Startups need to be a ‘little bit evil’

One of the big problems with startups is they’re not ‘evil’ enough.

Now there’s a statement bound to make you go ‘huh’.

“You need to be a little bit evil,” says Alistair Croll a speaker at Supercharge. Supercharge was a startup oriented third day on October 7 of a Lean Startup Conference at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre. The first two days were aimed at government and corporate sectors, allowing USA speakers such as Croll to be slightly more relaxed in how they talked to actual startupees.

Alistair Croll

“In today’s world there’s an information overload which results in a shortage of attention,” Croll says. “You have to ask yourself that when you build something, will anybody care. To get that attention, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughtly. So, stop writing press releases, start doing a bit of hacking to find some customers.”

Croll suggests that startups have to employ unconventional strategies, “be a little bit hacky.”

He gave examples of new companies being clever and gaining an advantage from “zero-day hacks’.

  • Farmville constantly inviting people to play on Facebook by posting to profiles. Facebook eventually removed this loophole
  • Someone from Tinder going to sororities (US, female college dormitories), talking on entrepreneurship, and having all these women installing the app. She then went across the road to the fraternity (male equivalent), got the guys to download the app and start swiping right
  • Twitter – enabled posting through the texting network when smartphones weren’t common, limiting messages to 140 characters

His website is, and elements of his thinking (in a non-creepy way) is that startups almost have to stalk their prospects, finding out who they are. (Given that the tagline on his website is ‘otherwise life is dull’, you can see that Croll’s thinking is non-standard!). In fact, I’d highly recommend checking out that site, and check out the brilliant Bud Caddell venn diagram shows about what we should be working on.

In fact, it is so good, I’ll paste it here.

“Therefore, watch for technology changes that change the status quo. Luck is opportunism, so recognise the easy path that no one else has noticed,” he says.

Most people assume the market will care about a startups products, when in fact they don’t says Croll.

“The question you’ve got to ask yourself is whether you’re being evil enough in your go to market strategy.”

Posted in contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, start-up, writer for hire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Victoria University and National Library connect through 3D

Perhaps it could be called an intersection of printing.

So, call it collaboration; a generally increasing awareness of additive manufacturing; or both Victoria University and the National Library’s desire to be more public – but a series of talks on 3D printing is to be commended as an attempt to bring an understanding to a wider audience.

The third of six talks on ‘3D Printed Futures’ takes place tomorrow (Sept 9) at the National Library, Molesworth St.

These are mostly short talks by VUW design students, and outlines much of the development to date of being able to make stuff yourself (provided you have the right design).

Alex Buckman, Victoria University design student talks at the National Library about a lampshade he had made by 3D printing at Shapeways

Alex Buckman, Victoria University design student talks at the National Library about a lampshade he had made by 3D printing at Shapeways

The Library’s also set up a few 3D printers itself, that people are welcome to use, provided it is in .STL format, though .OBJ will also work.

The collaboration’s an interesting mix – old and new, testing boundaries, looking to a digital future…and how all of us are going to be impacted by it.

The Wednesday Sept 9 (at 12.30) talk is on 3D printing in medical research.

Check out the Nat Library’s event page here for the next three lectures.

While you’re there, also check out some of the Library’s other displays – they’re treasures that not many people know about.

Posted in contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, Prototyping, SciBlogs, writer for hire | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

BizDojo set to take its ‘co-working space’ model overseas

Part of Wellington's BizDojo, showing the all-important kitchen and cafe area

Part of Wellington’s BizDojo, showing the all-important kitchen and cafe area

I had the pleasure of working out of Wellington’s BizDojo about four years ago on a project to collate just who were the local Wellington  companies using R&D in their businesses.

If I had to give a description then, I’d have said it was a cool co-working space, and it would be interesting to see how it evolves.

Well, heck has it grown up.

Not only has the Wellington site on Vivian St moved upstairs and now has 90 or so fulltime residents in a swish ‘boy, I wished I worked there’ space, there’s another right next-door 70 x 50m2 space that is being developed to cater for companies of 1 – 12 people.

