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Posts Tagged sustainability

Branding’s dark arts leans to build, measure, learn Peter Kerr Jun 18

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The dark arts of branding received an illumination when Brant Cooper spoke to a packed house at Wellington’s Lightning Lab.

The ‘Lean Entrepreneur’ co-author from San Diego popped in on invitation on his way to Australia, and talked about how startup businesses should also take a lean approach to branding – from day one.

This lean build, measure and learn approach to branding (also taken for the product creation and validation) – is defined as a two-way relationship that creates value for a customer.

“You’re in a relationship from the moment a customer is aware of you,” says Brant.

“By putting off branding, you’re already branding, and affecting that relationship.”

Along with Jeremiah Gardner, Brant’s writing a new book, ‘The Lean Brand’. The pair crowd funded its publishing, with 441 pre-orders, obtaining $23,020 from a target of $12,500.

Brant says the Madison Avenue types of branding consultants and experts traditionally concentrate on the artifacts of a brand, such as a logo, tagline and mission statement.

Where brand meets lean is working out what elements of your brand are needed to create value for your customer. This is done through validated learning – moving unknowns to knowns as is carried out for product development.

More so says Brant because initially, startups don’t know the value they’re creating, or for who they’re creating it. With customers comes the opportunity to learn what aspects of brand you should be concentrating on.

Ultimately, Brant says a business is after passionate customers. The aspirations that a business shares with a customer are its brand.

All this is encompassed in a story he says.

This startup story starts with questions such as:

  • Who are you?
  • Why do you exist?
  • Why should I care?
  • What is your rallying point?
  • What is your shared aspiration?

A brand can grow out of answering these questions, as a startup build, measures and learns, and uncovers the elements that provide an emotional resonance with a customer. In other words, experiment to discovering the emotional value of a startup product – hypothesis testing to validate learning.

Brant says startups should own their own brand design and not send this side of the business out to an agency.

“Entrepreneurs can and should own their brand creation,” he says.

“A brand development is not a black box to be owned by others.”

This self-effacing American, who got plenty of laughs during his presentation, will be doing no great favours for branding experts when The Lean Brand Book is published.

But, since under lean, brand is much more than its logo, such disruptive thinking will mean startups start branding right from the get go.

 


In the rush to all things digital, are we missing a biological trick? Peter Kerr Jun 12

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New Zealand is missing a trick when it comes to the startup weekend, incubator, accelerator programme ecosystem that’s got lots of attention lately.

And sure, I can appreciate how the digital side of things is extremely quick at developing and validating a business through processes such as Lightning Lab.

Where I wonder if we’re underplaying to one of our strengths, is in the biology/technology economy (the analogue economy perhaps?).

What would be the new research and commercialisation projects if we had fired up scientists, engineers, manufacturers,  hands-on finance and distribution people, digital experts and some other odd and even people hothoused in a similar way to the incubator models?

How much learning, cross-fertilisation and ‘ideas-worth-pursuing’ could we generate?

Would the intersection of different peoples’ thinking create new opportunities?

The answer is surely it would.

But still, you’ve got to wonder whether the gift that mother nature has given us to produce biological raw materials isn’t being leveraged to anywhere near the extent we can and should be doing.

As far as I’m aware, there’s no forum that brings a width of sector participants together to collaboratively cook up new schemes.

Obviously, the dairy, meat, wool, forestry, and fishing sectors have their conferences – but they tend to be only mildly looking-over-the-horizon talk fests.

It is rare that people come away from such events with the attitude “I didn’t realise that,” or “I wonder if there’s an opportunity with…”

Now, the last thing I’m suggesting is our country should be either digital or analogue; we should do both, and both should and do inform each other.

Examples include TracMap, started by a former Wrightson colleague Colin Brown – which has expanded from using GPS and other clever computing to expand from helping fertiliser to be applied more accurately, to a range of markets under the heading ‘Situation awareness made easy’.

In fact there’s any number of digital/analogue connections for New Zealand’s primary industry – as evidenced at last year’s initial mobile tech forum.

However, we’re less good at the market end, adding value in areas such as functional foods, or ramping up the use of wood fibre as a multi-talented resource.

I appreciate I’m merely stating the problem without coming up with many answers.

But, how can we as self-described inventive Kiwis, create and explore biological/technologydigital opportunities better; much better?

 

 


A trial with zero percent success proves trap’s worth Peter Kerr Mar 18

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 Any business that gets itself into a financial position to employ others is, by default, doing OK.

If that operation starts with a completely new product, to survive long enough to (at least) thrive, is even better.

So it is great to hear of pest and predator control company Goodnature coming up trumps in an extensive DOC test in a two-year project at two trial sites at Boundary Stream Mainland Island, Hawkes Bay, and Onepu, Northern Te Urewera.

We’ve set a whole new standard for rat control with traps,” says Goodnature head of marketing and market development Stu Barr.

For us and DOC the trial results are exceptional and beyond the expectations set at the start of the project.

To put it in perspective, the pass mark for the trial was 5%. To get 0% at both trial sites has set a whole new standard for future developments. At 0% all the rats are gone and therefore all bird and native species vulnerable to rat predation are going to thrive and grow in numbers.”

This is a level of control previously only achieved by toxins.

Goodnature’s A24 automatic humane kill-traps for rats and stoats resets itself up to 24 times powered by a 16 gram compressed CO2 canister. A bolt to the animal’s head results in an instant kill.

The Goodnature A24 rat and stoat trap

And while the innovative design of the traps (which, in a larger version also kill possums) was part of the design team’s approach, over time the Wellington company’s found much of its ongoing research and development aimed at perfecting longlife lures to attract the pest to its death.

Stu Barr says the constant trap and lure improvement were vividly seen when the 2013 technology version traps were deployed in 2013.

The humane killing technology, along with pest-specific lures, is now being use in more than 15 countries around the world.

As well as further rat control, Goodnature’s automatic resetting traps are helping eliminate the introduced mongoose in Hawaii, and mink in Scandinavia.

All of this hasn’t happened overnight of course.

Goodnature, founded by three mature design students, started in 2006.

But there’s now eight people onboard – and you can only be an employer if you’re making money.

The constant trap and lure improvement is part of the company’s design philosophy.

The trial alongside DOC, and more importantly the 100% kill statistics all help Goodnature position itself as a viable est control method beyond poisons.

Undoubtedly too when Goodnature started, they considered themselves in the pest killing business. Over time they’ve found themselves just as much in the pest-attraction business – as the ‘kill’ part of the trap itself is increasingly honed to perfection.

It is this eye for constant improvement that is helping the company grow.

Good luck guys, keep up the good work.


PledgeMe co-flounderer’s words of wisdom Peter Kerr Jan 14

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 You’ve got to give a bit of kudos to someone who calls themselves the chief bubble blower and co-flounderer (yes, spelling is correct) of a company.

Whether you call New Zealand’s first crowd-funding platform PledgeMe a startup is debateable, as the 18 month company is still alive, kicking and more importantly growing.

Said, co-flounderer Anna Guenther gave a short presentation to Wellington’s Entrepreneur’s Club recently, highlighting the mostly ups, and a few of the learnings for PledgeMe that has so far raised $2.1 million across 470 successful fund-raising projects.

PledgeMe’s business model is a 5% success fee commission (with an additional 2.8% to pay for credit card fees). And while of course earning your way is important, you get the feeling Guenther’s absolutely enjoying enabling mostly community projects with an average size of $3500. Apparently 49% of all projects receive their funding target.

I suspect she’s excluded from this average size figure their most successful fund-raising – a $207,000 Christchurch sculpture initiative (matched by Westpac, and with an additional $180,000 sent in by cheques!).

The oldest successful fund-raiser was 82 year old Stu Buchanan, a jazz band leader who crowd-sourced (including from three generations of students he’s taught) enough money to put together his first ever album. He ticked it off his bucket-list!

Guenther gave the following wisdomettes for anyone starting up. Being an internet wizard, she’s also put these points up so you can check it out on Dropbox.

  • Choose the right partner
  • Have a hard conversation at the start around a shareholder agreement. The discussion can focus around the who’s idea it was, the writing of the business plan, other expertise brought to the table. What are people going to be contributing now and down the line?
  • Ask for help – a coffee or beer can be empowering in the knowledge and networks that result
  • Sometimes you have to jump (code is never ready!). Have a launch party, then you have to begin
  • Build networks without expectations. In 12 months, you never know, those contacts could ignite
  • Surround yourself with smart people. You don’t want to be (or think you are) the smartest person in the room
  • Design. The best dollars spent are at the start – and that means making the brand look good and people wanting to connect with it
  • You can’t compare your feelings inside, with others’ outside website. In other words, what other startups show as their exterior view, in no way matches the undoubted angst and sometimes indecision that goes on inside. (Guenther acknowledged Rowan Simpson’s advice on this one)

Geunther also encouraged taking any opportunity to speak at other peoples’ events, launches, meetings as a way of spreading the word/love.

When asked if she thought that the recent launch of an NZ-oriented Kickstarter would affect PledgeMe, she felt no.

“We’re different, and we believe that local is important to us,” she says.

“But indeed, if anyone wants some advice about putting a project up on Kickstarter, or on PledgeMe, give me a yell.”


Plenty of traps along the way for pest eradicators Peter Kerr Oct 29

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No one ever said that creating and perfecting a resetting, toxin free pest trap was going to be easy.

The guys at Goodnature would be the first to agree, but, 12,000 or so sold traps later, the Wellington company that kicked off in 2005 is still trucking, slowly getting bigger.

A sticK story 18 months ago outlined how three Victoria University design school mature students bootstrapped their way to developing two unique traps that use compressed CO2 to power the possum, rat and stoat killing piston that instantly kills the pest.

They’ve since grown to eight people, and are continuing to learn lessons and modify their systems.

Goodnature’s head of marketing and market development Stu Barr says the company still has a design-led philosophy (and, as what is an attract and assassinate system these traps look good).

Stu Barr

As is almost invariably the case when creating injection moulded componentry that is assembled into a final unit, Goodnature had a few teething troubles with its new A24 rat & stoat trap.

A24 rat & stoat trap

“We had to resolve some moulding and technical flaws,” says Barr. “The reliability wasn’t up to where we need it to be.” Those challenges have now been overcome.

What has particularly been the team’s focus are new, highly effective lures, which ideally last a long time.

“We’ve developed a new food-based rat lure and possum lure and now working on non-food based lures and different delivery mechanisms for them all,” says Barr.

“We’re also working on a few simple things that support the traps in the immediate future, and other big developments that will take us a few years to perfect.”

And while New Zealand is the home base for Goodnature, the market opportunity for its traps is global. This is in a world-wide environment that is tending to move away from pest poisoning as a control method.

A recent trial of an E2 trap (a renamed A24) in Indonesia showed the potency of its system.

In the first night of the trial the two traps each killed seven rats..

“Our Indonesian partners never get that sort of kill with conventional traps,” Barr says.

“In terms of marketing, that story is better than any brochure. What people realise pretty quickly is that they can set the trap just once and kill multiple pests.”


Making a green stand – literally and figuratively Peter Kerr Oct 22

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Flexibition's range of sustainable exhibition stand products

Flexibition’s range of sustainable exhibition stand products


Here’s an example of a simple idea being good, and a good idea being simple.

It’s also pretty green in the scheme of these things as well as being a “why didn’t I think of that.”

‘Flexibition’ is the brainchild of Wellington designer Juliet Cooke. (intouchdesign.co.nz)

She was showing what has been designed as a packaway exhibition system made from entirely sustainable materials at, somewhat appropriately, the GoGreen Expo in Wellington on October 12 & 13.

Flexibition is based on a lightweight bamboo framework and various fabric panels. These panels include recyclable polyester, jute (recycled coffee sacks) and recycled dacron sails.

Cooke’s got a background in designing for various types of display in exhibitions and museums and other tricky spaces, so is well aware of the collapsible aluminium stands that are readily available.

After a request from a couple of organic-oriented clients (Mary Kelleher of Handmade Stories, and Richard Bacon of Organic Boxes), Cooke perfected her initial two-panel design.

This packs into a 2.1m x 200mm diameter carry bag (jute of course!) weighing eight kilograms. It costs $1700 + GST, plus another $500 for printing. This compares to its aluminium/plastic poor relation which start at about $2100 + GST.

Upcoming developments include a single pop-up stand designed for airline travel which will probably cost less than the two-panel version.

Cooke is a 3D designer, specialising in exhibitions – and this often involves designing furniture, sometimes of a pack down variety for touring shows. Part of her sustainable product repertoire is a collapsible seat, using simple panels held together by rubber straps. This is all the better to allow exhibition-goers a green seating option, with the ultimate plan being to join these together to make various modular structures such as tables and a bench seat.

She says it isn’t worthwhile trying protect the intellectual property or design, but that there’s enough tricky elements in creating a sturdy simple structure that will make imitations difficult.

“The joining method is probably pretty easily imitated, but the supply of materials and craftsmanship for the stand is harder to come by,” she says. “I’m still investigating the viability of various methods of production for the box seat, including getting it made out of recycled material at Trash Palace [Wellington dump’s ‘treasure trove’], and helping to rehabilitate mental health patients. There’s a bit of social sustainability and saving material from the landfill.”

It is early days for a new side of Cooke’s enterprise with the stand being about 12 months in development, and the box seat a much more recent addition to the Flexibition range.

“I’ve got other sustainable product ideas up my sleeve, including a collapsible vase that can fit in a car for funeral flower arrangements,” she says. “Of course though, all this has to be juggled with museum exhibition design contracts and my family’s needs.”


Non-success gets a deserved recognition Peter Kerr Sep 24

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A thumbs up to Lightning Lab and Wellington’s Creative HQ for celebrating non-success.

That, quite deliberately, is different from describing the five of the nine companies which went through LL’s 12 week accelerator programme as failures.

Earlier in the year, the Lightning Lab encouraged, cajoled, questioned and prodded nine good ideas into creating a distinct entity and business plan that may be attractive to potential investors.

(I commented in an earlier blog of my envy of those doing the LL – they learned so much, so quickly).

At a Demo Day in May, these nine pitched their products, and four achieved investment – LearnKo (oversubscribed with $700k), Wipster ($600k), Expander ($500k) and Publons ($350k).

That’s great, and these businesses are busy ramping up and gaining customers as quickly as they can.

Equally as good though is:
1. Lightning Lab is back again in March 2014 for a second run
2. Many people involved in the so-called non-successes will be back

But such non-success also needs a bit of explanation. For example, KidsGoMobile’s team are still all onboard, developing their product, hope to secure investment by the end of the year and will look to launch a Kickstarter campaign.

Teamisto opted not to take up New Zealand-offered investment, but have decamped to Chile, and see South America as being a more scaleable market for their product to help amateur sports teams obtain business funding/sponsorship.

Adeez, Promoki and Questo teams have moved to other ventures, though their founders rate the whole LL experience very highly.

Which is all good stuff. They’re learned, they’ll have other good ideas, they’ll have the nuclei of team members should they have another go at LL, they’ll know most of the hoops that need to be jumped through launching any type of new business.

Lightning Lab 2014 will begin accepting applications from November from around New Zealand for the $18,000 of seed investment for each startup team.

And, in a further feather in LL’s cap, it is the exclusive New Zealand member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), which comprises 51 of the world’s top accelerators.

So…fantastic. Celebrating success and celebrating non-success – a sign of a maturing Kiwi attitude to things not necessarily working out the way you’d expected.


You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs – or, how to spot a good idea Peter Kerr Sep 17

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Engineer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and raconteur Neville Jordan reckons he needs to kiss about 99 frogs before he’ll find an idea worth investing in.

Speaking as the IPENZ 2013 William Pickering Fellow at a Wellington lecture (part of the body’s national tour), Jordan told about 300 people it takes much research, talking to overseas people, and being introduced to a lot of ideas to find one business/startup that will potentially turn into a handsome prince (to extend the analogy; though he didn’t use this term himself).

Neville Jordan


The Sept. 12 presentation by Jordan, executive chairman of private equity investor Endeavour Capital, was on the topic, ‘How an engineer spots new technology and creates a billion dollar business.’

From his Petone beginnings, including trying to make an atomic bomb (but, as a 13 year old, wasn’t able to source uranium at his local pharmacy!), Jordan briefly outlined how the pharmacist later skewed his interest towards electronics.

Years later he pioneered the use of microwave technologies in New Zealand, floated MAS Tech on the NASDAQ, came away from a subsequent buyout of that company by larger American interests, and with a war chest of funds set up vehicles to invest in other good Kiwi ideas.

Hence the kissing many frogs correlation.

Having been successful with some investments, and less so with others (“it’s not failure, it’s a lack of success” he said in reply to a question), Jordan pondered where some of the next ‘Big Things’ may be coming from.

As an investor, he’s mindful that some technologies can pull society apart.

“How do we impact on the social fabric so we create better societies, and not cripple it in the process,” he posited?

Without giving specific answers, Jordan speculated that advances will be made in:

A fusion of electronics and healthcare (including and around)

  • Chronic pain relief
  • Hearing
  •  Blindness

A rise of new computational abilities

  • Nano-level circuits
  • Neural/cognitive systems

3D printing at home

He also gave huge credence to new education entities which are set to greatly disrupt university (including New Zealand) and other providers’ offerings.

These include Laureate Universities (which have just received $200m in funding from the World Bank, and the Khan Academy (which has over 3,500 courses on offer).

Many people have heard of MOOCs (massive online open course) which currently have three million students in 220 courses.

Jordan says education that is accessible through and because of the internet will profoundly change society – though he, like others cannot possibly envisage what that will be.


Primary industry mobile tech forum draws the digerati Peter Kerr Aug 20

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Numbers tell a story on their own.

And the fact that over 220 attendees ponyed up at the Mobile Tech Summit 2013 in Wellington on August 7 & 8 underscores the message that our natural resources aren’t as old-hat as some would like to believe.

This new event is designed to showcase current and upcoming mobile innovations in New Zealand’s principle food and fibre sections.

In other words; the application of smartphones and mobile devices across our biological industries – which for all the movies made in New Zealand and talk of standalone digital businesses, still underpin our economy.

Indeed, it is the use of an increasingly wide range of digital tools to improve the production, quality, performance (and partly the consumer reaction/acceptance) of products of our land and sea that MTS2013 was clearly aimed at.

The physical, financial and environmental information and components that can be added right along the value-chain from pasture to plate, (or seedling to structure or fish to dish) is huge – and there’s no shortage of tech products for what is commonly known as decision support.

There was a wide range of speakers and different types of vendors – with, unsurprisingly, the start point for many being of the products on offer being a map; farm, forest, vineyard or sea.

The layers of information that can be applied to this spatial place range from soil type to irrigation history, fertiliser requirements to the crops and animal production that have come off a particular piece of dirt.

One challenge I’ve often observed is how these different dataset talk to each other, and how an individual actually makes money from being up with the tech play (beyond such information simply being a cool thing to be involved with).

However one of the underlying themes through the two days is how such silos of knowledge can interlink and interact so that better decisions can be made – even if many of the speakers acknowledged the difficulty of enabling meaningful collaboration between datasets.

The industry will get there; though one factor that will need to be overcome is demographic. Older farmers (and the average age of sheep and beef farmers is 58) mostly aren’t going to be interested in adopting the new mobile technology.

In that regard though, by the time those farmers retire, the different mobile apps and datasets will be much more integrated and provide a much more compelling logic and means to make more money.

Finally, a couple of points raised by speakers.

Mark Pawsey of SST Software (Australia) says that “pure cloud is a challenging environment for agriculture”. This is because, firstly, there’s a tonne of information that can be gleaned at one place and point in time from a piece of land. And, secondly, because wireless networks are comparatively underpowered in rural situations, (and devices such as iPads don’t have that much computing power), getting that data to the cloud to be processed is a trick in itself.

That said, Lukasz Zawilski, the Ministry of Primary Industries’ strategy and architecture manager reckons “mobility is really good at solving complex problems.”

The organisers of this event were no doubt delighted at the turnout, and made the closing comment to the effect they were happily surprised at the number who turned up.

This interface of real (products) and digital (data and intelligence) looks like it could be an opportunity to mine for the foreseeable future.


We’re no closer to a national SETD plan, strategy, attack – call it what you will Peter Kerr Jul 30

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Taking a further opportunity to look at Callaghan Innovation’s Statement of Intent, it begs further questions relating to our country’s overall Research, Science and Technology spend. (Or, to further broaden it, our Science, Engineering, Technology and Design [SETD led innovation]).

  1. What are we actually trying to do?
  2. Who’s doing what?
  3. How efficient (or what’s the efficacy of) our total spend? (In fact, this is a blog on its own – if anyone has any data on how much of the allocated science spend ends up in science rather than government bureaucracy and science organisation/university administration costs, I’d love to know)

Now, CI is meant to be more at the end of converting good science and engineering oriented ideas into commercial reality and money-makers.

And, as it says itself, while CI isn’t going to be bidding for any of the funding areas in R, S & T, it is certainly still in the overall mix.

However, what is still totally unclear, in fact non-existent, is an overall national SETD plan. There is no STRATEGY.

The only mention in the CI SoI is in passing on page 19 which talks about setting up National Technology Networks.

“These Networks could become a framework for a national science and innovation strategy which can help define a more strategic approach to funding rather than making one-off decisions on individual proposals.”

If that’s the case, yet again we’re going to have a national plan as an after-thought.

It’s a bit like retrospectively figuring what we’re doing after we’ve assembled all the pieces, rather than figuring out WHAT we want to do, and THEN assembling the pieces.

Sure, having industry input into what the future might hold is important; but they’re more interested in the here and now, meaning say a two year future-view.

It is an underwhelming way to approach things – a middling method that the likes of Taiwan, Singapore, Finland et al abandoned long ago. It is, yet again, putting the cart in front of the horse.

It also flies in the face of Recommendation #13 from the ‘Powering Innovation’ document of June 2011, which, presumably, formed much of the basis for Callaghan Innovation.

Oversight and Leadership

Recommendation 13

Form a Science and Innovation Council, led from a very senior ministerial level in Government, with representatives from the university, public and private research organisations and from industry. Members should represent a wide range of science and technology themes, including the social sciences. The role of the Science and Innovation Council should be to establish a national innovation strategy and advise on science and
innovation policy and priorities.

Now, perhaps there’s a cunning plan to set up such a council.

On page 10 of CI’s SoI, under the third bullet point sits the sentence.

“The [Callaghan Innovation Act 2012] Act provides for the Responsible Minister to appoint a stakeholder advisory group to support Callaghan Innovation’s work.”

Might I suggest, strongly, Mr Joyce, that this be set up post haste.

Our country desperately needs a simple and clear view of what we’re going to concentrate on for high-value and other value-added manufacturing (especially around some of our biological resources).

I appreciate it is a brave political statement to say; ‘right, we’re heading here, by doing this’, but it is what is lacking at our highest level.

Shuffling such a responsibility down to where it won’t see the light of day within Callaghan Innovation will simply mean more deck-chair arranging for our SETD.

All of the exemplar countries that our bureaucracy and ministers are fond of saying we should be like, lead from the top, based on a Science and Innovation Council.

Even if such a council gets it wrong, at least it is a direction….and you can change direction.

At the moment we have nothing.

To focus our own SETD efforts, we need to do the same as other countries have done and lay our cards on the table for all to see and understand.


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