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Guest writer: Jess Molina: What we learnt from attending NZ's only 48 hour startup bootcamp

By Jess Molina

Jess Molina  is a storyteller. That’s just who she is – a 20 something editor turned actor and TV host, chronic oversharer on the internet, flatlay enthusiast, pasta eater, writer, and fairytale believer from New Zealand. And that’s just her night job.

By day, she’s a cool corporate, helping bring stories to life through her unique brand of storytelling. Somewhere in there she manages to relax and live her best life eating all the food, staying up late to interview celebrities LA time, and sharing her ‘Instagram’ life.

This week she is writing a series of blog posts in the led up to our NZ Startup Bootcamp:

What a week it’s been, huh? It’s no secret that at the start of last week, I was nearing burnout territory – uninspired, feeling off, exhausted – and needed a healthy dose of positivity to cheer me up. Coincidentally when I sent off the interview questions, I asked what their best cure for a crap day was and found it to be extremely helpful to cope with the week. So thanks for the foreshadowing, past me. Much appreciated, present me. 

ANYWAY. Let’s carry on.

I spent the week chatting to some of the mentors at this year’s NZ Startup Bootcamp and it’s been really cool to get an insight not only into their career trajectory but their passions as well. From dream dinner guests to advice to people who want to get into their line of work (because how many times have we seen someone in our dream careers that made us wonder how they got there?!), working on these your interviews has been an absolute treat. Thanks GEMMA, JULIAN, ELLY, MARC, and BROOKE for your time and for generously sharing your stories!

Safe to say by the time Saturday morning rolled around, I was so hyped! The day started bright and early with a 7:30 am wellness class. Shara from Ara Studios took us (well it was for the participants mainly but I love a good tree pose so I joined in) through a simple yoga routine – essential given the weekend was full on and it was nice to start it with a bit of meditation and stretching and mindfulness. Afterwards we were treated to some Gutsy kombucha before heading off to the first workshop of the day. The day was a mix of workshops, mentor time, and working on their ideas. I loved the timer that were on large screens and the video diary style set-up where anyone can record their thoughts/feelings/as the day progresses. 

Here are the top five things I’ve learnt from the day:

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, as long as you were keen to participate and work on an idea, you were welcome – I spent sometime with 12-year-old Georgia Tiatia Fa'atoese Latu and her mum Anna, the duo behind Pōtiki Poi. I was so inspired by them – seeing Georgia running the show, working hard on her idea and next steps, Anna doing the mahi while looking after the tiny bub in her arms. Gosh, women are amazing! I sat with them and observed while they work, feeling like a fly on the wall, watching an empire being built from the ground. It was deeply moving. Spoiler alert: they won PEOPLE’S CHOICE.

Wellbeing is one of the most underrated secrets to success – there was a group who came prepared with snacks. I spotted some homebaked cookies, fruits, and other treats in one table, obviously some great brain power food to keep them going. Another group went for walks outside to get some fresh air when they felt like they’ve hit a wall or the ideas have gone dry. It was a great reminder that no matter what the hustle and grind culture says (work work work, sleep is for the weak etc), you gotta prioritise your wellbeing. Not only will you be at your best and perform better, you’ll have better ideas and more energy to work away at your idea – essential if you’ve got big plans and dreams to pursue!

The definition of start-up – I feel like the term ‘startup’ is such a buzzword and personally still feel a bit confused as to what they are and how they are different to a company. I know I hear it often and meet a lot of people who have startups so it was awesome to get some clarity around that. We discussed this at one of the sessions and they used Steve Blank’s definition of a startup: “A startup can be defined as a temporary organisation used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”. 

It’s all about the customer – getting to know the customer is essential to any business, more so in a startup. There are many ways to define what a customer is but ultimately a customer is someone with a problem you’re trying to solve. I like that definition because as someone with a very creative brain and overactive imagination, it’s easy for me to pump out ideas without thinking about who they are for. I’ve already challenged my mindset and reflected on this meaning as I worked on my new project this weekend and the ideas that are flowing feels very different and have a whole new meaning now that I’m armed with this thinking. Another thing that resonated with me was the quote “Treat your initial users as kings. They are really important to the growth of your business”. I agree with this profoundly and think not only is it essential to foster loyalty, from a retention perspective, these users/customers are the backbone of your business.

Investors are looking for your ability to execute – As someone who admittedly have no idea how financing startup works (I just wanna do the writing and take the photos and do the strategy! I’ve always been mathematically challenged. Ask my High School teacher lol), I found the last workshop of the day ran by Julian So on the fundamentals of a financial models to be the most valuable out of all that I attended. He gave great practical advice and really valuable insight into Angel investing and how it all works like being able to prove you can bring in the right revenue and financial planning.

I was so gutted I had prior commitments and could only attend the Saturday sessions (note to self: clear weekend schedule next year) because I would have loved to come to the other workshops! On my trip back to Auckland, while I was exhausted and ready for a much-deserved sleep, I was also feeling the most energetic, inspired, and motivated I’ve been all week. Thank you NZ STARTUP BOOTCAMP and SODA INC for having me! It’s truly been a great experience.

