10 Things The Best Founders Do

November 2019 by Barnaby Marshall

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I believe in the old adage, “If you want to be great, learn from the things that great people do.” As investors, observing 100s if not 1000s of entrepreneurs, we are at an advantage to observe what the best founders do, how they think and how they act.

As we spot these trends of what the best founders do, we can then help other founders copy those habits of success. I share these insights with founders often 1:1. But I thought it would be worthwhile to share 1: many for a wider group of founders to benefit from our learnings.

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We're Hiring a Software Developer

October 2019 by Peter Thomson posted in Talent, Technology

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Icehouse Ventures is looking for an awesome software developer to be part of building out our online investment services. Our ideal candidate is a hands-on platform builder with experience in developing scalable data-driven platforms. 

You will be working closely with the rest of the team throughout the software development life cycle. You’ll have a chance to be involved right from the conception of the product through to design, development and deployment. 

 

We’re looking for someone who also has  an interest in finance and investing. We have an exciting technology roadmap in place that will see you working on a wide range of projects from an interactive investor portal, portfolio visualisation tools, interesting API integrations and complex CRM systems. 

Because we spend our time investing in the greatest startups in NZ we need to live our own message apply best-practises from lean startup, design thinking and agile. We are performance-focused and numbers-driven team so you’ll be working with a lot of financial data sets. 

This is a full-stack role so you’ll be working all the way from front-end design through to back-end server architecture. Your main focus will be on the core application, so a focus on logic, models, controllers and data manipulation will be an advantage. You’ll be a team player with a keen eye for detail and problem-solving skills. 

Who we are

We invest in the best startups in New Zealand and we’re determined to provide a world class experience for founders and investors. We provide a growing range of angel investing, venture capital and private equity products for founders and investors. We currently have over $150 million in assets under management.

Icehouse Ventures is the team behind Ice Angels, Flux, Tuhua Ventures, Arc Angels, First Cut Ventures and Eden Ventures. Our portfolio includes some of the best startups to come out of NZ in recent years including Face Me, Parrot Analytics, Ask Nicely, Dexibit and Sharesies. You’ll be working closely as part of our core team to build technology that delivers great experiences for investors and founders. We are part of the Icehouse community and you’ll be working with the wider community on projects to help integrate our services with other business platforms. 

Responsibilities 

  • Write clean, efficient code based on functional specifications

  • Designing and developing software systems using scientific analysis and mathematical models to predict and measure outcomes 

  • Analysing information to recommend and plan the installation of new systems or modifications of existing systems

  • Structure, manage and manipulate large data sets

  • Integrate software components and third-party programs

  • Test, verify and deploy programs and systems

  • Troubleshoot, debug and upgrade existing software

  • Gathering and evaluating user feedback

  • Create technical documentation for reference and reporting

  • Preparing reports on programming project specifications, activities, or status

Requirements

 
  • Experience with software design and development in a user-centered environment

  • Studies in computer science, engineering or equivalent experience

  • Knowledge of coding languages and frameworks/systems

  • Knowledge of the software development life-cycle

  • Experience with data modeling and database management 

  • Ability to learn new languages and technologies

  • Familiarity with agile development methodologies

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Resourcefulness and troubleshooting aptitude

  • Attention to detail

  • Desire to work in fast-paced environment

  • Creativity is always a plus

Tools

You’ll be working hands-on with the latest versions of technologies like Laravel, php, MySQL, Vue JS, Tailwind and AWS. We’re a small enough team that you’ll also have the flexibility to decide your own IDE, text editor and to create a workflow that works best for you. We’re looking for someone with familiarity across the range of tools needed to build great software, including at least some of: 

  • Core programming languages like php, rails, python, etc. And/or an interest in learning php.

  • Front-end languages like Vue, React, Angular, etc.And/or an interest in learning Vue.

  • Frameworks such as Laravel, Symphony, Django, Rails, etc.

  • Database tools such as MySQL, Postgres etc.

  • Infrastructure technologies like Heroku, Docker, and Vagrant.

  • Building APIs and services using CURL, REST etc.

  • Interface design including CSS, SASS and HTML5. 

  • Server administration in Linux, Apache, NGINX and DNS.

Why join us

This role is a chance to be part of a fast-growing team and to make a name for yourself in the startup community in NZ. The tools you build will be used by some of the most influential investors in NZ and by the hottest startups.  

You’ll be surrounded by people who are the best at what they do and have the chance to do your best work. We’ll let you choose between a Mac and PC and set you up with all the tools you need (as many screens as you need). 

 

Icehouse Ventures is the leading investor in early-stage New Zealand companies and the team are all passionate about creating great businesses here in NZ. You’ll grow fast and benefit from mentoring, connections and resources from the whole Icehouse community. 

The vision is that this is a permanent role and you’ll be a key part of the long-term technology strategy for the Icehouse Ventures team. Depending on your circumstances we may look to structure your offer around a short-term project in the first instance and build towards a permanent role once we get to know each other.

