Cogent Conversations: Episode 6
Jessica Christiansen-Franks from Neighbourlytics
Episode 6: Neighbourlytics
It can be a difficult to turn a consulting business into a product business. The two require very different mindsets and the immediacy of consulting revenue can be tempting to pursue over the longer-term benefits of product creation.
The founders of Neighbourlytics seem to have negotiated this path well, learning quickly after winning the She Starts program, creating a product that is loved by customers, and now with a team of 10 operating from 6 desks, they have just completed a $1.25 million seed investment round.
We spoke with one of the co-founders, Jessica Christiansen-Franks, about things like countering the bro-culture of tech startups, creating vibrant cities where people find connection, and the importance of finding work meaningful in order to do great work.
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Meet the host: Adam Murray
Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).
Full Episode Transcript
Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations podcast made by the people at Cogent. Cogent Conversations is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best.
We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at cogent.co.
Jessica C.: One moment was when we were in the bootcamp to win a place into the accelerator and were talking about the kind of clients that would use our product and what it would do for them. One of our advisors said to us, “If you create a product like this, you’ve got to accept that a fashion label might use it to put their shops in the right location.”
Adam Murray: Hello. It’s Adam Murray here, and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. In this episode we are talking with Neighbourlytics. I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be to create a product business out of a consulting business. It’s one of the things I admire about Neighbourlytics, that they have successfully made this transition.
What I also love is the purpose behind the product they are creating, which is enabling greater connection within communities. I had an excellent conversation with co-founder and CEO of Neighbourlytics, Jessica Christiansen-Franks. Let’s get into it.
Jessica C.: Yes. Hi.
Adam Murray: I’ll be chatting to you. What’s the brief story of how you’ve got to here, founding Neighbourlytics and us sitting here today?
Jessica C.: Gosh. The brief story. I’m not very good at brief, really. It’s a funny one because I grew up living all over the world. My dad was in the army and we lived in the Middle East and the Philippines and Europe and all different places while I was growing up. I became really curious about the way people live and about cities and about the open environment, so I became a city planner. Landscape architect designer, city planner, because I thought that’s how I could be part of that. Became part of the massive corporate machine.
It never really made sense to me and I was really frustrated that we weren’t really making better cities or better places for people. There wasn’t really a social science aspect to what we were doing as city planners, but there should be, because we’re creating the environments that everybody lives in. That the economy survives in, that everything happens in. We don’t accept custodianship of that in the industry, and I just was pissed off with it and was always an agitator in my own workplace.
Basically, I’m totally unemployable now, but I had got to the point where my bosses always were really frustrated with me saying, “We could do better. We should be trying harder.” Then I met through work my now co-founder, Lucinda. She was running a not-for-profit that was doing exactly that, getting out into the property sector and saying, “We’ve got to try harder and bring citizens in from the beginning.”
Through that process of working with her and in a previous business, we then had this idea for Neighbourlytics and we pitched it at a start-up competition, not having any idea what that even meant. Had no idea what a start-up was. We just knew tech would be a scaling enabler or a disruptor for us, which is what we were trying to do. Somehow we won and we got money and we started and we’re like, “Oh dear. This is what a start-up is. It’s not what we thought.”
I would never go back now. Now we’re in this space where we’re servicing the property sector and the town-planning sector with better data that’s about the community, so that they can really understand the lives of the cities that they’re creating. It’s just gone absolutely bananas. Work through the roof. We’ve now got 10 people on six desks and four computers in that room. It’s been a totally crazy whirlwind. It just seems to be the exact right time, right now, for the property sector to be trying something different, which is exciting.
Adam Murray: Amazing. Back to your realisation that, ah, this is what a tech start-up is. Did you think you were going to be a tech business, before you went in that?
