Software solves global food dilemma – Will Lau, Bucky Box

“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.” – Paul Graham

A lot of us entrepreneurs have, at one point or another, declared that when we found the right idea, we would drop everything and devote all our time and money to it. If you’re like me, you’ve spent hours searching for excellent ideas on Google, minutes reading about them, and seconds discarding them. That’s because a winning idea comes from a winning problem.

The problem Will Lau had, was that it is both logistically and economically more efficient for chain supermarkets to buy from one big farm rather than small independent growers. Along with that comes a whole host of environmental atrocities. Did you know that 99.5 percent of phosphate fertiliser doesn’t get absorbed by crops? In a 1000 kg payload, 995 kg would go straight past plant roots and into our water table. As a result, over 90 percent of the waterways in the South Island are unsafe to swim in.

“We just need a way of distributing food that’s better matched to small farms,” said Will Lau, entrepreneur and Bucky Box founder.

Bucky Box is a cloud-based app that makes distributing local food efficient, and in doing so can dramatically lower costs. The follow-on effects mean local small scale producers, both artisan producers and small scale farms, see increased demand.

Will’s background is in user experience and product design. “During the dot-com age I was a web developer and user interface designer for Silicon Valley mobile startups. I was just grabbing a laptop and backpacking while I was doing the contract work. When I came across an old friend in Montreal, we got scheming and started our own startup in the mobile space. The product we made was called SnapperMail, and it was known for it’s finger touch interface which was 6 years before the iPhone. We charged three times the going rate and it sold like hotcakes and eventually dominated the industry. It became a multi million dollar company within two years.”

From that hands-on education, Will knew that, in order to create a tool that fixed problems, he first needed to assemble a good team. “I kind of knew what product was needed, something powerful yet flexible enough to work for a large variety of business workflows. So it was a matter of seeding the right team, finding the Enspiral network in Wellington was the start. Values alignment was really important because the mission was more important than just making money. We wanted catalyse an emerging food system.”

“We threw around some crazy ideas, like we went to a cabin in the woods for twelve days and did a little skunkworks project where we were cut off from the rest of the world and had twelve days straight of just building a product. We came out with a prototype. From there we had something that we could start putting out there. It was, what we call in the tech space, a minimal viable product to test market receptivity to the idea. There’s no point in having just a solution, the classic scenario is having a solution that nobody wants.”

The Enspiral Network, which gave Bucky Box a launching pad, owns a small stake in the company. Will is an active part of Enspiral. “It’s a network of people, a really high trust network, and that trust is a really important part of working together effectively. Any venture is really a construct of the people and how well you work together. Enspiral was good foundational soil to grow high trust relationships.”

Bucky Box is growing into a global product modelled to solve a global predicament. It is designed to be useful anywhere where there is an Internet connection, and it was like that from day one.

“Where we got traction was in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK where we immediately had the right features for businesses in these countries. Other places such as the US, we haven’t seen much engagement as we haven’t yet built out the right features to cover their style of local food businesses.”

We are localising the software gradually. Essentials like support for timezones and currencies were immediate, but other areas like banking systems, languages are more gradually dictated once we see traction in that particular country.  One of the things we’ve done quite well is administrating with bank systems. We’ve got a system now where customers can give us their bank details, and we can get them up and running integrating their bank data within minutes.”

Using Bucky Box in New Zealand will cost you a one-time fee of NZD $3.90+GST per transactional customer in your database.

“Internationally it’s USD $3.75. We’re just about to move to local currency pricing which makes more sense for local food businesses. It is ridiculously cost-effective. We are 10 times cheaper in some cases than other solutions, but that’s in line with our vision — to have a product that’s so no-brainer cheap, so no-brainer easy-to-use, that there is no reason not to use it. We see the future of food being big and diverse. There’s a trend moving away from the big monolithic supermarkets and going back to the artisans and the small producers. For that to happen we will need simple to learn tools that are cheap enough for everyone to have access.”

Do you think 2013 is a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

I think that every year is a good year to be an entrepreneur, and that’s beyond just New Zealand. We are undergoing so much change right now. Everything is being reinvented. There’s layers and layers of change happening worldwide. One layer is we are going through the transition from an industrial economy to a post-industrial economy. In an industrial economy, what’s important is consistency, quality, and uniformity of the workforce. In a post-industrial world you want creativity to finding new disruptive solutions. You can see how powerful that’s become in Silicon Valley and we’re starting to see the technology sector starting to permeate all industries.


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