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GridAKL Startup Hub Watch: Brett Herkt and boardPro

As we move at pace toward the end of 2017, the GridAKL Startup Hub team at GridAKL / John Lysaght are keen to explore, celebrate and muse on the wins of the people that call Lysaght home. It has been a big year for the folks of Lysaght, from product launches to pivots, press and progress; and today we quizzed Brett Herkt CEO of boardPro. If the name is familiar you might remember we spoke to them around this time last year, so it seems a great time to catch-up and see where they have done in 2017 and what is coming up in 2018…

We talked to you last year, your product was in BETA and you were excited about next steps. What has happened in the last 12 months?
We launched in February this year and from a standing start we now have 200 paying customers with 1,000 users in five countries. The feedback has been excellent and we’re clearly filling a gap in the market for board software that is affordable for SME and Not for Profits.

What was your biggest unplanned experience? What did you learn from that?
We assumed there would be a pool of ready buyers we could access through digital channels but that turned out to be not quite right. We have learned that the governance community is very much built on personal connections and is trust-based. That’s good because word of mouth in the sector is a great sales channel and is our strongest lead source to date.

Fortunately, there’s still a place for the traditional marketing component within an otherwise classic Software as a Service model. Being web-based, promoted digitally for the most part or by low-cost word of mouth channels all helps keep our costs down, which is essential at this point in our journey.

We have been really excited to see you grow your team in 2017, can you tell us a bit about what your team is looking like now?
Over the past year we’ve grown from the two founders and a single developer supplemented with contractors to a team of five with two full-time developers (one front-end and one back-end) and a dedicated marketing resource and now looking for another marketing hire.

Attracting and retaining team members is a big focus for many start-up businesses, what advice do you have for other founders who are looking to make those first strategic hires?
It’s a tough game, so it’s critical to recruit and retain talent but it feels like there’s never enough time to do it properly. The reality is that you simply have to do it well as the ROI is so huge and the downside likewise.

We’ve cycled through a number of developers over two years – ranging from the terrible to terrific. Our keys to successful recruiting:

  • Recognise start-ups require a certain type of individual who can cope with extreme flexibility and change
  • Look for recruits who have start-up or similar experience
  • Screen very carefully – ideally get them in for work experience prior to a job being offered
  • Invest in identifying your values and hire to your values

When we last spoke about your goals for 2017 you talked about getting your product into the hands of the public and moving towards more and more users. How do you think you guys are tracking?
We’re pretty happy that at the eight-month mark we have 1,000 regular users of boardPro in five countries. That’s a 20% month on month growth in terms of our application’s use. We’re delighted to have found a good fit with our market but there’s still plenty of work for us to establish scalable sales channels both here and overseas.

What do you think the next year is going to look like for you and the boardPro team?
We’re going to increase our international arm, growing from five to ten English speaking markets. We expect significant growth in the Australian market as it’s our next focus out of the New Zealand pilot launch.

We’re also going to look at what we can do to extend the product set we’ve built to offer even more functionality to our customers. And of course we’re looking at significant partnerships with industry bodies that have a serious interest in governance.

The single biggest learning from the last 12 months has been….
It’s always harder and bigger than you think. Everyone from board to junior staffer kind of expects the hockey stick of growth to arrive within a few months and in reality there’s a ton of learning, experimenting, adapting and heartache on the way. Success is hard won.

The biggest piece of advice I have for another founder at my stage of business would be…
Get and stay close to your customers and apply a systematic method for progressing your start-up through it’s natural stages – validation, production-solution fit, product-market fit, scalable sales model and so on.

The biggest thing that could happen to help businesses like yours survive and thrive in the New Zealand start-up ecosystem would be… Getting the start-up eco-system closer and collaborating more. There’s some good work going on but so much more possible. I’d like to see Icehouse and GridAKL/BizDojo teams and programmes in a single location. That would be great.

The one thing we would tell another start-up to do is …
Learn and apply the Start-up Playbook (i.e. David Skok, Ash Maurya) that’s already been well developed in the US but adapt it for your local environment. It’s silly to not apply the distilled learnings already hard won by those who have been before us.

The best thing on the internet is (other than you – duh) …
Even split between music, movies and learning the start-up playbook

And other than this whole thing you are doing, what else are you good at?
Holding my own at social football with players half my age!

In the press this year:
Boardpro Software Delivers Board Efficiency” in NZ Business
Why governance matters as much for SMEs as corporates” in The National Business Review
BoardPro, styling itself as the Diligent for SMEs, gets off to solid start” in The National Business Review
Robyn Pearce: New software dramatically cuts board meeting costs” in The New Zealand Herald

boardPro is one of 63 businesses at the Startup Hub – GridAKL John Lysaght and Brett Herkt is one of over 100 residents that call BizDojo @ GridAKL home. As we head towards the end of the year we will be highlighting wins, stories and lessons from Startup Hub residents. This blog post was written by GridAKL / John Lysaght Building team member Anya, if you have a story you think she would love to write about tweet her about it.