re going to succeed magnificently.”

Wenlock gave two (formal) pieces of advice – given that the entire 20 minute informal presentation was a wealth of how to’s.

  • The importance of a startup getting to ‘product market fit’. This can take months – and is validated is when you get multiple customers buying the product
  • Startup is a buzzword. Focus on what problem you are solving; and then what’s your solution is to that problem.

“Then tell everyone. Don’t secretly develop it, loudly develop it. You’re building a business, and that’s why nobody gives a s#@t about the idea – action is the only thing,” he says.

Wenlock calculates that if Wipster can be useful for 5% of the two million video producers, who will be happy to pay $49/month for the service, then a viable business can be created.

The Wipster team also has a range of additional features ready to be rolled out, which will compliment the core feature ‘comment on the video’, but it all needs validating…

Wenlock’s zeal for Wipster, and ability to succinctly explain why it is good and the problem it solves is obviously key to its ongoing success in such a short timespan.

The recent launch of the 9th edition of the TIN 100 (successful high technology companies) showed that much of NZ’s ICT international success is based on being in the cloud, with a SaaS (software as a service) for which recurring revenue is generated.

Wipster ticks all the boxes.

Don’t be surprised to see this Wipster weightless product making the lower echelons of the TIN 100 (the TIN 100+, more than $2 million in revenue a year) in the not too distant future

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High tech bible also delivers insights into business disposition


The TIN100 Report aims to be an authoritative, dispassionate look at the high tech manufacturing, ICT and biotech industries of New Zealand.

Through a thorough process, TIN100 founder Greg Shanahan, and research and publication manager Jo-Anne Hazel have put together a 9th edition of what is the go to bible for these clever companies.

As such it is quantitative, and as a type of tool, Shanahan says the report isn’t necessarily trying to be an opinion leader or think tank.

But such is the qualitative gems unearthed through its discovery process, the TIN100 does reveal far more than meets the eye.

This was especially so during the three city launch, with some of the following points provided by Shanahan in his presentation, and equally the questioning (in Wellington on Thursday October 24).

  • The vagaries of exchange rate movement almost appear to be a given by CEOs. They’re accepting of the environment they play in, and trying to be more competitive. Their focus is therefore sales growth, staff, profitability and R&D
  • R&D expenditure increased 7.5% across the TIN100
  • The aspirational business model for ICT companies is recurring revenue, especially through Software as a Service (SaaS), which allows companies to keep in touch with their customers, retain a relationship (compared to an enterprise model
  • Recurring revenue can be just as important for manufacturing companies – Fisher & Paykel Healthcare makes 70% of its money through consumables sales
  • ICT companies haven’t (yet) had to concentrate on Asian markets – which are perceived as being less easy to enter. ICT companies have more than enough on their hands in markets such as the USA
  • One of NZ’s competitive advantages is companies here can very cost effectively develop world leading cost effective solutions compared to large offshore entities.
  • Kiwi innovation (in NZ) being done by South Africans, Russians, Indians and others (as well as NZ-born people). NZ is attracting some of the world’s best talent
  • Is quite a good chance that NZ companies under-report R&D. Can carry out research “on the smell of an oily rag” compared to what it could cost in say America. Multidisciplinary teams in NZ, with low overheads
  • ICT companies within NZ needing 1000 new employees a year

Shanahan made the final point that the CEOs of these TIN100 companies are invariably very focused, smart and pragmatic.

“They’re grounded. No one is too cocky and they’re very self-effacing. At the end of the day too, they’re communicators and they’re salespeople.”

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New fund slips onto radar – though not many have noticed its arrival


In the same week that the Punakaiki Fund was abandoned, came a much less heralded, but much more important deal for NZ Inc.

Wellington-based Endeavour Capital is, in the New Zealand sense, a veteran in the early stage and startup investment stakes.

But its new fund is quite different, and promises to help solve the ongoing challenge of capital growth for Kiwi companies, without them having to relocate offshore to follow the money.

It is also a way to get over the ‘valley of death’ funding dilemma for innovative early stage companies – those that have received a million or two in initial capital, but need say another $10 million to push on with R&D and marketing and distribution to globally scale up to the next level of growth.

This type of capital requirement is beyond local angel investors or even NZ-based venture capital sources.
Endeavour’s new $200 million fund is provided by mostly offshore investors, from networks already established in Asia, the USA and the Gulf States.

A recent interview with UniServices CEO Andy Shenk emphasised the importance of ‘capital of the right kind’ for new company growth.

The right kind of capital comes with advice, connections and new ideas.

Now, the successful applicants to the new Endeavour Capital fund will have to demonstrate they have proven management teams, and offer products or services that can link into the international distribution networks that are virtually attached to the fund.

However, given that the investors have a vested interest in their NZ-oriented investments making good, the ability for new Kiwi products (with global aspirations) to seamlessly link into those networks will be priceless. This will be capital of the right kind as Shenk (himself an ex-pat American) extols.

Just as importantly, it will provide a better chance of New Zealand companies being able to remain located here, and to attract and retain talent, here.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the new fund hasn’t received that much media attention. It isn’t necessarily a stealth revelation, but certainly it is quietly underplayed.

For those local companies looking to ramp up through new capital though, the new fund will certainly be dead-centre on their radars.

And best of all, it doesn’t just come with money, it also comes with considerable knowhow.

P.S. – It would’ve been good from a stimulating interest in high-tech POV if The Punakaiki Fund had got off the ground. I like the no sour grapes attitude of its promoter/founder Lance Wiggs in a blog here and here.

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