If you are interested in applying for the role, send through an application to:

talent@icehouseventures.co.nz

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The first startup we invested in has been acquired - exciting news for Biomatters

April 2019 by Robbie Paul posted in Portfolio

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The acquisition of Biomatters by US company GraphPad announced today is exciting news on many fronts. We are super pleased for the Biomatters team and this milestone.
 

Biomatters was among the first startups to present to the Ice Angels investment network after it was formed by its five founding members in December 2003. The Ice Angels and a handful of others provided seed funding in 2004, and we’ve invested multiple times in the company as they evolved and grew over the years. One of the members has remained a Board member since day one. 

The founders of Biomatters set out with a vision of “uncorking bottlenecks in the disease-research and drug-discovery processes.” This absolutely aligned to our desire to back ambitious startups that could add significantly to the future of New Zealand.  

Their tenacity, commitment, and world-leading team has flown under the radar for more than a decade. The acquisition offers Biomatters the firepower they deserve to help them shine on the global stage. It is an exciting next step for the company and the team as they join forces to create a life sciences software platform with technology and data analysis at the core of scientific research around the world.

It is also good news for New Zealand’s fast-growing entrepreneurial sector. As we have seen with other investor returns of this magnitude, the capital, confidence, and expertise is often recycled into the startup ecosystem. Good ideas breed other good ideas; company founders breed founders; confidence breeds confidence, and capital breeds capital. It is very virtuous.

Ice Angels invests in startups knowing their journeys are risky and can be long. It’s fantastic to have the risk and patience rewarded in this case.

As we power up the new company next week, Icehouse Ventures (which includes Ice Angels), with our first official day being 1 May, we look forward to meeting more entrepreneurs with the potential to make their mark on the world stage like the Biomatters team.

Congratulations to Brett and the Biomatters team. Thanks for your hard work and contribution to the future of New Zealand.

- Robbie Paul

CEO of Icehouse Ventures

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The Launch of Icehouse Ventures

April 2019 by Robbie Paul

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I joined The Icehouse ten years ago. The first thing that inspired me was the calibre of the people involved. 100s of entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders lined up to contribute to our mission of creating a high performing New Zealand economy where ideas and businesses thrive.

Our opportunity (& challenge) has always been to truly harness the expertise and resources of our network. We have leveraged many tools to do so. We incentivise them, inspire them, provide them an identity, and simply beg them.

As an investor in >80 startups, I have seen ample evidence that the most effective tool to harness the firepower and willpower of others is to align them with equity. That has not been an option for us. Until now.

Today we announce the establishment of Icehouse Ventures. As the investment arm of The Icehouse, the Icehouse Ventures group includes the Ice Angels and ArcAngels investor networks, Tuhua Ventures, Eden Ventures, First Cut Ventures, a variety of passive funds, and the Flux Accelerator. We have collectively invested >$100m into 165 Kiwi startups. 

Icehouse Ventures is launching with $3m in investment from Simplicity Kiwisaver, FNZC, and Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1. I cannot imagine a more iconic and aligned set of lead investors. We will raise an additional $1m from the amazing angel investors within our community.  

The investment is about enabling us to significantly increase the support we provide to startups. This capital will afford more resources and templates, a larger and more relevant global network, increasing investment for startups by growing our community of active investors and our managed funds, and more high pedigree team members and fund Partners to provide hands-on support.

However, this capital raise is not just about financial capital. It’s about intellectual capital. Financial capital keeps the lights on. Intellectual capital underpins bold missions. Financial capital seeks an ROI. Intellectual capital creates an ROI. Financial capital is finite. Intellectual capital is infinite.

I have always admired the virtuousness that founders benefit from when they raise capital: they start with a bold vision and through the process of convincing investors and team members to believe it they become more emboldened. As a result, they are better able to harness the intellectual capital of their investors and team members. This has absolutely been our experience launching Icehouse Ventures. We are better off having simply gone through the process.

This is an exciting new chapter for us.

It was inspired by watching founders establish and pursue massive visions. It was enabled because founders gave us the chance to support and invest in their journeys. It was funded because Simplicity, FNZC, and K1W1 recognise the amazing impact founders can make on New Zealand’s future. Thanks to you all.

Ten years into this journey with The Icehouse I can conclude this: patience and persistence is highly rewarded in the startup ecosystem. It takes a ridiculously long time to build anything of meaning.

The support of Simplicity, FNZC, and K1W1 provides us the ability to remain patient and persistent. It positions us to build an institution that thrives by investing in and adding value to New Zealand’s leading startups over the coming decades. I feel super privileged to be a part of this mission.

