Publons angel exit

Daniel Johnston and Andrew Preston at Startup Weekend Wellington 2012

Publons, a company that came out of Wellington’s Lightning Lab accelerator in 2013, and of which I was the first investor and (until 31 May) Chairman of the Board, has been acquired by Clarivate Analytics. Publons provides a platform that gives academics credit for the peer review work they do, and whose mission is to “speed up science through the power of peer review”. Clarivate’s mission is to “accelerate innovation”, and are the main authoritative industry source of, inter alia, academic bibliometrics. Clarivate was formerly known as Thomson Reuters IP and Science, and changed its name when it was bought by private equity interests last year.

It is New Zealand’s first significant exit from an accelerator programme.

I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks, as it bodes well for the New Zealand startup ecosystem. Founders, employees, and investors all did well out of the exit, and much of the proceeds of the sale will be ploughed back into local startups.

The Publons story is a textbook case of how to build strategic value: “‘Publons now find themselves at the heart of the rebuilding programme to support Clarivate’s reinvention, and a vital part of the system of reference and authority needed to maintain scholarly communication in a digital, networked age,’ says David Worlock, a UK-based publishing consultant with knowledge of the deal.” [Nature]

“It’s a huge win for startups, their founders, and investors…” [NZ Herald]

More coverage:
Peer review is thankless. One firm wants to change that. [The Economist]

Funders and publishers will likely be glad to see a visible expansion of the pool of peer reviewers with validated track records. And more researchers may see the benefit of easily creating a record of their peer review work. Expansion and independence of publishers may well give Clarivate Analytics sufficient advantage to establish Publons as the de facto standard for crediting peer review. [The Guardian]

Formal recognition for peer review will propel research forward. [London School of Economics Impact Blog]

The companies describe themselves as the world’s preeminent citation database and the world’s largest researcher-facing peer-review data and recognition platform. [Research Information]

Peer review is at the heart of our ability to trust research but is often accused of being slow, inefficient, biased and open to abuse. By recognising reviewers and bringing transparency to the review process, Publons has built a platform to conform these issues head on. And now, with the worldwide reach, citation network and research tools offered by Clarivate Analytics, we can tackle these global issues on a global scale. [Victoria University News]

Peer review is the last, great, closed part of the research lifecycle. Data on peer review needs to become a core component of the research record. Bringing transparency, recognition, and training to peer review will result in better reviewers and a faster, more trusted research process. [Publons blog]

The Publons deal will give a much-needed confidence boost to the local [NZ startup] ecosystem which is very positive. [Ben Kepes’ Diversity blog]

It takes a village to raise a startup, and I’d like to thank the following people and organisations for their hard work and support:

  • The founders, Andrew Preston and Daniel Johnston – visionary, hard working, resilient, crazy smart, coachable, humble, trustworthy, team players, and rigorously scientific in their approach. That’s really the investable founder checklist.
  • The Publons team, who continue to pull out all stops to speed up science
  • Investor and board advisor Simon Swallow, a steady hand with laser focus who backs up his excellent advice with the hard yakka to bring it to fruition
  • Our local Wellington angel investment club, AngelHQ, and particularly the legendary Serge van Dam and Trevor Dickinson
  • Strategic investor SAGE Publishing Group, and their fearless leader David McCune
  • Institutional investors K One W One and NZVIF’s Seed Co-Investment Fund
  • CreativeHQ, Lightning Lab, and Dan Khan for running New Zealand’s first accelerator programme from which Publons was launched
  • My own family whose trust and support are the pillar of my strength
  • All of the reviewers on the Publons platform

Building the entrepreneurial community we want to live in

What are the foundations of a great national entrepreneurial community?

After the Startup Weekend NZ National Hui in 2015, I drafted a plan based on feedback from the hui’s unconference.  It included:

Vision:  Every New Zealander has the ability, tools, and networks to become an entrepreneur

Mission: To provide access to the community, experiences, and support that emerging entrepreneurs need to succeed, working directly with entrepreneurs as well as with other organisations.

Values:

  • Community leadership:  Our members – our key resource – are Community Leaders. We believe that a successful startup ecosystem depends on supporting and bringing out the best in those willing to contribute. As leaders in our field, we set an example by the way we work with others, and help others become leaders. We’re confident in who we are, and willing to help, support, and encourage those whose values are aligned with ours. We put the mission before our own glory.
  • Reciprocity: Once we’ve committed, we’re in – our partners can count on us, and vice versa. We are transparent and honest with each other, partners and constituents, and expect the same from them.
  • Responsive, mindful, and enabling: We are responsive to community needs, and enable others to move purposefully and quickly.  We use lightweight and flexible infrastructure to achieve this.
  • Lasting value: We’re in this for the long-term future of New Zealand and its entrepreneurs. We measure the impact of our outcomes, seeking constant improvement in the things that matter.

