Garden app team grows NZ's reputation

By Bill Bennett

Auckland start-up is US-bound after international e-commerce contest win.

The winning Garden Genie team: Kiet Vo, Perrin Reilly, Mahsa Dordahan, Nick Co, Laura Kerrison, Jennifer Clamp, Mohit Singh.
The winning Garden Genie team: Kiet Vo, Perrin Reilly, Mahsa Dordahan, Nick Co, Laura Kerrison, Jennifer Clamp, Mohit Singh.

Questions of where New Zealand sits in the global technology start-up picture were answered in December, when the Auckland-based Garden Genie team took first place in an international competition for e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Significantly, the competition organisers said the Auckland event had by far the highest per-capita participation.

The team, which first came together at the Auckland Start-Up Weekend, beat 20,000 other contestants to win the Global Startup Battle e-commerce category. This month team members are in Austin, Texas where they'll receive their prize: a month-long e-commerce coaching experience complete with an e-commerce coach, office space and an online store.

Developer Mohit Singh says it is too soon to describe Garden Genie as an app or a product - that's what he is now working on - but the project aims to make it easier for people to grow their own organic fruit and vegetables.

Singh joined the Garden Genie team in November while at the Auckland Startup Weekend. Part of the process at the event is designed to pull teams together.

They then had a day to prepare a pitch and walked away as event winners.

He says that's when the real work started. They were given just 24 hours to prepare a one-minute video pitch for the global competition.

He says: "There were 200 similar events around the world.

"Teams have to submit entries in various circles, we were in the e-commerce circle."

Judging for the competition took place in rounds. Initially the public was asked to vote for the top 15 entries.

Garden Genie made it past that stage and the after judging took out the top spot.

Singh says the idea for Garden Genie was developed at the startup weekend. As the person with programming skills, Singh had the job of leading the technical execution in Auckland.

He says: "The job was more than just coding. Other team members didn't have the technical skills, so I had to guide them through the app." At this stage Garden Genie is still at the customer discovery stage.

The Auckland Startup Weekend prizes helped get the ball rolling.

Singh says the team got a BizSpark package from Microsoft, which includes software and cloud computing services: "This means our IT costs just go away".

There was also advertising money from Trade Me, money for legal expenses, a Xero account and office space at the BizDojo.

Singh says the team is providing the rest of the finance, covering costs out of their own pockets and their own time outside work.

He has a day job as a software developer at Datacom, where he works on Windows Phone and Windows 8 projects.

He says the company has been really supportive: "Entrepreneurship is promoted inside the company". Like other team members, his main personal challenge has been finding enough time to sleep.

Garden Genie's plan is to build a global business from the ground up. That means starting in New Zealand, where team members still live, and in the US because that's where they will be for the next month.

Then they plan to tackle the rest of the world. While in Austin, Singh and the team will work on developing a "minimal viable product".

Singh has something of a track record already.

He is part of the Sealord Windows 8 app team at Datacom that was partly behind the company winning last year's Microsoft Partner of the Year Award. He was a presenter at Microsoft's TechEd conference and a mentor at the University of Auckland's Summer Student Programme.

- NZ Herald

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