Robbie Paul

CEO of Icehouse Ventures

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Icehouse Ventures a huge leap forward for New Zealand entrepreneurs

April 2019 by Icehouse Ventures

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  New investment partners join The Icehouse to give massive boost to entrepreneurs and innovation
AUCKLAND, April 15, 2019: The Icehouse is powering up its impact on New Zealand entrepreneurs by today announcing new investment partners have come on board to form ‘Icehouse Ventures’, a new company to be launched 1 May that will accelerate the growth and development of Kiwi entrepreneurs with global aspirations.
The new partners include KiwiSaver funds manager Simplicity; Sir Stephen Tindall’s investment company K1W1; investment banking firm Jarden and investors connected to The Icehouse that will have a combined 23% stake in Icehouse Ventures.
Further, Simplicity has committed to invest up to $100 million over 5 years into funds managed by Icehouse Ventures that go into high growth New Zealand businesses seeking the next phase of expansion capital beyond early seed funding. A defining moment for New Zealand
  Icehouse Chair Chris Quin says creating Icehouse Ventures is a defining moment for New Zealand’s startup sector: “This is a massive boost for entrepreneurs and innovation in this country. Together we are unlocking KiwiSaver and managed New Zealand funds to get more capital flowing into the growth sector to provide more support for New Zealand startups taking on global markets.
  “Today also marks an evolution for The Icehouse as we bring on a group of investors who share our vision. We are excited about the potential of this partnership, and the opportunity to boost an already fast developing startup market in New Zealand that creates more local companies, jobs and allows more New Zealanders to benefit from their growth.
  “Further, Icehouse Ventures will offer investors unprecedented portfolio-level exposure to New Zealand’s boldest start-ups.”
Fuelling more founders
Icehouse Ventures CEO Robbie Paul says the company is positioned to meet the demand of top calibre founders who have raised the bar in New Zealand: “The founders and leaders of our fast-growing young companies are understated heroes of this country, the backbone of the economy and the creative fibre of our future, solving real problems for better futures and better lives.
  “We are seeing more second and third-time founders starting new companies; and with Icehouse Ventures and our new partners, we have this fantastic opportunity to step up and be a catalyst by providing greater amounts of capital over the next five to ten years to fuel their global ambitions.”
Closing the funding gap
Mr Paul says the company’s bigger scale will enable startups to attract significantly more capital by tapping into strategic offshore investors and also ensuring a greater portion of the capital they need can be provided by New Zealanders.
“Our goal is to ensure a greater portion of the capital that high growth companies need, can be provided by New Zealanders,” says Mr Paul. “We are delighted to share the ownership and commitment to this opportunity for New Zealand with our new partners in Simplicity, K1W1, FNZC and the other investors that join us on this journey.”
  Simplicity Managing Director Sam Stubbs says the investment represents the first example of a KiwiSaver fund manager that is investing in a business dedicated to high growth New Zealand businesses.
  “This is a fantastic opportunity for our KiwiSaver members to tap into a broad range of New Zealand’s boldest and brightest companies. Given the breadth and depth Icehouse Ventures has with companies starting up and expanding, we want to provide investment options for our members. We also think this is the beginning of significant investments by KiwiSaver managers into high growth New Zealand companies. It means every Kiwi can be a part of New Zealand’s exciting and fast-growing entrepreneurial sector.”
FNZC CEO James Lee said: “Our partnership with Icehouse Ventures is part of our firm’s broader investment into growing New Zealand’s capital markets. FNZC has a long history of supporting entrepreneurs and we’re excited to support a wider group of companies and people, connecting into our network of expertise and capital. We’re passionate about helping New Zealanders to succeed domestically and on the global stage.
For more information, please contact:
Julie Landry
  Ph 021 895 098

FAQs


What is Icehouse Ventures?

Icehouse Ventures is an early stage venture capital firm. The firm includes all of the previous startup related activities of The Icehouse including the Flux Accelerator, partnerships with angel networks Ice Angels & ArcAngels; and funds Tuhua Ventures, Eden Ventures and First Cut Ventures, which collectively manage $50 million in funds. Tuhua Ventures second fund, Tuhua II is more than 75% subscribed and will close shortly.

More than $106 million has been invested into 165 New Zealand companies since The Icehouse first began channelling capital to startups with the establishment of its incubator in 2001 and Ice Angels in 2003, with more than half this amount raised within the past four years. In 2018, the Icehouse community invested $22 million into 56 startups.

Icehouse Ventures will continue to be majority owned by The Icehouse Limited. New shareholders will include KiwiSaver funds manager Simplicity; Sir Stephen Tindall’s investment company K1W1; investment banking firm FNZC and a group of other investors and staff that will join with the partners.

How much are the new partners investing in Icehouse Ventures?  

