rab•ble n

    Those most likely to create the future

Today we’re pleased to launch Rabble, a directory of kiwi technology companies.

We’ve created this in response to a few problems that we’ve seen startup companies struggle with first hand.

We hope to help people who want to work on startups find a great place to work. The biggest constraint for just about all of the good startups we know is finding good people to join the team – and meanwhile, smart people continue to work for big, boring companies. We want to liberate a few from corporate slavery.

We hope to help investors to find better places to put their money to work. We despair to see people joining clubs in the pursuit of deal flow, unaware that the best opportunities are never going to come to them there. We know you have to work to be an investor of choice, but we also know that great companies are out there desperate to find the capital they need to get to the next stage. We want to make the connection.

Last but by no means least, we hope to help startups find the right advice and the things they need to get them moving faster – whether that is a clueful lawyer to assist with a shareholders’ agreement or a printer to help create the perfect t-shirt. We know that startups can be demanding but very rewarding clients, so if we can help those who want to help startups then that would be great.

But, to start with we just want to make a list. We’re putting the M back in MVP. We realise that a list by itself doesn’t really do any of the above very effectively, but we hope it’s a foundation to build on.

Check it out here: http://rabble.co.nz

We’ve focussed initially on four categories of companies:

  1. Those who sell desktop or mobile application software
  2. Those who sell hosted software on subscription (SaaS)
  3. Those who sell things online (eCommerce)
  4. Those who provide a software platform or marketplace

We’ll hopefully add more categories soon – we’re interested to hear what others you think we should add next.

We’ve added about 100 companies that we know of from our own networks and who have been mentioned in the media recently.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you would like us to include your company, or one that you know we’ve missed, please send the details to rabble@southgatelabs.com.

And, even if we already have your company listed we’d like to hear from you too, so we can make sure we have the right people associated with each listing. If you’d like us to update any details we may have incorrect, or even just add a better logo, get in touch and we can sort it out.

But, at this stage, we mostly need your help in spreading the word, on Twitter or Facebook or wherever. Please tell anybody you know who might be interested – perhaps they are potential employees looking for a job, perhaps they are investors wondering where to start, or perhaps they are suppliers who would like to work with startups. Either way, we hope that Rabble can help them.

Please let us know what you think. At this early stage any feedback is useful and appreciated.

The Weakest Link, Good Bye!

I was quoted in this article, about the new Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise course being offered by Victoria University:

Vic teaches mastery of a dragons den

For completeness, some other stuff I told the reporter, which didn’t make the article…

You don’t qualify your start-up by winning a business plan competition, or getting a sucker to invest or being accepted into an incubator program. You qualify by building something customers want and win by selling it repeatedly to them at a price that is greater than your costs.

The best and arguably only way to learn about a start-up is to be part of a start-up. The good news is that’s very easy to do. There are no pre-requisites.

Actually, I’ve changed my mind on this since I was first asked. One of the things investors look for in founders is evidence of good judgement. On reflection this is an excellent negative tell.

I wonder if this reality TV approach frustrates people working in other areas? What do people who work in the music industry, or home renovators or chefs think of their reality TV equivalents? Maybe the distinction has been blurred in all of these industries too?

To understand the folly, take the text of the press release and replace all instances of “technology entrepreneur” with “poet”:

“Towards completion of the course, each team will present their poems to an expert panel, with attracting funding being an integral part of the qualification.”

Sounds excellent. I’d attend.

But, anyway, I’m done with this debate.

I hereby announce my resignation from the position of the guy who speaks out about this sort of stuff – incubators, business plan competitions, endless awards, and the whole reality TV approach to start-ups. Somebody else can comment on our emperors impressive new wardrobe from here on in.

When we work with founders we advise them to try and not get sucked into the noise and distractions that swirl around the start-up eco-system, and to just focus on building a great product and business. For whatever reason I haven’t followed that advice myself recently.

Maybe a MAdvTechEnt is the missing piece to your start-up jigsaw. Perhaps the safe environment of an incubator will help you get going. The Dragons Den could even be the ideal place for you to find an investor for your venture.

My mileage differs quite a lot. But, I’m not going to waste any more time or energy trying to convince you otherwise…

Good luck!

