Incubation and Innovation at Christchurch Startup Weekend

What did you do this past weekend? Did you build a business from scratch? Me neither, but I CAN say I helped 10 teams of people do just that.

Mayor Bob Parker opening Christchurch Startup Weekend

From 6pm on Friday until 8.30pm Sunday evening, I was a mentor at the inaugral Christchurch Startup Weekend, which was held at the Westpac Business and Community Hub in Addington.

Startup Weekend  is an intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. It’s open to anyone, but primarily attracts software developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategists, students and startup enthusiasts. More than anything else, Startup Weekends are all about education.  The idea is that teams learn through the act of creating, building a strategy and testing it as they go.

Part of the global Startup Weekend phenomenon, the Christchurch event (hashtag #chcsw) was more popular than similar events held in Auckland and Wellington, attracting over 100 participants and 31 separate business pitches, much to the delight of organizers.

The weekend kicked off at 6pm Friday night, with registration and a casual networking dinner, enabling attendees and mentors to mix and get to know each other prior to the pitch frenzy. There were plenty of beards and geek tees on display, a few larger than life personalities and even a team of nerdy hopefuls that had driven a campervan down from Wellington and set up camp in the stadium carpark. What intrigued me the most was a gaggle of young male high school students, who I (wrongly) assumed were attending in support of their older siblings.

After dinner, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker officially opened the event, reminding everyone that entrepreneurship such as that being incubated this weekend, was crucial to the post-quake rebuild efforts of our city.

Following the welcoming address, whoever wanted to pitch a business idea had 60 seconds on stage to impress the room and attract others to form a team around their idea. Halfway through the pitches, two of the 14 year old high school students got up with a pitch of their own – knocking the socks off the audience and reminding me not to ASSume anything!

With 31 ideas pitched, each pitcher was given a sign and each attendee given stickers with their name on to place on the sign of their choice. The more stickers on your sign, the more likely your idea would make it to the team formation stage. Only 10 ideas could survive the cull and it was no surprise that the most confident and amusing pitches attracted the most votes. The surviving teams emerged as:

Christchurch Startup Weekend experience

  1. Deal-Freak– a web site and mobile app that allows business owners in the hospitality trade to list food and beverage specials and allows consumers to find these specials in their local area using geo-location tools.
  2. GetItFixed (team campervan) – an online booking service to enable tenants and property managers to more efficiently schedule trades-people to perform property maintenance.
  3. Tsk – This team of 6 developers and 2 marketing/business minds had quite a journey, starting out as My Wish List which then became I Want It, which finally became Tsk. It began as a social media app to enable buyers to find sellers using product-based hash tags, but ended up as a task fulfillment application for local communities, driven by Twitter and Facebook. The idea is that people post jobs they need done using the hashtag #tsknz e.g. “I need someone to drive me to the airport tomorrow #tsknz” and then registered users respond based on either a fixed price or via off site negotiation with the poster.
  4. Anticounter – a cloud based anti-counterfeiting/copy-detection service suitable for packaged goods. Relying on QR codes on authentic goods, manufacturers are notified as soon as copies are detected, enabling them to pro-actively warn consumers in the target market to beware of fake products circulating in their market.
  5. IQnGo – initially known as My Bank Boss, IQnGo morphed into a prepaid beverage token system using QR codes, which allows vendors to serve more customers faster, stadiums to decrease congestion and patrons to have shorter wait queues at sports events, trade shows and festivals.
  6. InstaBeer – probably the most straight forward of all business models, Instabeer is a smart phone application that allows you to buy your mates a beer / beverage anywhere, anytime. Using your credit card, you can buy a beverage for anyone with a cell phone number and they redeem it by having their code swiped at participating bars.
  7. Media Mansion (the 14 year olds) – a download hosting site that distributes local indie music, merchandise, event promotion and tickets to consumers. Locally based, and 100% free for users and artists, the site requires significant buy in from local artists and music lovers, but would, to some extent, resolve music piracy issues in NZ.
  8. LoVo / LocalVoice – a smart phone / ipod application that uses data mining to provide real-time, tour guide style information about New Zealand cities in an audio format.
  9. BuyNow – a self-checkout mobile application that reduces queue time for shoppers, while providing real time customer feedback to vendors.
  10. Keeping Tabs – originally called CheckIn, Keeping Tabs developed into a sophisticated security monitoring smart phone application to enable parents to keep tabs on their children’s location and safety in a non-intrusive way via mobile phone.  The application has different levels of risk-monitoring, allowing parents to  taking their child’s social context into account before raising the alarm.