The Icehouse is raising $4 million to power up Icehouse Ventures and grow its business. The investing partners have committed $3 million of investment into Icehouse Ventures between Simplicity, FNZC and K1W1, leaving $1 million of investment to be raised from interests associated with The Icehouse. The investing partnership has also indicated they will be investing in Icehouse Ventures’ funds and investing platforms in their own right. Simplicity will start by investing $2 million into Tuhua Ventures’ second fund, Tuhua II and it expects to invest up to $100 million over the next 5 years in other Ventures funds that are funding emerging high growth New Zealand companies. FNZC will also be investing across the platform and also releasing products that enable its clients to access the portfolio opportunities of Icehouse Ventures best companies.

What is the ownership structure of Icehouse Ventures? 

The new investing partners will own 23% of the company. The Icehouse owns the remaining shares and will be launching an employee share ownership programme.

Who is Robbie Paul? How did he become CEO?

Robbie joined The Icehouse in 2008 and trained under former US Angel Capital Association Director Dan Rosen and New Zealand Angel Association Arch Angel Bill Payne. He became CEO of Ice Angels in 2015. He is the Managing Partner of Tuhua Ventures and was a founding investor in 2016. He will take on the role of CEO of Icehouse Ventures from 1 May. You can find out more about Robbie here - https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertjpaul/

How many people does Icehouse Ventures employ?

Icehouse Ventures will initially employ 8 full-time executives who were previously employed by The Icehouse which now falls under the umbrella of Icehouse Ventures. More staff will be hired as the company grows.

How does the Icehouse work with Icehouse Ventures?

The Icehouse retains majority control of Icehouse Ventures and in simple terms, it is sharing a load of investment with its new investment partners to create more impact and returns. Everything else says the same, the organisation will work from the same place, acting as one business focused on supporting New Zealand’s founders and SMEs to reach their potential. The Icehouse will have a shared services contract with Icehouse Ventures to deliver its back office and compliance together with the support of marketing and executives such as The Icehouse CEO, Andy Hamilton who will continue to be actively involved in the Icehouse Ventures business and operations. This shared services arrangement has an initial period of five years. See diagram below.

What is The Icehouse?
Founded in 2001, The Icehouse is owned by a not-for-profit charity, The International Centre for Entrepreneurship Foundation and is tasked with enabling a material impact on New Zealand over generations through enabling entrepreneurs and business owners to reach their potential.
Over the last 18 years, The Icehouse has principally focused on two target markets to achieve its vision. The first market it has worked with are established owner-manager firms or SMEs. The second market it has worked with are high-tech/high-value startups.
  As the majority owner of Icehouse Ventures, The Icehouse will work closely with Icehouse Ventures while continuing to focus on the learning and development and coaching programmes developed for established SMEs. This includes a range of programmes such as the Owner Manager Programme and the Leadership Development Programme for owners and leaders of established SME businesses in the $3-100 million revenue category. The Icehouse is also expanding its regional footprint for support of established SMEs through its presence in Hawkes Bay.
Since 2001 its customers have created 27,285 new jobs and generated $15.5 billion of new revenue of which $3.7 billion is from international markets.
  For more information visit https://www.theicehouse.co.nz/
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35% of founders break-up. Here's what we've learned.

May 2018 by Barnaby Marshall

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Co-founder splits are seldom discussed but happen maybe more than you think. I wanted to take the opportunity to write a bit about something we have experienced a number of times with our startup portfolio and provide some insights into how to prepare for the worst (while still expecting the best).
The fact is — of 100 companies that the Icehouse has funded through our various investment entities since 2012, 35% of them have had a founder leave the company.
Most of those have left within the first two years of our investment. Some of these have been very messy, some have been more civil, but in all cases, they have cost time and money: the two most precious resources for any startup. Add to that the emotional stress and you have a recipe to rock even the most resilient founders, and in some cases — almost be a lethal blow to the business.

I wanted to write a post to cover off a few things:

Firstly, to bring to light the frequency of start up founding relationships not working out over the short / medium term.

Secondly, for founders to recognise the importance of having the conversation about what would happen in a break up early on.

Thirdly, to talk about how you should set up your vesting and shareholders agreement to prepare for the worst case scenario.

1. Partnership breakups: It happens for different reasons

From talking to many founders in writing this article, I have learned that no two stories are the same, but there are common themes.
Founder relationships are hard. The stress of being in a startup is often heavy, there are disagreements about strategy, there are personality and communication challenges and sometimes the skills that the business needs from the founders change. A founding relationship is like being in a marriage, but many founders’ relationships come together much more quickly than a marriage, with less dating time involved. Sometimes things don’t work out and a co-founder needs to leave.
This shouldn’t be seen as a black mark on the company’s history, in many cases it’s a natural progression of the company’s growth. So, it’s important to have a conversation about what would happen if things weren’t to work out and set up the mechanisms for someone to exit if needed without it killing the company.

