Inside: Futuretech Labs

Inside: Futuretech Labs

Stacked up office furniture and piles of ethernet cables lay scattered across Futuretech Labs' fourth floor office in Parnell. It looks like the software company only moved in last week, but it's been occupying the space for almost a year.

"We've been busy handling more important things like launching in the States," says Futuretech general manager Greg Hahn.

"We probably should make the office a bit more customer facing."

Founded just over three years ago, Futuretech develops cloud telepresence software, data visualisation tools and more recently mobile apps. 

To shore up its mobile development capabilities, Futuretech bought dev shop Judson Steel in September last year. The eponymous Scott Judson is now Futuretech's chief technology officer, managing a team of 10 developers. 

Futuretech's flagship product is One Room, a webcasting system that's seen success with funeral homes broadcasting funeral services to those unable to make it in person. Already 28 New Zealand funeral home businesses are using the technology and Futuretech is targetting large funeral groups in Australia and the States next.

I sat down with Greg and Scott to talk about the intricacies of selling telepresence software to grave diggers.

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(Top: Greg Hahn, general manager. Bottom: Scott Judson, chief technology officer.)

My only experience with funeral home directors is from what I've seen on the TV show Six Feet Under. I imagine they are conservative and risk averse, how do you market software to that kind of consumer?

Greg: We've had to become members of funeral industry associations so we can rub shoulders with the decision makers. At times it can seem like a club.

Social media is playing a big part in things too, letting us connect with potential customers through Linkedin and on Twitter. We also do a lot of [direct marketing] work. We went to Charolotte in the US for their largest funeral director's conference and people already knew who we were because of the work we've done on social media.

Scott: You should bare in mind a lot of funeral homes already have DVD burners to record services on. They adapted to that so there's no reason they won't adapt to this kind of technology. It's just a matter of convincing them it's the new DVD player.

What's been the biggest hill to climb towards selling your wares overseas?

Greg: We're so far away from the North Americans it makes it that much harder to gain their trust. It requires just the right mixture of jet fuel and alcohol in order for us to make it all work. 

What we've got on our side is the New Zealand brand. It's trusted, has a perception of integrity and known for being smart.

Scott, I know you just worked on the Barfoot & Thompson app [through Futuretech subsidiary Jandal Software]. How do you balance internal app development with external jobs?

Scott: We're not interested in doing one off jobs anymore. Everything that comes in we're taking a much longer look at because of our commitment to building One Room. Barfoot & Thompson has a longterm roadmap for its app and it's secure ongoing work, so we are continuing to work with them [sic].

What technology skills are key for you when looking for new employees?

Scott: In terms of languages Java for Android, PHP, Objective-C for iOS and someone comfortable with design. We're also using almost every cloud offerring Amazon has, so server management and cloud integration is important to us.

In the next 12 months we want to bring on another mobile specialist, mostly for Android work. 

What's it like trying to find staff in this environment?

Scott: It hasn't been difficult as such because there's a lot of talent out there. It's just taking the time of senior staff to train the new person and wade through all the chaff they build to find the wheat.

Is funeral homes all you're targetting? What is next?

Greg: Something like broadcasting live concerts is a no brainer. When Lady Gaga comes to a country, tickets sell out instantly – worth several hundred dollars. I bet you there are plenty of 12-year-old girls who are happy to watch on their iPads and get dad to pay $20 for it.

Right now we want to stay in [the funeral homes] vertical until we dominate it. Then we can look more horizontally. We're definitely looking at playing this one strength at a time.

Photography by Sim Ahmed.