The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: Wellington local, Dan Khan — November 11, 2012

Interview: Wellington local, Dan Khan

This week, Kim Lesch chats with Dan Khan, the Program Director of the Lightning Lab, New Zealand’s first Digital Incubator.

Dan Khan

Name: Dan Khan
Twitter: @lightninglab

The Lightning Lab has just launched in Wellington – what does it hope to achieve and what does it do for digital startups?

Lightning Lab is an intensive three-month accelerator programme designed to give small teams with great ideas (and in interesting markets) the best launch possible in growing into a serious high-growth venture able to compete on the world stage. It is a combination seed investment fund and mentor-led program where we give teams of founders the essential 4Cs of early stage entrepreneurship:

  • Cash,
  • Coaching,
  • ‘Co-founders-in-residence’ and,
  • Connections.

We invest up to $18K into teams of up to three founders in exchange for 8% equity in their venture. We then push New Zealand’s best- and some international world class- mentorship through them to accelerate those ventures to the next level, and at lightning-speed. With our growing onshore- and offshore- networks, this means startups can build these ventures much faster and with much better support than going alone or bootstrapping themselves.

In our opinion, Lightning Lab fills a vital hole in both the tech startup ecosystem which will allow New Zealand startups to ‘level-up’ to be ready to compete with similar startups in better-connected, better-financed, and more supportive marketplaces such as Silicon Valley.

You’ve just moved to Wellington from Auckland – is the startup scene different between the two cities? 

Yes and no. The most noticeable difference is there’s a feeling of energy and community around the Wellington startup scene, which, given its geography, allows it to seem more cohesive than Auckland with many things within walking-distance of each other.

In my experience there’s actually quite a bit happening in Auckland, but it’s often under the radar, decentralised, and not well-published. This is changing however: ATEED have really started getting interested in this early-stage space and are now regulars at my local Auckland startup events – intersect this with their Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct project and it feels like Auckland is really starting to pull it all together.

I also say there’s not differences in that both ecosystems suffer the same problems – visibility and access to resources and mentors, and a clear path from idea to execution and funding. As Brad Feld writes in his latest book, Startup Communities, the startup ecosystem is really created by entrepreneurs, and fed into by other organisations. With time and focus being the two most important assets for any startup, you naturally find that entrepreneurs are too busy to self-organise without lots of support from these feeders. Events like StartupWeekend have been great to help boost this early ecosystem, but before Lightning Lab, there’s always been the question of what next after StartupWeekend?

One of my goals is to make Lightning Lab a focal point to share resources back into the ecosystem. It’s this multi-generational and cyclic growth that will really fuel our ecosystem to be sustainable and easily accessible to drive future economic growth in the sector.

The Lightning Lab

Will you be hosting events at the Lightning Lab?

Absolutely. As you can probably tell, my wider personal goals for getting involved so deeply in the Lightning Lab is to build a top-quality tech startup ecosystem in New Zealand and this includes everything that happens outside and around the accelerator programme as well as inside.

Having come from the UK, I don’t just mean in Wellington either; Lightning Lab presents an opportunity to reboot the Tech Startup ecosystem nationwide and I hope with Lightning Lab leading by example, this will give NZ startups a renewed focus on execution and clearer pathways offshore and faster. The pricetags for many events supposedly targeting entrepreneurs are actually entrepreneur-unfriendly, so us hosting affordable or free community events are key to building an inclusive and open ecosystem.

What kind of opportunities are available to get involved?

Our mentor-led model of acceleration is based on the same model that internationally-acclaimed accelerator TechStars uses (we are in-fact NZ’s only partner as part of their Global Accelerator Network), and thus the actual running of this programme is pretty lean. As part of our educational objectives of seeding what we’re doing back into the community, we actually use an internship model to help with the actual programme operations. This allows younger incoming students with an interest in entrepreneurship to get direct first-hand experience of the ins-and-outs of what it takes to run a startup team and learning by proxy from our mentors. We also have a number of paid positions which are for more experienced people in the community – these ‘co-founders-in-residence’ work part time on our payroll for the exclusive benefit of our teams, allowing them to bootstrap their own team-building stage until they find the right engineering, marketing, and design talent. We are yet to recruit both full teams so several opportunities still exist to get directly involved in this way – if this sounds like you, contact Sam Bonney, our programme manager for more details.

The other main opportunity for involvement is on the mentoring-side. Whilst we have over 60 mentors across New Zealand and International involved, we’re still building that list to include other great technology minds across several sectors and skillsets. If you do know someone who has had some success in the tech field and wants to give back to help other budding entrepreneurs, we’ll be more than happy to have a talk and find ways to include them into our programme if there’s a fit.

What other NZ wide startup communities can you recommend?

There are not many nationwide communities servicing the early stage startup market in NZ, which is why it’s been so hard to establish something in Auckland. Although a few Auckland entrepreneurs have recently setup an active Facebook group called ‘NZ Tech Startup Ecosystem‘ which is getting some good traction as a place where startups hangout and help each other. Other than this there’s plenty of local startup communities that can be found on – including the Auckland Tech Startups group that I run, and groups down in Wellington like Hackers and Founders, and Lean Startup Wellington. Perhaps the StartupDigest mailing list is a good place to start if other entrepreneurs are looking for where the local community resources are near them.

[Editor’s note -> this is precisely why we’ve launched The Fetch in New Zealand! To bring all of the above resources together in one easy-to-read biweekly email digest. Subscribe for free @]

The Lightning Lab application deadline is December 5.  They are holding information evenings all over New Zealand from November 22 – stay tuned to The Fetch to discover when an event is on in your area and check out their website.

About our curator // Kim Lesch is the curator for Auckland. You can find her on Twitter here: @kim_lesch.

Double Interview! Dash and Claire Bring Founder Institute to Perth — October 29, 2012

Double Interview! Dash and Claire Bring Founder Institute to Perth

This week Perth curator, Justin Strharsky, interviews Dash Dhakshinamoorthy and Claire Robertson about why they’ve decided to bring start-up accelerator Founder Institute to Perth.

Why Founder Institute?

Claire:  There are certainly a lot of accelerator programs and in most cases choosing to start one will mean developing your own program and leveraging only your own connections. Founder Institute exports their model around the world and have a proven track record: 41% of the 500+ startups that have graduated receive funding within 18 months of graduation. How do they ensure that figure stays impressively high? By connecting each local chapter into a network of awesome mentors and making it possible to bring some of these guys to our city, by providing really amazing course material, and by selecting candidates that demonstrate entrepreneurial prowess.

Dash:  There are obviously many incubators and accelerators around. As a frequent traveler to the Valley and also to startup hubs around the globe, I am familiar with some very good ones too.

However, in my view, there are two types of accelerators:

  1. Location based : Those which are extremely successful in a particular ecosystem like the Y-Comb model. These are like the top universities of the world – they are institutions that cannot be replicated in other locations.
  2. Those that can be scaled and globalized as they become feeders to the location based ones. These are like the INSEADS other top notch universities that have successfully replicated their models elsewhere.

The FI is one such model that has managed to build the fundamental elements of a successful accelerator (content – community – connectivity : my words) in a hugely scalable model.

  • Content – very strong entrepreneurial learning content that underpins one’s knowledge into a solid practical grounding.
  • Community – systematically builds a very collaborative community my moving away from traditional economic models of “winner takes all” to a “rising tides raises all boats” model.
  • Connectivity – connects the local ecosystem to other global ecosystems. Being connected to the world is a huge skill and entrepreneur cannot live without but the venture more often than not keeps the entrepreneur stuck to his ideas and the immediate ecosystem. This may lead to the fact that the entrepreneur may not be aware of what is going on in his space in other parts of the world which he/she can leverage on. So a good program systematically imposes the need to be globally aware and to keep one’s fingers on the pulse of the innovation cycle.

FI’s vision is to “Globalize Silicon Valley”.  Don’t we have enough Silicon Valley mythology and hype in start-up land?

Dash:  In my view the terms FI refers to when it says it aims to “Globalize Silicon Valley” is not about any myth or intention to create Silicon Valleys around the world – this is like saying “globalizing the Vatican” – an impossible task.

What it means is to systematically instil the key ingredients of successes of a vibrant ecosystem around the globe such as:

  • Building a strong entrepreneurial competence and excellence – through its content and curriculum of teaching entrepreneurs as opposed to teaching “about” entrepreneurship as most entrepreneurship programs aims to do.
  • Being mentor driven: where more successful members of the community spend time and money to help others become successful
  • Success is Celebrated and failure tolerated and not derided
  • Where resources are mobile and boundaries are porous.

By instilling these qualities early in the game, avoids many trial and error an ecosystem has to go through to arrive at the same point by self-learning and this will only waste time and money and may be counter-productive for entrepreneurs. We need to work on the entrepreneurs fast and not try to fix the system from ground zero if we can stand on the “shoulders of giants” and learn from them.

Claire:  Yes, I agree we have enough mythology about the valley, but this isn’t mythology. FI’s program is recognised by incubators and investors around the globe as a trustworthy qualifying process that reduces the risk associated with investing in a new concept or idea. The ideas that have been through the FI process have been subject to a rigorous process of validation and development, and the founders that participate are passionate, smart, and entering into “startup land” with their eyes open. The other real strength of the program is the connections the participants form that can help them on their way; it’s more about globalizing the strong, well connected community in the valley, supporting the creation of a strong local ecosystem that is plugged in to others around the world.

Do you see any unique characteristics of the Australian start-up ecosystem worth nurturing?

Claire:  Aussies tend not to embrace jargon and buzzwords to the same extent as our American and European counterparts. Aussies are also honest (perhaps a little too much so) about their limitations. The result is a very straight-talking community – I love that.

Dash:  As an Asian coming into the system, I obviously don’t have deep insights into the ecosystem. However, the advantage I may have is I don’t have any baggage and see everything with “new eyes” – another skill needed in innovating something.

So the Australian ecosystem in my view:

  • Comprises of very smart and educated population and as such can be a very good testing ground for startups before they scale;
  • The entrepreneurs I see here are as hungry and ambitious as I’ve seen in other parts of the world – however, there appears to be a fast growing population of young people wanting to be startup entrepreneurs and want to learn from their peers around the globe
  • People are more willing to collaborate with each other than their Asian counter-parts. Maybe this is a cultural thing in Asia where people are more secretive and protective of their ideas.
  • The most unique thing I see is : there is a lot of “old” money in WA and if there are credible “dealmakers” who can help these folks with old money understand how tech startups operate and help them manage their risks, you probably would witness a steady growth of angels and VCs emerge. To ensure this happens, we need to build entrepreneurial competence and excellence fast, showcase some really solid success stories and build trust quickly in the ecosystem to ensure more old money fuels new innovation.

Is there an unfilled need here in Perth that you think FI will serve?

Dash:  The gap as I see it:

From the startup entrepreneurs perspective:

  • Lack of a place to learn how to become successful as a startup
  • Lack of a platform that can connect the entrepreneurs to the three key elements needed for a successful of startups: money, markets and mentors.
  • Lack of seed stage capital and a structured angel investment community

From the perspective of VCs and angels:

  • Lack of ideas that can scale – not enough deal frow
  • Good ideas are far in-between

From the Old Guard of the Economy:

  • No idea what a startup is
  • No immediate motivation to help innovation as the business in resources is thriving and there are no “pain points” to create an innovation culture immediately
  • Better to invest in “what we know” than what we don’t know.

So the FI closes all these gaps through its education, connection to global mentors and its events. Every single of its events can be a big education for all the above target audience.

Claire:  The inaugural Startup Weekend really underlined to us that Perth is a city full of motivated people with great ideas. The difficulty when you start work on a new idea is very often staying on task, setting deadlines for yourself and your co-founders or team, working out what you need to do and who can help you do it. It’s also hard to start something whilst working full-time. This has been the kind of feedback I’ve heard from the teams from SWPerth and FI offers a great solution to those issues: you can do the course whilst working since the sessions are at night, you have a mapped-out curriculum that ensures you think through all the critical elements of your new startup, and you’re held to account with progress reviews from awesome mentors periodically during the program. By the end of the 16 week period you will be ready to launch.

FI calls itself “The World’s Largest Accelerator” but much of the program focuses on a curriculum of training.  What’s the ‘accelerator’ bit?

Claire:  Deadlines are hard to stick to when you’re working alone or in a small group, on a project that isn’t generating revenue yet. It is really common for startup businesses to take many months or even a couple of years to get to launch, by which time technology may have moved on, or you find that you’ve developed a product that is not something people actually want and will pay for… and you’ve spent all your cash! FI keeps the founders in the course on task, picks out the really critical things they MUST attend to, and reduces the “head-scratching time”… you know, all those minutes, hours, days you can spend thinking about what task to tackle next.

What can you tell us about the curriculum?

Dash:  The curriculum has 3 components to it and will be divided into 15, 3.5 hour sessions:

Phase 1: Idea Refinement Stage

This stage has the following topics that entrepreneur needs to cover:

  • Startup Basics
  • Vision and Values
  • Startup Research
  • Naming and Branding

Phase 2: Business Set-up

Has the following components:

  • Startup Legal /IP
  • Cofounders Hiring/Firing
  • Revenues/Cost/Profits
  • Product Development

Phase 3: Launch Planning

Topics include:

  • Outsourcing/Suppliers
  • Marketing/Sales
  • Presenting/Publicity
  • Fundraising

As you can see these are the key elements any startup entrepreneur needs to know. The overarching philosophy of the content is: experiential enterprise education. Its a content not about theories or rhetoric but what working knowledge one needs to know to build a successful venture.

A good example is on playing a chess game or playing a musical instrument – both require creativity and rigor. The content infuses rigor, the community and connectivity bit opens the entrepreneur to serendipitous discoveries and the combination of both is in my view lethal for the creation of a successful startup.

FI does testing of applicants and you as local leaders.  What kind of testing?

Claire:  The application process is part subjective and part quantitative. The subjective part is all around you, what your ambitions are, what ideas you have and so forth, the quantitative part is designed to test both your fluid intelligence – they type of intelligence linked with ability to learn quickly from experiences and identify patterns – and also to identify what personality traits you have that make you more or less well suited to entrepreneurial work.

Dash: Basic logical thinking, fluid intelligence and pattern recognition.

Any entrepreneurial opportunity is a result of three key things that trigger what one would call the EA – or entrepreneurial awareness:

  • Domain knowledge
  • Interest
  • Social networks

The test is to establish the fitness level of an entrepreneur and where he can build on quickly.

What was the strangest question on your tests?

Claire:  If I told you I’d have to kill you!

Dash:  The questions challenged my “business as usual” thinking to its core – it forced me to think outside the box and also forced me to realize there are 2 levels of thinking that goes on in a person : the “visible” logical thinking bit and also the other more subtle thinking bit that goes on behind – the subconscious mind. The entrepreneur need to harness both.

FI also has an equity sharing pool – what can you tell us about that?

Claire:  In my opinion this is the “secret sauce” in the FI model… Successful graduates of FI have the option to donate 3.5% of the equity in their company into a Bonus Pool. The mentors and graduates of that semester, the local Co-Directors (me and Dash) and FI HQ all share the upside of that equity when any of the companies in the graduating semester have a liquidity event or exit. So that means you share in the success of your classmates, and also that myself, Dash and the mentors you’ve met are all personally incentivised to continue to support one another after the semester ends and help the graduates move towards incubation and/or funding.

How do people learn more or sign up?

To learn more about FI and the course visit the website.

To complete the interest form (first step in application) please visit We’ve negotiated free applications for Perth’s first semester.

Our first event, the Startup Pitch Bootcamp will be November 20th, 6.30pm at Spacecubed – it’s free and everyone is welcome whether you plan to apply or not – come along and see what we’re up to! Follow @PerthFounders on Twitter to be the first to hear when tickets become available in the next few days.

Claire:  If you would like to catch up in person with me, email me at and we’ll arrange a time to meet at Spacecubed – our major sponsor and the venue where all FI events will be held.

Event Review: Opportunities for Startups — August 30, 2012

Event Review: Opportunities for Startups

Nick Healy from DEC Communications recently attended Opportunities for Startups, a Young IT Professionals Forum that explored the opportunities for startups in Australia.

The Sydney start-up scene is alive and kicking in 2012. In the past few years kick-starter style outfits, incubators, coworking spaces, accelerators, angel investors and venture capitalists have emerged as driving force behind innovation and entrepreneurship.

No longer known as the domain of eccentric entrepreneurs with ‘big ideas’, founding, funding and growing a business from a start-up to something more is increasingly an open book to anyone with the drive, determination, smarts and professional network to make it happen.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) this month hosted a captive audience of Sydney’s hopeful start-up community and start-up curious for an in-depth 3+ hour workshop and panel session that covered some of the “A-B-Cs” of Opportunities for Startups in Australia.

The Commonwealth Bank’s (very slick) open plan offices at Commonwealth Place played host to Opportunities for Startups. A fitting surrounding for such a forum with a space designed to promote freer flow of work and ideas.

Among forum panellists were some of Sydney’s startup and innovation notables (see below) all there to frankly and openly share their experiences and war stories of working to take an idea and turning it into a successful business model.

Opportunities for Startups panellists included:

  • Kim Heras – Co-founder at PushStart, one of Australia’s top startup community accelerators.
  • Anoop George – Senior Director and Country Head at MindTree Australia
  • Natasha Rawlings – Direct Marketing pro, Founder and CEO at StreetHawk, a mobile shopping startup
  • Philip Takken – Audit and Assurance Senior Director at Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications (“TMT”) practice in Sydney
  • The night was facilitated by Jenny Bhuiyan, Event Convener at the ACS and head of the Women of Entrepreneurs Sydney Chapter

Revealed early by speakers in sharing recipes to startup success was that not one seems to be the same. All had learned things the hard way and offered the audience insights into what worked for them, what didn’t and what others can learn from their experiences.

Perhaps most intrinsic to all panellists was an emphasis on speed and pace when moving in the startup space. When asked for their top tips to share with anyone considering/contemplating jumping into the startup game, the following pearls of wisdom were shared:

Startup Tips Shared by Panellist over the Evening:

  • “Fail Fast”: Find out what doesn’t work quickly
  • “Learn Fast”: Learn quickly from your mistakes
  • “Understand your profit model”: Passion will only get you so far
  • “Always have a financial buffer”: Be prepared for a considerable period of time without income and all the psychological pressure that goes with that.
  • “Pick your co-founders carefully”: You’ll be spending a lot of time with them
  • “Spread the word about your business”: Share your information and ideas with people outside of the business
  • “Sell from the Start”: When you’re trying to sell to someone – that isn’t your friend – you will find our very quickly what people really think of your business and products
  • “Persevere or Pivot”: Keep going but be ready change and recalibrate very quickly
  • “Keep your business plan simple”: Complexity can kill
  • “If in Australia, be prepared to spend time attracting investor dollars”: Australian investors generally require a working profit model before making a commitment
  • “Learn how to do things yourself”: Whether it’s basic HTML coding, sales and marketing, you can’t afford to pay people to do everything

About Ambassador // All about Social Media, PR and travelling, Nick is big on any form of written, verbal and visual communication. By day, Nick is a PR and Social Media Consultant at an independent PR and Communications based in Sydney, @DEC_PRConnect with Nick via @NickHealy

photo: cc license, basheertome

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