2. Plan and talk about it early, even if it’s an awkward conversation

Founders leaving companies is common but something that few founders discuss, thinking of it as “something that won’t happen to us, because we have a great relationship”.
  It’s something that should be understood as a risk going in and discussed with care upfront. Many founders defer the conversation, because its hard and sometimes awkward. Things are going well, they have just raised money, they are growing. In most cases, leaving the company is the last thing on anyone’s mind. But it’s much easier to have the conversations upfront than have the conversation when it’s crunch time and someone needs to go. The conversation is 10x more awkward by the time you get to this point!
  Some of the things we recommend having a frank conversation about are:
  • What are the roles that each co-founder will have in the organisation, how are those expected to change over time?

  • What are the deliverables or measures of accountability with each founders’ role?

  • How big a company do we want to build?

  • How much dilution are you prepared to have along the way?

  • Are we both committing to this journey full time, when will that change?

  • Is it our life’s work or does one founder consider it to be more of a project?

  • How long would you be happy to be in the business for, what’s our time horizon?

  • Is there a time at which, if X milestone hadn’t been reached a founder would give up, or are we both committed to the bitter/sweet end?

Once this conversation has been had it’s good to document this understanding in a formal way and clearly outline the steps that would be taken if a founder wants to leave. What is the mediation process, the meetings, the board discussion etc. How is this decision finally made? Having a simple understanding of how this will work can avoid a lot of distraction and dysfunction if the situation does arise.

3. What next? The pragmatic steps to take

The challenging thing is that because most founders don’t talk about vesting until they raise capital, it is seen as an “investors vs. founders” discussion. We see founders stress over the perception that it is a tool the investors might use to “screw them out of their company”. The truth is — good vesting agreements protect everyone from disputes down the line, investors and founders alike. But as a founder it should be very important to you. Founders will be the people who will be committing to spending the next 5+ years with the stress of a startup, working 60+ hours a week, and earning below market salary who feel “screwed” if their co-founder walks out, takes a comfortable corporate job, and gets all the same reward simply because they were there in the early days.

So, the best practice in our experience is to document a vesting in a shareholder’s agreement that outlines the plan. Here is a great Simmonds Stewart Document Maker that can be used to set this out. Generally, we would advise a vesting period of 3–4 years. It takes a long time to create value in a company in most cases. If the vesting schedule is too short, or too much is vested on close of financing and a co-founder leaves the business, they could leave with 20–30% of the company. This is an awkward situation for the company and does not bode well for the next financing round if a large portion of the cap table is sitting with a now ex-employee that will no longer contribute to the future success of the company.

Some exiting co-founders recognise that if they leave the business holding a large portion of equity this could be a burden on the company, perhaps stop them from raising further capital and ultimately affect the value of their own shareholding. In some cases, we have seen founders leaving, sell back, or forfeit shares in light of this. Having said that, it’s still a tough conversation to have. The best-case scenario is having a vesting schedule that would mean at any time a founder could leave without it killing the cap table. Impossible? Maybe. But it’s something to aspire toward. If you have got into business with reasonable and rational people to begin with, this conversation is easier (choose your co-founders wisely! Preferably people you have already known for a long time).
Another way to think about vesting is from the point of view of an investor. When raising venture or angel investment, valuation is based on the future value you will build in the company, not on its ability to generate free cash flows today. With that in mind, founders’ equity should be earned over time, in proportion with the value they create as they grow the company. This also keeps the founders motivated to work and build value in the business for X number of years. 

So to sum up; What can you do to avoid a founder break up?

In some cases you can’t, the founders skills don’t suit the job any more, there is no job for them, views on the future change and aren’t aligned any more, or stress gets the better of someone.
  But there are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk. The three bits of advice I would have are to:
  1. Set up your vesting schedule with the worst in mind.

  2. Focus on internal communication and getting comfortable with strategy among the team.

  3. Let people know if you are feeling overwhelmed in the business and talk about it to avoid a total blow up!

In all cases — an exiting founder is a stressful and all-consuming process. But if you have the guard rails setup from which to operate within, it can make the process a lot easier.

Hope this helps with anyone setting up a new company or going through this process currently.
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Talking sports commentary with Spalk co-founder Ben Reynolds

March 2018 by Icehouse Ventures

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Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Vodafone Xone. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Simon talks to Ben Reynolds about how his company Spalk is making sports commentary more accessible. 

Have you ever turned on your favorite live sports game to be disappointed by the commentators? Maybe it is an Aussie butchering Māori or Pasifika names, maybe it is just that they are talking out of their hats.

Well, Ben Reynolds and Michael Prendergast did something about it. They used internet software to do their own commentaries, growing to thousands of fans who would tune in despite audio delays, lags from live action and all sorts of technical shortcomings – shortcomings in which they saw an opportunity.

So they built the perfect system to allow multiple commentaries on a single stream of video.

They prototyped, launched and have now built the tool into Spalk, a service that has let millions view video with their audio and is used by Māori TV, FIBA and soon lots of American sports outfits to allow choice for viewers and savings for broadcasters.

