Rabble Rousing

A couple of months ago we launched Rabble, the directory of kiwi technology companies.

We were blown away by the response. We started with just over 100 companies, from our own networks, and I had a small wager with the team that we would eventually be able to double this number. We ended up doing that within the first few days as many companies that were not listed were quick to get in touch as ask us to add them to the site. We now have just under 300 companies listed.

So, this week, we’re pleased to release the next version of the site. This adds a number of new things, which we think starts to make it really interesting for everybody:

People

First and foremost, we’ve added people, the most important thing in the world.

You can now join, create a profile and link to the company or companies that you are associated with.

For example, this is my profile:

http://www.rabble.co.nz/profiles/2-rowan-simpson

If you are already associated with a company on Rabble you should have received an email from us with instructions for completing your profile. Once you’ve done that you can add others to that company too. We will get in touch with anybody you add who is not already listed to ask them to join and create a profile.

We’d love to see every company on Rabble with a full list of founders, team members, investors, directors, advisors, etc.

One of the big advantages we have in New Zealand is that we’re all no more than one or two degrees of separation removed from anybody else. But, for some reason there is still sometimes a perception that it is difficult to get in touch with those within the industry who might be able to help you with your business. It’s really not, or at least doesn’t have to be. We hope that having this directory of companies and people available and searchable will make it even easier for everybody who is listed on the site to find the right connections when needed.

Unfortunately there are a few companies from the original list which currently don’t have any people associated:

http://www.rabble.co.nz/companies/orphans

If you can recommend the right people for us to add to these orphans to get them started that would be much appreciated – let us know at rabble@southgatelabs.com

New Categories

We originally launched with four categories: Software, SaaS, Marketplace and E-Commerce. We’ve now added three new categories: Mobile App, Hardware and Services.

If you have a company in any of these seven categories then you can now add yourself directly to the directory – look out for the blue “Add Company” button on the top right of the page. And, if you’d like to suggest other categories for us to add then please get in touch.

As well, we also allow each company to nominate the stage they are at: Pre-launch, Start-up, Growth or Established, and people searching on Rabble can filter the list of companies by category, stage and location to quickly find the companies they are interested in.

Jobs

The biggest constraint for just about all of the good startups we know is finding good people to join the team and help them grow the business.

It’s depressing to see many otherwise smart people working in boring jobs with large corporates while there are so many great opportunities open at local technology companies.

So, every company listed on Rabble can now include details of current vacancies on their company profile, and we’ve added a new Jobs section which summarises all of the jobs listed on the site.

To add a free job listing to your company, just use the “Add Jobs” link on the company page.

Investment Opportunities

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, there is still a perception that there is a shortage of capital for growing technology companies in New Zealand.

However, that’s not to say that it is always easy to make the connection between the right company and the right investor.

So, we now allow any company listed on Rabble to indicate if they are currently seeking investment. Those that do will be listed on a new Investments section. Current rules mean we can only display this information to those who have confirmed they are eligible investors – there are instructions on the Investments section page which can help those who are eligible get setup with access.

There are still many investors who wait for opportunities to come to them, often unaware that this means they miss out on all of the best deals. Hopefully Rabble can allow those investors who are willing to cut out the middle man to connect and talk directly with companies who are seeking help.

Featured Companies

Each week we will feature remarkable companies on the Rabble homepage.

We’ve started with six companies with global ambitions, nominated by John Holt from the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco:

  • BIMStop – the building information management marketplace
  • Biomatters – bioinformatics software to speed up and simplify research for molecular biologists and biochemists
  • BookTrack – soundtracks for books
  • IndieReign – the independent film marketplace
  • Vend – retail point-of-sale software and inventory management
  • vWorkApp – dispatch and scheduling software

In the first two months we’ve had thousands of people use the site – so we hope that the exposure to qualified people we can give to companies in this spot will be valuable to them.

If you’re interested in being featured, or in choosing a list of featured companies for us, please get in touch.

There is heaps more we’d like to do with this. We’ve already spoken to a few different people with ideas for how the data that is captured in Rabble can be used to deliver value back to all of the companies listed. So, look out for some further developments over the coming weeks and months. And, if you can see some potential, we’d love to talk to you too.

But, for now, we mostly need your help to spread the word and in add more companies and people to the site.

If you’re not yet listed add yourself today. And, if you know of anybody we’re missing please tell them about us.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Triage

The fairy tale version of coming up with a new product idea is the eureka moment. But, real life is not always a straight line. Sometimes you stumble across an idea in quite an indirect and seemingly random way.