BizDojo’s main space sees the company started by Nick Shewring and Jonah Merchant, looking like it means business and fun at the same time. This is in no small way through the joint venture/working showroom arrangement with ‘Haworth by Europlan’ furniture that populates the office. There’s height adjustable (standing) desks, moveable tables and desks, quiet (soundproofed) cubicles and private meeting spaces dotted around the light and airy space.

A desk in this space costs $300/month, including the furniture, with all the wifi you can eat.

It is little wonder that some government workers/departments who use the space for one-off projects find their own employees wanting to permanently locate there.

Wellington isn’t the only location that is seeing the BizDojo model of co-workingness gelling with entrepreneurs and others who (like me) dislike working alone.

New Zealand’s now has 280 BizDojo (ers, ees, whatever the collective noun is) spread across its Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland sites.

But this co-working space is doing more than creating interconnections between individuals’ networks, skills and ideas.

As Shewring commented, there’s plenty of other co-working spaces tried to get off the ground in New Zealand (and around the rest of the world).

Shewring makes the observation that many of those other plays have been ‘rental’ arrangements…bums on seats.

In comparison (though naturally it has to make a profit), BizDojo’s success is very much based on its members’ success. When they do well, grow, take on more people, BizDojo does well. Of course the ultimate success is when the new company leaves its BizDojo home, and so far it can claim ??? have moved on, while staying close!

But wait, there’s more.

Shewring and Merchant believe they’re got the model humming along in the right way to replicate their system in other countries.

They’re now busy, very busy, looking to set up in other countries such as Thailand.

From what they’ve seen and observed, the collaborative networking (and fun) co-working spaces they’ve refined here, will work overseas.

Indeed, it can pretty easily be argued that this type of ‘office’ will increasingly become the norm as work develops.

Whether it is replicable remains to be seen.

But, if you don’t try you’ll never know – and given that one of the objectives of the collective BizDojos is to network across sites, you wouldn’t put it past being an under-the-radar conduit for Kiwi businesses looking to enter new markets…just like BizDojo itself.

(sticK is written by Peter Kerr, who also operates Punchline – Message that matter)

Posted in contract writer, Entrepreneur, Innovation, Prototyping, SciBlogs, writer for hire | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Right…a way to crunch a business model from good research ideas

Here’s an interesting innovation move, one to be applauded.

It’s Startup Weekend Science and Research, in Wellington at Creative HQ from Friday July 3 to Sunday 5.

Interesting because its the first time a non-digital (as such) Startup Weekend event’s been done in NZ (France has beaten us to the draw). Most startup weekends like this are around apps or web-based functions – something that requires developers and designers.

This 54-hour marathon though has tangible products, something physical you can touch as the start point. It is open to all research-based ideas (the criteria for this is at the end of the blog).

SWRsch is to be applauded because it is:

  1. Delving into the unknown – the organisers aren’t quite sure how many people will attend
  2. Likely to lever off some of our country’s other strengths, be they our biological, manufacturing or other service industry areas of expertise
  3. (People still have to eat, move, experience, live and play in the real, physical world. Solving problems in these areas is just as important as in the online space)

It is also a good intiative because it potentially combines the ethos of startup weekends: speed to market, pace of (software) development, minimum viable product and the like; with what will often be a protectable intellectual property position from the research.

Finally, it could be quite exciting to see teams looking to develop deep technology on the Friday night, and frantically looking for someone such as a chemist or electrical engineer or food technologist, rather than desperately trying to find a coder/programmer.

The organisers are really wanting to attact PhD students – people with ideas, people who don’t necessarily want an academic/researcher role in their next career phase – to be part of the weekend.

To state the obvious, getting them along, en mass as a way of acquiring a range of skills over and above what they’ve learned doing their doctorate, is going to be the trick.

Here’s what the weekend organisers are looking for.

What is a research-based idea?

