It was a long, lazy weekend here in Joburg, with kids out celebrating Halloween and parents lazily supping their cares away by the braai. Then raging at the loss of electricity due to Eskom power outs. So spare a thought for the folks who actually paid good money to work long into Friday and Saturday nights at the Lean Startup Machine workshops at JoziHub.
The idea behind Lean Startup Machine – an international series of workshops – is to build a prototype business in around 56 hours, using the principles espoused by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup. Nine teams got together on Friday evening to learn, brainstorm and test ideas, then validate business plans and build a minimal viable product before being subjected to a Dragon’s Den-style hour or two of judgement on Sunday night.
The winner – as decided by a panel of judges – walked away with R30 000 in startup capital (R10k from Standard Bank and R20k from Edge Action fund), a business bank account from Standard Bank, an R10 000 Incredible Connection voucher to spend on kit and a similar amount to spend on books. They also get chance to spend six months at the The Engine incubation hub.
These presentations involved talking through the idea and showing off the ‘Javelin Board‘ – a Lean technique for testing hypothesis, pivoting ideas and recoding market research in a visual way. The LSM philosophy is to first define the problem before starting to build the solution – so there was a shortage of functioning apps by Sunday night, but lots of fast and furious market research around what might work as a business.
We saw an app to summon cleaners to your house (but which was too like Sweep South for our liking), a plan to sell R600 computers for school kids (worthy, but tricky to pull off when Vodacom is your competitor) and SA branded flip flops (apologies – I’m a loyal fan of Tsonga shoes for local brands).
Here’s our favourite five ideas put forward on Sunday evening which may or may not go on to become real businesses.
In between SnapScan, M-PESA, GeoPayments, Pebble, NFC et al, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the last thing South Africa needs is another mobile payment system. But PayWalk is different – based on ideas developed for the likes of Pizza Express overseas, it’s an app for restaurants to cut down on waiting for the bill as it gets sent straight to the customers’ smartphones. Payment is then simply a click away, and you can add a remote tip if you want. Because this is a groovy, modern app-based world, you’ll be able to rate waiting staff too and provide feedback for others.
The team behind it see revenue as predominantly coming from restaurant owners who’ll pay a flat monthly sub to be able to use the app in their eateries, although judges pointed out that integration with something like SnapScan would open up the possibility of transaction fees too.
A very non-technical idea – at first glance, anyway – the minds behind muti hub think that there’s an opportunity to be had around modernising traditional medicines in South Africa. According to their research, people travel long distances to reach trusted sangomas for their muti within Johannesburg alone, and they envision an eBay-style trade exchange for muti in which people can leave feedback for healers to rate their wares. The core of muti hub would be a manual labour, though. To work, the team believe it would need a network of agents delivering pre-packaged muti directly to customers or for sale through spaza shops in a classic network marketing system.
Bimble may only be a couple of days old, but it’s an idea which needs to be taken further. The team wants to develop an app that makes it easy to summon a mechanic if your car breaks down – basically AA-style operations without AA cover. You won’t get the repair cost thrown in, but being able to summon a reliable and trustworthy mechanic if you’re driving in an unknown area will be a huge reassurance for most. The team behind Bimble, however, think that their most profitable market will be small businesses who can’t afford comprehensive breakdown cover on all vehicles, but would happily buy into a network of mechanics sold collectively as a service.
I like the sound of Book Party a lot – although it seems like more of a fun meet-up group than an actual business. It encourages people to get together and swap books, presumably over a few glasses of well-read wine (badoom). That much makes sense – and thanks to the high cost of imported books in South Africa is one I know for a fact groups of parents locally often trade kids books amongst themselves – but making revenue through ticket sales to such events seems like it might be tricky to pull off. What’s to stop the party happening somewhere else for free?
The overall winner of Lean Startup Machine is an idea that’s not especially original, but more a different take on a familiar problem.
BillScannerApp is YABS (Yet Another Bill Splitter) designed to make life easy for groups of people at the end of meal. There are plenty of smartphone apps that do this already, and indeed they were among the first created for the App Store when it launched. They all work in a similar manner: you enter the bill details, assign line items to your fellow diners and the app works out who owes what, and even argues over the tip for you.
BillScannerApp brings a couple of innovations to a genre at least as old as phone apps themselves. Firstly, it’s being created as an add-on for Evernote. That means that a) lots of people will see it and may use it and b) its ability to read bills should be better than most. BillScannerApp works by taking a photo of the bill and converting it into text for processing – which is obviously more convenient after a few pints of joi de vivre than trying to write “Lopadotemachoselachogaleok-ranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmat-osilphioparaomelitokatakechym-enokichlepikossyphophatto-peristeralektryonoptekephalliokig-klopeleiolagoiosiraio-baphetraganopterygon
= R5″ on a touch screen phone.
The problem with existing apps like this is that the optical character recognition (OCR) tends to be rubbish, so you don’t know who ate vine wrapped dolmades and who had the dolcetto plonk. But since BillScannerApp can lean on Evernote for that it should work better than most.
More intriguing, though, is a nascent idea to monetise the app through the restaurateur rather than the customer. If enough eateries sign up, BillScannerApp reckons it will have a goldmine of data about what people are eating and spending in the area – enough to help out small diners with some business intelligence for a monthly fee.
BillScannerApp walks away with the backing loot, so expect to see at least this developed into a product over the next few months.