Once upon a time …

One of my favourite apps, back in the day, was FavIt by Tim Haines. It would display a single tweet at a time (based on top-ranking favourites from the FavStar.fm site). You could flick left and right to navigate through the list or pull down to reveal more information about the tweet and its author.

It was a delightful and tactile app, and I would often find myself soaking up the odd spare moment I had when out and about during the course of a day to be entertained by some funny tweets.

Sadly, it didn’t survive the transition to the new Twitter API, and eventually stopped working altogether.

Mourning its demise, we got to talking about what other types of app would work better with a scroll view rather than a table list view.

One idea was dating, and that turned into a bit of a rabbit hole that we went down for a while. However, as I’ve written about previously, the best things to work on are things you care about, have authority in and are prepared to take responsibility for, and that particular idea didn’t really chin any of those three bars for us.

So, we kept looking.

Then one day Koz suggested email. Genius!

We seem to spend a lot of time fighting our inboxes.

That’s certainly something we’d care to fix.

“Imagine if there was an app that let me use a spare 5 minutes here and there to quickly filter out all of the emails which I can just read and delete, so that when I get back to my desk I only have to deal with the messages which require a bit more thought and attention”.

“Wouldn’t it be better if the inbox on your phone was just the new messages which have arrived since the last time you checked.”

“What I really need is something which forces me to do something with each message one at a time, rather than presenting an overwhelming list of unread messages, that I just end up scrolling back and forth through without ever really dealing to at all.”

You really should pay attention to sentences that start with “imagine if…” or “wouldn’t it be better if…” or “what I really need is …”. There is gold in them there hills.

We didn’t, of course. At least not immediately. That idea just sat there ruminating. Anyway, who would be stupid enough to build an email client, that sounded like a lot of work…!

But, like all good ideas, it kept coming back and demanding some more attention.

Amnon took that the original idea, and came up with the concept of a stack of cards, one for each newly arrived email message, which you could quickly and easily flick up to archive or flick down to keep for later.

This was an early black-and-white wireframe:

Early Triage Mock

When he showed it to us we were both immediately angry that it didn’t already exist.

Koz meanwhile had decided that building an email client wasn’t that hard (!) and had started working on that.

Before too long we had a rough prototype. Very rough. For example, when you got to the bottom of the stack it simply displayed this message, which was elegant in its direct simplicity, if nothing else:

Crash

We decided to share it with some friends anyway. There were some early hiccups (“Archive” can be interpreted to mean “Delete” in some circumstances, right Karl?) Overall the feedback was really mixed. It didn’t fit with the way that everybody used email, and not everybody had the problem we were solving, but those that liked it loved it, which was really encouraging (note: if you’re testing something and don’t hate it, be sure to tell the developer that, your feedback will likely be much more positive than you realise).

It seemed that this was a thing that some people might want. Ideas like that don’t come around everyday, so we continued on.

“You know what this is like… it’s like triage in an emergency room”.

And so we had a name for the app. Triage. It’s first aid for your inbox. Perfect.

After a few months and a lot of work, and a bunch more beta testers, and a bit more feedback, and some minor tweaks to the original concept, it eventually got to the point where we weren’t horribly embarrassed by it anymore. And what’s more we were using it ourselves all the time – I’d long since relegated the old Mail app to the folder on the last page along with Maps, Compass and Voice Memos, with Triage taking its spot in the dock.

We pitched it to some of the speakers at Webstock, who couldn’t have come to Wellington at a better time in this process. We were flattered when they loved it and offered to introduce us to others in their network who might be interested.

The last piece of the puzzle was an icon. We wanted something that would belong on the homepage of your phone, and after a lot of work from Amanda, heaps of different concepts and some help from our friend Bryan in the US we eventually came up with something that we all liked.

Icon@2x

All that was left were some final improvements to animations, and some additional fun features such as the achievement stamp for getting to the bottom of the stack  and the card wiggle if you tap on one of the arrows, plus a one-page marketing site, and we were ready to submit and now today, make it available for sale.

cardView

(the team were very kind to include an unflattering message from me as the official screenshot, complete with spelling mistake!)

And so…

I’m sitting here trying to come up with a succinct myth to describe how we got to this point for a blog post, and I’m thinking that the reality, far too long and not easily compressed into a soundbite, is actually much more interesting.  Perhaps you won’t mind?

I hope lots of you will be tempted to buy it and use it. We’re hopeful that sales will justify the time we’ve invested in it, of course. But, mostly we’re just excited that people will get to enjoy something that we’ve made with pride and will find it useful.