It’s an idea driving up viewership, engagement and getting backing from capital. It’s earned them a place at the Vodafone Xone accelerator that kick-started their growth. To talk the journey so far and the plans ahead, Ben Reynolds joined the podcast. 

You started out with the idea of providing alternate commentary for sports, pretty much for fun. Did you see pretty soon that there were actually people whose home team was playing and they weren’t getting their side of the story out?

Yeah, exactly, so what we did after we built this little hacky version of Spalk was we went out and said to a bunch of amateur sports organisations, hey, you’re not actually streaming anything, can we put some of your content online so us and our friends can commentate it?

So our first partner was Auckland Cricket, who streamed a bunch of their Plunket Shield matches and a bunch of their county level cricket games, and so we’d be sitting there with a camcorder following the action on the side of the field, streaming it to YouTube, it would go onto our system, and then people would be commentating it from all around New Zealand.

Soon we had a commentator in Australia, and then one in London. The commentators were growing and growing. We started doing a lot of work with other amateur sports organisations, the likes of New Zealand Swimming and New Zealand Squash and a lot of those other sports who weren’t quite at the broadcast stage but were really keen to get content online so their fans could commentate it.

We were getting good numbers of people tuning in and listening to all this good commentary. We had professional players coming on and commentating tournaments, and kids who’d just finished up at their high school champs coming on to commentate their friends and all sorts of things like that.

We started seeing a lot of grassroots people coming in and getting really really excited about what we were doing.

Did you have to build out the infrastructure to actually film everything and live stream it in order to get the Spalk idea off the ground? 

It was interesting, at that stage we didn’t really think that places like SkyTV or Māori Television who are one of our really good partners now would ever take us seriously. So we said to ourselves, what’s the easiest way that we can get access to some content? And the easiest way was to just do it ourselves. 

I borrowed a camcorder from Mum and Dad and figured out how to stream everything online and it was a pretty hacky setup with a camcorder on the side of the pitch and me sitting there texting scores through to the commentators so that they could give score updates because there was no score graphic or anything up on the screen.

We got the numbers and that really validated that we had a kernel of something interesting.

With that kernel you then went to Māori TV who were one of your first big broadcast partners. Was that driven by the horrendous mispronunciations of Māori and Pasifika names you hear?

Yeah that was part of it. It’s funny because they actually ended up coming to us. They got in touch and said hey, we’ve seen what you guys are doing and think it’s really interesting from the ability to have multiple different languages.

Obviously as a state broadcaster they’ve got to provide a certain level of coverage in te reo Māori so for them it was a really easy way to say here’s a really easy way to do English commentary, Māori commentary, and hey, if we want to throw in Fijian and Samoan and a variety of other Pasifika languages so we’ve got a really broad broadcast and a really appealing product to different demographics around New Zealand. 

Really for them it was where they saw the use case and so for us what it meant was we had to go back and rejig our entire infrastructure to be able to deal with being on a product like Māori Television.

Rather than dealing with a camcorder, suddenly we were on broadcast-level content coming out of the New Zealand High School Basketball champs, and we’ve got a certain level of service that we’ve got to provide, and so it was a really good opportunity for us to go and build a proper product and take the time to go and do a bit more research and development and really mature where the product was at.

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Parrot Analytics Offers Five Insights Into Demand For Digital Original Series

March 2018 by Icehouse Ventures posted in Parrot Analytics

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As Hollywood adjusts to the rapidly evolving digital landscape, a new study from measurement firm Parrot Analytics seeks to quantify one of the most closely guarded secrets in the streaming world — namely, which shows are most popular.
The firm’s Global Television Demand Report measures demand for all digital original series across 10 global markets, monitoring the various ways consumers express their interest in a piece of content across streaming platforms, on social media, on blogs and elsewhere. The popularity of these shows plays a key role in the success of these on-demand platforms.
Here are five key insights gleaned for the new report:
Investment in content is soaring. The three major on-demand platforms spent $13 billion last year, up dramatically from the $5.5 billion spent in 2013. Netflix continues to lead the market in spending on content — saying it will invest up to $8 billion this year. Rivals are growing increasingly serious, with Amazon recently spending $250 million for the rights to a Lord of the Rings series, and announcing their plans to find the next Game of Thrones.
  The number of digital original series has skyrocketed. From two small-budget Hulu series in 2011 — the news show The Morning After and the documentary series A Day in the Life — the number of new titles debuting exclusively online exceed 100 last. Netflix has released the majority of new digital original shows since 2014, but Amazon has significantly increased output in the past two years. New platforms backed by big tech companies — Apple Music and Facebook Watch — also are getting into the original content game.
  Increased investment in original content is fueling subscriber growth. Netflix surpassed 100 million subscribers worldwide in 2017; Amazon is estimated to have reached 90 million subscribers (though it does not release exact numbers). Hulu is only available in the U.S. and Japan and has fewer subscribers — but it grew 40% year over year, thanks to recent hits such as The Handmaid’s Tale.
Hits matter. Netflix had eight of the top 10 most in-demand digital original series in the United States, based on Parrot Analytics’ measurements. Netflix’s Stranger Things was the most popular digital original series in the United States in 2017, followed by 13 Reasons Why. The third most-popular show, Star Trek: Discovery, single-handedly increased demand for CBS All-Access last September. With more than 50 new titles released last year, Netflix commanded 70% of the demand consumers expressed for original digital series, dwarfing rivals Amazon and Hulu.
Online discovery isn’t all that different from the old-fashioned TV world. When it comes to the “offline” world, people tend to learn about new series through word of mouth. Some 45% of people say friends, family and acquaintances tell them about new shows. The same is true for online discovery, where people hear about new shows from friends and on social media.
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The alchemists: Kiwi companies turning E-waste into gold