Jessica C.: I’d never thought about that before. We weren’t thinking tech; we were thinking business model. We were running a not-for-profit, but it was a consultancy, so a social enterprise, where we were raising our own revenue through consulting. We grew from five to 25 people in a year. The phone was ringing hot with everyone wanting to work with us but we couldn’t hire fast enough. We knew that for the step change growth we were trying to achieve, a consulting model wouldn’t work. But we had only ever worked in consulting businesses before, so I didn’t know what other options there were.
We knew tech would be a way to do it because it’s a different kind of business, but we had no literacy whatsoever in even trying to understand what that would look like. We of course read Eric Reese and everything. We knew a bit about the tech world but didn’t know how to turn our business into that kind of business. So going through an accelerator was essential for us to be skilled up in some of those basics to be able to understand the potential of the impact or change we could create by using a different kind of business model. We often talk about now how to not be a consultancy, because we could accidentally become a consultancy very easily and it’d be very lucrative. But we couldn’t scale in the way that we need to.
Adam Murray: Yeah, when you said that you won the competition, you had the realisation, this is what a tech start-up is – what was that realisation? Is it what you were talking about there or was it something else?
Jessica C.: It was a few different things. One moment was when we were in the boot camp to win a place into the accelerator and we were talking about the kind of clients that would use our product and what it would do for them. One of our advisors said to us, “If you create a product like this you’ve got to accept that a fashion label might use it to put their shops in the right location.” And we’re like, “That’s not why we’re building this. We’re building this to create equitable, just communities that highlight the voice of underrepresented or marginalised people as well as everyone else.”
So, seeing that the business model… you don’t get to pick and choose your clients the way you do as a consultancy, where you really are coaching your client through the outcome you think they should create, and that’s the choice you get to make as a consultant, and that’s how you influence the industry as a consultant. And being a product, it’s nothing like that. We’re still trying to influence the industry, but we have to do it much more subtle ways about the way we educate our clients, the language we use in our product, the way we talk about the value proposition so that we are passively educating them on the change we want them to create rather than just letting it become a very superficial use of data that could be very meaningful.
Being hit with that, a start-up is this or a tech business, a product business is this, being specially different to a consultancy was something we’d never thought of before. That was the biggest moment. I actually left the… Lucinda was in Samoa on maternity leave, and had applied to this thing and we got into the… it was the SheStarts program, the first SheStarts. I had to go to Sydney to be part of the bootcamp. I knew nothing about it until the day before and Lu said, “You’ve got to go to Sydney to be part of this thing.” Halfway through the first day I had this realisation about what it was and I ran outside and called Lucinda on the street in Sydney and was like, “Oh my God, it’s not what we thought it was. This is what it is.Do we want this?” And we’re like, we’d love to learn about it and see what utility it would have for what we’re trying to do.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Given that, where you started in wanting to bring justice and connection and those kind of things to cities, and what a start-up is where you effectively, well, more directly lose control of that, how are you measuring your success and is it still the same thing for you now?
Jessica C.: That’s the existential crisis I have at two o’clock every morning. And especially just coming back from the Christmas break when I was thinking about that the whole time, how we do both. I don’t know what the answer is, but what I can say and see with our clients is that right now we don’t do any marketing and we have had through the roof sales because we’ve hit a sweet spot between social impact and understanding the citizen and the citizen voice, and data. They are the two things the property sector are talking about. Data, data, data. But no one knows what the hell that means. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes. They’re all saying it, but no one actually knows what it means. It’s quite superficial when they say data.
The industry is getting frustrated with that. Retail sectors are really scared about the future of retail in terms of shopping centres and how they transition from shopping experiences into lifestyle town centre destinations, which is what they’re going to have to become to survive. And they don’t know how to do that, because they don’t know how to understand whether the community like car boot sales or Pilates classes, or all the other stuff we do in our spare time, and how we live as people. They only know whether you want Zara or Apple or the shopping side of it.