Sky is the new Telecom

On 5th April:

“SkyTV you’re the new Telecom. We tolerate your complicated pricing plans and mildly put-out customer service lacking a credible alternative.”
— @rowansimpson, on Twitter.

On 19th May:

“Is Sky TV the new Telecom? It is big and it is dominant. And now it faces a regulatory threat which may hinder its efforts to carry its dominance into a new technological era.”
— Liam Dann, in NZ Herald.

This week regulators, and then investors, and then the media, finally realised that Sky have been failing the Don’t be a Dick test for a while now. It will be interesting to see if they manage to hold on as long as Telecom did, before facing this reality themselves. As Rachel Hunter taught us, it won’t happen over night, but it will happen.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

This is the transcript of a short speech I gave last night at the Think Forward event in Auckland. Thanks to Sacha Judd from Buddle Findlay for inviting me along and allowing me to say a few words to kick things off. The other speakers were: Aloyna from Pingar, Mitch from Small Worlds, Rob from Koordinates, Vaughan from Vend, Matt from Letterboxd, Simon from SentiRate, and Ian from Williams Warn.

What is the most important thing in the world?

According to the Maori proverb the answer is: He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata. It is the people, the people, the people.

That’s certainly true for start-up companies. As Paul Graham, one of the co-founders of Y Combinator says: “People are to start-ups what location is to real estate”.

And yet, when we all think about what we can do to support start-ups, we seldom start with people.

We focus on buildings – ideally well located funky shared working space in architected buildings or “innovation hubs”. But, when you look at those start-ups that went on to become successful companies they nearly always did their hard yards in a skanky flat or dingy office, rather than emerging from the safety and comfort of a business park. If you think that finding a nice desk is the hardest part about starting a company, just wait until you try and find your first customer!

Or, we focus on funding – mostly in New Zealand we complain about the lack of it. But, every serious investor I know would like more introductions to investible companies. There are two reasons why you can’t raise investment: 1) people don’t know what you’re worth; or 2) you’re not worth as much as you think you are. In my experience, most commonly the later. But, both problems are solvable. And, in either case, having too much money too soon makes you lazy because you’re not forced to learn how to spend it efficiently.

Or, we focus on speed – what we can do to accelerate ventures towards success even faster, because we’re all very impatient and anxious to find the next big thing. Do you remember the Mainland ads, with the two old guys watching bemused as younger cheese-makers try to rush? Good companies take a long time to build. That’s actually a good thing, because you learn as you go. Too much attention too soon can ruin a new venture just as badly as no attention at all.

Maybe buildings and funding and speed are not actually the constraints that people working on new ventures have?

At the moment there are a lot of us thinking about what we can do to develop an innovative eco-system in New Zealand. For me the answer is simple. We need more people. People who choose to roll up their sleeves and actually work on ventures.

So, if you want to know what you can to do help the start-up eco-system in this city, and in this country, this is my advice: remember the most important thing in the world.

Don’t feel like you need to spread your own limited resources across ten ventures, or a hundred ventures – these are start-ups we’re talking about, the odds of success are massively stacked against you either way.

Choose one person to work with. Maybe you can be a co-founder or an early employee. Maybe you can be an advisor or a director. Maybe you can be a seed investor. Those are all vital contributions to early-stage companies.

So, listen to these people that will present tonight. They are all individuals working on a venture. Think about how you can help them, or others like them. Ironically, if more of us did this, then the eco-system problem that get so much of our attention might just solve itself.

Dear Fellow Young People,

Threatening to piss off overseas is not a solution to any problem.

I strongly recommend you go, for a few years at least, but good luck finding somewhere that is better than this. Remember when a British Pound was worth 3 NZ Dollars – not anymore.

You’ll find that there are too many old people just about everywhere (apart from in the third-world)!

I don’t have an easy answer to this, sadly. But, let’s agree to stop moaning, and get on with trying to find a solution.


Generation X, Y & Z


Here is an idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with card scanners on both sides of the slot, so it doesn’t matter which way you swipe your card.

