Paper Not Foil is a Dunedin based startup tackling aluminium waste, one salon at a time. Their sustainable alternative is made of construction waste stone and is reusable, recyclable, compostable and saves you money. This week we sit down with Paper Not Foil co-founder, Amanda Buckingham.
Official Livestream of FoundX & Startup Dunedin Expo - Guest Speaker: Simeon Burnett (with timestamps)
Hear from Snowball Effect, CHAPTER2 Bikes and Ubco Bikes!
Donna Hall has spent her time in Dunedin straddling the gap between two worlds. As a Manager in the Polson Higgs Advisory team, Donna spent her working day in the corporate world, learning about and using business information systems to solve corporate business issues. In her evenings and weekends, Donna flourished in the startup world, facilitating Co.Starters and organising and running Startup Weekends.
This week we sit down to hear what Donna has learned on her journey, and why she made the jump, with both feet, into the startup world.
Rachel Butler is the new Audacious Programme Manager - supporting all University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic students with their ideas and startup businesses. Hear about her startup Mimicry Tech, the most common mistakes she sees early stage startups make and why she chose Audacious as her next challenge!
Serial entrepreneurs, early stage startup consultants and most recently, founders of Winely, Abbe Hyde and Jake Manning join us for this week’s interview!
Post written by Tim Oliver, CEO - InvestaMatch
We were lucky enough to be invited by Startup Dunedin to join a delegation from Dunedin to attend the Tech in Asia Conference in Singapore.
The conference was a collection of up and coming tech startups in the Singaporean region, venture capital groups, existing businesses in the tech space and speakers from global tech giants.
It wasn't only about showcasing the startup businesses looking for investors, there were investor speed dating sessions, networking sessions, specialised business round-tables and three stages of back-to-back seminars covering everything from Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Influencer Marketing, Sales Cycles, Recruitment, B2B, B2C, Legislation, Machine Learning, Hyper-Liquidity, Intelligent Transportation, Bootstrapping and Growth Stage Funding
If we didn’t know what any of the above meant before the trip… we sure do now!
What an experience! I honestly believe that from the conversations, learning and connections I made in the two days attending the conference, I’ve gained a 15% increase in intelligence… at least! (…not that the baseline was all that high to start with…).
We were also given a tour of the spaces (an entire city block!) that the Singaporean government have designated to the support and encouragement of startup businesses. This was literally a city block of buildings 4-5 stories high, full of startup businesses and the supporting services that they all need to get off the ground and succeed… all paid for by the government.
What did I learn…? Obviously, the Singaporeans see the value of tech startups and their potential to contribute to the economy in a big way. In a world where manufacturing, labour intensive and ‘middle man’ jobs are increasingly being lost to advances in technology, the Singaporean government are investing in the businesses that are creating jobs in the technology sector.
New Zealand needs to learn from Singapore – not only about the technology sector, but in the outright recognition and acceptance that things are changing. We need to make sure that NZ businesses and workers are prepared for what’s around the corner. I encourage everyone to learn about the technology that surrounds them and how technology is going to affect businesses, jobs and lives.
Recognition and massive thanks to Startup Dunedin, especially Casey Davies-Bell, Scott Mason and Sarah Ramsay, along with Aleks Dahlberg from Kitt – all fantastic travel companions and champions of the City of Dunedin NZ.
Dunedin is the launching pad for a new skill-share website; pikaado.com.
Pikaado is the creation of two local women Kate Gray and Burcu Cakmak and allows people to list profiles for workshops or experiences. The platform aims to be a new arm to the gig-economy, providing a new income stream for individuals and a marketing channel for small businesses.
"Dunedin is stuffed full of creative people doing interesting things, but they are hard to find. We wanted to build a central place to connect with these people, and to create lots of new things to do here in Dunedin” said Kate Gray. "We also felt that while Dunedin is a great place to live, it can be difficult to find part time work which fits around existing commitments. Pikaado offers people a flexible way to make money using their skills and hobbies. We also hope to provide small business people a new way of marketing themselves, and a way for community organisations to fund-raise.”
Pikaado envisions that small businesses and start-ups will utilize the platform to fortify their brand and connect with the local market. “We are speaking to business owners who are either B2C’s or B2B’s who target small local businesses. Pikaado is like a free form of advertising as anyone can post a profile on the site. Workshops also get your target market in the door, and you can use this as a method of increasing your client base” said Ms Gray. “As well as this, people are using the site to test a business idea, to see if there would be a local market in a low risk way. Right now some of our workshops are people’s first steps towards a business” added Ms Cakmak.
There are nearly 80 different workshops listed on Pikaado at the moment with more being posted every week. There are arts and crafts like stained glass making and printmaking, as well as ethnic food workshops like Turkish street food and Indonesian banana leaf wrapped rice. Gardening and DIY are also popular on the site- but there really is something for everyone- from fly fishing to zombie apocalypse makeovers.
“Prices on the workshop range from in the hundreds, to free- people can charge what they want” said cofounder Burcu Cakmak. “We even have a lady in MacAndrew Bay offering to teach Kombucha making with a take-home starter for non-monetary exchange- so you can offer to bake a cake or do some weeding and attend the workshop- it is really fun”
Pikaado has started in Dunedin, but aims to take the business to other cities in New Zealand. “Dunedin has been a fantastic place to launch” said Ms Gray. “The community is amazingly supportive of new ideas and start-ups in general. Organisations have been really helpful, the council has been great, even private businesses- Petridish for example has been incredibly generous.”
Pikaado hopes that Dunedin will embrace the concept, and that through the site there will be more to do around town in a more connected community. Their web address is www.pikaado.com - there is lots on in Dunedin- go and take a look!
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
[1:00] 👉 Audio begins 🔊
[6:30] 👉 Prue and Nigel talk investment 📈
[40:00] 👉 Tony Cutler pitches Eat Inc 🍴
[49:44] 👉 Bloom pitches 🌿
Angus Pauley sits down with the technical manager of the forward thinking agriculture company, Next Farm.
Can you give a brief elevator pitch on Next Farm?
Next Farm is a water and effluent management company. The effluent product is something that we currently have, it's an existing product, and that irrigation control product is something that we're in the process of developing. The whole purpose of these are streamlining the labor input and just making farm efficiencies better while adding environmental stewardship as that becomes an ever increasing, not necessarily concern but point of importance as we move forward. If you like, I can give you a brief rundown of our history?
That'd be great.
It all started 2014/2015, I came on board January 2016. The guy that came up with the idea that had these frustrations; he worked on a dairy farm outside of Oamaru but came down to Dunedin, to try to work with the Polytech and get some different grants and funding, and that went horribly wrong for him.
At that point, he got in touch with Hadyen Court here in town. He owns 104 Bond Street, New Zealand Heritage Properties down there. He took over and that's when Next Farm was actually registered. It was Farmlinc Systems before, I believe was the name. Anyway, Next Farm got registered. Hayden Cawte started trying to shape things up and they found a contractor to start developing the product. Hayden Cawte obviously had his own company to run as well, so wasn't fully dedicated to it. He found a group of investors to put a bid in, in the beginning to just pay for product development type stuff, keep things ticking along.
Then it would have been, I think, January ... January 2016, Hayden got busy with his stuff, so that meant they needed someone else that could have a bit more focus on the business. I just arrived in New Zealand in November 2016. I'd been here a couple of months, and I went over to a test farm in Central where they were trialing one of the prototypes that didn't end up working. It was a bit of a flop over there, and so I got more involved since then, and kinda took on, actually, shaping the business up and getting the accounts in order and starting a bank account and doing all those things that it takes to actually create a business' processes and systems.
We scaled back testing from the 325 units that we had just to small groups of 20 to start working through things with the contractor and then that, actually that contractor stopped doing contract work, so we were in limbo for a little bit, and then started working with Callaghan Innovation with their radio lab in Wellington and got a grant through them.
It's been taking off since then.
Where did you move to NZ from?
From Washington state. Dunedin's a big city for me. My hometown was 15,000 people. I grew up on a small family farm just outside of town. Although, I did go to uni down near Silicon Valley there, so I definitely got a bit of the big city vibe down there too.
So how do people currently solve the problem Next Farm solves?
There are a couple different methods to do it. One of the main irrigation installers that we've been working with, how they do it and many other farms I've seen; they've repurposed residential irrigation timers. They've got a little LCD screen on them and a couple of buttons.
