The Prime Minister may have once famously quipped that the Wellington economy was on the ropes. But the city's track record in founding and growing technology companies says otherwise. Not only is the tech startup movement alive and well, but there is also a legion of ventures that have survived and thrived beyond the initial trials of startup life. Much of the focus naturally falls on exciting and high profile early stage startups, but it is the growth stage “stay-ups” that are adding jobs and creating real economic value through exporting their services globally.
There's no magic formula, but the industry of manufacturing startups also appears to be in good health. From startup weekends to business accelerators through to full residential incubation leading to angel funding, there's a steady pipeline of aspirants and no shortage of resources on hand to support them. The startup environment has evolved significantly over the last decade, however, with a wide range of events, programmes and funds now on tap, aimed at encouraging Wellington's startups. The cultural and recreational scene has also been a magnet for migrant entrepreneurs and skilled labour that has fueled the innovation ecosystem of the city.
But what about the quiet achievers and stoic “stay-ups”? Startup attrition rates can be brutal, but here are six tech stay-ups from the capital that have consistently managed to build and grow their businesses in the last few years.
The company offers an online matching service for actors and performing artists seeking employment in the film and entertainment industry. StarNow had its origins amongst a bunch of Kiwi web developers living in a London flat in the depths of winter in 2004, but now boasts millions of users. The developers returned to Wellington and StarNow arguably became one of the earliest success stories in terms of New Zealand based internet companies scaling to exploit global opportunities. StarNow customers are mostly from New Zealand, Australia and UK. However co-founder and CEO Cameron Melhopt has his eyes set firmly on the US market for future growth.
The Lightning Lab accelerator programme originated in Wellington during 2013 and Publons was amongst the most promising of the startups to emerge. The company is stirring up academia by disrupting the age-old process of submission and peer review of research papers. Early days, but the Publons team have already grown their community of researchers to 80,000 and the platform now integrates directly with four of the most influential academic publishers globally. Sage is one such publisher and Publons recently received an investment round from this company. The company has 11 staff and an office in London.
Also a Lightning Lab graduate, Wipster formed in 2014. Described as “Like Google Docs for video,” Wipster makes it easy for videographers to upload, share, review, and approve video content collaboratively. In 2015 the company scored a major coup by cementing a relationship with Adobe. Integration of the Wipster platform into Adobe's Premier Pro offering exposed their service to hundreds of thousands of potential new users. The company has a healthy war chest of investment funding and with 12 employees on board, looks strongly positioned to leverage the accelerating growth trend in favour of short form video.
Launched in 2012, With over 1000 successful campaigns delivered, PledgeMe was New Zealand's first crowdfunding platform. Wellington's Parrot Dog Brewery (another stay-up) recently raised an astounding $2 million via PledgeMe over a period of 48 hours, suggesting that crowdfunding is rapidly achieving mainstream acceptance as a capital-raising tool. PledgeMe also “eats its own dog food” and completed a funding round of its own through the site. The company has six employees. CEO and founder Anna Guenther finds the startup environment in the capital supportive, with companies helping each other out, but she believes that the stay-ups deserve more recognition.
Successes can be found in the software services sector as well. Arising from modest beginnings in 2010, Touchtech made both the Deloitte Fast 50 and Asia Pacific Fast 500 in 2015. The company builds web and mobile apps for startups, businesses and museums in New Zealand and has recently established a Melbourne office. Much of the recent growth has been driven by the Australian success story, with Touchtech scoring major contracts with Aussie banks to develop mobile banking interfaces. The team has expanded to around thirty. Company founder Adrian Falvey says he is encouraged to see more engagement with startups from New Zealand government agencies lately and sees the Wellington tech community taking a natural leadership role in the govtech space.
If you are a BP customer and you've started paying for fuel without leaving the comfort of your car, then you are probably using a phone app developed by Paper Kite. The company formed in 2010 and now has 17 employees. Paper Kite had a hand in launching mobile apps for other high profile brands such as MetService and the All Blacks. It was also chosen to deliver apps for the Apple Watch. CEO Nic Gibbens definitely has a smile on his dial, with the company also featuring in the Deloitte Fast 50. A recent office move positioned the Paper Kite premises within thirty seconds walk of a craft beer bar, a cool cafe and an Asian food centre. That should help attract the five additional team members that Gibbens is currently seeking.
Paul Spence is a co-founder of iwantmyname, a Wellington-based domain name registrar established in 2008 and now serving 100,000 customers globally. He is also a co-founder of Polanyio, a machine intelligence technology startup and the editor of New Zealand Startup Digest. He can be found on Twitter @GeniusNet.
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