More than half the teams changed business models and/or product names over the course of the weekend, most forced to do so after performing market tsk screenshotresearch and customer validation. Along the way, they were observed by 20 mentors who watched closely how they responded under pressure, how they negotiated egos and meshed with other team members in a common cause to build a viable business in 54 hours.

Whenever the pressure got too much, teams would break out the V energy drinks and hold Nerf gun wars in the corridors.

Part of the challenge of being a mentor is to hold back from becoming too involved in team strategy. The role is actually similar to that of a counselor – the best way to help is to stand back, observe the team dynamic, ask questions that get them to look at things from a different angle and know when to step in and steer them back on course. I often joined fellow mentor Wendy from Hot Pyjama Productions to observe and guide a team in a joint effort rather than provide them with a single perspective.

A couple of times over the weekend, I found myself getting caught up in the excitement of features, benefits and long term product potential. It’s tempting to inject your own ideas into a team’s business model, but as Lead Organizer Alan Froggatt consistently reminded us, the personal journey of team members is what Startup Weekend is all about, not the product they end up with. At the close of the event, it doesn’t really matter who wins, because every team member has learned something about themselves and their abilities that is much more valuable than the $2,500 prize package.

So who won the prizes and what did they get?

1st Place: Tsk – who receive:

  •     $1000 worth of MYOB solutions, and profiled on a regular basis in MYOB  client communications.
  •     powerHouse 1 hour mentoring per month for 4 months.
  •     Two, one hour, 1-on-1 planning workshops (via Skype) with Derek Handley.
  •     HyperStart/Webfund an initial $1,000 to the company’s bank account once they have registered with the Companies Office.

2nd Place: Keeping Tabs – who receive from Accelerate Business:team tsk accept first prize

    •     2 hour business plan workshop to define essential input information.
    •     1 hour follow up meeting to review written business plan.
    •     Arrange introduction meetings with 5 relevant potential Customers.
    •     1 hour Pitching Presentation and Practice Session.
    •     Arrange introduction meetings with 3 relevant investors.

3rd PlaceThe Media Mansion – who receive:

  • No prize, but the kudos of having been recognised as standing out above seven other teams.

There was also a vote by all team members on their favorite pitch, a People’s Choice award if you like. It was a lovely testament to the event that Team Media Mansion won that as well. We were all incredibly impressed by the maturity and business savvy demonstrated by the youngest team to ever participate in a Startup Weekend.

All in all, a fascinating 54 hours and extremely worthwhile for all involved. My biggest takeaway is that the participants taught me much more than I could have instilled in them – education in the true sense of the word.




Spread the joy!

Is offensive media commentary spoiling the Rugby World Cup?

This is the image used on the TV3 site to represent the WallabiesIt’s been a while since I’ve had a rant on this blog and this one is unrelated to the search industry, so please bear with me.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a rugby NUT and an All Blacks tragic. So I’ve been following the Rugby World Cup action very closely over the past few weeks. The thing is, I’m finding this particular RWC season to be almost unbearable from a media perspective.

First it was the media coverage following the All Black’s 41 to 10 win over Tonga. The New Zealand media were bad enough, claiming the All Blacks played poorly and that the 41 point victory wasn’t decisive enough.  Which prompted me to ask Twitter:

“If a 31 point win margin *fails as a decisive victory* then how many freaking points did the #allblacks need to win by?”

Then there was the Wall Street Journal piece, written by someone who clearly doesn’t know anything about rugby (“New Zealand – nicknamed the All Blacks due to their attire” – REALLY?), claiming that the All Blacks “failed to inspire” and that “the win wasn’t sufficient to reassure fans”.

Of course, there have been the expected digs at the All Blacks team by the Australian media, about how they were going to choke, just like the last World Cup and Aussie television news anchors having a good old chuckle at the done-to-death sheep / Israel Dagg jokes wheeled out by the sports reporters. Commentators Andrew Slack and Ken Sutcliffe for Channel Nine in Australia clearly find it difficult to hold back their bias when it comes to their coverage of Wallabies matches. But in my opinion, there is a clearly defined line between light-hearted fun poking and outright racist commentary.