I suggested that we could achieve our mission and vision by:

  • Providing experiential education for entrepreneurs, including Startup Weekends, and shorter form workshops
  • Building and developing entrepreneurial communities, bringing people of all stripes together, and being a catalyst for serious shifts in the landscape, especially outside the main centres
  • Connecting entrepreneurial communities locally, nationally, and globally, forging better ties across geographic boundaries, sharing our resources, time, and experience for the betterment of all
  • Working on improving startup policies to nurture an environment in which startups can thrive
  • Celebrating entrepreneurship through programmes like Global Entrepreneurship Week

And to make it all happen, I suggested that we could engage in partnerships with:

  • Entrepreneurs and their startups
  • Local and central government
  • Universities and other tertiaries
  • Accelerators, incubators, and coworking spaces
  • Other allied organisations, such as Youth Enterprise Trust, the Innovation Council, NZTech, the Angel Association of New Zealand, and more.

I believe that the governance of an organisation executing this plan should be transparent, diverse, egalitarian, and democratic, and that financially it should be organised as a not for profit, ideally with charitable status.

The plan languished for a year, and was never adopted – it was a bridge or three too far for the other directors. Even though the plan has stalled, I’m still very keen to make it, or something similar based on the same values, happen.

Others have expressed very similar ideas, including Dan Khan, Pascale Hyboud-Peron, Lenz Gschwendtner, Peter Thomson, Jane Treadwell-Hoye, Sarah Day, Colart Miles, and Ants Cabraal. Although our expression is slightly different, there is a large degree of congruence and alignment.

I look forward to working with similarly minded people and building that entrepreneurial community we want to live in, so that we can move New Zealand to the next stage.

Are you in?

Join the discussion in the comments below, or on Twitter hashtag #startupcommunityvalues

 

Pre-seed advisory board agenda template

I recently took on the role of Entrepreneur in Residence at the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator, powered by Lightning Lab.  Consider me the “Mentor-in-Chief” – as well as advising the ventures and helping them make great connections and destroy roadblocks, my main job is curating the relationships between the ventures and their mentors, and later in the programme, between the ventures and their [potential] investors.

We have a super strong group of mentors contributing to the programme, and we’ve organised them into advisory boards for the teams. I am totally humbled by the calibre of the mentors, and their generosity in contributing to the growth of these nascent startups.

If you’re a mentor in this programme, or in any other programme, please accept my deepest heartfelt thanks for your contribution. People like you make the startup world go round.

Here is my suggested agenda for a one-hour pre-seed Advisory Board meeting.  NOTE: this is only a template, and should be adjusted (likely cut down) to your specific requirements at the time.

1. Welcome and into (5 minutes)
Roll call
Conflicts of Interest
Approval of previous minutes
Matters arising from the previous minutes

2. Context (10 minutes)
Current pitch and feedback
Changes to Lean Canvas
Learnings from last week
Key things we need to learn
Product update1
Runway2
Roadblocks we need to destroy3

3. Metrics (5 min)
Site analytics (acquisition)
Users: total, active, growth rate week-on-week (activation)
Revenue
Retention
Referrals

4. Sales (5 min)
What’s working
What needs improving
Action plan

5. Investor wrangling (5 min)
Who have you talked to?
Who should you be talking to?

6. Strategic Topic (changes every meeting, be sure to set this in advance) (15 min)

7. Other business (5 min)

8. Actions and deliverables (who is going to do what by when) (5 min)

9. Next meeting time and farewell (5 min)

If I had more than an hour, I’d throw a little bit more time at context, and most of the time toward strategic. I’d like to stress that the above is only a template – what you actually use will vary from startup to startup, and from meeting to meeting. Do not stick to the template slavishly, but use it as a mnemonic or a guide.  The timings are so quick, but it is designed for an accelerator, where things happen quickly.  If you want to make a longer meeting, I’d throw the extra time at strategic topics, where you’re going to get the most value.

You can (and should) also make time to meet individual advisors or mentors outside of your advisory board meeting. Also, encourage them to talk to each other (we have a Slack for that) in between meetings.

I’m interested in community feedback for the above agenda. Am I missing anything (like the boat)? Please comment below, and I’ll modify the list as required, with appropriate attribution.

Thanks to the following people for their contributions for improvements to this list:
1 Ryan Baker
2 Andrew Wallace
3 Sunit Prakash

Farewell, Julian Carver

Very early this year, one of my closest friends, Julian Carver, died. This post told the story of his death from my perspective, along with my learnings from the experience.