What you do is you put in the days that you want them to turn on, the times you want them to turn on and what time you want them to turn off. You set that at the beginning of the season, and that ticks along for through entire season. That's how it's currently being done. Those products work great in a residential setting when you have, maybe five to 10 that you're controlling. They're on the side of your house. They're easy to go out and adjust. But if we're talking about some hill, country stations, you've got 300 to 1000 different units out there, you've got batteries you have to change every year, there's quite a bit of time drift in these devices as well, so you may have programmed them all, which takes a considerable amount of time. You programmed them all to run five sprinklers at any one time, but with time drift, by the end of the season you may have eight to 10 going at different times, because some get slow, some get faster, and they all do it at different rates.
That's quite a big problem currently, and they're reprogrammed and a lot of times have new batteries put in every year, so it's incredibly labor intensive just to do that component of it, but on top of that, once you have those times set, they're set for the season. You can go out and adjust them, time consuming, but there's no easy way just to pause them if rain's coming, or if you have stock on a paddock you can't easily pause that one paddock and then start it again, or easily adjust the time for a one-off type irrigation job.
A lot of times they can, obviously, shut the whole system down. Mostly that's going to be draining the entire irrigation system and then they have to fill back the water so they've got to charge it again, and they do have pressure releases to let the air out, but still often air will build up in the lines. Obviously, as the water flows in that pressurizes and that can blow valves and sprinkler heads completely off the posts and into hundreds of pieces.
It sounds incredibly time consuming?
I was talking to one of the guys at the company a little while ago and it took, I think there were three guys and it took them two or three days to reprogram just 325 units, so that was just one property. They have many properties that they have to go do this on with more units than that. It's not an efficient or effective way to do it currently. There are, obviously, it works to get water on the field, but there are better ways to do it.
What is the most frustrating part of building a digital product?
The most frustrating part is getting it almost working and having problems pop up that don't pop up on a regular basis, as can sometimes be the case in technology. If the stars align just right it decides not to work, but sometimes it can work and you can't always repeat those faults that you find.
I'd say just in general the difficult part about developing this how we're doing it because Callaghan's based in Wellington and we're down here in Dunedin and our test site's over in Alexandra, is it's difficult to do that real world in situ testing, and we've had problems with that, where you test it, they test it in the lab, I've tested in the office. Everything's worked great, and then I've taken the data into the field and well, nothing worked at all. It's like, "Hang on. Where'd we go wrong?" Because we didn't have any hitches up until this point.
Is there a part of the product development you particularly enjoy?
The most rewarding part has just been development, Next Farm's development, knowing where we were at when I first got introduced to it and that was a test of prototypes and it was a huge flop. Now we're here. We've purchased the Efflu Track product. We have cashflow from that.
Obviously we haven't fully launched our irrigation controller, but we're making more steps in that direction. It's rewarding just to see how far we've come, to see cash coming in. It'll be even more rewarding when we actually launch the irrigation control product and we see them picking away out in the field.
Not that it hasn't been worth it up to this point, but that's when we'll all sit down and have a drink and celebrate together.
INTERVIEW BY ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
Angus Pauley interviews IT student, developer and Distiller resident; Scott Finnigan.
Scott is a second year Bachelor of IT student at Otago Polytechnic who works for the property software startup, Kitt. Today he shares his learning experiences between University and the practical work experience of being in a Startup.
Tell us about your role at Kitt.
I’m a developer.
I also spend way too much time fixing spelling and grammar. Sam if you are reading this please get a spell-checker!
What is your favourite part about working for a startup?
Kitt is the only startup I’ve ever worked for, but I like being on the team. It’s a nice experience; having a group of people you are working on something with. It feels more like a group project at university than a job, but more like a job than a group project. It probably helps that I knew all of the guys to some extent before I joined. It’s also super good to get experience working on a team developing something.
What is your least favourite part of working for a startup? Is there something you find particularly frustrating?
Well it’s never going to be as secure as a regular job. Plus the hours are all over the place sometimes, but that’s just the nature of these kind of things. I really enjoy my job and only really get frustrated when I see Sam has once again spelt “example” as “examle”.
How has getting involved in the Dunedin startup scene changed your trajectory?
It's definitely switched my main focus to web development. Prior to working at Kitt I was headed towards application development. I’m not complaining though, I’ve already learnt a bunch under Aleks’ watchful/beady eyes and it has really refreshed my perspective on web stuff in general.
I still can’t style anything to save my life though. Luckily, Sam does a good job at making things look nice.
After seeing what David has been doing on the backend, building our entire API himself, I’m kinda curious to look into that side of things in the future.
Is it true you get paid in Pepsi?
Pepsi Max actually. Aleks bought 24 cans under the pre-tense of paying me with them, but really he just wants an excuse to have it sitting around the office space so he can sneakily drink them when he thinks no-one is looking.
I have yet to drink a single one. I give it a month before Aleks has a noticeable Pepsi gut.
If you were to look at your skill set before and after working for Kitt, would you say there are any new skills you have acquired or any old skills you have sharpened through your work?
Definitely. This is my first time working on a project of this size; our codebase is huge and it was pretty overwhelming trying to navigate through it all when I first joined the team.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot about working in a team and collaborating with other developers on something. I mentioned before that it has made me focus a lot more on my web development skills, which didn't used to be my strength.
I’ve also learnt quite a bit about the startup scene and how things work just by talking to others at The Distiller. There are several very different start-ups here, all of which seem to face their own unique problems and challenges.
Do you find your work with Kitt clashes with study? How do you manage this?
I started working for Kitt after last year’s study had ended, so I don’t really know. I won't be able to work the hours I currently do, but we’re preparing for our closed beta launch right now so there’s quite a lot of stuff to do. I guess I’ll find out in February!
Have any of your opinions about work changed after working for Kitt?
I don’t hate open-plan offices anymore. I always thought it would be distracting and impossible to concentrate on coding, but it’s never really been an issue, and it helps me stay on task since everyone can see if I’m working or not. It’s also way easier to quickly ask someone something if they’re just across the room from you.
I still wouldn’t work at Google though, I don’t know how they ever get anything done with all of the stuff they seem to do in their offices. I went to a talk by Google at the University last year thinking it would be useful as an aspiring developer, but they just talked about their offices and the activities they do there for an hour.
Why did you choose to work with Kitt?
I’ve known Aleks for 11 years now and we’ve been flatting together for the last two years. He’s taught me web development stuff on and off over the last year or so, and in December he asked me if I wanted a job helping them get ready for launch. I was only working part-time as a cleaner so I had the spare time, and I knew that any development experience will be invaluable later on.
I also knew Sam, David and Eugene before I joined, although I am yet to meet David and Sam in person.
What is on your horizon in the next few years?
I want to finish study. I have one more year left at Otago Polytechnic and then I’m done. I also want to sort out my partner’s NZ Visa, and now that they have changed the rules it might require a move.
Other than that I don’t have any obvious plans. It’s hard to say how Kitt fits in due to the volatile nature of startups, but I enjoy working with the team so if they want me to stay on in the future then I’m in.
INTERVIEW BY ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
Angus Pauley interviews co-founder of Price Insight, Anton Hughes.
Price Insight is a pioneer in Explainable Artificial Intelligence in finance. For many traders and investors several hours research is required before making each trade. Price Insight saves traders time by finding and delivering trading opportunities in real time via our mobile app.
Are there any thought leaders in AI you would recommend people read/listen up on?
There is so much happening in the AI field. Its hard to suggest a single thought leader.
What is a common misconception or something which people often get wrong about AI? Is there a piece of bad advice you hear often?
The main misconception is in thinking that AI is close to human level intelligence. While AI research and development is rapidly progressing we are still a long way from this level of intelligence.
How do you feel about the doomsday prophecies of AI (a la Skynet)?
That is a very interesting question. For people who are not working with AI they often think of Terminator like scenarios. Or perhaps worry about losing their job to AI. These concerns are real and are being discussed. AI is still very early in its development. However - even at this early stage there are risks. Samsung, for example, famous as a mobile phone manufacturer, also manufactures an autonomously fired gun - it can detect and decide to shoot people.
The risks of AI are real. Fortunately there are organizations working to contain these risks. The UN has opened a center specifically around monitoring the risks of AI from rogue states and organized crime. Also Elon Musk has founded the OpenAI project in an effort to bring about safe AI.
