Wellington-based Lightning Lab, which bills itself as “the southern-most digital accelerator program on the globe,” just announced its first intake of nine startups from across New Zealand and Australia, who will work with over 100 mentors.
Aside from being New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington is the center of the country’s tech industry. It was one of the main spots for the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy’s on-location shots (Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was established there in 1993) and the movie industry serves as a spring-board for much of New Zealand’s entrepreneurial talent. Indeed, one of companies in Lightning Lab’s current intake, WIP, is a platform that seeks to “bridge the feedback gap” between filmmakers and clients.
The other startups are: Questo! (tools to assist teachers, motivate students and bring parents into the educational loop); Teamisto (metrics-based skill training for sports teams); KidGoMobile (facilitating independence, and staged digital device interactivity for children of all ages); Expander (digital mass encryption packaging solutions for global products); Promoki (collaborative media through crowdsourcing); My Buy (combining location sensitive devices, individual choice and relevant time dependent products, and promotion); LearnCOACH (enabling deep, one-on-one educational engagement for homes, study groups, and homework sessions); and Publons (building profile and peer-recognition for academic contributions and publications).
The nine teams will receive $18,000 NZD in startup capital from New Zealand angel investors and funds to fuel their three months in Lightning Lab as they gear up for the Lab’s Demo Day on May 15, which program director Dan Khan says will be the largest ever assembly of New Zealand and Australian angel investors and venture capitalists. These companies hope to join the ranks of TradeMe, Hyperfactory and M-Com (the latter two had U.S.-based exits) as New Zealand startup success stories.
The accelerator looks for “founding teams with working history and domain experience in the field they are targeting. We want to see vision and inspiration coupled with scalable growth markets,” says Nick Churchouse of Creative HQ, Lightning Lab’s founder.
Churchouse tells me that most Kiwi startups look to the U.S. as their target market. “Domestic markets are only ever going to be a beta puddle for New Zealand startups, and Australia holds more promise but still a limited market with significant challenges despite its proximity,” he says. “Primarily New Zealand startups have looked to the U.S. and that’s where we see a lot of the trade sales happening. But other western markets are just as viable and popping up more and more, such as the U.K. and Europe. Landing pads and market centers in Asia are becoming more and more established, with anecdotal evidence of more startups getting traction in China and Southeast Asia.”
Though Wellington (and indeed, New Zealand’s population) is tiny, Lightning Lab views the country’s small size as an asset that will allow its emerging startup ecosystem to have a “collaborative culture” that will help outweigh challenges.
“There’s no denying the available capital for startups here is less than in the States and most larger markets,” says Churchouse. “The ecosystem here is emerging and we have a great number of motivated investors, the founding investors behind the Lab being a great example. Part of the goals of the Lab are to drive more success stories in the tech startup space to build more energy and momentum in this space, which will bring more investors into the fold.”
One of Lightning Lab’s mentors is Phil McCaw from venture capital fund Movac, who was an early investor at TradeMe, which sold to Fairfax for $700 million in 2006. A full list of mentors can be found here.
CES 2013 is here! Join us live with the live video stream above and send us questions and comments with the hashtag #CEScrunch.
Tonight, on a cool Sunday evening, CES 2013 officially kicks off in the bowels of the massive Mandalay Bay complex. It’s CES Unveiled, a mini-Consumer Electronic Show upon itself.
Unveiled is coined the official press event of CES. Within CES Unveiled are small booths from the standard companies in consumer electronics — Lenovo, iHome, Belkin, and dozens more established players and upstarts. CES Unveiled, and its similar counterparts later this week, Pepcom and Showstoppers, are tiny slices of CES housed in a more manageable venue with an open bar. We come for the free drinks.
You may have noticed Microsoft is being especially bullish about its prospects in the smartphone market right now — following yesterday’s Windows Phone 8 OS launch. It’s even trying to talk up its current marginal position – spinning that it’s on comfortable, familiar ground here, and even directly comparing the launch of WP8 to the launch of an underdog Xbox in a market dominated by PlayStation and Nintendo.