March 2018 by Icehouse Ventures

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A commercial facility for salvaging high-value metals such as gold, silver and palladium from electronic waste is being planned, after a partnership deal between two Kiwi companies. 

Mint Innovation and Remarkit Solutions have signed a deal to build the factory and expand the company across the country, and then internationally.

New Zealand Cleantech company Mint Innovation has developed the low-cost recovery process using specialised microorganisms which purify the metals from e-waste in what chief executive Will Barker says is an environmentally benign process.

"Our team, led by Dr Ollie Crush, has successfully extracted precious metals on a small scale and it is now time to take the technology further," Barker said.

  "With Remarkit we can continue its development in New Zealand. The scaled-up facility in Auckland will initially process up to 200 tonnes of old circuit boards per annum."
Barker said the lower cost model meant the company could process a much smaller amount compared to regular smelters in order to break even, giving it scalability.

"It's very exciting for us - we have developed a technology that we are very satisfied can be scaled and taken global and the first step for us is to build a New Zealand facility," Barker said.

"We're currently looking at Wellington and Auckland [for the facility], and Remarkit as a leading e-waste recycler is a key partner to enable us to have access to the waste that we need to process." 

Barker said the current process for most e-waste was for it to be broken into parts and sent to various areas of the world that could break it down into specific metals.

With the new factory, however, most of the process could be done in New Zealand.
  "We know the Government is keen to keep e-waste out of landfills and New Zealand being named and shamed in a report on e-waste by the UN-funded International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in late last year has certainly sharpened our focus."
The ITU report said that e-waste around the world contained more than 55 billion euros ($93.2b) worth of recoverable materials – including an estimated 19 billion euros of gold.
Barker said the company had already been processing e-waste but the deal would enable them to scale up.
He would not disclose the cost of processing the e-waste other than to say it was 'significantly' cheaper than other processes currently available.
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Get more value from your startup board

March 2018 by Jack McQuire posted in Startups, Founders, CEO, Board

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  "Who's on the board?" A question I hear at least as often as I see a new startup.

Over the past 3 years I have been fortunate to see five boards working in practice, one as member of the management team and the rest as an observer. Alongside that, every entrepreneur we invest in talks about their board: there is good, there is bad, and every one has some ugly.

I wanted to share some observations on boards that I've formed in the hope of helping entrepreneurs and directors better select each other, work together, and create value.
 
Expectations ≠ Reality
"I’m unhappy with my board" - Every Founder, ever.
I believe there are two elements to this dynamic of founder/board relationships:
  1. Boards, and their members, are put up on pedestals where success or failure is attributed directly to them. It is a flaw of our community to overvalue boards, neglecting teams, timing, markets, product and everything else that goes into a startup's success. This can lead to entrepreneurs, in their first board environment, underwhelmed that they aren't the superheroes they're made out to be... They're human, without infinite answers, connections or time.

  2. Boards, by design, are a step removed from the day-to-day and, in part, are there to hold a CEO and her team to account. This means every CEO will spend as much time educating her board as she will receiving guidance, connections and value from them. It will feel repetitive and at times uncomfortably challenging, but it is not only worth it, it's vital. Why? It's hard to step back from within a business and see beyond the immediate challenges, and it's equally easy for "advisors" to have opinions without responsibility for their outcomes. Boards are in the unique position to balance these and provide unique value.

So they're neither superheroes nor a waste of time?

The board’s role is to help guide major decisions (one-way doors), to develop the CEO and her executive team, ensure the survival of the business (read: raise capital!), and hold management to account. In doing so, they should look beyond day-to-day operations while retaining a focus on execution (a delicate balance!). Good board members recognise their own limitations in experience or when they become emotionally attached to a decision, rather than the outcome.
 
In doing so, there are a couple of considerations for directors in how they treat board meetings:
  1. Do not treat board meetings as a CEO performance review: If a board acts as if they're only there to challenge and hold management to account, they're not aligned to creating value. If there is a genuine performance issue, that is important to address whenever it arises and most likely on a 1:1 basis between Chair & CEO. Waiting for a board meeting, the precious few hours you're all together to share expertise and address strategic issues, is irresponsible in both letting issues linger until its convenient and wasting the time of the board.