Is there a particular application of AI outside of financial investment that you are particularly excited about? Or a particular application of AI you seem to talk to others more than any other?
One of the biggest developments in biotech is CRISPR/Cas9 which makes gene editing much easier and cheaper than previous approaches. Machine Learning and Artifical Intelligence is being applied to CRISPR/Cas9 with the aim of significantly advancing the area of gene editing. This could potentially bring about some really mind boggling developments.
What were you doing before Price Insight?
Prior to Price Insight I co-founded another fintech startup. And before that I was working in for a bank in Scandinavia, in both the business and technology related areas of the bank.
Was there a particular moment of frustration or an a-ha moment in which you came up with the idea for Price Insight? What was that moment like?
There was not one - but many - moments of both frustration and eureka. Founding a startup is an rollercoaster ride made up of 100s of these moments.
How large is the Price Insight team? How did you meet your team?
Besides myself there are 6 others including AI experts, data scientists, researchers and software engineers.
If you could recruit one famous person to Price Insight right now, who would you recruit? Why?
That's an interesting question. There are plenty of smart minds that have helped develop AI. But I dont know how these people are to work with. I dont know how they would fit in with the team. Also, typically software, and AI developers are a team effort. So if I could recruit a team it would be Deepmind guys. This is the group who developed AlphaGo, the AI that beat the world Go champion.
Did you have a particular moment or group of moments at FoundX that you tend to remember when you look back on the night?
No one single moment. I would say most memorable aspect of the evening was the strong community spirit of the night. It was great to sense, and be part of, the growing Dunedin startup community.
How do people currently solve the problem, Price Insight solves?
Typically active traders and investors will spend several hours analysing market data looking for trading opportunities. Price Insight finds trading opportunities using various AI methods, such as Reinforcement Learning. We also provide an explanation for the opportunities that we discover. Simply put, we save investors a of time.
What is the most frustrating part of building a digital product?
Marketing. Its incredibly hard to get awareness.
If you could time-travel – what advice would you give yourself about starting Price insight?
Do you have a strange habit or something you do which you consider absurd/odd? For example I always touch the outside of a plane for good luck before flying.
I also do that!
Finally, If you could put anything on a billboard that would be seen by millions of people, what would you choose?
INTERVIEW BY ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
Angus Pauley Interviews Tim Oliver from Investamatch on his mission of connecting investors and entrepreneurs at scale.
InvestaMatch helps businesses to achieve their goals by allowing them to promote their need to ‘Investors’ who have the resources to help, whether those resources are money, advice or key industry knowledge and relationships. When businesses are looking to grow, diversify or if they are looking to sell up immediately or over a period of succession, InvestaMatch promotes the need of the business with their membership of Investors on the InvestaMatch platform. If an Investor wants to know more about the opportunity, the Investor initiates contact with the business.
What were you doing before Investamatch?
I was and still am a mortgage and insurance advisor. I've got my own business in Dunedin, First Mortgages NZ and Oliver Financial Planning Ltd. And so, we help first home buyers to get lending from the banks and sort out their Kiwisaver so that's the deposits and the home start grants, and help people to go through the process of buying and house, and life and health and covering mortgage protection covers.
Was there a particular a-ha moment in which you came up with the idea for InvestaMatch?
The idea that was actually presented to me by Sarah at Immersion who was doing work for the co-owners. They asked to me to come on board to be the face of the business and to be the business development manager.
Who's part of the InvestaMatch team?
Sarah, myself and also Nathan. They're more the marketing department. We've got our legal advice as well. I've also got an admin person help me on the occasion as well. It's really kind of four people directly involved.
If you could recruit anyone to the InvestaMatch team tomorrow, who would you choose?
I'm interested in Nadia Lim, she's got good experience and good profile. She's a young person, people know her and I think there's probably a level of trust that's associated with New Zealand businesses, New Zealand startups.
I feel like she's been there, done that and I quite like her as a business person. What they've done; she knows how to push something to succeed and how to innovate. We're talking about a whole industry; she's changing the way people eat and how people shop. I just really like the general feeling of what they're doing and I suppose the entrepreneurship of their concept with how they've gone about it.
Tell us about your FoundX Startup Showcase experience?
Foundx was put in front of me by Sarah and I did some of my own research online. Startup Dunedin has come up with a great concept in the showcase. It puts the guys who have the experience and the cash, and the know-how, directly in front of everyone which is perfect.
That's what Investamatch is looking to do, just on a much bigger scale. We'll be using Foundx as a spring board and using our contacts from then, over the next few weeks.
Plus Dean Hall was really good. It's probably crucial for ongoing events to have someone that is open and candid and quite a likeable type of person to get up and speak. Dean demystified what he really does; there's no magic about it, he makes video games. Makes video games that, people like to play. The growth of Rocketwerkz and the story behind it was great.
How do people currently solve the problem that InvestaMatch solves?
Crowdfunding or they put the opportunity onto TradeMe, at least in a business selling type of scenario. Then there's word of mouth, through advisors, accountants, lawyers or investment guys; any kind of business and buyers might have a ... database of clients that are looking to invest or have opportunities to invest with. It's quite an insular type of scenario.
What's the toughest part of building a digital product?
Just the cost of getting it up and running.
I'm a relationships guy. I can talk to people, get an understanding, help them with their problems. Not knowing the ins and out of the tech...it's frustrating but I mean that's not for everyone. So yeah, probably comes back to the cost of getting things set up and doing it properly. But if you want to, anything worth doing is worth doing properly. It's not really begrudging it but it's just one of those things you need to do before you see any cash coming in.
What advice would you give a startup getting involved in an area that can have tricky legislation?
Get good advice. Get good advice and take good advice.
Understand where your value is within that industry. That could change, the more you learn about the industry, the more that you understand the industry, the more you'll be able to recognize where the opportunities are. It's just about finding where your value is and being able to innovate to solve those problems and to be able give more value in that industry.
Do you have any odd habits?
I'm a very, very early riser. People ask me what time I get up and I tell 'em I'm up at 4:00am. I get sideways looks and gasps at that, incredulity, disbelief.
Maybe my girlfriend might tell you something different but I couldn't; that would be the worst or the strangest one.
If you could put anything on a billboard that would be seen by millions of people what would you choose?
It's all about being grateful. Just be grateful for what you have. Just be grateful for your family, be grateful for your friends, and be grateful for your health. I wake up every morning and just make sure I give thanks for the people around me and what I've got in my life. If you're grateful then that goes up, outwards and if you can project gratitude, then you're gonna get it back.
INTERVIEW BY ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
An entrepreneurial story on the Sino-NZ model By April Henderson and Jane Armour-Raudon
In November 2017, three Otago Polytechnic students; Jane Armour-Raudon, Evelyn Araujo Hodson and April Henderson won a fully funded experience to Tianjin China. They were selected through a New Zealand wide competition for individuals with an innovation mindset and entrepreneurial attitude, to experience a unique, cross cultural, innovation and entrepreneur student workshop.
The Sino-New Zealand Modern Vocational Education Development Forum is a result of the Strategic Education Partnership between China and New Zealand and facilitated by the Waikato Institute of Technology.
This year’s forum focussed on innovation and entrepreneurship. The student workshop was the practical outcome of Chinese and New Zealand delegates discussing innovation in vocational education at a scholarly level.
The winning New Zealand students worked alongside three winning Chinese students by first pitching their winning one-page business plans in a workshop, facilitated by entrepreneur Theresa Brady. Each idea was discussed and challenged. Feedback was given to help the group clarify each business proposition. On day two the group chose one of the business ideas to further develop and present at the conclusion of the conference.
Day three started with a group presentation of the workshopped business idea to over 200 New Zealand and Chinese delegates. This was followed by responses to both the business plan and the workshop outcomes, from the head of Sino-New Zealand vocational training at Tianjin Vocational Technical College and Erin Wansbrough CEO of SODA Inc.
The forum concluded with a Q+A session, run by Marc Doesburg of Otago Polytechnic, focusing on individual's learning outcomes and how they plan to integrate these learnings in their own business ventures.
Once back on New Zealand soil, the students were asked to reflect on their individual experiences.
The goal of the Sino-NZ model is to strengthen collaboration between New Zealand and China. All six students agreed: “We have strengthened our cultural business understanding through overcoming differences and challenges to collaborate together to present a cohesive business model”.
Article by April Henderson and Jane Armour-Raudon
Want to find out more? Contact Jane at email@example.com
Angus Pauley interviews fellow Startup Dunedin Community manager Casey Davies-Bell.
How did you come across The Distiller?
I first came across the The Distiller after attending the 2015 Startup Weekend. I didn’t even know we had co-working spaces in Dunedin at that point and had been working from a friends garage that leaked!
When I first came in 3 years ago, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Back then there were a couple of people that used it but for the most part it was empty. I was made to feel welcome by the then community manager Jason Beck and quickly become friends with the other residents. I remember thinking it was pretty awesome to have an actual office building to work on my idea.
Do you follow a particular process when you meet a new Start-up? What does that process look like?
Often the first move is to get them to come into the Distiller for coffee, or on a 31 degree Dunner Stunner like today, a cold glass of water. I like to meet face to face to hear them out and listen to their idea first, as well as get a feeling for them as a person.
I find this important for a couple reasons - people come in at all different shapes with ideas at all different stages. There is no one size fits all solution so it’s important to listen and give help based on their unique situation. Usually the most valuable next move is a relevant connection, introduction to tools like the Lean Canvas, covering upcoming events, or making them feel welcome to use the free co-working space.
Coming to the Distiller for the first conversation is non-committal and an easy way for someone to feel out the environment and network directly with other entrepreneurs and Do’ers. Fittingly, we usually conclude with a tour of the Distiller and introductions to the other residents.
What’s the most common mistake you see in an early stage start-up?
There are two.
The first is feeling it is imperative to be secretive and coy about sharing the idea incase someone pinches it. The reality is you are significantly more likely to fail due to the execution whether you don't understand the market or have an internal breakdown in your team. The more help you can get the more you stack the odds in your favor. Of course there are exceptions like ideas that need a patent, but they are few and far between.
The second is ‘project creep’ - wanting to start big. Startups are usually under resourced so it is important to be strategic about what you pursue first. It’s not to say you shouldn’t have big aspirations, but starting small and acting now can’t be stressed enough. Startups don’t starve from ideas, they drown in them. You really want to build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and take it from the assumption you are almost certainly going to be wrong on some logic you have - and that is okay. The goal should then be to test your assumptions in the real market and scale what works.
Is there part of your job you find particularly enjoyable?
One of my favorite parts is getting to meet and hopefully help people working on all sorts of different projects. I get a kick out of trying to join the dots and find solutions for problems. In particular I really like commercial ideas that try and solve global problems - I see enterprise as a powerful vehicle for change, good or bad, and we have the power to make it good.
What is one thing you wish you had more time for?
I really want to get back into surfing. I snapped my board a while ago and haven’t made the time to get back into it. St Clair and Black Head are my go to spots.
What 2-3 books have most profoundly affected your life in recent memory?
‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel is a must read for any startup. ‘The E Myth Revisited’ by Michael E. Gerber is also great for any small business. My favorite for sure is ‘Elon Musk - Tesla, SpaceX and the quest for a fantastic future’ by Ashlee Vance.
What Startup Dunedin event are you most excited for in 2018 or have talked about most to other people?
Definitely Startup Weekend. It’s amazing to watch people exceed their own expectations of what they are capable of in such a short time. Also the opportunity for connecting with other entrepreneurs and leaders in the space in a single event is arguably second to none.
Do you have a strange habit, or something which you do that even you, yourself, consider absurd or odd?
I enjoy working from the Distiller so much that I actually have an alarm to tell me to go home at 7pm! Of course I have been known to ignore this from time to time.
And finally Casey DaviesBell, who is your favourite co-worker?
Well I certainly have a lot in common with Angus, including our birthday!
Interview BY ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
Angus Pauley interviews Trent Anderson of Mountain Peak Productions about his product Pinpoint.
Pinpoint makes personal locating easy in various situations including outdoor pursuits such as tramping, hunting and fishing. The technology requires no activation and relies on an intention system making it safer than a typical PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) that must be activated manually.
What is a common misconception or something which people get wrong, when you explain Pinpoint?
The most common thing that people don't quite understand is that we don't use satellite. Our device relies on a system that runs in the cloud rather than satellite. People often ask: why don't you use satellite? That's probably our main misconception when trying to explain Pinpoint to someone.
What were you doing before Pinpoint?
I grew up on a fishing boat. My father was a commercial fisherman. So I did a lot of fishing when I was younger. When I left school I studied for the Department of Conservation and did a trainee Ranger course up in Nelson. That got me into hunting and seeing more of the outdoors. After that I went and did some farming on a large sheep and beef station across Lake Wakatipu. That really got me up into the mountains, into some pretty hairy places. From there I ended up becoming a professional hunting guide, which was where I was for five years; guiding Americans, Russians and just exclusive hunters. Most of them retire, and then they fly around the world hunting animals. Five years of guiding those guys hunting is what started me onto Pinpoint.
Was there an a-ha moment, or a particular moment of frustration in which you came up to the idea for Pinpoint?
Yeah, so, the whole the whole Pinpoint idea was born out of frustration and an epiphany moment. When I was away guiding I came up with an idea and it wasn't actually for Pinpoint itself; it was for another product which was a hunter safety device to help people not shoot each other in the hunting seasons.
In pursuing that we got into the circles of talking with Angels and then unfortunately it turned out there wasn't a large enough market in New Zealand to warrant the money that we were looking for to get it up and running. That was a bit gutting. Still to this day I haven't given up on it. It's an absolutely fantastic idea.
What came out of the rejections was obviously a lot of frustrations, so I got out and about and got some fresh air doing a bit of hunting. I was actually up Mt Cook, hunting tahr when the a-ha moment came. I was a long way up the mountain and standing there I thought to myself if I fell over this huge big bluff system there's not much chance I'd survive let alone be able to physically activate the PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) I had on me. I would be relying on rescuers flying out in a helicopter and looking for hours to find me. So I got to thinking about how the PLBs worked. I had one on me at the time and I thought to myself there must be a better way than this.
We'd already built prototypes for the hunter safety device, and, we'd sort of talked about being able to use it to locate someone if we needed to, but we hadn't really gone into much detail. From that day I started mapping it all together, building a plan in my head of how it would come across and how it would work. I had a lot of sleepless nights thinking my way through all of the road blocks. When I finally convinced myself it was good, I went and talked with the guys at Tussock Innovation and basically said to them, what do you think? Would this work? And you know and Jesse basically jumped at it and said "Hey we'll do the changes you want for nothing"
That allowed us to convert it to a search and rescue device and do all the ground testing and be really sure of ourselves that it was going to work before we went to the Angels and talked with them. It worked out really well.
You mentioned Tussock innovation. Is there anybody else that's part of the Pinpoint team that you'd like to mention?
We use 4Design in Queenstown and Will Grant there. He's just absolutely fantastic. He's not only done an amazing job on our designs and the CAD drawings, but when I talked to him and Jesse, I could pretty much tell straight away that it was someone I can relate with.
You know, it's like a relationship you either love them or... you don't like them so much and I treat business like that. I have this real this gut feeling. And if I'm unsure. If my gut is a bit iffy about it, I'll go the other way.
Will and Jesse felt right from the get go. They were involved and understood the project and where my direction was. Plus, they knew it was beneficial to them to help me out in the sense that if they think something's not going to work, they bring it to light for me and offer alternatives, opposed to letting me spend the money to have it not work.
Awesome, awesome. So how did you come across FoundX?
Through you guys. So I got an email. Or a text message. What was it? Haha. I was sent something inviting me along.
I hadn't actually heard a lot about FoundX until the night so I didn't really know what to expect. Although, any time you get into a room with lots of likeminded people or business minded people that are looking for a good investment- I think it's a blimmen' good opportunity. I jumped at the chance to go to it and it's paid off really well for us.
Do you have any particular moments or conversations that you remember from FoundX?
Pretty much any conversation I had with someone that didn't understand Pinpoint. I really enjoy understanding how their mind-set works so I can explain it to them. It happens a lot with investors and older people that don't necessarily understand the technology involved with clouds and apps and how it all integrates. You know that they don't understand it straight off the bat but you put in the effort and they come around and then when see it see, their eyes light up and they go 'wow'. When that happens, you know this is a great... not to mention if you get someone that says "Hey, can we invest?” that's always a pretty good sign! FoundX was just like that - just great night with a roomful of great people.
How do people currently solve the problem that Pinpoint solves?
Ah, so it's kind of funny because Pinpoint sits in this tiny little niche, right?
People can currently do intentions online or in person, but there is no physical product that ties to those intentions to help you find that person if things don't go to plan. Plus we're making it easy. When I came up with the concept we looked at other intention systems in webpages, Department of Conservation books things like that and there was nothing quite like our product or quite as easy to use.
I said to the guys at Tussock Innovation that I want my father to be able to pick up his phone and use this thing and my grandfather too. I wanted it I want it to be so easy a child could use it.
It's straight to the point that when you jump on your app. The first thing it asks is where you are going. I want it all so easy to use and accessible that you know that people just use it whether they think "I might just shoot out and go for a go for a run" or plan a bigger trip. They can just jump on the app. It takes 20 seconds and it might save their life.
In Dunedin alone last year there was a guy up by Brockville here on the walking track that spent a night in the bush. I haven't heard the entire story but that's the sort of situation where our system works really well because you're not expected to be away for a long time.
So you've mentioned running and you've mentioned hunting. How broad are the applications of pinpoint?
The hardware that we've developed is something that we can manipulate fairly easily into other industries and for other uses. One of the major talking points that we really want to help with is people with dementia and Alzheimer's. About 70 percent of all the searches by NZ Police and Search and Rescue are for people with Alzheimer's and dementia that have just gone wandering through town. The guys that are going hunting and things are one thing because they're in a good mind-set and know where they are, but when you throw mental health into it- It's a whole different ball game.
Outside of the mental illness scene, there's lots of other avenues we can we can pivot to. New Zealand is just full of outdoor activity and our hardware is so adaptable that at the beginning it was just picking a place to start. We chose hunting because my background is in the outdoors and because if we can find someone in the rainforest in Fiordland then we can find anybody with it. So it's a really good proving ground for the product.
What is the most frustrating part of building a physical product?
I've heard advice, or I guess a lot of people have talked to me about why we're not just building an app. The reason is I want this thing to be perfect. It's a rescue device. So if someone's life is going to depend on it we need to get it right.
We could use off-the-shelf parts to mix and match and make something, but I would rather get this product nailed. If we put it on the market and it wasn't ready... and someone goes missing and relies on it and it fails, for us as a company we'd be ... we'd be buggered.
But as far as building an actual physical product, I think for anyone that's going to undertake it, know it's massive. It's not at all easy, and I was very lucky at the start that I had Jesse and Mark from Tussock Innovation to guide me along the way because I know next to nothing about their side of things.
I think the more you can simplify it, the better. We're in a situation where our whole system needs everything. You can't build the app without the device, which has made it really tricky for us, but other people that I've talked to; I've said to them, "Well, hey, is it possible that you can do it by just building that app?" Instead of having a physical device, can you just do it with your phone? That's the path I'd take if at all possible.
Are there any organizations or people in particular who have helped guide the creation of Pinpoint, or been a part of making it happen behind the scenes?
I mean there's so many. Startup Dunedin and Co.Starters was bloody good. We've also had a lot of exposure from (laughter) it seems, really funny, from Flick Electrical. They promoted us when we were trying to get votes for the AMP scholarship. There's so much out there. I'd love to do more, but I can't because I'm still working a full-time job as a fencing contractor - a lot of the time I just can't get to stuff, that's what made Co.Starters timing so good.
If you could somehow time travel and give yourself advice before you started Pinpoint, what would you tell yourself to do differently?
Definitely something I would say to myself would be get ready for the long haul, because it's just not going to happen overnight. We've had a lot of situations where we've... I guess had the rug pulled out from under us. We've been so close to a deal or to funding or to something like that, and then for one thing or another we've ended up with having it pulled out from under us.
If I could offer myself some advice, it would be just hang in there. It's hard. It's bloody hard. Even with all the support you've got around you ... I'm stubborn as ... I'm just so stubborn, and even I've had in my mind to give up. I've been pushed to the point where I've basically thought to myself, I've had enough. It's the people that I've had around me that have said, "No, you've come too far. Keep going. You've done too much. You're doing it really well. You've got a fantastic product."
The thing that worries me the most is that it's not ... I don't know, it's not a can of soup that we're making. No offense to soup makers, but it's a product that's actually going to save lives. It's something that's going to take the risk off search and rescue staff or volunteers; it's going to cut their time down. It's going to help people in need. To give up would be just like throwing that all that way.
I couldn't give up seeing what I've seen now. For example, I watched the news, and I remember in one state there were two lots of people missing in one week, and I thought to myself, both of those situations, our product solves the problem. Actually one of those people died, just from exposure, being there too long before they got found, I hate thinking to myself, that would have been a life we would have saved.
Do you have a strange habit, or something which you do that even you, yourself, consider kind of absurd or kind of odd?
So my wife and I, we're really house-proud, right? We love our house. So we always keep it clean, like even with a four year old it's usually pretty clean. But one thing that ... And I mean my wife is more OCD than me by far, but crazy girl, and she always laughs at me, because I can't stand cups in the cup cupboard out of order. Your mugs and your glasses ... Well, it's not even the glasses. It's the mugs, 'cause we have a couple different sets of mugs in there, and it's like my cup, and you have world's best dad cup and things like that, and it's all got to be in an order. And if she's unloaded the dishwasher and thrown it all in there and I go to get my coffee in the morning...and this'll be like 5:30 in the morning before I go to work, I'll change them all back the way that they need to be.
The other really good one would be that I don't like if I go to someone's house and they have their cutlery drawer and rather than knives, fork, spoon, they've got knife, spoon, forks, I don't like that either. It annoys me.
Finally, if you could put anything on a billboard that would be seen by millions of people, what would you choose?
Buy Pinpoint! Haha
Yeah, yeah, I think that's it. Something like: "Pinpoint calls for help, even if you can't."
...I'll probably get some backlash of people that are really good at doing slogans and things like that but I think it would do the trick.
Transcription by Angus Pauley
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ
Angus Pauley interviews Matthew Beasley of LiVe Green; an online platform which provides environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to your household consumables and essentials.
"We aim to provide a way for the consumer to make a difference in the amount of plastic and chemicals they use and consume on a regular basis."
How did you meet the Live Green team?
There are currently 3 members: Thor Eastwood, Nick Morgan and myself. We met at Cumberland College, a University Hall here in Dunedin.
Thor is an Economics major. He is conservative and makes sure everything is done right and done properly. I am much more reckless and like to go big, bold and quickly.
Nick is an Accounting and Finance major. He has a role in that aspect of the business.
As a team I think we work well at finding the right balance of setting ambitious goals while also doing the right things and making the right decisions. Although, we are continually learning as we go.
Was there a particular moment of frustration or an a-ha moment in which you came up with the idea for Live Green?
No. The idea for Live Green was more of a snowball, gradually gaining momentum until we thought the idea was viable and had the confidence to go after it.
It was a dynamic process. Live Green originally started with an idea for a sustainable toothbrush. My personal concerns about plastic made me look for alternative ways to produce toothbrushes without producing large quantities of plastic. It was through that research Live Green evolved into what it is today.
What is a common misconception or something which people often get wrong about sustainability?
The most common misconception is that living sustainably will require a drastic change in our way of life.
We should provide solutions that allow us to live with the same ease, while also reducing our impact on the environment. For example, the plastic bag was invented for convenience. A compostable plastic bag alternative is a more effective solution than removing bags all together. That's the most appropriate and quick way to make a difference on a large scale.
Population wide behaviour change is possible, but it is also time consuming and difficult to execute. Instead, lets keep behaviour the same, but ensure that the products we consume are sustainable.
What were you doing before Live Green?
The truth is nothing really!
Haha, but seriously- I was and am studying towards a Physiology and Marketing degree (weird mix I know) at the University of Otago. I have always had plenty of thoughts and ideas for businesses over the years but this is my first attempt at actually making something happen.
My first idea for a business was when I was 10 or 11 years old. I dreamt up a self-propelled wakeboard device. My parents still have sketches I drew of it around the house somewhere. Just recently I saw a very similar product being advertised on Facebook with some success, so I guess I missed the boat on that one!
More recently, I started and ran a charity called Put The Boot In, which involved donating used and new football/rugby boots to low decile schools.
If you could recruit one famous person to Live Green right now, who would you recruit? Why?
There are two answers.
Purely as a marketing and publicity stunt I would hire Leonardo Di Caprio. His work in the field already is nothing short of admirable, and his massive influence and reach would be great for our growth. I'll admit, I’m also a bit of a fan boy over old Leo so it would be a good excuse to meet him!
If I was to hire someone that would be valuable in the long term, I think I would choose Richard Branson. His innovative attitude and wealth of experience would be an invaluable resource to tap into. Being an entrepreneur is a tricky and uncertain game, but he seems to have a knack for it.
How did you come across FoundX?
Casey Davies-Bell, the manager of the Distiller actually told us about it. We figured it was a great opportunity and grabbed it with both hands.
When I look back on the night; it was a really awesome experience for us. Every person we talked to provided insight, entertainment, and most importantly something to take away. It was an awesome event and we made some very promising and exciting connections. Events like FoundX are crucial to the startup world as they link innovative and new companies with the more experienced and more importantly, deep pocketed investors!
How do people currently solve the problem, Live Green solves?
Through a lot of hard work.
To live a green lifestyle requires large amounts of research on both the issues but also the products that are acceptable. It often takes more effort again to find those products. Plus, there is a lot of information out there and the best green products are often scattered across different vendors.
Live Green takes the effort out of finding those products. We strive to be a one-stop-shop you can trust to have the most sustainable products on hand. We're even looking at subscription services to make the process even easier. That way, even if you couldn’t give a rats arse about the environment its still easier and more convenient to shop sustainably.
What has been the most frustrating part of building your startup?
Learning that failure is a good thing. I've always been taught not to fail and that failing is bad, but when you start a company, failures just mean you are getting closer to getting it right.
Initially, we treated failures and wrong decisions as exactly that. This definitely caused frustration and stress. Changing our attitudes towards failure has been an important part of our development as people and as a company.
If you could time-travel and give yourself advice without distorting space and time – what advice would you give yourself about starting Live Green?
Haha. I grew up watching Back to the Future so I know the dangers of travelling back in time.
I would tell myself to roll with the punches. Each punch comes with a lesson and each lesson gets you one step closer to creating a successful business. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong as long as you learn from your mistakes.
In previous conversations you have touted that you will be using Instagram as one of your main marketing channels – in this part of the interview we have cherry picked a couple of your personal instagrams we would like you to give more context to. Can you explain these grams?
You’re right, Instagram is such a large part of our target demographics life, and when people check their phones almost 90 times a day; it is exciting from a marketing perspective.
Gram 1 (Top left): This was a really rewarding period of my life. In my last year of school I started a charity called Put The Boot In. It involved collecting used and new boots from high decile schools in wealthy areas of Auckland and donating them to low decile schools in poorer areas.
I grew up on the North Shore of Auckland, and it was completely normal to get a new pair of boots every season, especially through growth spurts. This meant collecting the boots was surprisingly easy.
Going to the poorer schools and watching the kids try them on and run around was an incredibly rewarding experience.
Gram 2 (Bottom Right): This photo is me and my pup Kylie on the West coast Auckland beach, Muriwai.
My dog has been a part of my life since I was 6 years old and I absolutely adore her. This beach is one of her favourite spots. Now that I live away from home I make sure she always goes with me when I visit.
Finally, Matthew, If you could put anything on a billboard that would be seen by millions of people, what would you choose?
I think I would put something like ‘think of the future’. Sounds a little cheesy, but generally we focus on the present and short term. We need to make decisions based on long term consequences. Sustainability must become paramount or eventually our resources will run out. Who knows what sort of Mad Max type chaos we could end up in.
Interview Completed By Angus Pauley
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ.
Angus Pauley interviews "Co-founder and Dark lord Sauron" of Kitt; Aleks Dahlberg, on everything from AI to the heart warming speeches of Bernard Hill and Viggo Mortense.
Kitt is property management software which simplifies property management for landlords and investors. They make communicating with tenants, maintenance, expenses, tracking rent and finances easy and inexpensive. Kitt is built on top of an AI driven banking API and harnesses leading automation software which allows them to do it all.
What were you doing before Kitt?
Kitt has been multiple things. It actually started off as a product called Venturestay (or Wonderstay, you decide), which was sort of similar, but for landlords who rent specifically to working-tourists. It turned into a similar platform called Stayrs. However, after we became more serious and met with serious people - we saw the problem vividly and pivoted to Kitt.
Previously I made a bunch of not-so-great web products that didn’t do much, and ran another web-design/graphic company to keep myself afloat. I also did another ‘start-up’ called Haggle with Kitt’s current CTO, David, back in 2014 (I think). That didn’t really go anywhere.
And before that?
Before start-ups I was up to no good; just being a piece of work really. I knew I always wanted to run my own companies but delayed it to focus on causing trouble.
Was there an 'a-ha' moment in which you came up with the idea for Kitt?
There was no ‘a-ha’ moment. I don’t even remember starting it. The first I thing I remember is Sam and I building it. That’s all I recall.
How did you come across The Distiller?
I first heard of The Distiller after Startup Weekend 2015. I came in a couple of times, but I didn't make much use of it then, which was probably unwise since the last 6 months here have been great!
What does the start of your day look like at The Distiller?
I set up my laptop and then go through scribbles I made on a piece of paper the night before; reading my thoughts and to-dos. Then I remember I've already written them in my note book and procede to make a coffee.
How do people currently solve the problems Kitt solves?
Through either a pad and paper (which I am not against at all), or by using property agencies which are probably on average 500% more expensive than Kitt per month.
How did you plan those initial conversations with landlords and property investors? Do people generally fear AI, or have you found it a good talking point?
To be honest when we first started talking to people, we winged it. Eventually, we knew what to talk about.
In regards to AI: People like hearing the acronym AI, that’s all I’ve noticed.
How did you meet your team for Kitt?
Sam, I went to Highschool with. He was the only person I knew who did any web stuff outside of school. Naturally, we developed a bond.
David, I met through the PC game Counterstrike. We were in the same server and I asked if anyone knew how to code. Eventually, I got to know him.
Eugene, I met when I was working for someone else. He came in for a job interview. I met up with him afterwards and convinced him to work for me instead (for no money).
Scott, I have been friends with since highschool. He’s my flatmate now and is contracting to do some minor coding as well as clean up our messy front-end.
If you could recruit one famous person to the Kitt team, who would you recruit and why?
Probably Bernard Hill or Viggo Mortensen to give us heart warming, motivational speeches from The Lord of the Rings adapted to fit Kitt.
Something like the below:
This explains the second language listed on your Linkedin Profile.
Correct! Sindarin is one of the Elven languages in Tolkien’s Arda (Lord of The Rings).
You have an impressive Instagram boasting over 4000 followers. We've cherry picked a couple of images for you to give some more context to - can you explain these grams?
I post images on Unsplash and they often get posted elsewhere - that's where most of my followers have come from.
The first one (top left) is Seane (my girlfriend) contemplating a triple back-flip off of the rock at Tunnel Beach fully clothed - which is impressive.
The second (bottom left) is a piece of ice I found at Mackenzie that had scratches in it resembling the outline of the mountains in the foreground.
What would you caption this article when we share it on Instagram to make it go viral?
“Please don’t let this go viral” - post the question as well.
What’s next on the horizon for Kitt?
We are launching sometime in January. We're also raising funds again in the next few months.
And finally, if you could put anything on a billboard what would you choose?
Some glue, so someone can attach some advertising to it.
AUTHOR: ANGUS PAULEY
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEATURE ON THE STARTUP DUNEDIN BLOG CONTACT US AT HELLO@STARTUPDUNEDIN.NZ.
The following is a transcription of Dean Hall's Keynote Q + A with Scott Mason at our recent FoundX Event in partnership with Crowe Horwath.
Scott Mason: Dean Hall, Everybody.
So Dean, perhaps as a warmup you give a overview of your current enterprise Rocketwerkz and what the mission is there.
Dean Hall: Sure. So Rocketwerkz is a videogame studio. We make me PC games, very much focused on that. We we're established in 2015.
