The Public Policy Lean Canvas

I’ve been invited to participate in the Startup Nations Summit in Tallinn, Estonia this coming November, representing New Zealand. The central event at this year’s summit will be a Policy Hack, in which delegates from all over the world will get together to collaboratively nut out government policies relating to startups.

If you’ve ever spoken to me for more than five minutes, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Eric Ries and Steve Blank’s Lean Startup Methodology, and that one of my favourite tools is Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas. Way back in 2013, Rowan Yeoman and I applied the Lean Canvas to Social Enterprise, and produced the Social Lean Canvas, which (mainly thanks to Rowan) has taken off globally.

But how can we apply the key elements of the Lean Startup Methodology to public policy? By that I mean:

  • Your business (or endeavour) can be treated as a science experiment using the Build – Measure – Learn cycle
  • Get out of the building – there is no knowledge inside the building
  • Before you reach product-market fit (ie, a scaleable, repeatable business model), the main measure of progress is learning; any time or resources you don’t spend on learning how to reach product-market fit is wasted
  • You’ll learn a lot more by measuring what people actually do than you will by asking them hypothetical questions.
  • Don’t waste time or resources on premature optimisation

The beauty of the Lean Canvas is that it allows you to quickly jot down and keep track of the key aspects of your business, and identify the key assumptions underlying those aspects, so that you can go out and validate those assumptions. Generally, you’ll want to start your validation with the riskiest assumptions – those assumptions which if proved incorrect (invalidated), will kill your business.

So I cooked up a Public Policy Lean Canvas. You can go and get it at leanpolicy.org

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

Legal Māori Resource Hub

One of my “day jobs” is providing lexicographical software development for a number of dictionaries around the place.  One project using my Freelex software that’s recently been launched is the Legal Māori Resource Hub, by Māmari Stephens at the Victoria University Law department.

Māmari recently gave a talk about the lexicon, corpus, and resource hub at the National Digital Forum conference this year.

I’m really happy to have been involved in providing the underlying system on which this is built.

What makes a good startup?

After my stint on Radio New Zealand Saturday Morning with Kim Hill this morning, I was asked to provide a list of the attributes of what I consider to be a good startup.

You can listen to or download the audio:

Here’s my shopping list of criteria for good startups:

1.  Market
a)   Global
b)   Clearly articulated market problem description
c)   Significant addressable market size
d)   Clearly identified market need (for the problem that is being solved)

2.  Team
a)  Has both sales and engineering
b)  Domain experience
c)  Clean capital structure (if any)
d)  Track record that demonstrates achievement and integrity
e)  Vision
f)  Passion
g)  2-3 People
h)  Pragmatic approach
i)   Articulate
j)   Coachable

3.  Product
a)   Web and/or mobile based
b)   Scalable
c)   Addresses significant pain
d)   Disruptive
e)   Simple
f)   Feeble competition
g)  Sound business model
h)  Capable of generating revenue quickly
i)   Can exploit network effect
j)   Novel and/or Freedom to Operate

Thanks to the RNZ team for a great on-air experience!

Keen to take your own idea for a spin?  Come along to Startup Weekend in Auckland (15-17 June) or Wellington (27-29 July) – I’ll be there facilitating, and you’ll meet some great people to collaborate with!

Digital Literacy at NetHui

InternetNZ held NetHui this year, a multistakeholder conference in which we tried to take the Internet out of the server room and to the nation.  After all, just about everybody is a stakeholder in the Internet, and there are big opportunities to be uncovered in getting together to discuss how the Internet is governed and used.

There is plenty of information about the fantastic conference on the NetHui web site; for me the real highlight was Lawrence Lessig’s keynote in which he makes the empassioned plea for New Zealand, as a “high-functioning democracy”, to save America from itself, arguing that free information and checks against abuse of corporate power are critical to maintaining a free society.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the willingness of those present to explore alternative models to intellectual property protection, given a general disdain for current copyright and software patent law.  I hope to see some real progress in this area in the near future; my contribution to this initiative is to organise a Wellington Creative Commons Meetup where we can work together to explore positive change.

I played a small part in organising the conference, focusing on the Digital Literacy session of the Access and Diversity stream.

The session highlighted that there is a great gulf between those who believe that Digital Literacy is chiefly concerned with teaching underprivileged students how to drive Microsoft Office, and those who believe that it is the duty of our education system to teach people how to analyse information and use the broad range of online tools imaginatively, sensibly, and safely.

I hope to be involved in a full-day session later in the year exploring these issues further with practitioners in the field, encouraging the players to collaborate and work together toward shared goals.

Here is the content of the Digital Literacy session for your own viewing pleasure.

The Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language

The Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) went live today at http://nzsl.vuw.ac.nz/

This online dictionary is the culmination of over twenty years of work, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been involved since the beginning.