Speaking at a press briefing in the UK today, UK Microsoft marketing exec Brett Siddons said the Sisyphean challenge facing Redmond — to transform Windows Phone from an also-ran into a serious, top-three smartphone contender — is actually not so unsurmountable after all, because Microsoft has been here before, and thus knows how to walk this path.
Formerly group marketing manager at the Xbox group, Siddons has just moved over to Windows Phone — as the consumer marketing lead in the UK. ”With Xbox when we came into market there were two big well-established competitors: in PlayStation and Nintendo,” said Siddons. “A lot of people said to us when we launched Xbox, you’re coming into this market too late. But of course it gave us an opportunity to look at what was well established and to do something different with Xbox. And obviously now we’re sitting as market lead.”
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is again leveraging the luxury of being last, said Siddons, and this time the twin peaks it’s hoping to summit are Android and iOS. ”I really wanted to get into Windows Phone… I really feel now is an opportunity for us to deliver something brand new to the market.”
Siddons bypassed the fact that WP8 is not actually a fresh launch: having launched Windows Phone 7 back in 2010, and failing to roll that rock up hill, Microsoft is once again retracing its steps to make a second pass at the mountain range (with its reboot of its reboot).
Ignoring all this recent history, Siddons instead went on to flesh out the advantages Redmond reckons it has this time around, claiming: ”Over the last five years the smartphone really hasn’t changed. If anything, with more and more apps coming on board, it’s actually got more complicated for the average consumer to be able to manage that device. We’re actually asking the consumer to work harder to get that information out of multiple sources and that’s where we think we have the big, big opportunity with Windows Phone — where we actually make the phone work harder for the individual. To be able to give them that information that’s personal and relevant for them.”
Again, though, being different to Android and iOS is not a new thing with Windows Phone 8. So if being different didn’t help ferry the WP7 boulder up the hill the first time around, why should it propel WP8 upwards today?
What is different this time around is the tandem launch of the WP-inspired Windows 8 — which not only looks and feels like Windows Phone, but the two OSes are unified, built on a shared kernel, and interoperable. This is a key difference that will help Microsoft familiarise consumers with the Windows Phone UI through its Windows PCs, apps and services — and effectively do the selling for them.
As Ovum analyst Nick Dillon put it to me yesterday at the WP8 launch, Microsoft now has one story to sell — a story the mobile carriers can buy into and get behind, in a way it never did with WP7. So the coming together of Microsoft’s desktop and mobile narratives looks likely to make WP8 much less of an uphill sales slog.
Microsoft’s UK marketing director also made this point today: ”Windows 8 has launched, and for the first time the interface, the start screen that you had on a Windows Phone is now going to be across millions of devices — so it will become much more familiar to people in a very short space of time. That will be a huge catalyst for us.”
Millions of Windows users tapping away on a Windows Phone style interface — that’s exactly the sort of advantage that could move Microsoft up smartphone mountains.
No wonder Ballmer is feeling bullish.
[Image: Dreaming in the deep south]
Douban, a Chinese social networking service for book, movie and music reviews and recommendations, has revealed that it now plays host to 100 million unique visitors a month and will be nearly profitable this year with expected annual revenue of $12.57 million (RMB80 million), QQ Tech reports.
The site, which was founded in 2005, has taken a self-described “slow company” approach, a rarity in today’s climate. In spite of its efforts, or perhaps because, its growth rate is picking up. Daily hits have almost doubled year over year to 160 million and the site currently boasts 62 million users.
Though the company has gotten credit for being China’s “truly original social network,” as described by TechRice, its originality has not been immediately followed by profits. It has also run into some trouble with government censors for the outspoken and sometimes rebellious community that has formed on the site.
Douban’s core business is its review platform and the accompanying social network. The company also operates Internet radio stations and has branched out into daily deals and ecommerce.
It brought in $2 million in its first batch of fundraising in 2006 and several millions more in 2009. Last September, the company raised $50 million in a Series C funding round from Sequoia, Bertelsmann Asia Investments and Trustbridge Partners.