So, our clients are desperate for our data. That is an opportunity that we have that will only be short-term. We’re not going to have this forever, though we are the people that jump on the market and start providing the kind of data we can create. But it means right now our clients are asking us what to do with it, how to use it, how to make the best decisions with this better data. Which means they’re thirsty for learning what to do next. For us, it’s a massive, like a land grab, really, the fact that we’re the only ones doing this so far in this huge market that we’ve created for ourselves. We need to scale as quickly as we can so that we can fill that gap and educate them with the right way to work.
And as I’m having this conversation with you, I’m putting all the things on the checklist of what I need to speak to Amelia about, when we sit down and talk about the work we’re going to do with you guys; because we need to really nail our product, nail the way our clients think about solving their problems with it so that we can get them to make the right kind of decisions rather than just make better Facebook ads, which is what they otherwise might do.
Adam Murray: Yeah. There’s a couple of things I’m thinking about.
Jessica C.: It’s possible, right?
Adam Murray: Yeah, I think so.
Jessica C.: Just awesome product and service design can nail that, that’s what I’m hoping.
Adam Murray: Exactly.
Jessica C.: We’ve talked a lot when we were planning out our product and planning out what we’re trying to do about how to be… when you learn to be start-up, at an accelerator, you get taught you need to give your clients exactly what they want. Give them what they want. Give them what they want. The big problem I had with that at the beginning was what our clients want is shit. Am I allowed to swear?
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Jessica C.: What our clients want is not good for them. What they’re used to using is five-year-old census data that’s aggregated so much that it’s not meaningful – and it’s predetermined boundaries. So, if you’re wanting to understand Smith Street, you’ve got two post codes for Smith Street because it’s Fitzroy and Collingwood. If you want to understand that as a neighbourhood, Smith Street is the centre of that neighbourhood. It’s not the edge of a neighbourhood. If you want to understand the difference between Smith Street and Chapel Street, they have completely different personalities as places. The people that go there are completely different. But the income level is the same, the demographic is the same, the apartment price is the same, the age of the buildings is the same, the vacancy rate at auctions are the same. All of the other things our industry use to understand places actually don’t tell you what the difference between Smith Street and Chapel Street are, and so you need more information, and that’s what we’re trying to find.
But when we started with our clients, they said, “Just give us better graphs of census data.” Oh my God, that is not… So we started talking about broccoli wrapped in bacon. How do we give them the bacon that they want, what’s the thing that they want, and then put all the other good stuff in there so that they can start to learn how to use that and want that and rely on that? So, we put census data in our dashboard even though we’re hoping and we realise no one uses once it’s beside our data, which is so much better. But it means all of the early product dev we were doing; we were told only do… the MVP has to be the things your clients are asking for. No, we’re trying to change what our clients are doing.
For me it was like saying, I had this massive debate with one of our UX advisors. He’s awesome, but I said, “It’s just like trying to, I think, build a quit smoking tool.” Well, smokers often don’t want to quit. They want to keep smoking, but you’ve got to change their behaviour and make something easy for them in that moment that they think, “Oh maybe I should try harder.” Give them something easy to use, whereas actually what they want to do every day is just smoke. It’s not good enough to say, “Just let them smoke.” No, this is to help them change and do something different.
Adam Murray: I don’t know if you’ve really talked about it, what is the different thing you want your clients to do?
Jessica C.: We want them to have better information about the citizens. And the thing we want them to do differently is, they currently know they need better information because the communities are getting angrier when councils aren’t meeting their needs. They’re not coming to their retail. Their main streets are dying. High vacancy rates in main streets. Massive issues for the local economy. Marginalised members of the community, be them new immigrants or people with disability are becoming more marginalised and voiceless, so there’s all these problems. They know those problems are there.
We want them to have easier access to the information they need so they can understand those problems and solve them. Previously it’s all been in the too hard basket. This is the biggest challenge. The inertia is the biggest challenge that we face, where forever it’s been good enough that they use five-year-old census data to solve a problem about youth unemployment in a regional area. Well, youth employment five years ago, they’re now adults. It’s not good enough if you’re not using real time… Some of the winter things are very different. Weekday to weekend they’re very different, so you need better data. We’re trying to get them to react in real time more, and to be more accountable therefore to the changes that they’re making in communities. The macro change is the property sector taking accountability for the actual places they’re creating by giving them the tools that they need to react in real time to the positive and negative things they do.