We started out with basically me, my sister, Stephanie, she's basically our head of studio and then a couple of programmers - and we've grown to, forty-five full time staff located just over in the glass building that's over there. Working across basically four different projects, which we develop concurrently and that's following a cell model. I actually found out very similar to the company called Supercell, which makes sense considering the name Supercell. They made a little game called Clash of Clans, I think everyone played. I don't play mobile games. Let's get that out of the way.
Yeah, so we had Tencent join us as a minority investor, all of the rest of the money was money I made making a game called Day-Z for the PC market, that I made and sold to a company in the Czech Republic and then moved back here. And there are some notes up there for those who don't know Tencent. They're worth more than Facebook in value. They bought Riot Games who make League of Legends, they bought Epic who make Unreal, one of the engines we use in some other games. They're the biggest video game company in the world and I think they bought Supercell. Someone might correct me if I'm wrong. I think it was 8 billion dollars or 10 billion. It doesn't matter at the point right? (laughter). The largest transaction in video game history.
So yeah and then we've got basically the NZ Game Dev growth. So you can see it has been going pretty good. And often that hundred million dollar figure is told as being really good but I actually see it as really bad. We're massively underutilized considering the amount of creative people in video games in New Zealand and everyone is asking the question why that is. When I worked in the Czech Republic there was a lot less people working. Or I guess with the skills, I felt, and the creativity to work in the industry but they were making two orders of magnitude. Basically more than that, making a huge amount of money.
Scott Mason: Awesome, so you referenced during that chat about Day-Z, which for those of you who aren't really game players, is a zombie apocalypse game. Nobody's nodding so not too many players in the room.
Dean Hall: Survival game!
Okay so how did you get from working in the armed forces to working in Czechoslovakia and taking Day-Z to the world?
Dean Hall: Yeah so I guess I've always been interested in computers, since when I first saw them. I think I first got using a Commodore 64- it was our cousins' -and it had the old monitors with the old refresh rate and I sat on it for 8 hours and they came back and I was literally green and I vomited everywhere. So my parents ended up buying an Omega and it was on Omega I first learned to use peek and poke which is writing directly to the memory so I was able to draw images on the screen and that was kind of the start of it, but video-games wasn't really a pathway I ever thought was a real thing I could do. It was something that was done in America and not here and I actually went to school with Chris Butcher who went to Otago uni -famously he did a PhD at 15 and everyone thought he was going to go cure cancer, and he went off to work with a little known company called Bungie, who went onto make Halo and he's now a tech director there actually we're trying to get him to come back here. So, I went to school with him. So, yeah both of us did quite well. So he was a lot smarter than me though, we'll just get that out of the way. So, I was always doing video games in my own time. I had started a couple of non video game businesses but they didn't really go anywhere and I ended up losing, well not a lot of money in hindsight, but at the time it seemed like a lot of money. So, yes, I had sort of a bit of a background in business and a bit of a background in video games and I was always making video games in my spare time and I was in the military and stuff like that.
Scott Mason: Excellent, so what was the biggest step from the military to being an entrepreneur, do you think?
Dean Hall: I mean I guess because I studied commerce it wasn't too bad. I guess I was always doing both at the same time. In the military, you often finish at 4:30 in the afternoon- I'm a civilian now so I don't say 16:30- but so you know you have got a bit of free time. I always lived on base so it meant that I had my food sorted and stuff like that so it always left me a lot of time to tinker. I think a lot of people thought I was crazy because I would just make these games- they're mods- so it's basically you take someone else's game and you make something new with it, and it was where Day-Z came from; it was taking someone else's stuff and making something different out of it.
And I think doing it actually taught me a lot about what, say, with a video game- we talk a lot about game loops, so what makes the game loop fun and what doesn't. And sometimes when you have these constraints you're forced, your design decisions are forced and so you can actually come up with these unique ways of doing things.
Scott Mason: Well excellent, well you referenced briefly some of your other early ventures, and so I'd be interested in what were sort of the lessons you learned from perhaps not great success. Okay, failures. And how would you compare those lessons to what you've learned from the success of Day-Z.
Dean Hall: Oh man, this is like going back and looking at your Bebo profile, or your MySpace profile. Cringe.
So, I mean I think one of my ideas was called Ubuy and it was like the site that did all the eCommerce stuff for you, so you could just open a store and sell stuff. But we got absolutely smashed-this is like five years ago- by how credit card gateways worked and a whole bunch of other stuff and it just sort of went no where, and we spent a lot of money advertising in places that just made no sense. You know, Facebook ads wasn't a thing. And then another one was called Get Booking which was the same thing but for bookings. But I started doing that at a time when, you know like 2006-2007 you know when things were just starting to sour and you know hairdressers and that didn't really want to go out and deal with the system and stuff like that. So, I think all those times one of the common themes I felt was I hadn't really prepared for success. So whenever I had a little success and I think if you look at even our studio we're doing now, there are points that come along that if you don't capitalize on the success at that point- and it might be quite a minor thing- then you just go down. So maybe you don't make a good impression with someone you need maybe as an investor or maybe as a partner; or you know you under-sell something at the wrong time. So I felt like one of the biggest things I never learned was preparing for success and I think as New Zealanders we can be particularly bad at that. And I find this a lot and it's one of the reasons that we really like you because I think you understand that you have to take risks. And in our industry it's just all risks. It's all bad news, it's like choose the worst one for bad news.
I think being prepared is not just knowing what the risks are, you have to pick one; and so you pick one with a mind of how that success can drive you and I think that was something that took me a very long time to figure out.
Scott Mason: So what about the flip side- on the success of Day-Z do you think that changed your view of the world?
Dean Hall: Yes and no. I mean it's kind of... I thought it might have changed me a lot more than it did and I think like when I talk to my sister it didn't really. You know, it kind of just gave more options. My plan when I reenlisted in the army was always to open my own video game studio, it's just I was able to do it 10 years earlier. In some ways that was good and in some ways that was bad because Day-Z was a viral thing, so it happened very fast. We didn't have time to adapt, we were making decisions and by the time we finished making the decision the whole landscape of early access - which is the method of marketing video games; selling video games -had changed. And so people start blaming you about decisions you've made when the parameters for those decisions didn't even exist. So I guess that kind of comes back to the point I was saying about preparing for success- we always assumed that our concurrent users were never going to go up and part of that is because psychologically you don't want to think about your concurrent users going skyrocketing because you don't want to get disappointed if it doesn't. But that means maybe you're not really well prepared and maybe you're not sort of ahead of the curve in terms of what you're trying to do.
Scott Mason: Excellent. So funding is always a challenge for startups and I guess your situation was slightly different in that your involvement of Tencent happened while you were underway. All of a sudden the lessons that you learnt out of the discussions and the process with a large multinational that's looking at investing in you...
Dean Hall: I mean I think if someone really wants to invest in you then their investing in you. And so I think that means you've got to be you. So we always made sure it didn't matter who we were talking to. We talked to a lot of people. We made sure we stuck to what we were doing, because that's what we knew. We wanted to make video games, and we wanted to make video games in the PC market; and a lot of people were like why are you doing that in Wellington and why are you doing mobile, why aren't you doing this.. and so first of all we're looking for who has the same DNA as us. And I think when I first met - there were a couple of people in Tencent I met, and we were on the same wavelength. They thought exactly the same as I did that there was this area in PC games that it wasn't super well exploited but there was a great way of making money and producing good products. That's not... instead of spending eighty million dollars making game maybe you can spend five million dollars and get a really good return on it. And so I think the key thing for me was finding people who had the same DNA. It's the same with your customers, finding a good customer and not wasting all your time on potential investors who are just kicking tyres because I think there were so many people who wanted to have meetings with us simply so they could say they had meetings with us. Justify their hotel or whatever. And I really think that was a common thing.
So I think we focused early on on trying to weed out those people and I also think scarcity helps a lot there. If they know that... if we felt that someone wasn't taking it seriously then we just canceled a meeting. Obviously it's a fine line, a fine line sort of thing to do.
And it did help that I was independently wealthy so I could fund the studio myself. And I think for us like every startup has unique challenges. For us it wasn't so much the funding. It was definitely finding... it's kind of like in a medieval marriage -it's not just about the marriage is about what each party is bringing... I play a lot of Crusader Kings II.
You know you're trying to set up your dynasty, and it's the same thing. So, yeah, there will be a lot of video game references.