Today, New Zealand’s TV3 stepped over that line, in my opinion. With their One Eyed Kiwi Commentary of today’s game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, I think 3News have sullied New Zealand rugby with their offensive, juvenile and racist pre-match banter. I wanted the All Blacks to win as much as anybody, but that promoted commentary was simply embarrassing.

Think I’m over-reacting? Here are some extracts:

  • “Well here we go… the big one, the All Blacks totally dismembering our Aussie cousins from across the ditch and marching on to hand a hiding to the limpet mine-carrying nation in the final.”
  • “Refresh your browser occasionally. We’ll warn you when video is up with the words ‘VIDEO UP’ (even an Aussie could follow that)”.
  • “…here’s some friendly folly fire at the convicts from the island.
  • “The first Wallaby has been seen inspecting Eden Park.” (accompanied by the picture above of a giant convict carrying a rugby ball and chain).
  • “What do you call an Aussie with half a brain? Gifted.”

And on it goes, with more crude anti-Australian jokes thrown into the mix. Based on his tweets, the content appears to have been written by a post-grad journalism student called Michael Oliver who is apparently about to be employed by TV3.

Now my main problem with this is not so much the content, as juvenile as it is. You can see this type of immature trolling on Twitter or Facebook about any big sporting event. No, my problem with this lies in the way it is presented on the 3News web site. It is published as *official* RWC content. There is no banner or byline indicating this content is written by a guest blogger or a student. The content is simply presented as endorsed coverage of what is likely the most important game of the World Cup, on the site of the official media sponsor covering the event.

I am concerned that the content will be viewed as offensive, if not outright racist and by allowing it to be published, TV3 is endorsing those views. As an Australian, I was quite offended, even though I (mostly) live in New Zealand and am a hugely vocal supporter of the All Blacks. I can only imagine how Wallabies supporters would feel upon reading that. And the petty limpet mine (Rainbow Warrier) reference is really quite a controversial and dangerous topic to bring up with so many French media representatives in NZ right now.

What’s worse is how proud the author is of his field day approach:

@mj_oliver : I’m manning tonight’s live updates for We’re gunning for the most parochial commentary known to human kind. #RWC2011 Link to tweet

@mj_oliver: Sanctioned trolling. I love my future job.–highlights/tabid/1534/articleID/229706/Default.aspx Link to tweet

With millions of international viewers studying New Zealand closely right now, can TV3 really afford to be seen as endorsing such potentially racist drivel? I don’t think so.

TV3 have a very strict policy when it comes to comments left on their site:

  • No comments that seek to cause offence on the grounds of race, sex, sexuality, religion, age or ethinicity will be tolerated
  • No comments that are obscene, offensive, pornographic, vulgar, profane, indecent or otherwise illegal
  • No comments that are defamatory in nature

Right. But that apparently doesn’t apply to their own contributors?

I left the very first comment on the page, politely expressing my concerns, but for some reason, @3newsnz seems to be only publishing positive comments. When I tweeted Mr Oliver about this, he claimed he didn’t have control over comments.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments. And unlike the team at 3News, I’ll actually publish them.

POSTSCRIPT 1: Since I started writing this blog post, TV3 have put up a pseudo disclaimer in red text on the page. It reads:

“Thanks for tuning in to tonight’s completely biased commentary. It was all in good fun, and no offence to our friends across the ditch was intended. The Wallabies weren’t allowed to play, and that’s entirely due to their opposition being on another level.

Yeah, that’ll fix everything.

Spread the joy!

Interview with Dave Cain

I was recently asked by UK-based SEO operator Dave Cain if I would participate in an interview about my SEO career and how Search Engine College sprang to life.

If you’re interested in how I got started in this crazy SEO industry or what 3 things I think you should look for when hiring a SEO company, you might want to go check it out.

Spread the joy!

Opportunity: SEO for Australian hotel chain

Hi all

For some years, I used to do SEO work for a large Australian-based hotel chain. They have recently approached me to see if I could take over search engine optimization duties again for three hotel sites. However, my cup runneth over right now and I’m not currently taking on any new clients.

The client has asked me to recommend some SEO experts – preferably Australian-based – who could possibly take on the task. If you have a minimum 5 years SEO experience and (ideally) have worked on sites in the hospitality industry, I’d like to hear from you. Please use the Ask Kalena button and send me your details and a link to your site/resume and I’ll put you in touch with the client.


Spread the joy!