Adam Murray: I imagine some of these changes, they’ll have quite a lag in their impact. But have you noticed anything in people taking what you’ve got and implementing it and then seeing some change?
Jessica C.: Yeah, massively. Where to start with an example? A lot of our clients have very longitudinal timeframes. They’re building and releasing a development over years and years. It’d be a greenfield new suburb in the edge of the city. Almost all of them these days are putting the parks in early or putting the libraries in early or the community centres, where previously you would have waited until year five to build those. We’ve got a critical mass of people living there, so by the time you open it, it’s full, rather than no one really using it up front, not having that cost upfront. A lot of our clients want to really see that when they do put that park in early, are people using it and are they getting return in the investment from the beginning? But also, if they’re not, why not and what else could they be doing differently?
So, done a number of projects in that kind of space where a park opens early and then we track how long until that park appears in our data. When it appears is it on YouTube? Is it on Meet Up?… because parents’ groups start holding things there and it takes a period of time before it becomes a place on Instagram and then when it’s on Instagram what are the themes of what people are talking about? It’s all that, that digital footprint of that place. When does it manifest and how does it manifest when it does? That gives them that return on the investment immediately and say look, yeah, we had 20 people come to the launch but within six weeks there was a YouTube channel about the playground.
We just find all of that stuff for them. Then that allows them to continue to open the rest of the stages early, too. So, bring on that green space early to validate what they sort of know anecdotally to be true but it gives them the data to prove to the finance team or whatever that it’s worth it.
The other thing is that in the property sector, we have this massive expertism where we all are so obsessed with how expert we are as… I’m an architect so I know everything about what the people are going to need or I’m a town planner so I know how to read a community and understand what assets I need and it’s bullshit, really. We dispel that by saying, well currently when our… to put it crudely, when a town planner or an open designer is going to do a main straight analysis, they’ll look at some base information from the census or some planning zoning, then they’ll drive down the street and probably get the student to drive down the street, might look at some Google Street View images and go great, we’ve done our site analysis. But of course, so many things that happen on the street you can’t see by driving down it.
Whereas if you look at social data you can see that that is the most popular wine bar because it has a Zumba on a Saturday morning. So we can pull up immediately what are the local assets, what are the local strengths that locals know about. If you live there you know that that stuff’s happening. If an outsider comes in and has a look around, you’ve got no idea.
That stake holder mapping or being able to immediately highlight what’s great about a place or what’s currently working really well, currently is completely missing from town planning processes but we can highlight with one report in 45 minutes. That makes a huge difference right from the project planning point of view. They don’t have to wait until they get out and do community engagement and meet people and say now tell us what’s important and where it is, our mapping can just very quickly show them where that is and they can start the process – really informed about the place.
Adam Murray: Must be so exciting for your clients to see the story unfolding when they do a new development like that or yeah, when a new thing is done and they can see the impact over a period of time.
Jessica C.: Yeah, you’re giving me goosebumps. Yeah, the coolest thing that’s happened, I reckon, was one of our big retail clients who do a lot of work with Stockland, right across Australia. They have had a liveability index for a long time where they’ve been surveying all of their residents across their 52 communities every year to ask the about the levels of liveability in their community. They’ve been really focused on improving quality of life for their residents. They also have a lot of retail centres and they don’t really know how to understand… haven’t so far had a way of understanding what the impact of the retail is on the community. We’ve done some work for them and they looked at our reports and one of their team members said like, “Having looked at the report, within five seconds I got the community.” Because we were showing them the Instagram photos and the most popular restaurants and the most popular community services and the hobbies people are doing and all in the one snapshot.
