Capital Raising

We recently completed a funding round for Spaces by Cerulean Labs.

As a pre-revenue start-up, capital raising represents a vital form of validation while recognising the increased risk the investors at this point are taking.

The process took around six months, with the first three months putting feelers out into the marketplace and making initial introductions.  

To keep the business operating, we opened the round to existing shareholders and a handful of new investors while landing the bigger fish.

While we raised the majority of funds from four New Zealand Angel Groups, the process was reasonably straightforward with Ian Frame for Launch Taranaki and then Graeme Thomson from Manawatu Investment Group taking the lead to manage the internal processes with the Angel Groups.

“A kiwi based in Europe right now is a really distinct advantage in launching a new product on the global market,”

Ian Frame, Chair Launch Taranaki

In the end, we managed to get everything over the line with only a handful of Zoom meetings – I’m based in Budapest and the Angels are all New Zealand based. However, outside of the meetings, the efforts were a lot more time-consuming, with extensive materials and several top quality QA sessions.

The last part of the process was essentially mechanical with all the documentation and was more an administration task.

Having completed the process, with the money now in the bank, we have the runway to support our upcoming commercial launch.

Capital raising is a process that start-ups need to focus on regularly and well in advance of when funds are required. That said, I’m looking forward to a slight pause from capital raising where I can focus on our business goals.

Clive Sinclair. RIP

As many people have shared on social media since the recent passing of Clive Sinclair the ZX81 was also my first computer and my first introduction to computer programming. Remember PEEK and POKE anyone?

Clive’s passing brings back a host of memories regarding my journey with computers – one which continues to this day. My primary school had 2-3 ZX81’s and with an upcoming birthday it was all I wanted.

I started with the base 1kb model which allowed me to do a school project on castles complete with an animated drawbridge and iron grate. The screen resolution was something like 64 x 40 pixels which again is laughable these days.

My brother and sisters can clearly remember – and enjoy reminding me – the sounds of anguish coming from my bedroom after having coded for hours (or at least it seemed like hours) the saving to tape had failed (yet again)

That said, the ZX81 is now 40 years old and these last 40 years have continued to illustrate that Moore’s law still continues to this day.

Subsequent to the ZX81 I upgraded to the wonderful world of colour with the ZX Spectrum. VIC20s, Commodore 64’s, Archimede’s and Atari’s all came and went before moving to PCs, Macs and iPads.

Today developing solutions for iPad we continue to push current hardware capabilities to their limit – this is a universal truth of computing that you never have enough power!

The last 40 years have been an amazing time to be part of the world of computing and while a sad time for Clive’s family, his impact on a generation can never be underestimated.

DUO – Singapore

As followers of this blog, you’ll know I am passionate about architecture and enjoy taking photos of great architecture when I travel.

A few years ago on a quick trip through Singapore I discovered and photographed the following building:

I was reminded of these impressive buildings when The B1M published an article regarding the buildings:

THESE twin towers have been awarded the “Urban Habitat – Single Site Scale Award of Excellence” by the Council on Tall Buildings Urban Habitat (CTBUH)

The B1M

The article highlights how these buildings have rejuvenated a part of Singapore and how architecture can achieve much more then just creating buildings to occupy, but also outdoor spaces that contribute to a wider population.

Read the full article here.

Ship It!

When developing software, there is always more you can do, more features you can add, more bugs you can fix, more improvements to existing tools.

This can quickly spiral into a situation where you want to do “just one more thing..” before you release.

This is a slippery slope and one the requires discipline to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, no one wants to release low-quality bug-filled software, but it comes down to focus and prioritisation as with everything.

There is always an endless supply of ideas when it comes to new features and improvements, but again you can fall in the trap of releasing features customers don’t want.

This is what “shipping” is a critical part of the development process. Regularly releasing software is a habit and forces you to push features out to users sometimes earlier then you want.

Shipping regularly is hard but worthwhile.

The pay-back though through the user feedback loop is a critical part of the development process. User feedback is a key input for prioritisation.

Shipping regularly forces you to bite of small pieces of functionality and gain insights – pulling you back on track where necessary and avoiding wasted effort.

Shipping is a very rewarding activity. While things aren’t always perfect – and someone crashed your app within hours of release – the great thing about regularly shipping is your ability to make the required fixes and get them out into the market quickly with the next release.

While we always strive for perfection and to be better, it is refreshing to know the next release is only a matter of weeks, not months, away, which also reduces pressure on testing.

We shipped another version yesterday – and it feels good!

Focus

In my mind focus is a key attribute unpinning success in all walks of life including from a business perspective.

Throughout my time with Cadimage there were multiple times where focus was critical.

During the GFC, we needed an intense focus on the costs of running our business and making sure every dollar was spent wisely to ensure we would come out the other side. We also needed to focus on business strategies that had a higher chance of success during a very difficult sales period.

