Level 3’s Enterprise #Pitch night

As part of the recent Melbourne #Startup Week, IT consulting firm, Versent hosted a B2B pitch event at their product development lab, Level 3. Introduced by Thor Essman, the judges for the evening were Grant Thomson from York Butter Factory, Paul Naphtali of VC fund Rampersand, and Carl Rigoni, Head of Digital at Australia Post. It presented a very focussed cohort of enterprise solutions, that covered employee comms and engagement, design thinking and cybersecurity.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 2.14.42 PMPax Republic

Pax Republic is positioned as an employee engagement platform that grew out of the founders’ background in mediation. Recognizing that organisational change programs have a high failure rate, the founders explained that lack of project or employee data isn’t the problem; it’s a shortage of actionable insights and recommendations.

The solution offers text-based content and scripted dialogue combined with AI and online facilitators. Many traditional enterprise tools don’t work, either because they don’t reduce time and cost, or they can’t scale.

When asked if AI can measure sentiment or mood, the founders explained that the system makes use of emoticons to capture employee feedback plus keystroke analysis. In terms of a commercial model, the goal is to train up internal facilitators to deliver the service, rather than getting involved with specific change management projects.

The judges felt that the pitch needed to refine the problem statement and the solution proof points, as well as explain what makes this solution different. In particular, who is the buyer? It’s also important to tell the sales story, and expand on the risk transfer and pricing benefits.


Forticode has developed an elegant and deceptively simple password protection solution, to remove the risk and costs of password resets for their corporate clients. Basically, it can support multi-factor authentication using colour coding and a randomized keypad, incorporating character sets as well as emojis.

It can provide context aware authentication, and native protection from endpoint hacking attacks, via a plug-in architecture and 3-factor authentication, using patented technology.
According to the founders, finger prints are immutable, but still do not provide 100% identity confirmation on touch screen devices.

There were questions from the judges and the audience about alternative solutions. Compared to an IPA gateway for trust and authentication or password aggregators, Forticode offers a much more robust solution and can support machine-to-machine verification.

The sales model is to target security teams within risk and compliance departments, and price on a per user per month basis. Importantly, there is no third-party software in the stack. And, there was even an offer to introduce the founders to Auspost….

Naked Ambition

With the tag line of “Always Be Creating”, Naked Ambition is a consultancy for innovation and design thinking. Their process is to focus on future needs, help clients get closer to their customers, and in doing so, help employees to leverage customer insights. The ultimate goal is to make design thinking skills ubiquitous. Naked Ambition’s aim is to embed the teaching in the organisations they work with.

The judges questioned who exactly is the customer, and what segments do they work in? There was also some discussion whether the service was more about personal branding and intrapreneurship, rather than pure solution design.

In particular, the judges wanted to know what gives Naked Ambition the “license” to offer their services? Despite hiring a leading design thinking expert from IBM, there was a sense that there is an oversupply of similar services, and that clients are not looking for yet another program. Instead, they are thinking about “buying units of innovation” for specific projects, as and when they need them.


Last to present was Konnective, a business I have blogged about before. In short, this is an employee messaging app for frontline staff, many of whom do not have corporate e-mail addresses, let alone access to a their own desktop computer.

As part of the product development, Konnective now offers Groups, dashboards, analysis of what’s working and employee reach. Charging a basic annual fee per employee, Konnective has clients in mining, healthcare and manufacturing. The platform supports OH&S comms, promotes shift availability that can reduce agency hiring fees, and help reach hourly employees who don’t access corporate e-mail.

The judges asked about BYOD, and the risk of/resistance to having organisational data on personal mobile phones. Plus, why Konnective and not, say Yammer or Slack? These are answers that need to be made more explicit. Finally, Konnective is still working on data analytics, and there was a suggestion of opportunities among travel companies and tour guides, but that would require some multilingual capabilities.

On the night, Forticode won the judges over and took out first prize. This was the second of these events, and I look forward to attending more in future.

Next week: Startup Victoria’s #Pitch Night for #Startup Week

#StartupVic showcases the next batch of startup hopefuls

Startup Victoria‘s monthly pitch event is gaining momentum, and continues to draw a good crowd at inspire9. It can’t just be the beer’n’pizza, can it? April’s event brought together an intriguing mix of startups – from the FinTech, SoMe, health food and enterprise sectors.

If it's the last Tuesday in the month, it must be Startup Vic's pitch night at inspire9.... (Photo sourced from Meetup)

If it’s the last Tuesday in the month, it must be Startup Vic’s pitch night at inspire9…. (Photo sourced from Meetup)


This app-based solution claims to have more than just its finger on the pulse of Melbourne’s nightlife, in the form of a “Teleportation” experience. If you want to check out what’s going on at that club or bar before you leave home, Liive will beam visitor and sponsor sourced content onto your smart phone. It’s sort of a social media cum streaming cum location-based service, which promoters and venues can license and then encourage patrons to share their video grabs (in return for free drinks….).

While the app is free to download and use by individual customers, revenue comes from event and venue promotion, and is pitched as a user experience that enables patrons to “try before they buy”. Liive reckons it has got the CPA down to A$1.68, and is experiencing 20% weekly growth based on user numbers.

Already signing up some significant leisure businesses, Liive seems to be making a splash within a relatively short space of time. In the words of one of the judges, I’m probably not the target demographic, so it’s difficult to relate to this concept. Unsurprisingly, students are a key market, but having spent time this past week facilitating a team of international students, I hope the founders can think of culturally inclusive uses and ways to promote their app.

I was also reflecting on things like privacy, content ownership, and whether this is a solution in search of a need – why not just use other, existing SoMe platforms? But it was good to hear that the content is moderated and subject to take down notices.

Estate Baron

This FinTech business is bringing equity crowdfunding to property development – and is clearly designed to displace banks. With a background in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) the founder has some relevant market experience.

The business model does away with the need for traditional investor syndicates, and is offering an alternative source of funding for property developers. To be clear, investors are taking equity in the entity (usually a special purpose vehicle – SPV) that is launching the development, not the properties themselves – so they do not get any title over individual units or apartments.

Given the need to be fully compliant with AFSL and MIS requirements, Estate Baron has a retail financial services license, and issues full product disclosure statements for each venture. So far, it has raised over $2m in project funding, from over 1100 investors.

The pitch was at pains to explain that Estate Baron holds an RG146 license for general advice only, not individual advice, so potential investors are advised to seek professional financial and investment advice suitable and appropriate to their own needs and circumstances.

Estate Baron charges a capital raising fee, which allows developers who don’t typically hold a financial license to access more investors. Currently, funding is usually done via syndicates, off-line, or via managed property funds etc.

The founders acknowledge that the idea originated overseas, and is part of a global movement. They even mentioned the possibility of using a Blockchain solution for deal origination and management.

Personally, the idea of crowdfunding for property development is appealing, but I’d like to see more market engagement before determining whether this is the right (or only) model.

Athlete’s Gift

Originally launched under the name “The GeneSpark”, this food business is promoting customised menus and recipes based on customers’ individual DNA. I think the recent change of name was prompted by brand confusion, rather than any medical concerns, but I was still left unclear as to what this business actually offers.

If I am understanding correctly, the products are special mixes of super foods, nuts, seeds and berries designed for high-protein, high-energy or recovery – using all-natural, organic and raw ingredients. Customers make their own product selections, and can even develop personal recipes to suit their DNA. But the business does not conduct DNA tests, and I don’t believe there is any verification process to ensure customers are making appropriate or safe choices – which would possibly stray into medical territory?

I sort of understand the business model (3-month subscription packages, distribution via gyms and sports clubs, etc.), and I even applaud the long-term goal of reducing chronic diseases. But I was left with the question: Is this proven science, another food fad or a product placement strategy?


Konnective has developed an enterprise solution that brings an employee messaging tool for frontline staff, regardless of their location or whether they have access to a desktop computer.

The tool was originally developed for schools (to replace the paper-based parent communications), but is finding traction within the health care, hospitality, mining, manufacturing and services sectors. To my personal surprise, many workers in these industries do not have corporate e-mail addresses. Based on push technology, it’s cheaper than SMS. The app is free to end users, but businesses pay a tiered price based on the number of employees, at $10 per person per annum.

It’s flexible enough to support mixed content types, and is managed via a back end admin platform. Already, some major public companies are on board, with the founders claiming to have 100+ clients.

To clarify, this app is about broadcasting, not team collaboration or project management. It can be used for two-way communications with employees, but only for structured content such as surveys and polls. It was not clear whether the back-end allows messaging to be targeted by location, function, department, team or even seniority – maybe not everyone in the company will have the same information needs?

I can see an opportunity among organisations that engage large numbers of contractors, freelancers and casual staff who might not have company-based individual e-mail accounts. But part of me thinks that with increased smart phone usage and BYOD (plus the fact that most e-mail clients are easily configurable to mobile devices), what makes Konnective attractive? Clearly it’s doing something right as it took out first place!

Next week: A new co-operative model for equity crowdfunding

More In The Moment

In an earlier blog on “being in the moment”, I confessed that I often find the prospect (and practice) of meditation to be daunting and somewhat overwhelming. I forgot to mention that there is a park bench in one of Melbourne’s inner-city gardens which I have found to be a useful starting point. It features a quotation from Dr Ainsley Meares:

“Sit quietly, for it is in quietness we grow”

"clinamen" by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot (2013), purchased by NGV Foundation (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

“clinamen” by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot (2013), purchased by NGV Foundation (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

The significance of this insightful instruction has been driven home by some recent experiences:

