To celebrate International Women’s Day, we caught up with some alumni of XX. Lightning Lab’s women-founder focused accelerator.
They’ve all been up to some big stuff. Helen, a teacher who has taught around the world, is helping students to love learning music. Samantha, the 2017 New Zealand Young Innovator of the year and 2018 Women of Influence finalist, provides ethically sourced clothing uniforms for over 200 different organizations. Melanie, Idealog’s People’s Choice and Most Creative People in Gaming award winner, is changing the digital gaming industry in China.
You all have set out with a goal to change your respective industries. In that journey, what have you learned and what would you say to people aiming to do the same?
Helen: We have grown Music Ecademy via sales and by taking part in a second Startup Accelerator (Startup Chile) after Lightning Lab XX . For us this was a great route to go down.
I think seeing companies like Xero and Rocket Lab being global leaders in their fields show that there is a thriving innovation scene in NZ and that the future of NZ innovation is really positive. Also seeing Publons success story has been really inspiring for us. Plenty of exciting tech in NZ!
Melanie: We have had a lot of free mentoring, advice, discounts etc that helped enormously and which kept Geo AR Games alive. We realised early on that we had to pivot and that we would never be able to raise investment unless we could validate a bigger consumer market. We are working on the Chinese market and that is again a pivot from outdoor fun with AR games to indoor fun with AR games because Chinese parents perceive playing outside as unhealthy mainly because of the air pollution.
My advice for startups looking for investment is to build relationships early on to give the investors the opportunity to judge your character, to get to know you better and build trust in your abilities. […]Be coachable, listen to the advice you are given and understand you can’t have all the answers. Ensure you keep a good relationship with your investors and be honest about what’s going on so they can help.
Samantha: To really research and understand all the different components. Changing any sector involves scratching away at the surface but constantly feeling like you’re solving one problem whilst uncovering what else needs to be solved. I feel like I’m continuously learning about this industry and finding or being connected to people who are developing new and innovative solutions to these problems.
Where do you see the future of your industry headed and what is your place in that?
Helen: We definitely hope that more kids get into music and that the flow on effects lead to kids being more engaged in education in general. We have also loved reducing the workloads of teachers which allows them to spend more time where they choose.
Melanie: All over the world, traditional theme parks are switching to digital attractions because they are easier to maintain, cheaper and faster to set up and are following the trend. On a personal level, I just had the chance to work on a digital entertainment project on a Magic Leap prototype and love the new Hololens 2 that has come out. The innovation in UI interaction, gesture recognition, and space detection is reaching a very promising level. It may still be a few years before AR glasses or contact lenses become mainstream and it opens up a huge market not just for training, education and the workforce, but also for users with a disability who could gain a whole new lease on life if they had easier access to communication and education. I’m going to give Soul Machines, Thought-Wired and Stretch Sense a pluck here for their innovation.
Samantha: I think impact focused business is the future the world over but New Zealand is positioned to be a leader in this space. I hope Little Yellow Bird and other similar companies are able to thrive here and prove that this model of business is not only good for profitability but also people and the planet too.
How do you set your goals and what has been your proudest moment as a founder?
Helen: We have a plan for what we want the company to be in 5 years and we try and organise all of our goals and decisions around that.
As for proudest moments, I feel like there are many! From our first sale, re-signing our first year customers and seeing that we were on the right track, to getting our first international (European) school. It always makes us proud when we hear that we have helped a student or a teacher. Makes all the stress of business feel worth it!
Melanie: This may sound odd, but the first thing that comes to mind is that I managed to come to an amicable split with my co-founder Amie without us falling apart. We maintained our friendship and are in fact better friends now than we were. We support each other and the split was very tough and heartbreaking. It took us weeks to come to a conclusion, in fact, I think it took us 2 months. We both had invested so much into our products and the development and it was hard to figure out how to split the company. We didn’t have an agreement in place that ruled how we would do it either. It became a discovery of values and integrity, what each of us wanted from work and life and what along our journey had mattered to both of us. I am very proud that we both found a way forward together and kept talking, listening to each other’s concerns and worked through it to a solution we were both happy with in the end.
Samantha: I’m very intentional about goal setting, I have personal goals and milestones for the business but most importantly we have mechanisms in place that keep us accountable and keep things flexible enough that we can change and modify these depending on other things we have going on.