The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: Steve Baxter of River City Labs in Brisbane — October 17, 2013

Interview: Steve Baxter of River City Labs in Brisbane

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“There are some really good businesses here, but when you look at the level of activity elsewhere you can see that we’re behind the eight ball. It needs serious local and state government help and support and if they want to do that, they have to be willing to spend the money.”

Steve Baxter has been responsible for pushing the Brisbane startup scene forward through his coworking space River City Labs and supporting global movements such as Startup Weekend. It’s never a rare occurrence for Steve to dip into his own pocket to help new tech businesses flourish. The Fetch caught up with Steve about his new gaming ventures and his Brisbane perspective.

What inspired you to open River City Labs?

I have several investments, and after travelling to Sydney I saw a great example of getting support for entrepreneurs and helping them get started in an organisation called Fishburners. I came back to Brisbane and looked for Fishburners, and other similar organisations and they didn’t exist, so that was the start of it. I looked at doing it commercially as a full profit business, but to be honest it’s not a big business. So I decided to launch the business, but with a bit more philanthropy involved.

After that, did you decide to invest in the gaming space, or did you invest before River City Labs?

The games were after River City Labs. The games side, with respect to Right Pedal Studios, is a different form of investment. It’s full profit, an accelerator fund. We take advanced prototypes and we launch them into the market through funding, mentoring and production resources, in a reasonably fast way. It’s definitely different.

How many games have you released so far through Right Pedal Studios?

We just released the first game in late March. The game is called Dragon Season. It’s an endless runner game, which is currently available on the Australian Google Play Store. Hopefully in a few weeks it will be available globally on Google Play and the Apple Store. It’s been discovered by a number of people in China, even though we only released it to the Australian Android market, and it’s found its way to about thirty-four thousand installations. That was really very surprising. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but we’re now pursuing some Chinese producers, which is quite interesting.

We also have one game out as a closed beta. It is due to come out as a world-wide release in the next few weeks. There are currently three others being worked on and we’re talking to another four teams about coming in.

Have you seen any major shifts in the startup scene in Brisbane since you started River City Labs?

Since River City Labs opened its doors last year (2012), there’s been a gradual shift. I’m actually a little disappointed with the startup scene in Brisbane. I spent some time in San Francisco and I travel to Sydney four times a month on average, so when I see the startup scene in Sydney compared to Fortitude Valley, it’s completely stark.

It’s been a slow growth. We were half full six weeks in, and we were half full in November last year; we’re still at about 60-65% now.

What do you think the Brisbane scene needs?

It needs a lot more people to take it seriously; it actually needs signals from Government. There has been market failure with regards to tech startup in Brisbane. There are some really good businesses here, but when you look at the level of activity elsewhere you can see that we’re behind the eight ball. It needs serious local and state government help and support and if they want to do that, they have to be willing to spend the money. It’s embarrassing when Auckland, New Zealand, have a higher angel funding rate than anywhere in Australia. That is because of direct government intervention.

How are places like NZ ahead?

In areas like matching investment funds, they invest in meetings with successful and respected entrepreneurs from the US to educate local angel groups. This was directly linked to the absolute increase in startup activity.

I’m just going to read you some statistics:

  • The number of startup incubators in the US is 1400, compared to 30 in Australia
  • The number of angel investors in Australia is 500, compared to 300,000 in the US
  • We do approximately 50 Angel deals per year, compared to 63,000 a year done in the US
  • There are eight early stage VC funds in Australia; there are 420 in the US

Do you think angel Investors lack direction, or does it take too long to get funding in Australia / people are more hesitant?

Probably all of the above, to be honest. Had Australia given birth to Facebook or Google or something along those lines, it would be a different story. But if we don’t take the initiative, we’ll never make these advances. For example, in Brisbane there are three coworking spaces/incubators – in Auckland there are six.

In the same year, Auckland recorded 45 Angel Investments per annum, while Brisbane had two. Auckland’s 40 venture capital investments trumped Brisbane’s 30, and the whole of Australia was only marginally higher at 72.

Are Brisbane startups are having to leave and go to Sydney to try to talk to Angel investors?

I am doing some work with the state government to try to prevent this. At some point in time, we have to actually understand that if this something we want to do, it’s going to cost to play. We are that far behind.

It’s a tragedy. There are a lot of issues that we’ve got to work through. But first we have to want to fix it, and put in the extra miles.

Where should they be putting their energy: sales channel or online marketing?

It depends on the type of business. There are a lot of businesses that are hesitant to spend money on sales and marketing yet still expect to gain the interest of investors. You need to do put in the effort and prove to investors that your business is a worthwhile prospect.

What turns you off a startup?

People or groups that generate an idea in the mobile tech sector, who don’t have the skills or knowledge to develop it, and expect investors to spend their money on a team to build their product. I believe in doing majority of the work yourself, and if you don’t have the knowledge or experience in the area of your idea, that you should take the time to learn and not just rely on others to do all the heavy lifting for you.

What makes you decide that you want to invest in a startup?

Teams. A good team can have a bad idea to start with, but will realise it’s a bad idea and change it. If the idea requires any creative and technical work build it, then you need a strong technical team. A lot of others will outsource, but it isn’t as appealing for investors. As for the business, the idea has got to be something that makes a splash. Technology has such great potential to have a huge impact, and it just takes the right idea to ;p the world on its head.

Are you going to Sydney to scout for new startups or angel investors?

Not really scouting, I already have 11 investments – I had 12 – which is too many. I would love to get back down to maybe seven or eight. Right Pedal Studios and River City Labs take up a fair bit of my time. Really what I’d like to do is less, and be able to spend more time with my 11-week-old daughter to be quite honest.

How do you relax?

I don’t at the moment. My hobbies are fishing and flying, of which I get to do precious little; and I’m sure that now with a young girl I’ll probably get to do even less. It’s surprising what can take up time in your day.

About our contributor // Sarina Quinlan is a marketing consultant and the curator of The Fetch in Brisbane. Follow her on Twitter via @digitalsarina.

Interview: Meet Mike – sustainable citizen, coffee lover and creator of Kokako in NZ — October 13, 2013

Interview: Meet Mike – sustainable citizen, coffee lover and creator of Kokako in NZ

“Maintain your integrity by not cutting corners or taking short cuts. A sustainably focused business doesn’t happen overnight and requires graft and a commitment.”

Mike Murphy – the man behind Kokako coffee, one of the great cafés in Auckland, is a local hero when it comes sustainability. Deirdre Dawson chats to him about his recent trip to Papua New Guinea and involvement in this weekend’s Sustainable Showcase.

Was there a light bulb moment you decided to follow the path of a sustainable citizen or was it a gradual movement?

I think I’ve been working towards it. I studied Social and Coastal Geography at University and also took papers in Anthropology. However as an 18 year old I never really thought of the context of what I was studying and how this could be applied in a commercial way. I was delivering pizzas at 17 and have stayed in food and beverage ever since, I never actually thought I’d use my degree. My interest in sustainability comes from a personal belief that we must look after not only our natural resources but also the people within it.

You recently travelled to PNG on an origin trip, why PNG?

Papua New Guinea is one of the main origins that we source our fairtrade organic coffee from. In April, I joined a contingent from Fairtrade Australia/NZ to PNG. I wanted to validate the core proposition of Fairtrade but more importantly spend time with the coffee growers and their families.

Memorable moments?

Heaps of memorable moments! Highlights would be the amazing people of PNG and their generosity, helping to harvest coffee cherries, intensive four-wheel driving through mud tracks to remote villages and sleeping in local schools at high altitude with no power. The most memorable thing is the poignancy in the simplicity of life. To us, life in the Highlands may look like it has its challenges – and it does.

However to put it in context, coming back to the pressures of running a business made me consider other ways I could add value to communities in PNG.

What’s your involvement with this weekend’s Sustainable Showcase?

We are running a coffee brew bar and espresso bar at the Sustainable City Showcase. We’ll be highlighting specific coffee origins along with our cold brew coffee. It’s a pretty exciting product – the coffee is soft brewed for eight hours in cold filtered water to create a naturally sweet and chocolaty beverage. We will be collaborating with our friends at All Good, Nice Blocks and Cosset to have a really interesting selection of fairtrade and organic treats for visitors to try.

Why should people come along?

People should come along to see how cool a future sustainable city can and will be. The people and companies that will be at the showcase are progressive and represent innovative thinking and ideas around how we should live our lives and do business. Sustainability, for all its connotations, is essentially about using considered, innovative and simple mechanisms for the people and the planet.

Hints for businesses wanting to shine sustainably?

1) Maintain your integrity by not cutting corners or taking short cuts. A sustainably focused business doesn’t happen overnight and requires graft and a commitment.

2) Collaborate and innovate. Seek out like-minded businesses who are doing innovative things in a sustainable way and work together.

About our contributor // While city ambassador Deirdre Dawson is currently working on the person-to-person rental startup Rentaholic, her background includes being an official ambassador for Kohu Road ice cream, teaching English in Japan and Secretary of the K Road Business Association.

Hello Katherine – our New Zealand curator — July 28, 2013

Hello Katherine – our New Zealand curator

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I think New Zealanders like to take a chance in both life and business… Adventure is in our blood. Both Auckland and Wellington are full of creative, driven people who also really value work-life balance.

After the great Kim Lesch kicked things off with our first Fetch in NZ last November, we’re now excited to hand the reins over to Katherine Field. Part of the curator’s code within The Fetch community is for the outgoing person to recommend a replacement [we also take applications for new cities] and I couldn’t be happier with Kim’s suggestion. Katherine is simply incredible and we’re looking forward to all the great happenings she uncovers! You may already recognise her from her role in building community at The Biz Dojo coworking spaces.

Why did you want to get involved in The Fetch’?

I see a real need for this community to be able to easily discover awesome events and opportunities, so I’m really excited to be part of a solution. It’s also a really great excuse to meet kiwis at the top of their game, and sit them down for a chat. The Fetchers are a real welcoming bunch and I feel like I’ve immediately extended my global family!

What things excite you about your community right now?

I think people are really starting to harness the hyper-connectedness (must be a word) of this city and use it to create super-charged projects. Every new initiative and event that involves this community seems to be the product of some serious collaboration. The power of doing things together – working smarter not harder – seems to be amping up – and really paying off.

How did you end up where you are today?

I grew up in Christchurch, and then moved to Wellington to go to University, and studied Art History and Criminology. Although a Da Vinci Code-inspired lifestyle was tempting, I ended up managing Toi Poneke Arts Centre – a City Council-run gallery and studio facility for emerging artists. I was part of a great team and it was really inspiring to be surrounded by over 100 talented creatives every day!

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Two years ago, I jumped on board at The Biz Dojo – a coworking network for innovative tech and creative businesses – to be the community manager for the newly established Wellington space. We’ve had a lot of really amazing people and businesses join our Dojo family over this time. Not only do I get to watch their businesses grow, but I’m also able to get out and meet a lot the people creating interesting work, products and businesses throughout Wellington – and Auckland too. Dream job!

What makes you tick?

Nailing a new recipe, filling out forms and poking my tongue out at small children.

What makes you ick?

Mushrooms and rude people.

What events can we find you at?

I’m often gate-crashing tech events that go way over my head, but the people are awesome and I learn something new each time. Through The Biz Dojo and my involvement in Startup Weekend, I’m also often seen dishing out the pizza and opening beer bottles at a lot of events for the local startup community.

What’s your favourite thing about your city?

My favourite thing about Wellington is the walkability! Having shops, restaurants, work, museums, theatres, waterfront, bike tracks and lookouts all within 20mins walk from home is pure luxury! Also, the fact that you will see someone you know around every corner!

What’s unique about Auckland and Wellington?

Both AKL and WLG are in the weird situation of being plonked at the bottom of the world..

The country is full of the descendants of crazy people who took a chance to emigrate to a tiny island at the bottom of the world. Adventure is in our blood.

I think New Zealanders like to take a chance in both life and business.

Both Auckland and Wellington are full of creative, driven people who also really value work-life balance.

Where can we find you in New Zealand?

You can normally find me in Wellington, on a coffee-date of some description! There’s no better way to get to know a new friend of business connection than over a delicious cup of local brew. 😉 I also love to get up to Auckland, hang out with the Dojo crew on K Rd, and get to know the great businesses and creatives up there. I’ve also started to find the hidden foodie gems!

How can we connect with you?

On Twitter at @kathfromwelly, @thefetchAKL, on LinkedIn or at katherine@thefetch.org.

Live in Auckland or Wellington? Sign up to our weekly event-packed email digests now!

Interview: Auckland Locals, Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt — June 2, 2013

Interview: Auckland Locals, Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt

This week our community ambassador Kate Montgomery interviews New Zealand Startup Weekend organizers Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt. Follow Kate on Twitter via @katemontgom.

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Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt

Alan Froggatt and Rowan Yeoman are two of the principal organisers for Startup weekend in New Zealand. Startup weekend is a 54-hour event run over (surprise!) a weekend, where startup enthusiasts form teams, build products and launch startups.

Alan and Rowan are understandably psyched about Startup Weekend and why it’s so important to the current and next generation of entrepreneurs in New Zealand and globally. The Fetch chatted to them about how they got involved, working under pressure, and why everyone should go to startup weekend.

You both come from entrepreneurial backgrounds. How did you get involved with Start Up weekend?

Rowan: I attended one of the first New Zealand weekends, and got really excited about being part of it. I had so much fun and met lots of people – and those of us who were really into what Startup Weekend was about stuck around and became organisers.

Alan: I knew one of the organisers and went along to an event for the pitches, then ended up staying for the whole weekend as a mentor and joined from there.

What’s great about Startup Weekend?

R: It’s a new way of operating – nimble, lean, you’ve got to understand your customers/users and market test your ideas in a really short space of time. And it’s fun.

A: You get the ability to interface with everyone there. Mentors, organisers, other attendees. It’s an awesome opportunity and an awesome atmosphere. Yes, you’re put through a tough experience but that compression builds a really swift kind of mastery.

Who should consider going to Startup Weekend?

R: Startup weekend can be for anyone. The experience is really different for everyone. We’ve had 14 year olds come along and come third, people at university or who’ve just graduated, business veterans, serial entrepreneurs, struggling writers. Everyone gets a different experience. People face hard challenges and they really value the experience – even if it’s hard at the time.

Why should people go to Start Up weekend?

A: Firstly, it’s great for networking. There’s also a high learning curve, high pressure and you have to figure things out as you go along. There’s an underlying shift in the way you have to work, in how quickly you make things, break things, how you engage with people you don’t even know. It’s a different way of collaborating and working for the majority of people that come along.

R: People learn things about their business from people who do different jobs from them. A salesperson sits with a designer and talks about user experience and finds they have a whole new way of talking about their product with their customers.

You’re not going to agree with everyone, or sometimes you’re market validating something you came up with half an hour before. Leaning in to your fear makes you better at dealing with it. In business and in life.

We’ve had teams implode. And it’s great to see how people learn very quickly to deal with that and work through it. And that’s what the mentors are there for, to help.

What can people expect to learn?

A: To learn how to fail, and fail fast. And be ok with failing. Failure is only truly failure if you take nothing from it for future endeavours. You have a new surface area from failing, you know that much more about what works or what doesn’t, what customers want or don’t.

You learn that everyone has a valid point of view – startup weekend is all about learning to ask questions instead of knowing answers. It’s not about doing what you think you know. It’s about being agile – businesses can’t afford to spend 2 years working on a business case anymore – the competition will beat them. So they need to learn to be faster, to make it, put it out there then iterate as they go.

R: You can’t back out, or procrastinate. You have to get it done. They’re great skills for life. In the chaos of Startup Weekend you learn resilience and you’re working towards a purpose. You’re also learning to be responsive. You come face to face with your confidence and while it can be confronting, you’re also in it with other people, and you can learn how to get immediate help, from your team and mentors, you get to communicate and work through things.

Any final words?

R: Come along for 54 hours – you don’t have to want to change the world, you can just want to learn about business. And yourself.

Editor’s note: The next Startup Weekend Auckland is going to be held on November 22, sign up for more info here.

About our Ambassador // Kate Montgomery is a copywriter-for-hire and wannabe web developer. She balances copious internetting with yoga, tea and vintage crime novels. She retweets other people’s funnies @katemontgom.

 

Event Review: Startup Weekend Auckland — May 19, 2013

Event Review: Startup Weekend Auckland

On Wednesday the 16 of May Deirdre Dawson from The Fetch Community Ambassador Team in Auckland went along to the Startup Weekend Auckland event. 

Photo Credit: Janine Barr
Photo Credit: Janine Barr

Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers Unite

Auckland recently hosted its third annual Startup Weekend at the Emirates Building in Wynyard Quarter. Startup Weekends began in Seattle in 2010 with a vision of ‘inspiring change in entrepreneurs’. It seems to have worked with over 110 countries having adopted the frenetic event and this being Auckland’s third such event.

2013 saw close to 80 attendees who classed themselves either as hackers, hipsters or hustlers otherwise know as programmers, designers or those skilled in other areas of ‘non-technical’ business.

All participants are encouraged to pitch a new idea – the guise being to create something from scratch. An excited, nervous energy lingered around the room as people lined up to wow the audience with a 60-second pitch. From here, it was an organic selection process whereby those with the strongest ideas and most persuasive leaders shone.  Within 90 minutes of the pitching session, all teams were formed and the game was on.

Photo Credit: Janine Barr
Photo Credit: Janine Barr

The next two days were then spent conceptualizing, formulating, planning, validating, designing and in some cases, launching a new business. Mentors volunteered their time to assist with the curly questions, playing a massive role in the development of ideas. The fact that these experts in their field willingly give up their time and energy is a fantastic indicator of the thriving Startup scene here in Aotearoa.

Final pitches were on Sunday night in front of a panel of four judges all of whom are well respected in the business community. Teams had five minutes to share their workings from the weekend and convince the panel why their business would succeed. A high caliber of ideas were taken from conception and into the real world over the weekend, with an average of a third of them expected to still be operating in three months.

Startup Weekends are an excellent event for entrepreneurs of all flavours. Often misunderstood by their boundless optimism and never-ending torrent of ideas, events like this create a nurturing environment where everyone is welcomed to the start-up family. Those interested should get it quick for the next event scheduled in November.

For more information about the event, winners, judges and general hype, check out www.startupweekend.co.nz

About our Ambassador // This article was contributed by Community Ambassador Deirdre Dawson. While she is currently working on the startup, Rentaholic, her background includes steering Disruptv gallery as the business manager of the multi faceted creative company  which specialised in large scale murals, graphic design, event management and graffiti workshops. 

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