They said, “I look at it and I get that neighbourhood now.” They look at the next one and they get that neighbourhood now. Which is so important with the work that they do. It’s actually crazy to think that the whole town planning industry is operating without knowing that stuff, and we are, otherwise.
Adam Murray: Guessing.
Jessica C.: Yeah which frustrates me. Yeah, guessing and pretending we know because we went to a suburb nearby once and it’s kind of the same. It’s middle ring Melbourne, therefore it must be Sunshine and Tarneit and Dandenong must all be the same, right.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Switching gears a little bit and thinking about how you’ve grown very quickly and it sounds like you had a little bit of a shrinking and then a growth as well. Reflecting on your origins and then this realisation of this is what a tech start-up is, two female founders, which I guess is relatively rare, hence things like SheStart…
Jessica C.: Yeah, we’re Australia’s largest female founded data analytics business.
Adam Murray: Wow.
Jessica C.: Which is sad because there should be more that are bigger.
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Jessica C.: Anyway.
Adam Murray: I’m wondering what has that translated into in terms of how your values and the structure and how you’re going about building the business and the people over there.
Jessica C.: Yeah so Lucinda and I are non-technical in the tech dev sense. We’re both landscape architects, urban designers by background. For us it was really critical right from the beginning to bring in highly skilled data analytics and dev support. Our first hire was a kick-arse head of analytics Python programmer, self-taught optimisation mathematician, ex-high school teacher, so she knows how to do it and explain it to me. Which is really important.
I don’t know that I’ve got the team structure right all the time. We’ve swung a little bit too much towards being a consultancy midway through because we had an MVP right from the beginning and people were buying it before it was any good, it was terrible right at the beginning. It was all smoke and mirrors and people loved it and just started buying it straightaway. Makes my eye twitch talking about it.
So we were basically doing custom work right at the beginning because we were making it look like a product but it was all custom fulfilled in the back while we figured out what we had to build. We’ve tried to hire in-house developers and people to do the technical execution beyond the data analytics and it just hasn’t worked. They’ve been too caught up in the minutia of the execution rather than the strategy and the problem solving for our clients. Because exactly nailing the value proposition for our clients is tricky, because we’re not just a one… there’s not just one thing they get from us like booking a hotel, there’s a whole lot of different things they get from our data. So, we’ve kept our contractors outside the team on that. So, inside the team are client… account management staff and a lot of report creation processes which we need some sexy names for but we call our data support team, which is a terrible name.
Most of those people have come from cities backgrounds. They are the recovering architects who have had the same career history as us where we get frustrated with how disconnected the industry is from the real problems people face in their lives and they’re burnt out in that world and then come knocking on our door and say I love what you guys are doing, I want to learn how to do it. So, most of our team members we have taught how to code, so that they can then do the data fulfilment process on behalf of our software which has a slightly manual side to it. But we do need to start hiring more technical in-house team. Sort of raising at the moment, which will be to do that.
Adam Murray: Yeah. I’m interested also in… not having a tech background, in many ways you’ve come with a clean slate to what a tech product business looks like and what kind of… how are you intentionally shaping… what are the values of the organisation and how are you shaping it so that it’s perhaps different? Or is it different?
Jessica C.: I don’t know if it’s different because I’ve never worked at a tech business. I expect it is and all of our team members say that it is, the ones that have come from tech and that’s why they want to work with us. I hate gender being part of the conversation. I really… there have been so many times in my life where I’ve been keynoting a conference and talking about some really cool ideas and then the first thing someone says to me afterwards is, “It’s so great to see a woman in your role.” I’m like for God’s sake. Of all the things you could compliment me on, it’s my gender, the thing that I haven’t achieved, right. Compliment me on… it’s like saying it’s so great to see a tall leader. I didn’t do that, it just happens to be a fact about me.