If you do, it would make us happy to hear from you and even happier if you would tell your friends.

And, if you don’t, let us know too, so we can maybe make it better in the future, or at least be amused by your witty one-star review.

Either way, Triage: Email First Aid is available now. Go get it.

 

UPDATE (20-April):

Here are a couple of early screen casts that Koz sent me, which capture some of the UI under development:

Introducing Bullseye

This week we finally take the covers off a side project we’re calling: Bullseye.

This was originally conceived by Rod and Erin from Xero, to replace an increasingly complex and inflexible Google Spreadsheet. We helped them out with the original build, for their internal use, and they have been generous enough to allow us to package it up and make it available to everybody … including you (we hope!)

If you’re a software developer there are bunch of popular tools that you can use to help you plan and manage your  projects: Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker and (the new kid on the block) Trello. In fact we used all three in the process of developing Bullseye. But, as Rod pointed out, none of these are designed for CEOs and Founders to manage high-level strategy and executive teams.

So, we created Bullseye to achieve three specific requirements:

  1. Shared, but low maintenance. Unlike other tools that require your whole team to be on-board, you control who has access to Bullseye. You can instantly record commitments from your managers and ensure that each project is contributing to your strategy.
  2. Execution, not status updates. Bullseye allows you to make the most of the time you spend with your team, by focusing your attention on the projects and actions that are off-track or not getting enough focus, rather than wasting precious time on status updates.
  3. All on one screen, and beautiful. You can use Bullseye on your laptop or iPad to update projects or on the big screen in your boardroom to quickly update everybody on progress. Bullseye automatically scales to take advantage of your entire display, and looks great. We knew we’d nailed this one when we saw this tweet from Rod:

“Really enjoying using Bullseye. 27″ of planning pleasure. … how I keep track of Xero.”
@roddrury

:-)

But, don’t take our word for it, there’s a 30-day free trial available to everybody now, so kick the tyres yourself and let us know what you think. It may be just what you need.

https://bullseyeHD.com

Follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date: @bullseyeHD

Vend: The end of the beginning

now-vendor_950x700--upscale

(Image: Idealog)

When we started putting Southgate Labs together, about 18 months ago, one of the first people we spoke to was Vaughan from Vend.

He had first floated the idea for a web based point-of-sale with me somewhere over the Akatarawa Ranges en route to Otaki, as he cycled the length of New Zealand. By the time I heard from him again he’d built the first version and already had a couple of paying customers. Now that’s what impresses potential investors!

In fact they weren’t just customers, they were raving fans. They wondered if the decimal point was in the wrong place in their monthly subscription price, compared to the painful expensive support contracts they were used to, and they found the software itself was beautiful and easy to use.

Finally POS means “point of sale” again.

It was great to have a chance to invest early and allow him to work on the venture full time. We convinced Sam to invest too. I’ve been privileged to piggy-back with Sam on a number of the early-stage investments he’s done over recent years, so it was nice to be able to return the favour.

But, more than that, it was great to have the chance to get involved.

We’ve enjoyed helping him push it along over the last year, working on the product design and user experience, branding and marketing site, making introductions where that has been useful, a number of long planning sessions as we all tried to wrap our heads around the opportunity, and basically whatever was required (as is the nature of a venture like this). It’s been fun to see the product getting better and better and the number of customers increasing.

So, it’s exciting this week to announce the end of the beginning and the beginning of the next phase in the development of the company. From the very early days we’ve been in touch with Christoph Janz from Point Nine Capital based in Berlin, Germany.  They have been involved in a number of successful start-ups, including Zendesk, Free Agent and Geckoboard, and it’s excellent to welcome them into the team as investors and advisors, along with some kiwi angels.

The money will allow Vaughan to grow his development team based in Auckland and, even more importantly, grow his sales and marketing team both here and in the US (we’ll be in San Francisco to setup our office there in the next couple of weeks, if you’re in the area let us know!)

If you’re a designer, developer or business development person looking to be part of an exciting start-up then get in touch now.

It’s great to be part of something like this.

Onwards and upwards from here, hopefully!

Vend: http://www.vendhq.com

Mix & Mash 2010

I’m well overdue a post or two about what we’re up to at Southgate Labs. Hopefully there will be time for that in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, a quick “Woo hoo!” on behalf of the team for a couple of awards announced this week …

We’re pleased to be part of the Summer of Tech programme this year. As part of this we have two second-year university students working with us – Nick & Amanda. We were lucky to interview some outstanding candidates for these roles, and in the end were extremely picky, but excited to get our first choice in each case.