  • To be a good fit for #SWRsch your idea should meet (or come close to) the following criteria:
  • It will be based on a defined body of research e.g. a masters/doctorate project, market research, socio-economic research, data project, etc
  • It will require a degree of research and development to be a marketable product i.e. it is not already at the product stage (you may or may not have done a portion of this R&D already)
  • It will not have been widely commercialised yet i.e. you may have explored one market but think there is more potential to be realised yet
Posted in contract writer, Development, Early stage science, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, Market validation, Prototyping, SciBlogs, start-up, technology, university, writer for hire | Tagged , | Leave a comment

At last…an innovation accelerator aimed at physical products

Right, something you can get your teeth into…literally – Lightning Lab Manufacturing.

So, instead of a 12 week accelerator to figure out how to take a digital idea out to the world, the same sort of programme but aimed at a physical product.


As I’ve commented before, we risk missing out on, and leveraging off the biological resource and manufacturing ideas that we (well hopefully) have abounding in our country. Heck, it could even be making and doing something better with the proverbial Number 8 wire! Obviously we need to move beyond commodities (as Fonterra’s milk powder based payout implodes), and these sort of events will encourage just that.

LL/M is now calling for applications from people who have prototypes, or even just an idea for a physical product, and who are prepared to spend three months validating and building their business model before pitching it to investors at a special Demo Day in November.

Like the digitally-oriented LLs, there will be intensive mentoring, networking and business upskilling – but this time for hardware rather than software.

Applications are due on June 26, though as an introductory evening at Wellington’s Creative HQ indicated on Tuesday 9 June, there could be a wee bit of flexibility around that deadline. This is especially so given that another non-digital initiative, Startup Weekend Science and Research is taking place in the capital beginning on July 3 (more on that in another blog).

Of interesting note for LL/M is the move to Wellington by Austin, Texas-based Shawn O’Keefe. He’s been the producer of SXSW Interactive for 14 years, and takes on the Programme Director role. O’Keefe’s bringing his young family over as well – which is obviously not something you do on a whim.

And, as O’Keefe said in introducing himself to us on Tuesday, “let’s make – we have no excuses anymore.” He’s particularly referring to 3D printing, hardware hacking, biometric sensors and the internet of things – among many things.

One point he made is that applicants don’t necessarily have to have a team around them (yet), nor a prototype.

An idea from a individual can then have those elements built around them.

There’s only going to be eight startups selected, from anywhere around the country.

If you get in, in return for 6% equity, teams receive $15,000 in startup financing, and $5,000 research funding from Callaghan Innovation…plus the pitch to investors in November.

Hopefully LL/M is swamped with applications. The organisers are agnostic about where in New Zealand these are from – the only priviso being that teams are prepared to work out of a (probably High Street) lab in Lower Hutt.

I’ll be interested to see how it pans out from a who can actually afford to be there point of view. The digital LL is mostly made up of young, single people – who have much more ability to live off the smell of an oily rag.

I’m guessing here, but suspect that physical product ideas are more likely to be from more mature people, often with families. Taking 12 weeks out of your life on minimal pay may simply be beyond do-able for many of these potential applicants.

Let’s hope I’m wrong on that.

Application forms, which can be filled out in draft form, then returned to for updating and submitting, are at:

Go on, take a bite out of it.

Posted in Angel investment, contract writer, Development, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, Prototyping, SciBlogs, start-up, technology, writer for hire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wider New Zealand missing out on knowing about our hot and cool Hi-Tech companies

One of the downsides of the implosion in traditional news media is that celebratory stories get little or no coverage.

The general public, who in my experience love to hear of clever and innovative New Zealand companies therefore have only a minor awareness of both the scale and importance of the Hi-Tech Awards, whose winners were announced a couple of weeks ago in Wellington.

Now, given the IT savvyness of the audience, there was probably quite a bit of social media chat to do with the awards. How much this disseminates into the wider public; who knows.

All of which is a pity when you look at the facts.

Firstly, any function that pulls a crowd of over 700 people must be doing something right.

Given that over 150 organisations entered the awards, obviously there’s plenty of these companies relying on brainpower rather than muscle to generate wealth.

Equally, any company that receives one of the top nine awards, will be proud to hang it on their wall, and to mention the fact in any dispatches they make to their own customers.

