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@neftaly

I've been working on a construction QA startup called #conqa for the last few years. It started with an immutable centralized distributed parent pointer tree using Firebase for messaging/storage (everyone has replicas, and entries are signed, but final consistency is guaranteed by us, not a blockchain/DHT), however we've mostly moved to CouchDB to help scale. Now that the company has become established, my plan for the next few years is to gradually become unemployed and live off-grid on passive income!

One of the directors wrote an informal history for the team (we're at about 30 people now), reposted below. There are few other people with startups & exits on SSB - please share your story too sometime!


The ride so far (Barney Chunn)

Like the beginning to most stories, we didn't really know that the beginning was the beginning.

In late 2014, Peter messaged Dan & I to discuss an idea. An idea he'd be working on, an idea that we'd happened upon as well.

So we met up. Before we did, I'd said to Dan 'this has been going nowhere for 4 years now, let's give him everything we have and try keep 5% or so.' To me, that was a small passive income while we went wherever our lives would go.

So on Jan 30th 2015 we met on a sunny afternoon at De Fontein in Mission Bay. Someone suggested beers and so we had beers and once we'd had beers, we decided instead of handing over everything to Pete, we'd work together. And that was where it started.

To take a step back, in 2012 I had finished university and having studied Philosophy and English, I was unemployed. Moving back from Wellington to Auckland, I went to a friend's birthday dinner. At the dinner, a school friend ours made a somewhat auspicious entrance, as at 22 he was behind the wheel of a brand new Ferrari.

I don't give a shit about cars but it did have a certain appeal to the me that was on the dole and living with my girlfriend (guiltily) rent free.

The day after, Dan and I had breakfast and I said to Dan 'Man, we need to get into software,' He said 'Awww yeah'. So we did.

The idea itself was triggered more from the era than the industry; it was a time in which truly new, valuable and globally impactful businesses could be started, and we knew that was something we could be a part of. We just needed to solve a problem, so we went looking for one.

We dove into market research to discover which market had was globally significant, had inefficiencies, and genuine pain points that could be solved by software. Daniel and Peter both being engineers, the construction industry was high up on our list to investigate.

After interviewing hundreds of people from directors to cadets, the quality assurance process in the construction industry presented itself as ripe for a software solution.

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So circling back to early 2015, our back of the envelope business plan was to build the product in a month, grow to profitability by, say May/June that year, and then Dan could get back to travelling, & Pete and I could live however we wanted.

By March 2015 we put out the notice for a developer.

As it turned out, some one replied. Not just someone, but a fullstack Node developer with a couple of start ups under his belt.

We met Nef in a pub (I'd love to remember what he ordered; he normally drinks no or low alcohol beers now), and he impressed us immensely having already created almost exactly what we'd hoped to build (turns out he hadn't but we thought he had).

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So after a few formalities, our little business grew by 25% and we started work on developing.

After spending a few months in cafes and the engineering library using Pete & Dan's old student IDs, my Aunty mentioned she had some space in a little room in Britomart.

We loved it when we found it; a shitty shed on top of a beautiful brick building, up 4 flights of steep stairs with no elevator. It was intensely hot in summer and freezing in winter. You could crawl out the window and hang out on the roof; you could dangle your feet off the edge of the building 4 stories up and watch Takutai Square below.

We had nothing but debt but for some reason, we took it.

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If there was one thread that has helped weave the Conqa tapestry, it has been optimistic naivety. We had scoped a one month build time for the MVP, with an aggressive growth forecast thereafter.

After 3 months however, what we had wasn't quite an MVP. That, and we had no money.

[cont'd]

@neftaly

[part 2]

Luckily, what we did have was guardian angels; acquaintances who had become friends, and friends who had become mentors.

Tony Niklin was one. Tony was a gregarious, inspiring and life affirming man who made us feel like it was all possible. Tony gave us some the best advice we ever received: 'Be good people, & find good people'.

He also introduced us to another good person, one with similar qualities, in a different format.

That was Murray Holdaway. Murray had founded Vista Entertainment, which had recently listed on the NZX, which meant that Murray was not only one of the most successful B2B Tech Entrepreneurs in the country, but that he suddenly had quite a bit of spare change in his pocket.

We were lucky enough to attract enough of his interest and after a fair few coffees, we were incredibly fortunate to have Murray invest in the business pre-revenue.

It was an honour, a privilege and shit-scary.

Finally, after 6 months of building the product, it was ready for the market.

It was the slowest and quickest 6 months ever. We yelled, drank and lived under minimum wage through it.

