Startup snapshot: Showgizmo

Wellington app dev navigates risk-averse NZ angel investors, expands abroad

Showgizmo is a mobile app developer from Wellington, New Zealand, that seeks to replace paper at major conferences and trade shows around the world.

Best conference ever.
Best conference ever.

The pitch

Showgizmo hopes to ride two waves — the rise of smartphones and an increasing industry focus on sustainable practices, according to Showgizmo marketing director, Josh Dry.

“One of the main reasons we’re in the industry is to reduce paper,” said Dry, who was the company’s first full-time employee.

“The events industry is one of the worst performing industries in regards to waste and recycling. Why create a program book for $5 per person for $1000 attendees when you can get an app and it’s all digital?”

The startup has been able to serve a wide range of customers with a single app that can include an event’s schedule, floor plan, session evaluation forms and other common conference material. Customers that prefer to have their own, fully-customised app can buy and self-brand a white-label version.

Since the official launch two years ago, the Showgizmo app has been used in about 200 events globally. Customers have included IBM, TEDx, Flight Centre, Reid Exhibitions and Auckland University.

Funding it

Showgizmo was founded three years ago by Marie-Claire Andrews and Frances Manwaring, who had previously been running virtual expos. A beta of the app ran for about a year with selected events around the world.

The co-founders provided initial funding to get going and then received money from a local seed funding group. Since then, Showgizmo has raised two rounds of angel funding from investors in New Zealand and the UK and has received a research-and-development grant from the NZ government. In all, the startup has raised just under $1 million.

Finding angel support in New Zealand was “quite painful” and “very time-consuming,” said Andrews, who serves as Showgizmo’s CEO. “Lots of effort for comparatively not a great deal of money.”

Andrews noted an irony that she used to run the angel network in Wellington. “It didn’t really hit home to me how inefficient it was until I was on this side pitching to the people that I used to help find deals for,” she said.

In the last three years, NZ angel investors have matured in their ability to assess risk, she added. “But mainly, the conversations have been about how we can de-risk things rather than what the opportunity is.”

Selling it

Showgizmo offers three licences that customers can choose from depending on their requirements. A $500 licence includes a mobile website for the event, while a $3000 licence adds native mobile apps. Showgizmo sells its white-label service for $8000.

Dry estimated that about 20 per cent of Showgizmo customers opt for the white-label flavour. Showgizmo has built bespoke apps for IBM, the Royal Brisbane Convention Centre and the Baby Show in Auckland, among others, he said.

While the white-label version allows the event coordinator to put a fully branded app in mobile app stores, an advantage of the standard version is that users only have to download Showgizmo once and use it at any supported event.

A new user interface coming in November will allow more customisation in the standard version, said. There will also be greater focus on accommodating different uses for the app before, during and after the event, he said.

Showgizmo has tried to differentiate itself from competitors by building native mobile apps across all devices rather than purely doing mobile Web, said Dry. The only OS that Showgizmo doesn’t yet support is Windows Phone.

“We don’t think there’s enough penetration in the market” for Windows Phone, he said. “If it blows up, then yes we’ll build for that.”

Going global

While Showgizmo has kept development in New Zealand, the company has representatives in several countries around the world, including Australia, Singapore, the US, the UK, the Middle East, South Africa and Slovenia.

Showgizmo has focused on the Australasian market, but the reps from Slovenia and some of the other countries actually found Showgizmo and asked to sell the service, said Dry. “We just provided them with support.”

“It’s a bit of a two-way thing,” he said. “If we’ve decided to go in an area, we’ve found and chosen a great rep there. Otherwise, they’ve come to us.”

'Silicon Welly'

While Andrews had complaints about angel funding in New Zealand, she had high praise for the startup community in Wellington.

“It’s pretty much why we stay here at the moment,” the Showgizmo CEO said. “We all know what each other’s doing [and] share advice with each other.”

The startup scene is “really strong,” agreed Dry. “It’s very techy.”

Dry pointed to several success stories including Xero, an accounting software startup located down the road from Showgizmo. The locals commonly refer to Wellington as “Silicon Welly,” he added.

“There are more and more tech investors in New Zealand, and Wellington specifically, because they do see it as a new hub for technology in the country.”

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