One of the projects we got them started on right away was an entry for the Mix & Mash competition run by DigitalNZ.

Our company entry, which won the Best Open Government Service section, is an iPad app called MP Playing Cards. Here is the description from the entry on the site:

“This mash-up is a light-hearted iPad app with an underlying web service, combining statistical data about the current Members of Parliament from a number of different sources, from Hansard to Twitter.

Many of us grew up collecting All Blacks playing cards out of Weetbix packets, and then comparing their vital, but ultimately meaningless, statistics with our friends to see which player was the best. For some reason, there has never been an edition for MPs. Well, now there is!

It’s simple to play. Select two MPs and find out the winner. You can play by yourself, or with a friend, by each choosing one MP. The application uses a complex formula to determine the winning MP. Preference is given to members who are active on Twitter, those who don’t spend too much and who don’t cause trouble in the debating chamber – the application awards yellow cards to Members who raise points of order and red cards to those who have been asked to leave. The results will even show you the Members most frequently used words from speeches.

Underneath this silliness there is a serious question: how should we measure the performance of our elected representatives? The media often seems to encourage focus on travel and accommodation spending, public outbursts and controversy, and other such measures. This mash-up takes that sensationalist approach to the extreme. But is there another approach that might yield better results?

The data used in this app comes from public Twitter profiles and from the New Zealand Parliament website, specifically Debates, Expenses & Bills.

This app is in two parts: 1) an underlying JSON web service which you’re welcome to use for your own purposes. I think there are potentially quite a few interesting apps that could be build on top of the words most frequently used in speeches by each MP; and 2) an iPad app that provides the game engine and some fun graphics and animation (I even managed to squeeze a cheesy audio file in there!)

We’re hoping to make this available in the App Store soon, so I will update the link on here as soon as it’s ready for you to download.

Nick & Amanda, for their sins, also put together a second entry based on an old blog post I wrote here back in 2008.

They created a great one-page visualisation of this idea: Tax Statement 2010

Enter your income, and the site calculates how much tax you pay, itemised by government department, based on the allocations announced in the budget.

They even created a separate stylesheet so that it looks and works great on the small screen of a mobile device.

They did an excellent job, and I’m pleased they got the recognition by winning the Best Newbie Mashup section. To borrow from the judges comments:

“Tax Receipt 2010 is simple in concept, presentation and design but incredibly powerful. It addresses a single question, “How is my tax being spent?” and provides straightforward answers. The information is summarised and presented clearly and simply. The visualisation is powerful because it provides a personal context for the nation’s spending. It’s a great conversation starter around public expenditure.”

Hopefully you find both of these little apps interesting, or at least entertaining.

Enjoy!

UPDATE (14-Dec):

Here is TV3 Nightline’s take on the Mix & Mash competition:

Can you make Government data creative?

UPDATE (19-Dec):

Here is a Radio NZ story on the competition:

Arts on Sunday, 19 December

UPDATE (23-Dec):

The MP Playing Cards iPad app is now available in the app store!

Top Three for iPhone

This is not new, but it’s worth repeating…

Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building an ark counts.

It’s not enough to know what to do, think about doing it, put it on a list. It turns out that all of those are very common.

The only thing that separates you from the pack is actually completing things.

To be successful, it seems, you just have to do the things that most people don’t. And, unfortunately, most people don’t do much.

So, how do you get better at this?

At the end of 2007 I published a post here titled De-clutter. It has become one of the most read things I’ve written. It was a simple list of advice, and included this tip:

“Remove the chaff from your to-do list, and focus on the three or four really important things that you can achieve today.”

The link I included was to a blog post written by Marc Andreessen (the founder of Netscape) which is unfortunately no longer available online. However, I found this Lifehacker article about it which includes all of the important quotes:

“Each night before you go to bed, prepare a 3×5 index card with a short list of 3 to 5 things that you will do the next day. And then, the next day, do those things.”

“Once you get into the habit, you start to realize how many days you used to have when you wouldn’t get important / significant / meaningful things done during a day.”

I think that is a really elegant and simple idea, and pretty much the polar opposite of every productivity system and to-do application I’ve used. Rather than combining more and more complex ways of capturing, storing, sorting and retrieving lists of tasks it starts with a focus on completing important things.

And so, I’m pleased to announce Top Three for iPhone, a new app that replaces the index card and helps you change the way you manage your priorities. Every day you get three new slots to fill. Choose the most important things and tick them off as you complete them. At the end of the day, or the end of the week, look back and see how many of your priorities you actually completed.