Douban isn’t the only well-established social networking site that is struggling to make money. Sina Weibo, for instance, has become hugely popular but is itself struggling with monetization. Sina CEO Charles Chao said during a recent earnings call that a significant redesign is in the works that could better drive revenues.
Given the vast number of users available in the market, many Chinese Internet companies have opted to worry about their user base and profits later. The strategy has worked for companies like Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba, but there are undoubtedly more failures than successes.
Image via Flickr / CarbonNYC
“The idea that the web will cause the TV business to ‘collapse’ is fantasy,” wrote Dan Frommer yesterday in a calm response to Henry Blodget’s actually-quite-alarmist Don’t Mean To Be Alarmist, But The TV Business May Be Starting To Collapse.
While Frommer is right that the business of TV is actually still doing well as it is, and technology-led change will probably be a lot slower than Blodget suggests, he underplays one important factor – a ‘big splash’ play from a new player that suddenly makes cord-cutting simple and attractive to consumers.
While Frommer notes towards the end of his piece that “I’m not stupid enough to think that this business model will thrive or last forever. And as a TV user, it would be pretty great to see a company like Apple do something bold to mess with the TV industry’s power structure.” To my mind, this is an inevitability - not a footnote. The existing, long-term cable deals he cites as a stabilizing force for the status quo in TV won’t necessarily last the course up to their renegotiation date.
Whether it’s Apple, Microsoft or someone completely unexpected, technology will fundamentally disrupt the established business of TV within the next five years – because that’s what technology does. Just as the iPhone took the mobile industry by the throat, someone will do the same to TV, and the time has nearly come for that to happen.
TV is nothing without content, right? So goes the argument of many a staunch realist discussing the future of TV – but who says this revolutionary tech firm needs to license all of the most popular content to cause a real stir? All it needs is:
If this fresh take on TV is exciting enough, consumers will demand more content for it and the established TV industry will fall over itself to accommodate that as fast as its lawyers can manage – or at the very least, offer a viable competitor.
What might this ‘fresh take’ be? It’s too soon to say for sure, Apple’s own TV set (if/when it arrives) will probably be the catalyst needed to spur on innovation across the industry at a faster pace than those established content deals might suggest and the current big industry players might like.
Sure, an Apple TV set could be prohibitively expensive for many at first, but it will no doubt kickstart a widespread consumer awareness of alternatives to the existing way they receive their TV. Apple will most likely try to set itself apart from the pack with not just a ‘smart’ TV but with something else – maybe a super-hi-res display (and content exclusively available in that format), an iOS-style apps platform for third-party developers that allows for more than just content packaging and Twitter apps, or by harnessing the power of its AirPlay technology to let users interact with their TVs via other iDevices in interesting new ways. The Apple TV set-top box would remain on offer as a cheap way for those who can’t afford the TV set (yet) to get in on most of the action.
Of course, it won’t necessarily be Apple. It could be someone else that acts as the catalyst, with a breakthrough product that takes the work that the likes of Boxee have put in over the past few years and makes it ‘click’ with the mass market. Whichever company delivers it, the catalyst will unleash a wave of competition we haven’t seen since the three years after the iPhone launched and turned our idea of a smartphone on its head. The resulting shakeout of the industry will change everything.
Do I have any inside information that makes me think this is inevitable? No, but the technology’s there – just look at Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console, which is increasingly a viable cord-cutting device with ample content and integrated technology such as Kinect control and the SmartGlass second screen service to offer a glimpse at where we’re headed.
While it’s a bit of a hotch-potch approach built on top of seven-year-old hardware at the moment, Microsoft’s move to make Xbox an entertainment software layer in a wider range of devices may position it well to be a frontrunner in this new landscape. Based on past form in the entertainment sphere though, Microsoft is unlikely to be that spark that ignites a revolution.
So no, the TV industry isn’t going to collapse, but a technology company is going to transform TV as we know it within the next five years – probably sooner – whether the industry is ready for it or not. Technology always finds a way.