In the development side of our business following two acquisitions (spread 8 years apart) we found ourselves with a large collection of ArchiCAD Tools. When we did the maths simply maintaining all the Tools required more time then we had available. We had to be ruthless and we also had to take actions that at least in the short term would potentially upset customers – sunsetting a number of products.

This was a painful experience and while the maths showed us which Tools had fewest users it didn’t mean it was easy for those specific users who enjoyed use of a discontinued Tool.

In order to try to avoid actions like this it is critical to learn to say no – often.

It is too easy to say yes and begin things that start spreading resources too thin. Our acquisitions brought both great products and great people, and by discontinuing some of these products the team were more able to focus on our key products which ultimately led to increased customer satisfaction. 1

Learning to say no is hard, but ultimately leads to greater focus.

Building a start-up as I am currently doing requires immense focus. I have a huge range of ideas and see great opportunities dotted throughout the architecture design process. However, we are focused at this stage on a single opportunity, and even within this opportunity we need to focus on the really big issues and plan our development carefully.

In addition running a start-up requires constant attention to costs. While we are raising capital to fund the building of our business we have a commitment to our investors to spend the money wisely. Sometimes having less money helps provide additional pressure to really focus on meaningful spending. There are many stories of over funded start-ups that utlimately fold as they didn’t have the discipline of focus as a core attribute in their business.

Footnote:

This interesting article popped into my inbox today talking exactly about the Upsides to Unshipping: The Art of Removing Features and Products

Spaces – Conceptual Design for Architects

In August 2020 following six months of research, development and prototyping I founded Cerulean Labs with the aim of reinventing conceptual design for architects. This is a lofty goal and one that will take a number of years to see come to fruition.

However, today marks a major milestone in our early journey with the release of our first public beta.

As a team we are proud of what we have created to date but equally appreciate we are only just starting to scratch the surface what we plan to develop.

Spaces combines ideas from a huge range of people and investigations that have helped shape this first beta. Now we are excited to get a broader group of users signed up and using the software so they too can help shape this tool.

Spaces fills a void in the marketplace and we are focused on making it simple and easy to use.

As previously posts have highlighted creating a new venture is a rollercoaster of emotions and a constant juggling act. We could have taken a slightly ‘easier’ road and spent a few more months developing our first version before engaging with users but creating a tool that no-one uses is not our plan and we are excited to get our app into your hands and gather feedback, both positive and negative, and work hard to deliver regular updates and enhancements over the coming months.

If you’re an architect with an iPad and Pencil Sign up now for our Early access programme

Start-up Juggling Act

However, this time instead of joining a well established and profitable business we’re starting from zero.

A brief look back

I wrote the above at the end of my 2020 review and posted it to a number of different channels.

I got great feedback and many suggested that we weren’t actually starting from zero as with over 20 years in business we all have experience and an extensive network of contacts – which is completely correct and helps provide confidence when starting out.

We first began the business in August and have been primarily focused on the development of an iPad based design app. My two co-founders and I, along with some additional part time developers have put long hours into the core of our app with a view to releasing an MVP in late November.

We missed the target date but two weeks later we had a substantial release ready for Apple Approval and subsequently for our first close group of testers. This group of testers are all part of the networks I have built up during my career and they provide a great early (and friendly) test bed for our product.

However, suddenly we were now getting feedback and while we could keep our heads down for the first five months we now had a product release and we had to start juggling a number of tasks that support a product led company. The product still wasn’t (isn’t) commercialised so while we had some new pressure we didn’t have the pressure of paying customers (though I can’t wait for that!)

And this is where my comment regarding starting from zero really came into play. All of a sudden in addition to product development we needed to start thinking about websites, social media, branding, marketing, customer support. None of these things existed, and for obvious reasons nothing we had produced in previous companies could be used directly in our new business – we had a clean sheet of paper to create a branding and marketing strategy, we had no office systems.

And so began the juggling act that virtually all start up founders go through at some point. We are running a very lean development focused business until we raise external capital and to that end my role has now seen me swapping hats on a daily basis – sometimes many times a day.

While we had nothing, again previous experience allowed me to quickly start pulling things together. I have a strength in office system implementation – I have seen how integrated systems allow business to focus on their core activities – so over the last month I have implemented the core of our commercial-side business systems that are all integrated and will allow us to scale over time (you have to love cloud applications):

  • Hubspot – CRM & Marketing (Advertising, Email, Social Media, Lead Capture)
  • Zendesk – Customer Support and Knowledge base
  • Webflow – Website Design

I have longterm experience with Zendesk having used them at Cadimage over 10 years ago, but the other systems were completely new to me but they all work well together.

Aside from office systems, we’ve been busy building a brand (I’ll post on that soon), added a new director to the board to help with capital raising, started a series of lean marketing activities to start broaden our testing community and begun building a social media presence.

On the development front we’ve knocked off one major product release already and have some smaller releases coming soon.