View today's tasks

View today’s tasks

Add a new task

Add a new task

See how you've done

See how you’ve done

Available on the App Store

This has been an interesting app to build, not because it’s technically difficult1 but because it’s functionally simple, and as a result there is a constant temptation to add more features. I’ve intentionally left out just about all of the things that you’d normally expect from a to-do app. It doesn’t let you tag and categorize, it doesn’t let you search, it doesn’t let you order and re-order (beyond the three slots you see), it doesn’t let you set due dates and it doesn’t let you schedule tasks for far into the future – you can add and edit tasks for today and tomorrow and that’s all. There are literally hundreds of to-do apps in the app store, and this may be the most simple of them all, but I’m hoping that it’s amongst the most useful as a result.

I’ve been using this myself for a few weeks and while it’s a v1 app I’ve already found it really useful. It has been humbling and a little surprising when I look back to see that I’ve only ticked off about half of those things that I thought were the most important. But the feedback loop that it creates is also motivating me to get better at picking the things I want to work on and staying focussed on completing them (did I mention I’m a big fan of feedback loops?)

I have some free copies to give away to the first people who email support@southgatelabs.com – I just need you to tell me what your existing to-do app is (if any) and also promise to send me some feedback telling me what you think of it once you’ve been using Top Three for a week or two and to post a review on the iTunes App Store, positive or negative – you decide (note: these codes are valid in the US App Store only).

Either way, if you decide to download the app and use it I’d love to hear from you. I hope you find it useful.  Thanks in advance for giving it a try.

[1] It’s really not! Although I did choose to use CoreData just for the challenge and learning. :-)

Related Reading:

Hugh’s Daily Quota – Hugh McLeod

“I try to complete four basic tasks every day- the basic M.O. to keep the gapingvoid ship afloat.”

Kill Your To Do List – Leo Babauta

“Those who have to-do lists usually manage them constantly, or if they don’t they fall into disuse and get dusty and become worthless, while the person who’s fallen behind in maintaining the list feels constantly guilty. For those who keep up with the lists, they spend a lot of time on the lists they could be spending … doing something important.”

TimeGT: Method-Agnostic Time Mgmt App for the Masses – LifeHacker

TimeGT is an excellent example of everything Top Three is not:

“Adding tasks is a simple affair, and they’re easily sorted and searched once they’re in your system. Hunt around for action items via tag, context (@home, @work), order of importance, or deadline. Filter tasks according to project, urgency, things your waiting for, or things you hope to get around to one day—the sky’s the limit.”

Productivity Hacks – Fred Wilson

“I’ve never been able to make a “to do” list work for me because it gets so damn long I can never get them all done. I really like the idea of three a day and no more.”

Voice Mail, Folders and To-Dos – Mark Suster

“If you really want to accomplish tasks you need to narrow down the list to the most important ones you want to accomplish and make sure that they take priority to everything else that “comes up” during the day.  If you get 3 things done every day it adds up to a lot more within the month.”

Come in Wingman?

wingman-down

We pulled the plug on Wingman yesterday.

It was an itch.  We scratched it.

We never really got it working to our satisfaction, and as a result we never really got to the point where we were comfortable pushing it harder.

We launched with an incomplete product.  Possibly too incomplete?

I still believe that if you launch and you’re not a little embarrassed you launched too late, but I’m coming around to the school of thought that says you shouldn’t launch at all.

We put a throttle in place to ensure that we were not slammed by too many users before we were ready (a simple “enter your email address and we’ll send you an invite link when we’re ready”).  We got slammed anyway.

I’d probably try and do that differently, given the opportunity.

Lots of people signed-up and used the service, kicked the tyres briefly, but moved on too quickly.

We never really had a product that was compelling or a business model that was obvious.

So, given the futility of flogging dead horses, this was an easy decision.

But, as always seems to be the case when things don’t work out as you hoped they might, there are some positives too:

I enjoyed working with Koz.  I’m fortunate to be involved in other ventures that he is also working on and look forward to working with him again soon.

I got my hands dirty with some code again for the first time in ages.

I feel like I could hold my own now in a discussion about Rails and Git (two tools I hadn’t previously used).  And I know a little about some of the challenges of creating an add-on for Firefox.

I found a great font!

We came up with a great structure for the venture, which is well suited to this sort of prospective product build I think.  I will definitely use this sort of arrangement again in the future.  When I get some more time I’ll write more about this.

We formed a company that will live on in a new guise to fight some future battles (some of which are already brewing!)

And, we spent so little that the venture was almost profitable even without any revenue! :-)

So, we move on …