The crazed looks when we asked the teams about passing the halfway mark of Lightning Lab's Auckland 2015 accelerator said it all. It's been a hectic 7 weeks, but the thought of having to squeeze everything they have left to do into just 5 more weeks is almost overwhelming, so we quickly moved on.
Lightning Lab is the first digital accelerator programme in New Zealand, and 2015 brings the Lab to Auckland for the first time. Lightning Lab aims to supercharge 9 digital startups by immersing them amidst a network of more than 100 mentors and an intensive 12-week pathway to prove, build and launch their businesses into market. The programme puts up a small seed investment to kickstart the teams and push them to make their business idea fly within three months.
Considering it is the first accelerator of its kind in Auckland, the interest from entrepreneurs was massive. Over 200 startups applied, and the quality of those applications was impressively high. Founding investor Trevor Dickinson said "there was a large number of high-quality applications. Obviously there were a ton of great opportunities in the web and mobile space but the critical ingredient we looked for was a remarkable team. The selection process was challenging because we simply had so many promising teams."
What distinguished the 9 chosen teams? "Typically they had more rounded teams, experienced in their respective industries and were very business savvy. They also engaged with us really early on and attended all the workshops and events we held, which helped them to craft a compelling application."
A key benefit of the programme is the support the teams get along the way from a set of dedicated technical and business interns, and mentorship from leading entrepreneurs and business experts from around New Zealand. This all culminates with Demo Day on 4 June where each team pitches to a room of over 200 angel investors in an attempt to raise capital (see below if you're interested in attending this). Lightning Lab Auckland Programme Director, Mark MacLeod-Smith, announced several key personalities in the NZ business community as mentors for the 2015 programme.
"We have some exciting talent joining us for the programme including Greg Cross, CEO and co-founder of PowerbyProxi; Vaughan Rowsell, CEO and co-founder of Vend; Ben Young, co-founder of digital agency Young & Shand, NZ's 8th fastest growing business; Claudia Batten, US-based serial entrepreneur and youngest ever World Class NZ Supreme Award winner; and Tim Williams, the first foreigner to list a company on the Japanese stock exchange."
One of Snowball's founders, Simeon Burnett, is also a mentor for the 2015 programme. Simeon says that one of the strengths of the Lab this year is the fact that there is a really good mix of gender, age and ethnicity. There is also a good mix of stage of companies in the accelerator, from some which are brand new to some which have been around for 5 years and wanting to push on.
Speaking of the companies (segue of the year) - we thought we'd ask each of them a few hard hitting questions to see how things were tracking:
We spoke to Mark, the CEO of Roll, who is trying to change the fragmented pools of software which companies currently use to run the core features of their business. Instead, Roll is developing a software solution for small businesses that allows them to run the various core features of their business from one simple place, including sales, projects and billings. The team want one simple place where a company can see everything it needs, giving them visibility across their entire business.
Biggest learning: Talking to customers. We already had a product in the market before entering the Lab which we had developed to serve our own need (running a creative agency). However we hadn't gone to the market and asked what problems they were experiencing - what do you want from Roll? Learning this has been hugely valuable, enabling us to build a stronger value proposition and therefore a stronger product.
Demo day goal: We want the second version of our product to be completed, and therefore meeting the new value proposition of adding more features and getting it to a higher level. We also want at least 6 core customers on board (who are using 3 or 4 different tools).
Sleep stats: 6 hours. Which isn't too bad, I can't function without much sleep.
Broker Better is all about automating referrals for advisors in the wealth management, insurance and mortgage space.
Biggest learning: Streamlining. Lightning Lab has helped us narrow down our focus massively. We came into the Lab doing quite a few different jobs for clients, but we have since stripped that down to the most valuable component: the referral side of it.
Demo day goal: Demo day is the perfect excuse to hit targets quicker, as it gives you a fixed date to achieve certain goals by. Some of our goals include having 30 paying users with letters of intent from aggregated groups (including thousands of advisors).
Sleep stats: We know the value in not doing 20 hour days, so we've been keeping it pretty consistent at 12ish hours a day. Luckily we came into the Lab already hitting targets, so we're pretty pragmatic about it.
Aiden from Designer Wardrobe explained to us that Designer Wardrobe is an online marketplace for likeminded women who want to buy, sell and rent pre-loved designer clothes with each other.
Biggest learning: Identifying priorities i.e., the top 3 things and focus purely on that.
Demo day goal: We've identified some ambitious user targets so it would be great to hit them, and also keep iterating the website.
Sleep stats: Last week we finally got to sleep before 3am, before that it was 3am-ers for 2 weeks straight.
We spoke to Hayden from Estimeet, a social wallet that helps you keep in touch with your friends, maintaining the social relationships between people you care about.