I’m always interested to see the lengths that the people who make the terminals and the retailers who use them go to in order to try and educate people how to use them successfully.  The little pictorial representations of the magnetic strip, or the line of numbers are my favourite.  But they are worse than useless – perhaps it’s just me, but I seem to swipe the wrong way around 100% of the time, when pure chance would suggest better odds than that.

I’m not an expert, but I’m guessing that my solution would add a trivial amount to the cost of a terminal and would eliminate the problem completely.

While I’m at it, here is another idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with account buttons for “Cheque” and “Savings” but no “Credit” option – especially for those retailers that don’t accept credit card payments.

Not accepting credit card payments is pretty common, and yet the state of the art solution for these users is a bit of sellotape and a piece of cardboard saying “No Credit!!!”

Seriously, is this a 3M conspiracy?

For good measure, a third idea:

An EFT-POS terminal which doesn’t take twice as long to process Chip & PIN card transactions

If your bank has not already upgraded you to a Chip & PIN capable card, and you have any say in the matter, then I encourage you to resist as long as you can.  At least until they can explain a benefit that accrues to you rather than to them (if there is such a benefit, I’m not aware of it).

Here is how a typical Chip & PIN transactions goes, in my experience:

  1. You hand the card to the checkout person (let’s call her Sherl).
  2. Sherl swipes the card in the normal fashion.
  3. The terminal says something like “Please insert card”.
  4. Sherl looks confused and tries to find the correct place to insert said card, or says something along the lines of “oh, you’ve got one of those fancy new cards, have you!” and much hilarity ensues.
  5. Eventually she finds the slot and you enter your PIN number.
  6. Sherl removes the card and hands it back to you, at which point the transaction is declined because the card was removed too early.
  7. You explain that you need to leave the card in until it tells you to remove it, and after a bit of confusion you repeat steps 1 thru 5 again.
  8. Minutes pass.  Meanwhile everybody behind you in the queue starts to get restless.
  9. Finally the transaction is approved. Sherl can remove your card from the terminal and you can get on with your day.

Please, in the very least the terminal should display an obvious message telling operators they need to leave the card in place, or (even better) build in some tolerance so that if it is removed too early it can be re-inserted without having to start the whole dance over.

I was interested to notice our closest supermarket have disabled the Chip & PIN feature on their terminals – so if you try to insert your card in the slot it just tells you to swipe in the traditional fashion.  I guess they have discovered that the additional faffing around is not a price worth paying in order to get the benefits of additional security?  Either way, it ironically adds yet another failed step, as I’m just getting in the habit of inserting rather than swiping and now they’ve introduced an element of doubt because I don’t know which stores support it and which don’t.  Look out for more sellotape soon, I predict.

Last but not least, while we’re on the topic, an idea for the banks:

Why not load my cheque account details onto my credit card, so I don’t have to carry two separate bits of plastic around with me?

Back in the last century I was a customer of BankDirect and they did exactly that – a combined VISA & EFT-POS, which came in any colour you like as long as that’s black (I liked).  So, it’s obviously not a limitation of technology, just one of inclination and motivation.

I realise that criticising EFT-POS is almost unpatriotic in New Zealand – we’ve had it here since the 80s, before just about anybody else in the whole world, don’t you know!

There have been over 8 billion transactions processed through the system.  Per capita we use EFT-POS twice as much as anywhere else.  According to the Reserve Bank 60% of transactions use this system, and the volume and value of these transactions are reported as general indicators of activity in the economy.

For each of individually, having a detailed record of your purchases makes it much easier to keep track of your spending, if you’re so inclined.

I’m a huge fan of EFT-POS, to the point of being mocked about it on occasion.  I love not having to carry cash.  Three years living in London nearly got me back in the habit, but I quickly reverted once back in NZ.  Recently I’ve even scanned my other cards (drivers license etc) onto my phone and ditched my wallet altogether for a funky leather iPhone case which has a pouch for my EFT-POS cards.

So, given all of this, it’s pretty disappointing to see how little innovation there has been.  And, depressing that the “improvements” that are coming actually make it much worse.

What do you think?  Is there anything we can do?

PS thanks to all of the people who replied when I tweeted some of these ideas earlier in the year – you made this post much better than it would have been otherwise: