Startup Weekend Gives You Wings!

I’ve always enjoyed those Red Bull ads showing how that fizzy mineral drink gives you a lift. It’s also interesting how Red Bull have successfully leveraged the aeronautical theme in their sponsorships of various high energy sports around the globe such as air racing and Formula One.

Red Bull started from very humble beginnings, but is now a globally recognised brand. It helps a lot that Red Bull tastes good; but building clear brand values is a really important task in any business, including start-ups. You don’t need to own a Formula One team to build a great brand, but you do need a consistent message and a fantastic team that believes in the product and provides superior customer support. I hope that’s what we are achieving with iwantmyname.

This weekend entrepreneurial developers and designers from all over New Zealand will converge on the sunny Bay of Plenty for Tauranga Startup Weekend. I’ve been an organiser, a mentor and a sponsor at these events at various times, but I’ve never actually played on a team. This weekend will be my first Startup Weekend where I will actually be pitching an idea.

We’d love to see a huge turn-out of developers and designers at this event from all over New Zealand. ideegeo Research Limited is the new venture development entity associated with the founders of iwantmyname. We work with young entrepreneurs and help them bootstrap interesting web-based projects that have the potential for global scalability. So here’s the deal…

If you are a developer or designer from outside of the Bay and you sign up for Tauranga Startup Weekend this week – you will go in the draw to have your travel costs to the event co-funded by us. The draw is open to any developer or designer who signs up this week for Tauranga Startup Weekend. Offer closes 5pm, Wednesday 12th September.

All you need to do is contact us after you’ve signed up for Tauranga Startup Weekend, tell us a little bit about your skill set and we’ll talk about how we can help in a practical way. Let us add wings to your Startup Weekend experience!

Building Our Innovation Ecosystem

Innovation, incubation and competitiveness are firmly back on the political agenda. 2011 has been a busy year, with the government setting about reforming publicly funded scientific research and reconfiguring IRL in an effort to drive more commercialisation activity in the technology sector. The government funded trade agency has also been talking up successes from its incubator programme. In the meantime, the recently formed Productivity Commission has quietly begun developing an academic framework to address infrastructural inefficiencies in the New Zealand economy.

In this context, it was unsurprising to see some recent commentary that was highly critical of the manner in which government gets involved in innovation and business. More specifically, Rowan’s comments alluded to some deficiencies in the methodologies being employed by business incubators when advising software start-ups. Notwithstanding the fact that incubators are generalists and lack the huge depth of experience and background of success that Rowan brings to his own web and software ventures, there were some fair criticisms which pleasingly generated a lot of intelligent follow-up discussion.

Where I parted company with this debate however was when the tone shifted towards questioning the necessity for providing events to engage the start-up community. Most readers will be aware that I’m deeply involved in organising such activities in addition to my role as a co-founder of a couple of tech companies. One of these companies is pre-revenue start-up, the other is growth phase and profitable. Being involved in the community is a deliberate strategy which is partly altruistic (because it’s fun), but also good for business. We are only as strong as the people around us.

The government’s moves to redefine how we approach identifying and commercialising high value science and technology based ventures are oxygen for our economic flame; so too are the various contributions made by formal incubators, informal “innovation hubs”, university commercialisation offices and the various business related events and competitions. The Ministry of Science & Innovation’s report on Powering Innovation even talks about “…the creative connection of talented minds across discipline boundaries“. We do not need to emulate Silicon Valley, but we should learn from that ecosystem model.

Around the world, entrepreneurship is increasingly seen as both a legitimate career option for young people and a growth spark in an otherwise dull economy. At a time when youth unemployment stands at around 30% in New Zealand, we cannot afford to ignore the opportunity of infusing young people with an entrepreneurial spirit. I recently attended the 30th anniversary celebration of the Young Enterprise Trust. This organisation provides entrepreneurship programmes for high schools and counts such luminaries as Rod Drury and Seeby Woodhouse amongst its alumni, demonstrating the importance of a community approach to entrepreneurship education.

Building an entrepreneurial and export focused culture has never been so important as now, with traditional models breaking down faster than ever. Knowledge sharing and relationship building within and amongst our specialist communities is foundational to strengthening our innovation ecosystem. We can no longer afford to operate in silos or to make the assumption that there is only a single approach to building cool businesses that solve real problems and generate economic returns.

iWantMyName – The Next Steps

A lot of people have been asking me recently how iWantMyName is going. The short answer is that it’s going great! We’ve been profitable this year and have had our heads down working hard laying both the technological and business organisational foundations that we need to grow. The challenge has been in making the transition from a small start-up business to a fully fledged, high growth technology story.

I certainly won’t say that it’s been easy. Everyone on the team has made sacrifices and we even had one or two nervous moments during the early days when we wondered if we would make budget and be able to pay salaries or rent. It comes with the territory. Being a start-up entrepreneur is like being on a mad roller coaster ride. It can be both thrilling and terrifying, especially if you are bootstrapping.

I meet a lot of budding web entrepreneurs and one of the first questions I ask them is, “are you ready for 2-3 years without a proper income?” It can easily take that long to carve out a niche for yourself and get meaningful revenues going. That’s without factoring in the vagaries of foreign exchange rates.

Notwithstanding the challenges ahead, we’ve got big plans for lots more features and fresh content on our New Zealand domain registrar site plus a major makeover of our search functionality across all four of our sites globally. There are also new and popular hosted services being posted almost weekly, so users can have smart one-click DNS set-up on their domains. We’re positioning iWantMyName as a next generation domain and DNS management service with an eye on future opportunities emerging with the new top level domains and internationalised domain names.

In addition, we’ve also started a new venture to advise young web entrepreneurs and share some of the experience we have gained on the journey so far. In fact we continue to be actively involved in supporting tech community events such as through Unlimited Potential, Startup Weekend, PXLJam and Perl Mongers to name but a few. We think it’s an exciting place to be as technology entrepreneurship continues to gain a greater profile as a career and lifestyle choice.

Keep in touch with us on Twitter @iWantMyNameNZ

2010 Rocked Us, Roll On 2011

To say that 2010 was a year full challenges and opportunities is somewhat of an understatement. For many people in business it was a case of  hanging in there as a recessionary economy misfired and struggled to get up off its knees. But much worse than this, New Zealand (and in particular the south) was stricken by the triple tragedies of a huge investment business failure, a destructive earthquake and a terrible mine disaster. Whilst these events provided a much-needed distraction for the government, they were devastating for the people directly affected and shocked all of us.

When national morale takes a hit, I’ve noticed the economy tends to suffer as well. Good spirits lead to more spending which in turn leads to more optimism. It’s a virtuous circle. On the plus side, we have been sheltered a little from the storm by high global dairy prices and the fact that our banks are stable and government debt not completely out of control like elsewhere. But there’s still lots more work to be done on diversifying the economy and I don’t think we should rely entirely on the Thugby World Cup to reignite our passions in 2011. We can’t afford to sleepwalk through another year.

The government needs to be looking at providing a more aspirational science and innovation framework that goes well beyond moving the deck chairs around with yet another departmental restructuring. In the lead up to the election, we also need to start thinking about reforming our entire legal system. When a senior judge thinks it’s ok to preside over a court case involving a business partner and peeping toms get longer prison sentences than drunk drivers who kill and maim, we know we’ve got a serious problem.

On a personal level I had the immense satisfaction of working with two great teams. The first was the crew at ideegeo from whom I learn something new every day. We headed into our third year of domain renewals this month at iWantMyName and grew revenue at over 200% during the year. We also addressed some growing pains by improving our platform technology as well as our management systems as we position for the next chapter. The most exciting aspect of going global with the technology was that we secured a core following of early adopters amongst the developer community worldwide that may open some interesting doors for us in 2011. Watch this space.

My other team are the good folks at the Unlimited Potential committee who help bring the coolest events to the ICT community here in Wellington. We had a very busy year with a strong focus on promoting technology entrepreneurship through a number of well supported events. We also completed our wonderful new website. All of this was achieved in a very tough funding environment. Because of UP activities, teams got built, tech businesses were started and people found jobs. Real life social networking is important. Thanks to the supporters who made it happen and let us know if you’d like to get involved as an event partner or committee member in 2011.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season and a prosperous 2011.

Finder, Minder, Grinder

What kind of attributes do you need to make a start-up dream team? When we think about high flying tech companies, a single high profile founder often springs to mind. But the reality is that start-ups with high growth potential need a mix of skills to build something long-lasting.

A lot depends on the type of business that you are thinking about starting. But for a definition of a basic start-up team I quite like the analogy of “finder, minder and grinder”. The Grinder is the person with domain knowledge. In a software start-up it’s obviously a skilled developer, at a micro-brewery it’s the brewer, in a restaurant it’s the chef. The Minder looks after the accounts, makes sure the money gets banked and the bills paid and later on, helps to raise capital. The Finder is your marketing guru who gets out there and makes the all important sales, without which there will be no business.

When we established ideegeo and started developing domain registrar iWantMyName, that was pretty much the roles we each took on. Being a web start-up we also had a designer at the outset, which was important for us. Now I don’t want to be too prescriptive because there are always exceptions to a rule and there is almost always some overlap in these early co-founder roles as well. But “finder, minder, grinder” is a good rule of thumb to get your team started. 

On Thursday 9th September Unlimited Potential will be running the Co-founder Match-making Event in conjunction with the Bright Ideas Challenge and Grow Wellington. This event is specifically aimed at taking people with I.T. related bright ideas and matching them with others who have technology or business skills to take these projects forward. The event is NOT for consultants looking to sell services to companies; it’s for folks who actually want to put their time into a project in return for equity and a bigger potential return downstream.

If you are a developer, designer, web marketing expert or just have a great tech idea you want some help with – come along to this facilitated networking session and find your dream team! We will also be having inspiring Minimonos co-founder and serial tech entrepreneur Melissa Clark-Reynolds join us for the evening.

Please create a short profile on the new Unlimited Potential website and register for the event.

Mid Winter Mentors Offer X Factor

At this time of year when it’s cold, grey and wet, it becomes all too easy to simply enter hibernation mode. But businesses don’t stop running just because the weather sucks and certainly nobody can afford to stop creating and implementing new ideas. Every so often we need to escape our local environs, go away and stimulate our brain cells by becoming totally absorbed in something completely different. That’s why I’m looking forward to my trip to X|Media|Lab Sydney later this week.

X|Media|Lab is a highly effective and affordable globally focussed event for businesses involved in the digital media innovation space. The event comprises a conference day plus a weekend workshop for selected project teams. There are also social events at which the organisers can facilitate introductions to potential partners, investors and international mentors. X|Media|Lab visited New Zealand in 2008 and 2009 and we’d love to see them back again. The events are organised at venues around the world, several times a year and attract a who’s who of speakers from the worlds of digital media, animation, games and mobile.

With ideegeo being essentially a business software developer, I wasn’t sure we would ever get the chance to attend the international mentoring workshops – but much to my delight, the opportunity has arisen. No, we haven’t started creating digital animated games or building social network sites, but we have begun conceptualising a product that will help such sites to monetise. So it was with much excitement that we found our project had been selected as one of a handful for mentoring from over 80 entries.

We’ve already been talking to some very smart people about the idea but there is more work to be done. Whether or not we can take the next step will largely hinge on securing some high level partnerships at a very early stage. Such relationships are difficult to secure without travelling outside of New Zealand. X|Media|Lab brings a bunch of influential movers and shakers to our front doorstep. It’s an opportunity we are relishing.

Starting Lean: When to Pivot

Lean Startup methodology when applied to technology start-up companies advocates rapid prototyping, iterative re-testing of market assumptions and soliciting frequent customer feedback to more quickly evolve a product offering. At a recent lunchtime seminar hosted by Wellington’s Lean Startup group, we discussed when to pivot.

Pivoting involves a fundamental change to one or more of the three fundamental questions that frame the business model and could be a response to either a flawed model or a new opportunity.

We Are Selling What? + Via Which Channel? + To Whom?

Bruce Aylward from Psoda described how his company underwent a complete change in strategic direction in terms of how their product was marketed and distributed. Psoda is a SaaS suite that assists professionals to manage programs, projects, requirements, testing and product development. Psoda’s pivot point came when they realised that customers only wanted some of the services being offered – so they created a pick ‘n mix option. It was a subtle change that boosted the company’s revenue take.

The domain registrar industry has a well established model and hundreds of incumbents. Finding ways to innovate within such a model is tough, but it is the only way forward for a new company. At iWantMyName our pivot point came when we realised we were creating a scalable platform-as-a-service offering that we could rapidly roll out to channel partners. It was a great learning experience for us that added a lot of value to our business.

Kiwi iWantMyName Continues Product Evolution

ideegeo’s successful launch of iWantMyName as a global domain registrar site and the opening of sites for Germany and the Netherlands last year were exciting milestones in the evolution of iWantMyName into a highly scalable industry-wide platform solution and in the development of our company.

Although our focus was global from day one, we felt it was now time to turn our attention to home. We had many requests from our friends to establish in the New Zealand market, because of our unique service offering, friendly user interface and great customer support. Finally we just had to say yes and so we now have a dedicated Kiwi site offering fixed prices in New Zealand dollars.

The Kiwi iWantMyName has by far New Zealand’s widest range of domain extensions, many of which are unavailable from other local domain registrars. Examples of exclusive domains include the recently launched .TEL and .ME suffixes plus interesting country code top-level domains from all over the world such as .LI (Liechtenstein), .IO (British Indian Ocean Territory) and .FM (Federal States of Micronesia).

Customers from the existing site can use the same login details to access their accounts across the iWantMyName platform suite. We also offer the same free services on our Kiwi version so that you can hook up your own domain to customise a wide range of great web applications such as GMail, Blogger and Zoho. In the very near future we also plan to add some cool new Kiwi-made services that we really want to support.

We think it is appropriate that the launch of a new product should be celebrated with some special offers. So until the end of February we are offering new .COM, .NET, .ORG and .NAME domains for only $19.90 NZD plus .INFO for $9.90 NZD. We are also able to offer a FREE one year extension if you transfer your existing domains across to iWantMyName NZ. Transfers can be handled from your personal dashboard once you join up. Please note that all domain prices quoted on the Kiwi site are GST exclusive and that we provide full GST invoicing to all our valued customers.

A Big Week for Edgy ICT

TuxAfter a lazy summer break the technology event scene bursts into life next week as hundreds of Linux and Open Source exponents and some eminent speakers rock into Wellington for LCA 2010 the Australasian Linux Conference.

The fact that Wellington scored the big gig is very much a testament to the depth and breadth of the local technology community, the emerging potential for the government sector as an open source user and the fact that a number of key companies (including ideegeo) are keen supporters of the open source movement. Consequently you will see the iWantMyName logo (and our QR code stickers) around the halls during the conference, as we are timing the launch of our New Zealand domain registrar site and global affiliate program to capitalise on buzz around the event which runs from 18th to 23rd January.

Running in conjunction with the main conference are a number of “MiniConfs“. Our CTO at ideegeo Lenz Gschwendtner will be involved, speaking at the Multicore and Parallel Computing session on Tuesday 19th January. The programme aims to address the many challenges and opportunities posed by parallel computing especially in regards to open source. Also speaking at this event will be Intel Software Products evangelist James Reinders who as an engineer has been involved with processor development.

Reinders is also an author with notable publications and articles on parallel computing to his credit. For those who cannot make the Wellington Miniconf, there will also be an Auckland event at the Massey University campus on Monday afternoon 18th January. Reinders will be speaking on “Threading Building Blocks” and why Intel settled on an open sourcing model to accelerate its parallel computing initiative.

On a slightly different note, Summer of Code are hosting another tech talk session at lunchtime on Monday 18th January. Aimed at current or aspiring I.T. entrepreneurs, a highly esteemed panel of business experts will talk about their experiences starting-up, investing-in and growing technology businesses. Not to be missed. Registration essential, entry by donation. See you there!

2009 – A Year of Challenges

pohuIt’s fair to say that, in more ways than one, 2009 was a year full of challenges. But it was not without its rewards.

Perhaps the greatest personal satisfaction for me was the huge amount of progress we made with iWantMyName, our first (and by no means last) spin-off project from ideegeo. But during 2009 many establishment organisations simply ran out of good ideas and took short-sighted decisions to make layoffs, rather than use their existing human capital to innovate and prepare for the upturn.

So it was a great source of pride at ideegeo that we not only earned some export dollars this year, but we also added employees and extended our product offering. All this was achieved without needing to raise capital and under the dark clouds of the harshest global economic conditions that most of us have known.

Clearly, recovery from the recession in 2010 will not originate at the hands of tired, greedy old firms that treat their human assets like factory farmed cows. The recovery will come from small, agile, innovative new ventures that can grasp opportunities and quickly add value. The corporate model is dying a slow death as internal divisions, failure to innovate and lack of a sense of responsibility to the community eats away at its heart. 

This fact was illustrated powerfully in 2009 as traditional media corporations struggled to come to terms with the new environment and as morally corrupt financial institutions paid bonuses to managers, even as governments were bailing them out of irrecoverable losses. In short it was a sorry state of affairs for big business and hopefully we will see some better leadership on this front in 2010.

Another major theme for business in 2009 was the coming of age of hosted software. The “cloud” services scene was boosted by aggressive competition from Google, rapid improvements in the scalability and reliability of hardware and an enthusiastic user base. Fortunately, at iWantMyName we were able to leverage this sea change by offering free customisation for our customers across a wide range of popular applications. 2010 looks exciting too as we add more services and scale up through partnerships and organic growth.

All the very best for a safe and enjoyable festive season and thanks for reading @GeniusNet.