But, all of our team, except for our most junior data support, are women. They’ve all come into our team saying they’re sick of the bro culture in tech or they’re sick of that kind of hyper achieving, over the top, competitive environment that they’ve had in other work places. We are super busy, always working long hours and I’m not saying it’s a walk in the park in our team. It’s full on – what we do, but we’ve made a very intentional decision to hire people that are 1,000% committed to our cause about better cities and so that’s what we end up rallying around. We have so many amazing projects where we are actually measuring how well communities are thriving right across Queensland and helping the government understand the quality of communities and where there are issues over time across Queensland. And if that doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, don’t bother working with us.
But it’s a really inspiring thing to be doing, where otherwise the government doesn’t know what’s happening or it’s hard for them to find out what’s happening. We’ve had a few… there’s certainly been a number of people come into the team and they haven’t worked out and we’ve said thanks but no thanks and that’s usually been because they haven’t really cared that much about being committed to that cause.
Now, how we scale that, I don’t know. There’s 10 people now so in a way it’s almost getting to that size where that’s tricky to maintain that core culture where everyone does whole of team meetings together and if we get much bigger you can’t really do that anymore. So I don’t know how we scale that as we get bigger. I think it’s got to be making sure each team lead is committed to that and have their own team values that are committed to that city mission. But maybe get back to me in a year and I’ll tell you whether it worked or not.
How do you know if this dog actually helps?
Adam Murray: Yeah.
Jessica C.: It’s a funny thing the psychology of having a dog in the office because he’s a bit ridiculous and everyone’s totally in love with him. So that helps keep everyone chilled out and not take life too seriously. Like you’re getting mad about something and then the dog farts.
Adam Murray: He’s doing pretty well so far. He’s chilling out on the floor, down at our feet. Very relaxed. Let’s talk about how, I guess in terms of product is actually built, so what’s the… how does it work from in the team from ideas to actually code getting written? What sort of cycles or processes or rituals do you have around that?
Jessica C.: It’s been a bit ad hoc. The way we work it is we have one core piece of software that does all the data collection, aggregation, cleaning and then setting it up into a structure so that then we can visualise it… and that’s the core of our IP. That’s how we get the most out of all the APIs we use, it’s how we match them together, how we truth what we get, which is really… the real integrity behind our data. And then we visualise it using Tableau which we have a love-hate relationship with, but that means that anyone in the team can edit that or update that without being technical.
What we often do, because I’m not technical but I’m excellent in design and making beautiful PDFs, is we MVP things as PDFs and because our clients are used to hiring a consultant for 40 grand, waiting eight weeks, getting an 80 page PDF with some sexy diagrams in it, we can MVP with PDFs really easily and our clients love it. So that’s what we do a lot, is we have our core software and we decide we’ve got a client asks for something specific we charge them for it and they say… then go through that product testing as a PDF with them. Then once we see that it’s worked for them and we’ve worked it out for their use case we then start offering it to other clients or to them again on other projects.
If we do it more than three times, we then look at how to automate it into Tableau or into something else that we do. That’s generally how it works and that works quite well but no one else on the team knows InDesign. Right now… my eye’s twitching again, right now were in a position where we need to figure out how to streamline that because if you’re not good at that graphic design, infographic work that’s actually very time consuming, too. So, we need to figure out how to make that MVPing process faster within the team without me needing to be involved in it, now that we’re getting bigger.
But that’s worked pretty well so far.
Adam Murray: I was wondering about something that you’re experimenting with at the moment in terms of say, your processes or something you can talk about openly anyway. Maybe you can reflect on things that haven’t quite worked that well in the past or things that have but something that you’ve tried and you’re learning from as you go.
Jessica C.: Oh my God so many… I’ve screwed up so many things if that’s what the question is. I think the… what we’re focusing on quite heavily at the moment is the onboarding process for clients being as low touch as possible. Our average spend per instance for a client is about 10 grand, so that’s quite high. So, they want to have a bit of love and a bit of… not necessarily human facing but they’ll ask some questions so we need to automate as much as we can but we’re not going to expect them to only just go and purchase online without ever speaking to anyone in the team.