Scott Mason: I know that feeling of people just wanting to meet because they can say... no I'm kidding! (Laughter) so they can say they've met the accountant!
So it's probably said that you've got bit of an unorthodox approach to managing and recruiting employees into Rocketwerkz. So tell us about your views on people management and some lessons you've learned along the way.
Dean Hall: So, I think I kind of break it down into three categories. There is management which is what my degree is in, and I don't think that works. Then there is command which I learned in the military and that doesn't work either. And what I found was that people who make it work is through leadership. But I think the problem with leadership is a lot of that is about who you are and we're all flawed. So it means you're not going to get it right all the time and I think that's the idea behind how we run the studio with the cell model. There can be a lot of conflict in terms of how we set things up -so an individual team can have several components that are completely independent and they'll fight amongst each other and people fight with me so it can be quite conflict-oriented sometimes . But I think we did that because we have to get rid of those bad ideas. And I think that leadership doesn't just come from your CEO or head of studio or whatever. We try and get the leadership to come from within the teams; because I think that's when you get really good decisions happening.
Scott Mason: So you're in the ODT talking about the concept of unlimited leave. So what was your experiences reflecting on that, you know, a few more months on.
Dean Hall: I think the worst thing about that is that everybody was asked about it, so they always say "look nobody will be at work!", but I think actually if you look at 99 percent of people in the world they want to do something, you know, as human beings we do stuff and if we've got nothing to do then we're going to do stuff. We're going to draw things on cave walls or go to the moon or something, people are going to do stuff. Elon Musk just putting a roadster into Mars orbit just because.
I think that people just want to do stuff and a lot of how things are structured are... in a way they deal with the one percent of people who may be at a certain point in their life where they're just not really hearing anything and they're not really prepared to do anything. So we wanted to try to structure the studio in such a way that supported that, and it's not perfect and it's not all sunshine and rainbows- which I really try and tell everybody. It's the same at Google labs- it's not all sunshine and rainbows. And, I think that one of the big things that we found as well was thinking about like guerilla warfare. You know we're not the best, and big, Epic video game studio or Rockstar and you know we can't be beggars then, we don't have the same size teams; we can't throw 80 designers making content. And it's like guerilla warfare- if they're big, that means they're slow. So we are small and fast. So we try and follow where we think the market's going.
And then I think that the idea of how we set up the culture of the studio was that. It was like, where can we hit them? Well they're big, they've got these big bureaucracies and they don't have very good bonus structures. You know it's all who is this person's friend- that kind of thing, it's high up in the company who gets the good bonuses. And so we wanted to try and turn it all on it's head because it was a way that we could compete with those big studios; the huge American Studios in a way that they could never compete against us. And it's very similar to a book, quite an old book now that I read, called Blown to Bits which talks about how Encyclopedia Britannica got chopped down by a really crappy Microsoft product called Encarta which Microsoft couldn't even sell. So it's the same kind of thing, I think if you compete with companies in ways they simply can't adapt, then you just destroy them.
Scott Mason: You've been quoted as saying you think gaming consoles will see the end of days. So where do think the future lies- is it VR, or augmented reality, or what?
Dean Hall: Well, I mean, I think I was wrong there, you should not listen to what I say, is the first lesson. And no, I think consoles is interesting because consoles have actually adapted and they've just become PC's and you know Microsoft started that trend before. I care about video games because they're video games- I don't care about the what, and the how, and to me the programming is just the means to and end. We tried out VR, I tend to be a bit of a skeptic about a lot of new technologies because I want to see how it's applied and I want to see the monetization model and I want to see people adopt it. And maybe I'll just get more and more bitter and jaded as it goes on but you know I tend to get like that and you know we tried out VR and I think it's definitely got legs but I think I'm just very cautious about throwing money at something that you necessarily can't see the market. And you can totally do that if you've got really deep pockets. Maybe I need deeper pockets before I want to spend too much.
Scott Mason: Fair enough, I was quite horrified when I had a crack at your VR game.
Dean Hall: So were we when we sat down and... (laughter).
Scott Mason: Actually, I was good. (laughter) What blew me away, not being a gamer at all, is how quickly in my suit I was crawling around the floor into firing position.
Dean Hall: We actually had a politician, I won't say who they are, because I think that's a bit unfair. But they were playing one of our earlier games and we actually ended up canceling the game and we joked, sort of to the politician because that it's because we saw they were playing the game. So- that wasn't entirely true but it's a good funny story.
Scott Mason: Good story for the NZTE.
Dean Hall: True, true.
Scott Mason: So we've got a lot of people involved in start ups in the audience tonight. So having reflected on your journey to date what are two or three key lessons that you can share with them.
Dean Hall: I think the most important one is just surround yourself with really really really good people and get rid of the bad people -particularly from that early stage. If you look at I think any start up- big or small -that's ended up being successful in their area it's because they had really good people and got rid of the bad people early on. And I think it's really hard to get through that and that stage but I think that's just one of those obvious things that people just keep saying and if you've got a start up you need to keep that in your head and be playing that devil's advocate. Have we got the right people involved? Are the right people at the strategic level?
I think the second point, which is perhaps more nuanced, is making sure you're doing the right things at the right time, as well. You know a lot of people tend to focus on the things that they're really good at or that seem to be going really well and then you're leaving everything else over there. And then there's another counterpoint which is, and I saw a presentation from one of the executives at Unity. It was a video presentation because his wife was getting birth and so he recorded it. It was in Iceland at a slush-
Scott Mason: The presentation, not the birth! (Laughter)
Dean Hall: And I wasn't expecting it to be good because I was speaking at the conference, so I wasn't really paying any attention. But it was amazing and the guy was talking about how Unity- they make a game engine. He was saying that basically if you're not sort of looking around- he likened it to flying a plane and you think everything's going fine and you look around and everything's on fire. I thought it was kind of a good way of thinking about it. Sometimes if things aren't kind of on fire and going crazy then maybe you haven't sort of got the throttle pushed forward far enough.
And I think the last one to finish on will be what I said before which is planning for success. And so that means thinking about what happens if your product does go viral. Do you have the capacity to deal with it? And the success isn't typically just one thing happening, it's actually a lot of little things. So you need to prepare for all those little success markers and the kind of things you have to punch through.
Scott Mason: I think that's a really good lesson in business generally is just sometimes stopping and taking stock; looking at what you've achieved. And that gives you the confidence to carry on going forward- particularly in an environment that's unfriendly and you're feeling a little bit isolated. I think the other point I'll pick out of that is putting an investor hat on when I'm looking at a business. The first thing I always start with is the people. If you don't get past the people you you'll never look at the ideas, because fundamentally if you don't have the right people; the right team in place- whatever you believe if you don't put together the right team that's never going to work. I think that's bang on.
Okay, so before we do some questions from the audience, I thought we'd do a little bit of fun. I haven't shown Dean this but I've got 10 questions in 30 seconds.
Dean Hall: So that's 10 questions for the whole 30 seconds?
Scott Mason: Exactly. Not 30 seconds a question! So we'll start off easy as a nice easy warm up and then we'll go from there to increasingly personal and embarrassing- no I'm just kidding! I wouldn't do that here.
Scott Mason: So, favorite color and why?
Dean Hall: It's blue and I can give you the X code its 3366... (laughter) and it's amazing!
Scott Mason: Best childhood memory?
Dean Hall: Playing UFO Enemy Unknown.
Scott Mason: Greatest personal achievement outside of gaming?
Dean Hall: Climbing Mount Everest.
Scott Mason: Most beautiful city in the world?
Dean Hall: Wanaka.
Scott Mason: I like that, appeal to the locals! Government assistance - positive or negative for start ups a your experience?
Dean Hall: Mixed.
Scott Mason: Okay, dogs or cats?
Dean Hall: Cats. They're easier.
Scott Mason: Your personal hero or someone you'd like to have a meal with?
Dean Hall: Carl Sagan.
Scott Mason: And why?
Dean Hall: I like listening to his audiobooks, they're the only audiobooks I listen to. Really good speaker.
Scott Mason: Favourite TV show you binge on?
Dean Hall: Probably Mad Men.
Scott Mason: Donald Trump- yay or nay?
Dean Hall: Nay.
Scott Mason: Favorite accountant.
Dean Hall: Scott Mason!
Scott Mason: I was sweating over that one actually! (laughter)
Transcribed by Angus Pauley