  2. Compliance & governance are necessary evils: We all know horror stories about the high-flying startups that fail from lack of governance, control and risk-management. Sure, those stories are memorable, but what about the other startups that never take-off from fear and conservatism? I'd argue they vastly outnumber the former. I'm not a governance expert, nor do I hold the liabilities of a director, but I believe a board should view compliance and "good governance" as a necessary evil, but not the object or primary goal of the board.

Perhaps a better frame from which to approach each decision or action is: "Will this make the boat go faster?"

Contentious decisions and debate

Many assume that a high-functioning board is always high-functioning. But they're human, and I'm yet to see any board demonstrate such consistency. Most fluctuate from meeting to meeting, or topic to topic. It also isn't as simple as "having great board members" and the rest working itself out.

The boards I rank as high-functioning avoid starting any conversation with “what do you recommend, and why?”

It seems obvious when stated, but opening conversations from this perspective aligns towards quick decisions, often at the expense of the best outcome. When discussion begins with a conclusion, board members can immediately, consciously or not, anchor to their position, work to justify it, and dismiss other perspectives.

The boards and CEOs I most respect frame discussion as considering every input that could influence achieving their desired outcome, discuss their perspectives on each input, and ultimately conclude the best path towards success. When done well, this sees each member collaboratively contributing expertise where they can and admitting where they can't.

Back to the original question: Who's on the board?

Founders, and investors, envision perfect a board member as someone who has founded a similar business, overcome challenges and achieved success in a similar market, with similar solutions, customers and pricing, against similar competitors and with similar funding. These features tell nothing of the person's culture, personality or approach to reasoning - only to the content of their experience.

The practical and tangible advice of these (rare) board members with very specific experience is hard to pass up. Where a startup is inundated with challenges, few bits of advice are as easily validated, quick to implement, and measurable as "I encountered x problem too, and solved it by doing y". The risk is for boards or founders to assume that because an individual has specific, relevant advice, that they're capable of tackling new and unfamiliar challenges.
 
Every startup, at some point, faces new and unfamiliar challenges.
 
It is because of this that I believe it is crucial that when building a board to balance that natural desire for domain expertise with their approach to decision making, diversity (across a spectrum of measures!), reasoning, culture and style fit, and capacity to get shit done.
 
The last is not to be ignored, because "it's a contact sport". A CEO and her startup generally don’t need more people with opinions, they need people who can take the weight of the world off their shoulders. Board members must be willing to contribute to operational projects, help raise capital, mentor team members, and make introductions to their network.
 
Teams, not boards, execute for success 

In a startup, this means the role of a director extends to supporting the development, culture and well-being of your CEO and her team.

  Michael Carden, whom I've observed as a director, a chairperson, and more recently as a CEO, wrote this on a board's role in CEO development. One quote in particular stuck with me:
 
"If the company outgrows the founder, well that is probably the fault of the board." - Michael Carden

I'll add that founder/CEO burn-out, depression and other mental or physical health issues, are probably the fault of the board too. The role of a founder/CEO is lonely and almost impossible to empathise. It is beyond doubt in my eyes that a board should be their CEO's most ardent supporters and closest allies - investing their time and networks in ensuring her growth and well-being.

This responsibility often extends to her team. Those early people to join a startup (without the same upside or passion), do so to to be part of something meaningful and to grow quickly. Engaging with the board, and being valued as a key part of a startup's journey, eases the burden on the CEO's shoulders, fosters motivation and engagement, and helps attract and retain the best people.
 

With all of this though, even the best board is only half of the picture.

 

Dear CEO's: You are responsible for getting the most from your board.

As a CEO, it is up to you to enable, equip and guide your board members to be successful, just like an employee. Board papers aren't a work report to announce "Look what I did". They're an opportunity to educate your board, to give them the information and tools to genuinely understand and assess the challenges you face, and then to give informed guidance and to create value in your business.

Board papers should prioritise quality, not quantity, of information. This is not an excuse to obscure or divert attention from failures, because that only erodes trust and confidence, but also not to use volume of information to justify yourself (particularly in the absence of results).

A CEO's responsibility extends beyond preparation to directing the meeting itself. In a startup, a CEO should not fall back on their chairperson to drive board meetings, because even the best lack the insight and information to define success in the fast-changing environment of a startup. Once a company matures beyond a "startup", its chairperson will own more of this role (and here's a great guide to that), but until then CEO's must define the metrics that matter, provide context to make relevant contributions, and focus discussion on your challenges.

Ultimately, every board will find it's own rhythm but I hope these thoughts help entrepreneurs, investors, and board members craft higher functioning boards, be or attract high-quality directors, and get more value from board meetings.
 
- Jack McQuire

Icehouse Ventures

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