Biggest learning: Definitely the process of product development. Before Lightning Lab, I didn't see the importance in talking to customers and iterating the product based on that - and doing that really quickly - fair to say we learnt the importance of that the hard way.
Demo day goal: We want to get the product out to the market and get a lot of people using it, gaining traction, and validating the product!
Sleep stats: Oh normal is about 4 to 5 hours.
Max, the tech whiz behind Preno, described Preno as an accommodation management tool that enables users to keep track of bookings and reservations once a customer gets into the hotel. Preno is the front office software for the hotel owner, and is targeted at smaller accommodation providers (i.e. motels with 10-30 rooms).
Biggest learning: MVP and testing assumptions - lean approach and lean development for the win.
Demo day goal: A key priority is to raise money so we can fuel product development. We also want to keep perfecting the product for public launch, making sure it's something that the users love.
Sleep stats: I've been getting plenty of sleep, but I don't do anything else! Work, have dinner, sleep, repeat.
We spoke to Joy, a secondee from Spark (one of the sponsors of the Lightning Lab) who is working with Justly. The idea and aim of Justly is to bring clients closer to their lawyers. The problem with the status quo is that lawyers potentially lose money when it comes to drafting wills etc. by not charging clients for the full amount of time it takes to draft them. There are also inefficiencies in the management of them, such as how they find out whether clients have passed away. Justly wants to make this process more efficient, whilst also encourage better communication between the lawyer and the client digitally.
Biggest learning: How to focus. Justly has big ambitions - we want to digitally disrupt the legal profession - but we need to focus on a target customer group, find out what features of the service meet that groups needs and how that forms the MVP.
Demo day goal: We want to sign 1 large strategic partnership, and sign up a number of firms to our first service.
Sleep stats: I've escaped the worst of it being a secondee, but I know there has been times when the team has been functioning on very little sleep.
We caught the founders of Future Insight, Ian and Jiao, in the midst of a brain storming session to find a problem that the software they are developing can solve. The software utilises a data mining tool to allow people to find patterns and trends in their data. They haven't yet identified a clear application for the technology, so are working on finding that value-creating application. When we spoke it was leaning towards reducing churn by pointing out why people are churning.
Biggest learning: It takes forever to come up with a lean canvas. We are a technology solution looking for a problem and it is difficult to explore the market in a short period of time.
Demo day goal: To have validated our target market. We want to know what the problem is that we are solving and to have validated the solution with potential customers.
Sleep stats: 6 or 7 hours - we know the need for sleep to work effectively and efficiently.
Logicore is building a portal called Fringe. Most medium to large organisations have a lot of indirect expenses. Currently, these organisations deal with indirect suppliers ad hoc or one by one. Logicore is creating a portal for organisations to connect up all of their suppliers so they can transact on the same portal, providing a standardised process, invoicing, etc. This also gives the organisation better visibility over indirect spend.
Biggest learning: Focus. If not for Lightning Lab we would probably be doing a whole lot of stuff at a reasonable pace, but the focus and deadlines here have made us focus and get stuff done.
Demo day goals: At Demo Day we want to be at a point that we can show to investors that we are an investible company and that we have huge potential. The next step after that is to build a business, and deliver what we are talking about now.
Sleep stats: Not bad, we've got three people in the team who are all pretty experienced so we know when to go hard and when to pull back so we don't crash and burn.
Amaka, a business developer for Wear It, explained that it is a social platform that allows girls to pick out outfits for guys on the site, making a fun and engaging shopping experience for the guys, whilst rewarding girls for doing the things they like doing (shopping, browsing etc.). Wear it "allows girls to shop without buying and guys to buy without shopping".
Biggest learning: They've helped us do a lot of market validation. We've talked to over 100 people, focusing on how we can make this platform as user friendly and fun and engaging as possible. It's been a huge learning curve, especially getting our heads around the shopping behaviour of boys.
Demo day goals: We want a huge and engaged user base. Our target is 10,000 engaged users, and we would love investment and to go global.
Sleep stats: We've been working 13 hour days, 7 days a week.
It's an exciting time for each of these companies, and for Lightning Lab Auckland. We'll be following closely in the lead up to Demo Day and will give another update just after the event. If you're interested in attending Demo Day, or getting a live stream of the event, complete the form here and the Lightning Lab guys will be in touch.
Snowball Effect helps Kiwi companies raise funds from the public through equity crowdfunding, and then helps those companies harness the power of their crowds. Equity crowdfunding is also exciting for investors - it enables everyday people to buy shares in companies that were previously inaccessible to the public. For more information check out snowballeffect.co.nz - you might even see one of these Lightning Lab teams on the site in a couple of years time.