What is most apparent though is, being in the same room as the owners and workers in these smart businesses, is the almost bottleable sense of creativity, possibility and ‘let’s make this happen’ that collectively exists.

In talking to any of the people at the awards’ dinner it is abundantly clear that they think beyond our shores and of satisfying a customer they have clearly pictured in their minds.

The diversity of this thinking is also reflected in the width and breadth of business entries.

Look at the range of businesses who were finalists for the top award

  • Xero- cloud accounting platform
  • Serko – NZX-listed cloud software firm
  • ARANZ Geo – geological softare
  • Shotover Camera Systems – helicopter, boat and vehicle camera stabilisation platforms

All of these companies solve problems, headaches for their customers.

They have no shortage of competition, but thrive because of the competition.

They are exciting, future-focused entities that are obviously great places to work.

They’re cool, or hot – both at the same time.

It is just a pity wider New Zealand isn’t as aware as they want or need to be of these clever people.

Posted in cloud computing, contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, writer for hire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Is Startup Weekend missing a middle-aged trick?

As one of many simultaneous events taking place around the world, the Wellington Startup Weekend took place on April 10 – 12 at Creative HQ.

Now one of the purposes of the weekend event is not necessarily to create new businesses, but as much to develop a greater awareness among its (mostly young) participants of what is required to foster a successful enterprise.

That Startup Weekend is mostly young people isn’t surprising – they’re often unencumbered, single, only supporting themselves.

It made me wonder, (and I asked co-organiser Dave Moskovitz) if there isn’t some Startup Weekend around the world that is more geared to those of us past the first flush of youth?

Dave wasn’t sure (though hadn’t heard of such a focus).

Many of us middle-aged people are (relatively) unencumbered, have the children-supporting side of our lives behind us and perhaps have a bit of capital.

Just as importantly, we often have good ideas, would like to team up with like-minded people, and have another 20 years or so of working lives in front of us.

Given that a five year life expectancy for a company can be good – well the age of participants becomes much less important.

There’s some interesting statistics (well, as least from the USA) to back this up.

Check out this Huffington Post article, which quotes, among others, Vivek Wadhwa, an academic, writer and entrepreneur.

In 2008, at the height of the entrepreneurial youth renaissance, Wadhwa released breakthrough research that showed the number of founders older than 50 was double the number of founders younger than 25, and the number of founders over age 60 was also twice the number of founder under 20. The average age of male founders was 40, and female founders’ average age was 41. In fact, Wadhwa’s research revealed that the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity had shifted to boomers in the 55-64 age group.

Such middle-aged life and business experience, honed by a Startup Weekend type event could have fascinating outcomes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if it produced some physical products with a strong digital component.

Just throwing the middle-aged start up weekend idea out there.

Maybe there’s downsides that I haven’t even thought of.

I for one would be a starter, and I know a number of others who would be too.

Posted in contract writer, Entrepreneur, Innovation, SciBlogs, start-up, writer for hire | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Do Kiwis have a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to Startup Weekends – or is that wishful thinking?

Having been lucky enough to be around a couple of startup things in the past few weeks – I’ll take the opportunity to reflect.

The first occasion was a Skype interview at Wellington’s Creative HQ with George Smith, the founder of Glass Jar, an app that helps make group payments (such as in a flat) easier. Glass Jar was one of Lightning Lab’s accelerator graduates from last year.

They successfully pitched at LL’s Demo Day, and then relocated the USA.

George and his teammates spent three months doing the meet and greet with would-be investors in America, and then were accepted into Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed investment accelerator.

One of the interesting comments from George was that investors didn’t think much of the Glass Jar idea for the USA (flatmates over there have a completely different way of looking after shared bills).

But they did like the Kiwi team, and it was this that was backed at Y Combinator – which could be likened to being a Lightning Lab on steroids, where the participants are more worldly in a business-sense than some of the participants you see in New Zealand.