Signing off for this year’s NZ STARTUP BOOTCAMP, but I will hand you over to Celine Kao who gave me a lowdown of what happened at the opening and closing ceremony and wrote that beautiful quote you saw above.


48 hours, 20 teams, 2 winners – and $20,000 up for grabs.

New Zealand's largest startup competition was about to kick off. Contestants from all over the country had convened at Wintec's glass and brick-walled Atrium, milling about the manicured table settings and free-flowing wine. I was greeted by several friendly volunteers and shown to my table, where I found a seat by my boss. She would be serving as a mentor to the teams this weekend, and was beyond eager to hear their ideas.

The ceremony was MCed by the effervescent Sacha Coburn, whose introductory remarks set a lively tone for the afternoon. She was followed by three homegrown entrepreneurs - Brooke Roberts of Sharesies, Grant Johnson of Rocketspark, and Tony Burt of East Imperial. Each talked about their share of wins, losses, challenges, and everything in between, stressing the importance of failure, of having passion, and of teamwork. One of Tony Burt's top tips was to hire weirdos, which garnered a loud chuckle from my boss who promptly took a photo of me along with the presentation slide and sent it to the team group chat for a giggle.

After the guest speakers had shared their insights, we were ushered into a smaller room for more drinks and nibbles. The competition participants were itching to launch into their scheduled workshops and strategy-forming, so while the VIP Guests treated themselves to yet another artisanal beer, the teams shuffled off to get stuck into their activities.

The countdown begun.

Just over 48 hours later, I arrived back at The Atrium for the closing ceremony. This time, the tables were sprinkled with platters of bao buns and rustic floral arrangements. It was nearly time for the lead-up to the finale that would determine which teams would be taking home a big cheque, and the excitement was palpable.

Sacha Coburn strutted back onstage in a glittery bright green jacket and explained how the ceremony would work. There were two categories: Existing Startup Ideas and New Ideas, with one winning team from each category. The judges had already whittled the teams down to three finalists in each. Each finalist would have five minutes to present their pitches, with an additional 8 minutes of questioning from the judges. As if the mounting pressure wasn’t enough, there was a large countdown onscreen to amplify the tension.

As the teams presented one by one, I quickly noticed that pitching was a skill that some teams needed to work on, and others not so much. The most impressive pitch came from 12-year-old Georgia, who took the stage with her mother and four-month-old brother. She presented her idea of creating poi from sustainable materials with confidence and passion that outshone her rivals by miles. The judges probed her on how she would handle an increase in demand and if she had any career ideas, to which she proudly replied that she wanted to represent her heritage in a positive light and advocate for Māori culture. Unsurprisingly, she won the People's Choice Award, and she and her mother thanked the crowd with a rendition of their favourite waiata, drawing a standing ovation.

The judges did not hold back though. Teams stumbled over questions such as "How do you intend to market your product?" and "Why do you think your competitors have failed so far in bringing the same product to market?" The judging team was checking carefully for evidence that the team had worked well together, had considered market viability, and depth of research as well as a strong purpose.

The winners were RH Innovation and Chameleon, who were both producing innovative scientific products that would enhance the efficiency of business practices in the agricultural sector – fitting for a competition held in the Waikato. I was particularly proud of Chameleon, a team made up of 4 University of Waikato students (as an alumna, I may be a little biased), who pitched confidently and accepted their compliments with grace and dignity. Their idea is rooted solidly in both personal experience and skill, so I'm very excited to see how they develop their product!

And just like that, my first NZ Startup Bootcamp Experience drew to a close. It was so inspiring to be in a room jam-packed with brilliant thinkers and creators, some of whom I'd only ever seen online fixing the world's problems one day at a time. Hamilton gets a bad rap for being somewhat of a cesspool in New Zealand, but there's a growing energy in many parts of the city and across a spectrum of groups. Things are beginning to move and shake, and the old tagline 'City of the Future' seems less of a distant aspiration now and more of a possibility within reach.

I would definitely recommend anyone with a bright idea and a dream of making it happen to try out for next year's Bootcamp. You never know – it might just become a reality.

P.S. Thanks so much to Jess Molina for enabling me to have this experience. To me she is, and always has been, one of the OG Hamilton movers and shakers. (Ed's note - I bribed her massively to say that. Lol! Just kidding. Thank you)

Celine Kao is just another one of those fresh-outta-uni millennials who’s trying to figure out what to do with her comms degree. Today it’s how to get young people to vote, and also finally figure out the perfect social media bio. It will change tomorrow. Or at least the bio part will (she’s been consistently keen on youth activism).

Her cookie jar is stored online at CELINEKAO.WEEBLY.COM and she tweets as @CELINESQUE.

This was post was created in partnership with Jess Molina.


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Soda Inc.

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New Zealand

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