The dictionary is an extensive resource for people who use or want to learn NZSL. Videos accompany line drawings and text to describe the signs. The site can be used as a monolingual dictionary (search for signs by their features, eg handshape, location etc) or a bilingual dictionary (search for signs by their corresponding English words). Explanations of NZSL grammar and usage as well as tutorial material appear in both NZSL and English.

One of the coolest features of the dictionary is the large corpus of usage examples that was collected for use in the dictionary. Each example sentence appears as a video, with glosses for each sign in the sentence along with an English translation of the sentence. Clicking on a gloss will take you to the entry for that particular sign. A tremendous amount of analysis work by the team went into collecting, videoing and glossing the usage examples. Aside from making using the dictionary useful for learning how signs are used in context and exploring unfamiliar signs in detail, I have no doubt that this linked corpus will form an indispensable resource for future linguistic analysis.

3months.com built a really lovely front-end (Rails) for my back-end Freelex (Perl / Catalyst / Postgres) system.

This work is a taonga which will be loved and habitually used by many people over the coming years.

InternetNZ Council Candidacy

Last year, I was elected to the InternetNZ Council for a one-year term, as the result of the early resignation of Chris Streatfield. After one amazing but short year in office, I’m pleased to offer my services again as a councillor.

In the last year I have

  • Made significant contributions to the development of the Investment and Charitable Grants policies
  • Organised the NetHui session on Digital Literacy as part of the Access and Diversity stream
  • Encouraged a wider group of people from my diverse networks to join InternetNZ and participate in the conversation
  • Pressed for the widening of InternetNZ’s brief “up the stack”, so that we focus on the usage and impact of the Internet in wider society, rather than just the pipes
  • Connected InternetNZ staff and other councillors with appropriate people in external organisations where we can make a difference, such as the Wellington City Council’s Digital Strategy Development forum
  • Made myself available to members through Twitter, LinkedIn, and email to raise any issues of concern to Council
  • Promoted a culture of creative entrepreneurship, shared purpose, and respect around the council table

If re-elected, I will continue to work hard to ensure that:

  • The NZ Internet (in the widest sense) remains open and uncapturable
  • Council focusses on its responsibility to its members as well as wider society in its full diversity
  • InternetNZ gets the best out of its staff and operating companies, supporting our excellent Chief Execs to achieve the strategy we set
  • Strategic opportunities are recognised and seized as they arise
  • I am available and approachable for members to voice their concerns and act as a conduit to Council.

I look forward to continuing in my role to keep InternetNZ the great organisation it is, and expand its impact and the good it does in society.

Rave reviews for Freelex / Mātāpuna lexicography system

Some things just take time – especially recognition.

My Free and Open Source Freelex / Mātāpuna Dictionary Writing System was just reviewed by Oumar Bah in Language Documentation and Conservation. (Download the PDF of the article).

Bah writes:

It is a DWS much like Toolbox, iLex or TshwaneLex, but uninke the others, it is entirely web-based.  This means that its interface can be opened with any usual browser, which is a huge advantage if we consider that most users are now familiar with the Internet.  Furthermore, its network feature makes it well-suited for collaborative dictionary projects, either in a Local Area Network or on the Internet …

Matapuna is a dictionary tool I warmly recommend, especially for collaborative small or medium scale projects with little funding…

Domain names, now with mācrons!

From next week, .nz domain names will have the ability to contain macrons.

I’m really pleased to have lent a hand to the process which has enabled the complete Māori alphabet to be used in .nz domain names; I was on the “IDN” (Internationalised Domain Name) committee at InternetNZ which set up the policy and process for making this happen.

Here’s the InternetNZ media release:

Media Release – 22 July 2010 – The beginning of next week marks an exciting new phase for the .nz domain name space. From 10am on Monday 26 July 2010, people will be able to register .nz domain names using the macronised vowels ā, ē, ī, ō and ū.

Registering a .nz domain name with macrons will take place in exactly the same way as registering any other .nz domain name – through a ‘registrar’ – and registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

New Zealand Domain Name Commissioner Debbie Monahan says the launch date for general registrations has been timed to coincide with the start of Māori Language Week, which is significant because, for the first time, New Zealand’s indigenous language, Te Reo Māori, can be correctly represented online.

“Thanks to the successful completion of the global Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) initiative the New Zealand Internet is now more culturally representative.

“The addition of macrons to the .nz domain name space is a step forward for online identity and the Internet in New Zealand and I encourage those interested in securing a macronised name to take note of the opening of general registrations on 26 July.

“This is the culmination of years of hard work at both local and international levels, and I would like to thank New Zealand’s IDN working group and .nz Registry Services for their valuable contributions.”

More information about .nz domain names with macrons is available at www.dnc.org.nz/story/nz-domain-names-macrons

For further information contact:
Debbie Monahan
Domain Name Commissioner
+64 4 495 2114