Nick Churchouse, the head of customer engagement at CreativeHQ made a passing comment that he quite often hears, and hears of this comment from USA investors. Mind you, given the courage it would take to relocate yourself to the States to pursue an unknown future, and given the can do attitude these coders, designers and entrepreneurs would display, it shouldn’t surprise us.

It is perhaps related to the apocryphal stories you sometimes hear of New Zealanders (often engineers), leading teams in overseas locations. For example, my brother leads the ground team of the International Space Station and helps look after oxygen, waste and water. (Like me, he’s a Southland farm boy by upbringing, with no engineering training as such, but with the ability to keep a team of brainiacs on task with a minimum of fuss).

Then again, all countries, all peoples are going to feel they’re special in this way.

However, as we continue the Startup Weekend business training exercises, our designers, developers and puller-togethers’ ability to work together could be viewed as a specific Kiwi trait, something that should be encouraged, a way to move beyond our sometimes too-self-effacing attitude.

Or perhaps that’s trying to put a gloss on something that can only happen by luck and circumstance.

What does anyone else think?

Posted in contract writer, Development, Entrepreneur, high tech, IT, SciBlogs, start-up, writer for hire | Tagged , , | 2 Comments


The OS//OS (Open Source//Open Society) conference has got itself a new definition – at least for the OS bit.


What a great problem to have.

But maybe the organisers had a cunning plan up their sleeve, because they’ve collared some extra space at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre on Thursday and Friday this week (16/17 April) and there’s an extra 50 tickets for sale, over and above the original 300.

At $199 each, for the quality of people speaking about all things Open (except maybe golf) and people attending, that’s a fair bit of bang for buck.

Undoubtedly, the geeks, nerds, developers, designers, IT people and interested others like me will be keen to hear what GitHub, the world’s largest respository of open source code to co-host its first ever event outside America is a pretty big feather in Wellington’s tech cap.

Mind you, we’re pretty spoiled for smart digital events in the capital; so just how many tickets co-organisers Loomio and Chalkle thought they might be able to sell would’ve been anyone’s guess.

Well guess no longer.

There’s a lot of interest – book your tickets pretty damn quickly (shortcut here) if you want to be among the lucky last.

As I post this, half of those 50 extra tickets have already been sold

Posted in cloud computing, contract writer, high tech, Innovation, IT, open source, SciBlogs, writer for hire | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Open for thinking, open for participation, open for collaboration

The name of the two day Wellington conference on Thursday and Friday 16/17 April says it all.

Open Source//Open Society (OS//OS).

As a digital immigrant who has, without sometimes knowing why, gone down he android path for my devices, I’m inherently drawn to the open source philosophy.

In a sense, at a time when public participation in democracy is lessening, it is events such as this that continue to hold the flame for non-secrecy and more sharing in society.

It is the antidote to businesses that want us to purchase their own proprietary products – locking us in, holding us to metaphoric ransom.

And given that bits and bytes represent today’s key infrastructure, being open rather than closed around how computing’s coding source is used, by all, can be considered the epitome of democracy.

So I’ll be attending the very reasonably priced ($199) event, which is the first time the world’s largest repository of open source code, Github, has co-hosted a conference outside the United States.

This in itself is a real feather in the Wellington tech community’s collective hat – and for Enspiral and its fellow travellers Loomio and Chalkle who have helped to organise it.

OS//OS describes itself as a gathering of bright minds and communities from open technology, open government, open business and open education.

You can see this in some of its speaker’s topics, such as:

  • Is the Internet a tool for liberation or control?
  • What happens if we work together? What does a commons based future look like?
  • My Dream. “What if…”

At the same time, one of the major benefits of any event such as this is the ability to share, participate and collaborate.

It is an opportunity for peoples’ ideas to mate and spawn new ideas. Given OS//OS’s openness, I expect the “we could do this” discussions to be very savvy.

Finally, a note on the cute name the organisers have called the afternoon tea break on the first day.

As a message maker at, it appeals as an encapsulating idea and ideal for OS//OS.

What is it called (and check it out in the event timetable here)?


Posted in cloud computing, contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, IT, open source, SciBlogs, writer for hire | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment