It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years since Matt and I were out there pushing the funding wheelbarrow around for BugHerd. Back then he was the one getting up and doing the pitching, something I’ll never envy him for (or anyone else). Pitching publicly the first time is challenging, daunting and almost certainly going to result in many sleepness nights beforehand. Back in 2011 there were very few Angels or early stage VCs here in Australia, so our pitch events were almost entirely a practice run for the US. But 5 years later, things have changed, and now the Startmate teams are actually out pitching to people with real chequebooks, with real intent to invest.
Startmate is arguably the premiere startup accelerator in Australia. Naval Ravikant (AngelList founder), ranked Startmate as one of the top five accelerators in the world, alongside names like Y-Combinator and TechStars. When you consider that, on average, each Startmate company goes on to raise at least $1M USD in seed funding, you can understand why so many founders (and investors) are keen to get involved.
Unlike previous years, the pitch event in Melbourne was a far more intimate affair. This year was an invite-only event held at Donkey Wheel House in the CBD, with a select group of 20–30 investors keen to hear from the 8 startups from the 2016 batch. As is often the case, it was a little bit of a mixed bag with some teams absolutely nailing their pitches, and a few falling a little flat. One thing is for sure, from start to finish, there was a lot to like.
Compete Shark is kinda crazy. Imagine if you’re the brand manager of a bank, and your job is to not only keep tabs on your own marketing efforts, but to keep an eye on the competitors as well. CompeteShark automates the latter half of that by providing a super clean dashboard of online marketing activities undertaken by competing businesses. Super smart idea. They monitor your competitors and can immediately alert you if they’re running a “20% off” sale for example. This allows the brand owner to then get on the front foot in response. Sounds like they’ve already got quite a few ad agencies and big brands on board and are working hard to scale here in Australia before heading over the US.
I was initially a little confused as to what ContactOut was about, but the big picture vision from Rob actually makes a whole lot of sense. ContactOut, at the moment, is a browser extension which scrapes data from a profile page (say linkedin) and combines it with a bunch of data from social media sites to work out what the person’s email address is. The idea here is that it’s a whole lot cheaper to use ContactOut than it is to pay LinkedIn $10 to send an email. The big picture is what’s really interesting though, and that’s being able to find all the people “like Person X” and be able to deliver targeting advertising to them. It’s all a bit on the “iffy” side and could possibly be prone to misuse, but is interesting nonetheless.
Elev.io “delivers relevant help to your users, precisely where and when it’s needed”. It’s a widget (like BugHerd) that sits on your site and prompts website users for relevant articles/help when they’re having trouble. BugHerd are actually already elev.io customers, so we’re already pretty on top of what they’re doing, but it was great to hear some of the bigger picture stuff. Given it was a closed event, I can’t disclose the particulars, but suffice to say I was pretty impressed with their traction. When their customer list already features folks like Dell, AdRoll and Staples, you know they’re doing pretty well. From the interest in the room, sounds like these guys won’t have any trouble closing a round pretty soon!
I must confess that solar power industry isn’t my forté, but Pylon seems like an interesting proposition. The general gist is that there are many manufacturers of solar systems, and ever manufacturer also produces their own software to manage said system. For energy producers that manage many different brands, this can be a major source of pain and complexity. Pylon aggregates data from all the different types of hardware and produces an alternative management system that allows companies to manage all their hardware from one place. This abstraction seems like a great solution to a very complex set of problems. I’ll be keen to see how they go with suppliers.
Qpay initially seemed like a rathe convoluted product in a really tiny niche, but after their pitch, I’m sold. Qpay is a group ticketing, communication and payment provider for uni students…. yes all of that. There’s certainly no “X for Y” pitch here! Qpay have found a rather remarkable niche that suffer from a fairly unique problem. Not only that, but it seems like a niche that’s really big and really poorly served by existing solutions. The amazing thing is, that whilst you’ve probably never heard of Qpay, most Universities in Australia are already using it. Next stop, USA. If they can do there what they’ve already achieved here, it’ll be interesting startup to watch.
STEMN (which stands for Science Technology Engineering Maths Network) is what it says on says on the box. It’s a social network (of sorts) for folks working on STEM projects. At the moment they’re very much focused on Aerospace, but you can easily see it expand from there. They pitch it as “Github for science” which I’m not entirely clear on (given Open Source Software is a fairly large reason why Github works), but it does convey the concept. Rocket scientist manage a portfolio of their works, and share/collaborate with others on similar projects. The goal is that by opening up collaboration, everyone will have a better outcome. It’s likely to be an uphill battle, but I love the spirit behind the idea.
Today We Learned
Today We Learned is a simple app that lets teachers communicate directly with parents via a short message each day. The goal isn’t as an information service, but as a cue for parent/child discussion about what was learnt at school that day. More engagement means a better relationship, but also better retention of knowledge. If you ever asked “What did you do today?” only to get back “Nuthin”, then you can understand what I mean. Given I have a son in Grade 2, I can immediately see the value here! EdTech is always a hard space to crack, and it sounds like Today We Learned are finding it an up hill battle as well. Still early days, but the bottom-up approach seems to be working for them. I’ll be interested to see if they can really pick up the traction.
When I first heard Workyard was a “social network for tradies” I have to admit I was a little skeptical… but traction doesn’t lie! Workyard falls somewhere between LinkedIn and Instagram for tradespeople. It allows chippies, plasterers and brickies (and others!) to be able to take photos of projects in progress and upload them for the world to see. Rather than just being about self aggrandisement, this work is then shown in a feed to other tradies and becomes a genuine source of employment. Similar to how designers might use Dribbble, or devs use Github, Workyard allows tradies to show off their work and get more work/recommendations as a result. The team already have some crazy traction, and whilst it seems like it might be a niche product, the construction industry is a whole lot bigger than I realised!
All in all, I was very impressed by both the quality businesses and their pitches. Even the companies that I wouldn’t necessarily throw money at have a compelling story to tell and are, at the very least, viable businesses (even if they may not be “VC” businesses). Most of the teams are raising (and from what I understand they are generally raising $500-$1M) and it looks like most will successfully close out a significant portion of their rounds here in Australia. From what I could gather many had already gotten 20-30% of their funds committed! That’s a significant change from previous years and says a lot about the changing investment ecosystem here in Oz. Exciting stuff!
The teams are now heading off to the US for two months where they will no doubt be out talking to more investors and customers to get themselves to the next stage of growth. If they thought it’d been tough so far, they’ll quickly learn that now is when the real work starts! Best of luck to all the teams, we’re cheering for you!