Finally, in November 2015, we sent out our first invoice. Through the process of understanding the market, we had built up a leadlist, and so once the product was ready, we were able to convert in the market instantly.

By December 2015, we had 4 customers.

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Then we celebrated!

As most of us know, Nef loves boats.

There were many options for a Xmas party in 2015, but really, there was only ever one.

We head out to the renowned waters of the Hauraki to celebrate a weird and wonderful year.

It felt like the end of the road in so many ways. We had been so focused on getting a product out there.

Having a business. We would find out that none of knew what that actually meant, but we were happy for that to hit us in the face another day.

Peter almost got knocked out with a sharp tack and a faulty boom, and Nef nearly drank a whole beer.

@neftaly

[part 3]

2016

However, that day did come. 2016 arrived and after weeks of basking in the fact that we existed properly, we now had to reconcile ourselves with the fact that we had customers. That was something we hadn't experienced before... It was the thing of dreams, and the thing of nightmares.

In June 2016, Jesse Wood - according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest Wood known to man - joined the Conqa team all the way from the fair shores of Tauranga.

Throughout 2016 we had made the decision to forgo any building tools to enable Jesse and Nef to build customer facing product. For 3 non-technical people, that meant raw-dawg JSON coding for all projects, fruitless hours on JSON validators (if you don't know, please never find out), and one mistake constituting hours of clean up. Many a Sunday at the pub or the office (customers had to be offline for the clean ups).

We had also made the decision to use Firebase - a tool with numerous benefits but one quite significant flaw. It turns out you can delete everything that's every taken place in the software with a quick shift + delete. Which, one afternoon, I did. I've never been so scared in all my life. Daniel thought I'd only deleted all users (again, a possibility back then), but no - I'd deleted all customer data that'd ever been recorded in Conqa. By some stroke of luck, Google gave it all back to us bar 30minutes, so somehow, again, we survived.

All the while, we were burning money quickly and we never really had much at all. Murray have cleverly (for both himself and us) only invested $20K at a time based upon milestones, and his last $20K arrived in late 2016 as we were desperately talking to every investor in town (which in Auckland is like, 2).

Dan was burning himself out selling to everyone; Peter, Nef & Jesse were rebuilding checklists 2.0 and I was trying to raise money with zero experience in anything. November/December 2016 I'm still not 100% sure how we held it together. The 2016 Xmas party would suggest we didn't.

Amongst all of that, Luke joined. His first day in the office wasn't jumping into the deep end so much as skipping the frying pan and jumping straight into the fire.

The end of 2016 felt like the end of our first marathon. We had made it. We'd run as fast as we could for 365 days.

We raised $600,000 dollars on the 24th December - more money than we'd ever seen in our lives. All confirmed with desperate phone calls on Christmas eve to miffed shareholders and new investors. But it happened.

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[cont'd]

@neftaly

[part 4]

2017

We were able to start 2017 with a new sense of purpose. We had money. For the first time really, there was money in the bank account. We didn't have to only buy expired Kloud beer from ISIS liquor anymore - though by then we'd acquired the taste for it so we continued to - and we could hire! Grow the team! Pay ourselves [just over minium wage]! What a joy.

So we did, we grew!

  • Feb 2017 - Erwin
  • March 2017 - Anna, Mandy
  • April 2017 - Blake

We'd hit double figures in the team! We weren't all men!

The flurry of joy and change was an upward spiral of self-fulfilling excitement. We grew and got happier and got happier and grew.

The corrogated iron walls of our dear Conqa office could hold us no longer, and so we moved!

We thanked its extreme cold and extreme heat in extreme style. I believe Jesse set up every screen we had to play asynchronous strobe lights. My jeans split at the bum, and somehow we broke two lights.

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Were we grown up? It was hard to tell (it wasn't; we weren't). But we were in a much more grown up office. It had a lift! Gone were the years of walking up the 4 flights of stairs.

The team, the customer base and the revenue continued to grow. We also started to travel to Australia more to investigate the market and to make start selling the product. We definitely weren't there to party a lot, and we certainly wouldn't do meetings hungover.

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I don't know if it was cause we'd just run into Awen Guttenbeil (Luke's first customer) and subsequently watched the video of him making the biggest NRL hit of ALL TIME, but we we knew we could draw a line in the sand, and make something special happen. MDD (Million Dollar Day) was borne. 21 October 2017.

In start up speak, $1M ARR is 'impossible.' Statistically speaking, to hit $1,000,000 in recurring revenue happens to almost no start up businesses.

We were doing $30K MRR, or $360,000 in ARR, so the goal was audaciously to nearly triple the business in 4 months.

On one of our trips to Aus, we'd had a very promising meeting with Fulton Hogan, in which their statewide Quality Manager was interested in what we were doing. That helped our confidence too, and then, driving along the freeway after meeting them for about the fourth time, on a beautiful autumnal Melbourne day, Ajith called to confirm they would pilot. We'd taken to calling Fulton Hogan our GC - Game Changer. They were the company that would take us into the Aus market. We cracked the champagne that night and planned our expansion.

Of course, in the cold light of day, we had to service them. And they required servicing. There was Fulton Hogan, MDD, and in case that wasn't enough of a task to bite off, we also opened a Melbourne office and investigated the UK market too in the winter of 2017.

The Australian market grew for us solidly, and proved that the product was capable of servicing projects twice the size of what we were on in NZ.

[cont'd]

@neftaly

[part 5]

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On October 19 2017 we hit $1M in ARR.

Did we celebrate? Does the pope shit in the woods? We dressed to the 9's, got the fuck on the ferry and partied every which way. The team had genuinely been amazing to get the business to that point, and we all deserved a full day of letting our hair down.

Dan's (teary-eyed) speech:

'The boys and I wanted to say a few words to you wonderful people. They say the first million is the hardest, and my god have we seen some mahi.

If we were a rugby team, the sales guys would be the wingers. We get the privilege of dotting down to score the try, and quite like actual rugby players dance around doing a post try chanui-celebration, but we would be nothing without the team.

It takes so much work from everyone just to get to a sale, and it takes so much more to keep everyone coming back month, after month, after month.

The changes we have seen in the product over the past few months have been phenomenal. What you guys did to get Fulton Hogan on board was amazing. I’m very happy to say that their quality manager froths all over it, and we’re heading to a meeting with them next Monday to look at doing 3 more jobs.

The value you’ve added over the last few months has been amazing, from the (and I better get the terms right) exports and charts, to a matrix that loads fast enough to bring tears to Luke Mexted’s eyes.

A million dollars is amazing, and we’re so proud of the business, and the milestone we’ve hit, but what we’re all most proud of is the team.

The most reoccurring advice we have been given over the years has been all about bringing good people together. And that is something we can unashamedly say we’ve done veeeery well at.

It is absolute pleasure to watch us all grow both at work, and outside of it: be it buying a home, or fathering little woods, it is a delight for us to be a part of all your worlds.

We are in awe of all of you, and the work you guys put it. It is our greatest pleasure to be working with you guys to solve so many problems for so many people. And we want to sincerely thank you all for being such wonderful, wonderful people.

Maybe one day we’ll get to revenues that rival Jesse’s – ambitions. But for now, it’s about celebrating our wins. So cheers!'

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By the end of 2017 it felt like we'd run our second marathon. All the highs and difficulties of an undertaking that requires consistent, constant, effort and attention.

We'd always planned to burn through the investment we'd gotten in the previous round, partly because there was an option in the investment contract we had with Punakaiki, but we also knew that with more people in the team, there was more we could directly impact. We had it in us to stretch as far out in front of us as possible; so we did.

Cash got pretty tight towards the end of 2017. We had expected a tax credit that was a struggle to get approved (it did, we just got audited so it took a while), and we had probably gotten caught up in the heat of it all.

There were other challenges. We moved into too small an office, which we'd outgrown within 6 months. Melbourne is a significantly bugger market, and none of us founders are from there, and no-one knew a thing about us.

We went into the 2017 Christmas period with a sense of pride and joy, but no small amount of uncertainty about the financial future of the business.

2018!

A year of change and a year of (greater) stability. We worked with our board on a plan and it turned out to be a good one. They provided us a competitive investment deal that we had a short amount of time to shop around and see if we could get a better deal. After going to San Fran and one pitch to a different investor, we knew the 'better deal' was a red herring and the devils we knew were just angels with experience.

So we raised $1.1M from new existing shareholders, which proved to us that we had the backing of those who had known the business intimately.

So many amazing additions to the team, in roles that have proved so important to the business.

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So what's next?

The feeling of potential in this group is palpable. The joy it's brought to myself, Daniel, Peter, and I hope and believe, to those who have been here, to all of our families, friends, and interested parties has made the whole thing joyously worthwhile.

Now, we are all here to find out what chapters we can write together for all the times, rewarding and challenging, ahead.

We're so glad you've chosen to be part of this, and thrilled to be doing it with you all.

@The Scuttleverse Herald

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post 1 of 3

@Nico

what an amazing story, great work, congratulations on your great adventure! Kia Kaha!

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