Written by Chanie Hyde on the 27th of July, 2017
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Back in Australia off the heels of an inspiring trip to San Francisco, we talk with Jess & Lucinda from Neighbourlytics on their drive, startup experiences thus far and how they’ve been inspired to start looking at their company through a global lens…
Over half of the world lives in cities now, but you don’t have to look very far to find places aren’t working…
Lucinda: As an urban designer, I’ve spent the past decade working to fix the way we’re building cities. Over half of the world lives in cities now, but you don’t have to look very far to find places aren’t working: whether it’s housing affordability, vacant or underutilised space or the fact that our social health in cities is rapidly declining. Five years ago we launched a social impact consultancy, CoDesign Studio, to tackle this. Here we’ve developed a whole bunch of ways to improve the social sustainability of cities through placemaking and creative urban renewal projects. We’ve been very successful, but the problem is that it’s just not scalable.
Jess: I became an urban designer because I love cities. I love that you can visit somewhere you’ve never been and immediately feel a connection to that place. I wanted to work in an industry that allowed me to create places that people love. But the reality of the urban development industry is more about maximising yield and construction efficiencies than it is about people. So after 15 years in urban design, I joined Lucinda at CoDesign Studio. Our work was focussed on disrupting the urban planning industry by taking a ‘people first’ approach to city-making. As an interesting aside, our collaborative city-making methodology is actually based upon Eric Ries influential book; ‘The Lean Startup’.
Lucinda: We started to ask ourselves this question: what technology would we need to be able to influence the way we created every city in the world? And that’s where Neighbourlytics was born.
Jess: Through our consulting work we had seen first hand how much time and money can be wasted trying to understand even the most basic things about local places. Market research groups dominate the urban data analytics landscape, and these services only offer generalised customer personas, rather than rich information about community identity or sentiment. The only other option is community engagement. While I believe wholeheartedly that community engagement is an essential part of the urban development process, standing on the footpath with a clipboard is not a great way to get a useful quantity of reliable information. And quite frankly I was sick of doing it!
We knew that there had to be a better way to get information about local places. Australia has some of the highest rates of social media participation in the world, so that’s where we decided to start.
I’ve spent have my whole career outside of the tech startup ecosystem, and there is so much to learn about how this brave new world operates.
Lucinda: Getting Neighbourlytics off the ground has meant some really big decisions for both of us. As co-founders, we’ve needed to decide who is going to lead Neighbourlytics, and what roles and responsibilities we have. That’s been challenging.
Jess: When we found out we had been selected into the top 10, I was CEO of our other company and Lucinda was living in Samoa. The timing was terrible. So the hardest thing for me was making the decision to step away from a job that I loved to take a lead on Neighbourlytics. Everyone thought I was crazy. But now having done it, I can’t believe how lucky we are. Although it was extremely hard at the time, it all sort of fell into place.
Lucinda: There’s also getting our head around running a tech startup. I’m not a first-time founder but spent have my whole career outside of the tech startup ecosystem, and there is so much to learn about how this brave new world operates.
And did I mention time?
Jess: Both of us are habitual over committers derived from chronic FOMO. So this means that our diaries are full. Like full full. It’s not uncommon for us to sneak in a quick phone call at 10:30pm to plan a conference presentation, or quickly Skype at 6am to discuss a non-budgeted expenditure. And it’s also rare for us to be in the same room together. Our ‘divide and conquer’ approach does mean that we get a lot more done than trailing around to meetings together would, but it can mean we don’t spend as much time around a whiteboard as we probably should, and we need to make additional time to make sure our messaging and goals are aligned.
We’ve been really surprised at the traction. We released our MVP at the beginning of June and had 11 companies sign up in the first two weeks – and that was without doing any promotion. We knew that this product was needed, but it’s a huge relief to see that it’s also resonating with the market. And more than that, the early sign ups have been from a much broader range of customers than we expected.
CURRENT STATE OF PLAY
We’ve seen how, if done right, a tech business has the potential to scale exponentially.
After releasing our MVP in early June, we’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone working with our early customers to understand how they use our platform. To our delight, we’ve secured a keynote speaking spot at the Property Congress in October. This is a significant opportunity to get the word out about how Neighbourlytics can help property professionals create cities for everyone, and so we need to make the most of it.
This means we’ve revisited our time frames, and are now preparing to launch our CVP at the beginning of October. We’re already earning revenue through our MVP and early customers, but until we can automate more of the workflow, servicing our customers is too time consuming to scale. And the more customers we can service, the more money we can make. And the more money we can make, the sooner we’ll be able to grow our team.
In addition to the getting our tech built, tested and launched, we’re also focussing on our growth strategy. The US trip has given us a strong determination to be a part of the tech world. We’ve seen how, if done right, a tech business has the potential to scale exponentially. We’re driven to change the way cities are made and managed and now we’ve seen what sort of impact is possible through tech. So we’re planning what our next strategic move is after October. After we saturate the Australian property market we see a great deal of potential to expand to Southeast Asia. We’ve also had several strong leads come out of our USA networks as well as Europe. So we’re spending time mapping out our global ambitions so that we can start to lay the foundations to get there.
To move at the speed you should be moving you need to make so many decisions that perfect won’t be an option
Lucinda: Get comfortable living with uncertainty! As we’ve gone through the accelerator we’ve been making major personal and business decisions every week, and it’s constantly changing. Expect that a lot of things about your startup (and your life) to change, but for the better.
Jess: Done is better than perfect. Because you want to give yourself the biggest chance of succeeding you’ll want everything to be perfect. But to move at the speed you should be moving you need to make so many decisions that perfect won’t be an option. Sure, you’ll stuff things up, you’ll probably upset some people, and you’ll almost certainly waste some money, but at least you’re making progress. I’ve said a number of times that I’d love to lock myself in a room for a couple of years to figure it all out, from start to finish. Although that’d be a fun intellectual challenge, that’s not how this works. This is startup land. You’re going to have 100 hours of work to get done every day. And you’ll get it done.
We are so excited how well the Neighbourlytics product is performing and the early traction it’s been able to gather.
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