Abbe and Jacob are the founders of Winely which makes wine scientifically better by automating data collection and providing timely, quality data insights.
This week they share everything from their tips on lasting the distance in the startup arena, to why their excited for QUANTUM materials.
How did you first get involved in the startup scene?
Abbe: Jake and I didn’t meet until about 5 years ago, but our first startup story is actually really similar. As teenagers we both sold compost made from waste product to our local communities. Goes to show that there’s really no such thing as a novel idea!
How many cities have you started up in? What does Dunedin have over other startup cities?
Abbe: The cities we’ve spent the most time ‘starting up’ in are Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Melbourne. Dunedin wins on internet speeds (we do a speed test in each new set up) and it’s also really cool being a University town - some fantastic IP and industry experts are right at your doorstep.
Jacob: New Plymouth was the first city I had a startup in, then Wellington. Back in my day, they didn't have any help for entrepreneurs. I hounded Venture Taranaki a few times. Victoria University had yet to offer an entrepreneur paper back then and even CreativeHQ wasn't a thing.
Working in startups can mean working hard and long hours. What habits to do with diet, sleep or any other aspect of health do you rely on to allow you to perform in the startup arena?
Jacob: Easy. Just submit to your startup and realise you will be spending 70 hours a week or more. Remember, entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Often when you are laying in bed, or drinking a glass of wine at FoundX, you get a eureka moment! Rip out that paper and write down a solution. In terms of long hours, you don't need to “work" many hours. I would say 30 hours in the office at max or, 10 hours talking to customers.
My other tip would be sleep heaps. Use your normal sleep patterns and don't set an alarm if you don't have to. If you are nailing it at 2am on a Thursday, don't put yourself to bed, just keep nailing it.
Abbe: If at all possible I would recommend a cat or something equally snuggly. If you’re not in a position to adopt, get yourself down to a shelter for some volunteering hours and grab some pats. Animals are very therapeutic and will listen to your ideas and challenges without judgement.
What would you be doing if you didn’t work in startups?
Abbe: I’d be an academic. Doing something new and novel is very important to me and research is an alternative avenue to startups.
Jacob: I would be keen to keep working on biological power cells. Cyanobacteria have a lot they can offer humanity in the way of alternative energy and proteins. I would play with their genomes to further understand their secrets.
What keeps you coming back to startups rather than working in a corporate?
Abbe: I think I contribute more in a startup. Running a startup for a while normally enables us to employ people; that’s a personal goal for me because I don’t see many attractive jobs out there these days.
By the sounds of it, you’re full of startup ideas. What do you do with the ideas you don’t pursue, is your wall just covered in post-it notes?
Abbe: I give ideas away all the time. Sometimes other people roll with them which is pretty awesome! Post-it notes are quite prevalent though haha!
Jacob: I guess I often play the “lets do this" game for a few hours with Abbe. But yeah, it's so hard not to reverse pitch an idea to an entrepreneur. My recent one is applying AI to commercial video surveillance, so that you don't need keys etc. While building out our AI, I became excited by the open source video technology libraries built on TensorFlow. I think I could build a nice AI surveillance system over a weekend… that reads fairly creepy. I mean, the technology could be applied to other things as well…
Do you have a best failure? Or one you’ve learned from the most?
Abbe: Best failure is still an oxymoron to me. I know there is a lot of chat around how failures should be celebrated and I agree, but I still don’t think failing is ever that amazing!
The failure that I’ve learnt the most from is definitely losing SuchCrowd’s CTO, which happened once we could no longer pay them. Our product development completely stalled once this happened, and later everything just broke. It taught me that providing your team the resources they need to get the job done is absolutely critical.
Jacob: I failed to deliver to a customer in 2012. I sent $80,000 worth of product to the wrong location because I was rushing to hand in an assignment and mislabeled the delivery.
Trusting the wrong person sucks too. My million dollar failure was trusting the wrong business partner.
How about your proudest startup related moment?
Abbe: We pitched SuchCrowd at AngelHQ when we opened our seed round and three quarters of the room ticked boxes indicating they were keen to know more.
Jacob: I’ve done a lot of trivial things - a lot like building a product no-one wants, I have always been most proud of the end result.
For example, I built a system that preformed arbitration across online betting systems. I also built a computer inside a beer box.
Your early-stage startup consulting business, Hyde Consultants, has had some great success having achieved over $1.26m in fundraising and over $60m in valuation of the startups you work with. What is the most common question or subject startups reach out to you about?
Abbe: Without a doubt it’s business models. People struggle a lot with whether they should raise funding. It’s all answered by the business model so we spend a lot of time building this out with founders.
What’s the most common mistake or misconception early stage startups make?
Abbe: Building a product rather than a startup. It’s heartbreaking to see a startup invest a lot of time and money into building a product and neglect other critical aspects of the startup (e.g market size, early sales, channels, competitors, business model etc.). Once the product is built, you become less agile and less open to truly listening to your customers and understanding their needs. You become stuck trying to hard sell something that isn’t quite right because you’ve invested so much in building it.
Jacob: I would agree with Abbe. In our current ecosystem we have a few entrepreneurs allocating resources to building a product not a startup. I just want to shake them or, slap them on the face. But hey, it's their journey. “Build a startup, not a product" is a motto of mine.
Was there a particular moment of frustration or an a-ha moment in which you came up with the idea for Winely? What was that moment like?
After speaking to our first dozen customers that didn't want our hypothetical product, we learnt about their true problem. Good thing we hadn’t built the product yet!
How do people currently solve the problem, Winely solves?
Jacob: Manual tests and data logging - AKA spreadsheets and paper. The winemaker spends a lot of their day collecting data.
What is the most frustrating part of building Winely?
Abbe: The seasonal aspect of the business. I’m sure as the business grows, and we have the resources to support global customer on-boarding, this will become less of an issue, but at the moment it feels like there is only a few opportunities to line everything up before you have to wait until the following year. We came back from Australia to begin NZ winemaker validation and were stalled for about two months because we hit harvest and winemakers were way too busy.
If you could recruit one famous person to Winely right now, who would you recruit? Why?
Elon Musk, for the flamethrowers.
If you could time-travel – what advice would you give yourself about starting Winely?
Abbe: Nothing too big yet. Small optimizations could be made, but I’m not sure I’d waste the amazing technology of time travel on it! Ask me again in a year ...
Do you have strange habits or something you do which you consider absurd/odd? For example I always touch the outside of a plane for good luck before flying.
Abbe: Whenever we see a canvas in an op-shop we buy it with the intention of painting our own art over it. This sometimes doesn’t happen for a few months so I think people might think we have very strange taste in art. Also, Jake cuts my hair because hairdressers make me anxious … that’s probably pretty weird.
What do you think is the most exciting emerging technology of 2018?
Jacob: Oh man, so many! I think synthetic meat is coming to market much quicker that I originally predicted. Portable EGG as a phone accessory is cool. In terms of emerging, but yet to be commercial, quantum materials is huge. Soon entrepreneurs will need to consider quantum materials in their day to day.
Also, space tech with heavy investment in Aussie on asteroid mining.
How do you juggle being a couple and business partners? What’s your top tip for making that type of relationship work?
Abbe: Separation of duties - I handle the hugs, Jake does the kisses. Just kidding...
Jacob: I would have to agree with Abbe.
Abbe: Yes. Agreeing with Abbe is a great top tip for making this type of relationship work ;)
And finally, what action would you like our readers to take?
Ask a winemaker if they’ve heard of us! Get them to reach out if they’re interested!
Written and interviewed by Angus Pauley