Seven years ago, Chris Hilder’s Kaffelogic Nano 7 was just an idea.
Now the fully automated benchtop coffee roaster sells for $1250 a pop and has hundreds of customers in New Zealand and around the world.
Hilder, a Dunedin software engineer, began experimenting with an air popcorn maker, similar to an air coffee roaster but without the right air flow, heat, and temperature control.
He went to Startup Dunedin’s Co.starters programme early on because, while he knew he had a good idea, he wanted to be sure he could turn it into a business.
* Imagine if everyone out of a job started their own business right now
* How to ’embrace the crap’ and other key skills to thrive in a reset world
* From Ernest Rutherford to Stuff: The history of New Zealand’s internet
“The thing for me that was most profound was finding out that I needed to know my customers and finding out I needed a team, and not just me.
“When you’re an inventor you’re focused on your invention, so it was very, very valuable to get those basics.”
His original vision was to make a product that would sell for a few hundred dollars, but he discovered that making a quality, long-lasting appliance was expensive.
Luckily, people are willing to pay a premium for things like coffee and wine.
“Home coffee-making equipment is often quite expensive, and that’s a necessity often in that they’re not mass-produced products,” Hilder said.
“We’ve been very concerned to make our appliance quite beautiful so it fits into that expectation.”
He has gone against the tide of China-made. Some components such as electronics and motors are imported, some parts are custom-made in Dunedin, and the product is assembled in Christchurch.
And what helpful advice would he give to himself when he started out seven years ago?
“I always say that if I ever had the opportunity to speak to my former self, I probably wouldn’t because whatever I said would put him off, and if you’re put off you probably wouldn’t do it.
“You need experience and you need resilience, but you also need a kind of naivety otherwise you’d never get into it,” he said.
“The most important thing is to gather a good team around you – if you can’t do that I don’t think you can get anywhere really.”
A key ingredient to his success was Dunedin. For example, when he went to local company Farra Engineering with his idea drawn on the back of an envelope, he was offered a prototype, free of charge.
“That’s the kind of support you get in Dunedin, it’s overwhelming.”
Rachel Butler, general manager at Startup Dunedin, said New Zealanders were an entrepreneurial bunch, even if they didn’t call themselves that.
“People don’t self-identify, but there’s a lot out there,” she said. “Everyone has entrepreneurial capital.”
Beyond having the bright idea, many people also possessed vital skills such as problem solving and teamwork but did not always realise it, she said.
Ultimately, the successes were “people who fall in love with a problem and see no-one else trying to solve it”.
Butler is one of three people working at Startup Dunedin, alongside programme facilitator Angus Pauley, and marketing and communications manager McKenzie Dowson.
Pauley, who is running a workshop as part of Techweek for people who want to turn their idea into a business, said the tools people needed depended on the stage of their startup.
If it was a matter of testing an idea to see if it would fly, there were blueprints for that, he said.
However, trying to scale up a business presented unique challenges.
Another business fostered by Startup Dunedin was Winely, which automated wine fermentation, collecting fermentation data and samples, and providing analysis of the wine.
Winely was named NZX top 10 early stage company at last year’s TIN (Technology Investment Network) awards, which recognised companies with the potential to grow to be a TIN200 company.
TIN200 companies included Xero and Pushpay, New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing technology companies.
Both Pauley and Butler have had startup experience of their own.
Pauley co-founded a disruptive digital marketing business while studying psychology at University of Otago, and Butler co-founded Mimicry Tech, which allowed people to experience the art and artefacts of museums.
The Covid-19 lockdown had meant an influx of ideas at lots of different stages, Pauley said.
”A lot of people have ideas, but the safety net means you don’t have that push to pursue it. Covid was that push.”
As well as its Co.Starters and Audacious programmes, and its Startup weekend, the trust runs a regular session where people can pitch their ideas to a panel of experts, and get the chance to enter its Distiller Incubator.
Startup Dunedin, owned by the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic and Dunedin City Council, is partly funded by Creative HQ and Callaghan Innovation.