All in all its good fun, a constant juggling act of reprioritising and trying to move each piece forward in a logical order.

I knew from the outset 2021 was going to be busy, looking back (we’re almost 20% done with the year) I can already see we’ve taken some big steps forward, I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year progresses with an official beta launch and (fingers crossed) our commercial debut!

A fresh approach to development

Developing a brand new Product from scratch can be [or is] a daunting task. Especially when you have a big vision that you know is going to take significant time to develop but you need to get something to market quickly to ensure your idea has potential.

Nearly every development decision is a catch 22, where you know you can either do things the right way or the quick way but not both. You constantly need to juggle building good foundations while also delivering features that advance the product. No one likes to know they will need to rebuild things in the future but sometimes that is the trade off that needs to be made.

When you try to couple all of these requirements to a development approach there is no single perfect approach and what works for some won’t work for others.

It was therefore refreshing to read Shape Up – Stop Running in Circles and 
Ship Work that Matters by Ryan Singer

Anyone who has followed Basecamp will know that the founders are quite opinionated and always challenging the status quo. For example the following is an excerpt from the forward of the book:

For one, we’re not into waterfall or agile or scrum. For two, we don’t line walls with Post-it notes. For three, we don’t do daily stand ups, design sprints, development sprints, or anything remotely tied to a metaphor that includes being tired and worn out at the end. No backlogs, no Kanban, no velocity tracking, none of that.

Shape Up Forward by Jason Fried

The book makes some bold statements and a lot of their ideas can be challenged but overall it was very thought provoking and has a very constructive approach to product development. Based on the success of Basecamp the approach has certainly worked for them.

The approach won’t suit everyone and we for one have adapted some of their concepts and will continue to do so as we get a feel for how the process works.

One of the big things for me is that it empowers the developers and demoralises a lot of the decisions. At the same time giving them “uninterrupted time” and “longer cycles” means they have time to research, investigate and weigh the benefits of how to implement intended features. If they feel that solid foundations are required that’s up to them, but they are also clear on the deliverable expectations in ‘exchange’ for this freedom.

Time will tell how well it works for us, buts many of the concepts resonated with my personal experience and the start of a new year is a great time to try something new.

Four digital strategy tips for SMEs

I first came across Peter Thomson when he was a Brand Strategist with Brian Richards. We worked together for around 18months or so as we redeveloped the Cadimage Brand and then more Umbrella Bradning for the entire Cadimage Group.

Peter and I always had some very interesting conversations around all sorts of topics from marketing to pricing to charging for disbursements! Since initially meeting we have kept in touch and met up around the world when we could.

Since starting Cerulean Labs I have reconnected with Peter and he has provided early advice around Lean Marketing and how to get started.

Peter discussed his approach and more recently the following four tips were published along with a profile of Peter who is currently Head of Technology at the Ice House.

Start a newsletter: Email is an under-appreciated channel for building ongoing customer relationships. No matter what your industry, starting a company newsletter will give you a chance to speak more directly with your customers

Blog the journey: Share honest stories of the highs and lows so your audience can get to know your business better

Do things that don’t scale: Don’t rush to automate everything too early. Sometimes it’s worth the effort to personally provide a service to your early customers so you get to know them better

Sweat the small stuff: Details matter with product experience. Make sure you put time into touch points like user onboarding, login pages, the password reset process and your eCommerce checkout

Peter Thomson

These four points are all very useful, number four resonates especially for me as customer focus and customer experience are both critical to business success.

A brief look back

2020 is coming to a close and for obvious reasons it has been an interesting year for us all. Aside from the obvious the year had a number of challenges for me as it was the longest period I have been without a ‘job’ since I first started full-time work over 24 years ago.

I am thankful that to a large degree I don’t need to work however I still find having a professional focus and purpose is a critical part of who I am.

It wasn’t too difficult to fill my time and for the last few months have been focused on establishing my new business.

Here is brief recap of some of the achievements of which I am both proud and grateful for:

  • Moved into a new House with my family here in Budapest
  • In February visited friends and family in New Zealand and then a conference in the UK before air travel ceased for the remainder of the year
  • Supported my family working/schooling from home
  • Went for 138 runs, covering over 1370km – my biggest year yet – though a couple of injuries prevented me achieving what I had hoped, I did manage four solo Half Marathons – my first for over 10 years
  • 177 Sessions of mindfulness/meditation
  • Read 45 Books – an increase on 2019 but down on my book/week target
  • Learnt Swift & SwiftUI (basic level) and created numerous prototypes of various ideas
  • Wrote 70+ Blog Posts (I had some catching up to do and the Cadimage Story ended up about 10 times longer then expected)
  • Continued my work with Buildmedia and helped Gareth, Tim and Mandy navigate the covid challenges
  • Established Cerulean Labs and raised early capital from friends and family and completed our first [private] release

2021 is shaping up to be an exciting year and I can’t wait to get into it