  • Through my involvement with the Slow School of Business, I have participated in some Slow Coaching, where I was a Listener. The practice of “deep listening” really does require you to be present in the moment, to focus on what is being said by the Speaker, to observe how it is being expressed, and to give constructive feedback on what you have heard without judging or critiquing. It’s an extension of “active listening”, a technique I learned many years ago as a counsellor helping clients with their consumer debt problems, and I later used it as a manager to provide employee feedback during performance reviews. The key difference is that deep listening is not so concerned with exploring a linear narrative or identifying specific solutions, and is more about giving space to the Speaker to articulate what concerns or issues they are currently facing.
  • At a concert the other week I was struck by the number of people in the audience who were avidly taking photos and videos on their smart phones, or busy talking at the bar rather than appreciating the live performance in front of them. It made me wonder why some people bother going to gigs at all – it often seems like they are not there to watch and listen to the musicians! Apart from being disrespectful to the performers and other members of the audience, the happy snappers and the chatty drinkers can’t really be in the moment because they are too busy trying to capture a transient event for posterity (and who actually watches shaky live concert footage shot on a phone?). Or are they so self-absorbed that they are actually oblivious to what is going on around them?
  • Similarly, last weekend I visited the Twelve Apostles and was dismayed by the ubiquitous selfie-sticks and constant preening and posing at every vantage point. As the sun went down, hardly anyone was actually observing the dusk, let alone being still and listening to the waves below. Instead, everything was being reduced to a diluted digital experience. Again, who goes back and looks at all those photos (and do they do so more than once)? How do these images enhance the experience of simply being there? Did these visitors really appreciate the natural beauty and breathtaking views in front of them? Is a digital camera the only way to interpret the scene for themselves? Is it only “real” when they take a picture? Can it only “exist” as a bunch of pixels?

To underscore quite how significant “being in the moment” can be, I’m reminded of the Above All Human conference in January, where theoretical astrophysicist Dr Katie Mack scared the living day lights out of the audience when she discussed the impact of vacuum decay theory. In (very, very, very) short order, a shift in the current state of the Universe would wipe out life as we know it in a millisecond. It would happen so quickly, that no-one would see it coming. The effect would be catastrophic, but we wouldn’t know it was happening. As Dr Mack so eloquently put it, there would be no point in worrying about FOMO, because:

(a) there would be nothing left to be missing out on;

(b) no trace of your existence would remain; and

(c) in any event, there would be no-one left to miss you….

While I understand the need to validate our existence through “capturing the moment”, if we are too pre-occupied with taking photos, rather than focussing on our actual presence, we risk surrendering our experience to mere digital simulacra.

Next week: Whose IP is it anyway?

The Great #Data Overload Part 3: Differentiating in a #Digital World

Have you noticed that what was once old is new again? In particular, I’m talking about traditional direct marketing techniques, such as door-to-door sales, print circulars, and telephone cold calling. It’s as if businesses realise that to be heard and to get noticed in the digital world, you have to do something different or unexpected, and nobody expects to see a door-to-door salesperson these days!

MBPI mostly work from a home office, and in recent months I have had door-knockers trying to sell me car tyres, energy-saving devices and fire extinguishers. That’s in addition to the telesales calls persuading me to switch phone and utility providers, take out insurance or upgrade my security software (yes, I know that last one is probably a scam). Plus, more and more local businesses and tradespeople are using good old-fashioned leaflets and letter box drops (which is interesting, given that around 58% of local search is done on a mobile device).

Why are some advertisers reverting to this form of direct marketing?

I can think of several reasons:

  • They need to cut through the digital noise and reach their target audience via “novel” promotional tactics.
  • Their products and services are less-suited to on-line or in-app purchasing decisions.
  • Their sales activities are focused on acquiring existing customers from competitors, a conversion process more likely to succeed via personal contact.
  • Or simply, the costs make more sense.

Why is it important to differentiate? 

It’s 10 years since “Blue Ocean Strategy” was published, which stressed the need to stand apart from your competition (“avoid the shark-infested waters”). The message is even more relevant today, because the ubiquity of social media and content marketing platforms means that everyone has access to the same tools, and it’s not that difficult to play technology catch up; and while there may be good reasons for your business to engage with these channels to market, you also need some alternatives, like offering direct customer engagement that is not wholly reliant upon on-line and digital. That’s why some banks are opening more branches as part of their growth and customer acquisition strategy, why some retailers are offering “buy on-line, collect in-store”, and why some service companies are moving to an integrated, end-to-end customer experience, so that customers get the same person helping to resolve their problem from start to finish.

How to differentiate?

Standing out from the crowd (for the right reasons!) is critical to attracting customer attention. Competing on price alone is typically a race to the bottom where nobody wins. Getting noticed, especially when everyone is using the same marketing tools and sales offers, may mean doing something unusual or unexpected (for example, ALDI‘s “anti-ads”) as part of your marketing campaign. Or connecting directly with your audience in a way that doesn’t rely on “Likes”, “Shares” or “Follows”.

Sometimes it’s as simple as as this leaflet (shown above) found in my letter box the other day. At first, I thought it was a flyer for a local bar. Then, I noticed it was promoting a new smart phone app. On closer inspection, the flyer comprised a printed sheet hand-pasted onto a page torn from a magazine. That’s a lot of manual effort to promote a digital product, but using a lo-tech solution that totally makes sense! (No doubt, it appeals to the hipster crowd, ’cause retro’s cool, right?) So, the element of surprise (if that was the intention) worked – it got my attention because I wouldn’t have expected to receive a leaflet for a new app.*

Next week: “Why? Because we’ve always done it this way…”


* For an interesting story on the power of the unexpected, see Adam Posner’s talk on customer loyalty programs.