Sadly, one of Julian’s surviving family members has asked me to remove this post, as “it’s too soon”.  In respect to them, I have removed it.

The bottom line is that we all need to do a better job of looking after each other.

Be kind to each other people.

For the closing of borders

For the sin of silence,
For the sin of indifference,
For the secret complicity of the neutral,
For the closing of borders,
For the washing of hands,
For the crime of indifference,
For the sin of silence,
For the closing of borders,
For all that was done,
For all that was not done,
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory;
Let there be remembrance within the human heart;
And let there at last be forgiveness
When your Children, O God,
are free and at peace.

From Gates of Repentance, the Progressive Jewish prayerbook for the High Holy Days, Yom Kippur Afternoon Service, p439

Technical Due Diligence Checklist

From time to time, I get asked to perform technical due diligence on investment opportunities.  I have a checklist, and I thought I’d share it with others in the hope that it might be useful.

If you have anything you think I’ve missed or got wrong, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll [potentially] edit the list to suit.


Architecture

  • Describe the overall architecture of the system.
  • Well documented?
  • Easily understood?
  • Industry standard components?
  • Many vendors (eg AWS, Azure, etc)?
  • What’s the next big architectural leap?

 

Performance

  • Any monitoring happening now?
  • Ever done load testing?
  • What are the potential bottlenecks and remedies?

 

Scalability

  • Load balancing?
  • Separation of functions?
  • Any single points of failure?
  • Automatic [ability to perform] scaling?
  • Cost structures (eg licenses)
  • What isn’t automated that should be?
  • What’s the next scalability hurdle?

 

Security

  • How are {passwords, sensitive information} {stored, backed up, transmitted}
  • HTTPS?
  • Protection against obvious stuff covered, eg XSS, SQL injection
  • Ever done penetration testing?
  • What requires root access; who has it?
  • What are your upgrade / patching regimes?
  • What’s backed up? Where? Ever done a disaster recovery (DR) test?
  • How would you make the site more secure?

 

Development processes

  • What languages and frameworks have you used? Why?
  • Who’s in the dev team?
  • How is the team organised? How do they communicate and make decisions?
  • Revision control on all platforms (eg iOS, Android, and back end)? Which – Git, Github, Bitbucket, etc?
  • Test Driven Development?
  • Doing Continuous Integration? Which tools?
  • How does deployment work?
  • Describe the accumulated technical debt, and how this is managed.
  • How would you improve the development team?

 

Maintainability

  • Is the source code readable and/or beautiful? Is there consistent style?
  • Are there copious comments in the code?
  • Is there narrative commenting for each code unit (object, method, etc)
  • Are they running on current releases of underlying software? Any big changes on the horizon?
  • Are there any unexpected or obscure dependencies?
  • How hard would it be to pick up and move to (AWS, Azure, Rackspace, etc)
  • Any long-term viability issues with specific vendors?
  • How could you improve maintainability?

 

Licensing issues

  • Do you own all of the code necessary to run the system?
  • How is it licensed?
  • Does anyone else have rights over the code? Could anyone else claim to have rights over the code?
  • If you’re using any licensed code, what are the terms of the license(s)? What are the risks associated with those licenses? Are there any plans to re-engineer these bits over time?
  • Is there an IP strategy, eg “SaaS black box running our proprietary code, accessible only through the web site and our API’s”

 

Other

  • Are there any other interdependencies with stuff beyond your control?
  • If you were investing in this company, is there anything else you’d like to know that we haven’t asked about?
  • Any other comments?

Brian Christian on Algorithms to Live By

I’m a member of the Long Now Foundation, whose mission it is to “…provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.”

One of their main activities is producing Seminars about Long Term Thinking, which are available as podcasts, and are my favourite listen on a long drive or trip to the supermarket.

The latest episode is Brian Christian on Algorithms to Live By, which covers recent developments in computer science. He spends much of the talk discussing the “Optimal Stopping Problem“, in which you try to determine the optimum time to stop looking for the ideal house, partner, or similar. It turns out there’s a mathematical answer to this question – if you determine how long you’re prepared to engage in the search process, then you should spend the first 37% (1/e) of the search period examining the choices, and then select the next option that is better than any of the previous choices. There are a significant number of other gems in this talk, but Christian’s parting shot really cracked me up.  According to Computer Science he says, we can rethink rationality in a mathematical way that includes the following principles:

  • Don’t always consider all your options
  • Don’t necessarily go for the option that seems best every time
  • Make a mess on occasion
  • Travel light
  • Let things wait
  • Trust your instincts and don’t think too long
  • Relax
  • Toss a coin

It leaves me tempted, for a few milliseconds anyway, to retake my Computer Science degree.

See the video at: http://longnow.org/seminars/02016/jun/20/algorithms-live/