So, we’re dealing with that but how they actually then go and sign up and go into our website, say request a quote, they then need to choose their locations and choose a bundle and all of this. When all they’ve ever done in the past is call the consultant and say give me a quote, this is what we need. Here’s a bit of a brief. And then the consultant does all of the work for them. We’re a lot cheaper than a consultant, but they’re not used to having to do anything themselves.
So, when it’s the general staff in a company they’re happy to do that but often we’re dealing with the CEO of a major company and they’re not going to go and sign up. That’s been a huge challenge for us because it’s very expensive for us to… we can’t PDF test that. It’s very expensive for us to rebuild our front end with different options for signing in and we’re only getting maybe two or three of those a week. So, we can’t AB test anything if we don’t get the volume to really start… and when we sit down with our clients and really try to do almost that user experience interviewing and they’re so used to being told what to do, they don’t have an opinion. It’s been really hard to actually get to the bottom of what is going to be the best user experience for them when onboarding. And how do we upsell, encourage them obviously, to upsell to a different tier of bundle without confusing them – and that’s a real challenge at the moment, how we do that.
We’ve stuffed it up a lot along the way, where at the beginning we only bundled things into one neighbourhood or three, and we were charging $900 and $1,800 and then we were getting so many bundles of three and lots of clients coming back and back and we said let’s just try a bundle of 10, 10 grand. Then we added that and all of a sudden everyone’s ordering bundles of 10. It’s like shit we should have done that 12 months ago. We’d have been in a much better cashflow situation if we’d done that ages ago. So, there’s a lot of that.
I’ve never dealt with that kind of thing before. I don’t know how to price a product. We should have been playing around a lot more with it at the beginning but we weren’t and I… yeah, that’s a constant struggle.
Adam Murray: Yeah, great. Your vision for the business or thinking about cities and thinking about what could they be in 10 or 20 years’ time. What does a vibrant Melbourne look like?
Jessica C.: Yeah.
Adam Murray: Your vision’s probably a lot bigger than Melbourne but maybe we can just think about Melbourne for the time being.
Jessica C.: Yeah. The best places are the places that reflect the people that live there and that feel really unique and special to that place. So, when we think about the places we love to spend time the most, we think about places with a little back alley wine bar, if you’re into wine, the little wine bars and the street art, or you might love golf and nature, but it’s about unique authentic experience and thank God we are now moving past the consumer economy into the experience economy. Which means more and more and more, people want to see something unique and interesting. They want to meet the brewer and see the coffee being roasted and it’s not good enough anymore just to go to an off the shelf thing.
That’s a very specific change to 10 years ago. I believe that will continue to amplify as we become a more globalised world, unique, authentic, local experience will be more important. Now, what happens when cities change too quickly and you see this in big parts of Asia – I spend a lot of time in India – is that there’s a lot of cookie cutter approach. Like Brisbane, Brisbane’s a bandit for it, the cookie cutter of like, we did that over there so let’s do it here and here and here. The consumer, the citizens, don’t want that anymore. We want to see authentic local stuff happening.
Melbourne’s amazing at it. We have so many amazing little main streets right across the city. Sure, there are a lot of problems, but when you look at the places people groan about, it’s Docklands, because Docklands came out of nothing. There was nothing authentic to start with and when that authenticity starts to move in there and people… which is slowly starting to happen, people start to feel connection to it. So that’s what I believe and it needn’t just happen at the most affluent end of society. India, street food and amazing… there’s so many cities in India that aren’t super rich and have amazing local culture and amazing, yeah sure there’s huge poverty issues to be dealt with and lack of infrastructure in some places, but there’s such amazing distinctive local culture and local identity and I want to see cities where that is retained and protected without the cookie cutter approach being helicoptered in.
I think that’s happening already and we believe our data will help prove that when you do that you get a better place.
Adam Murray: Yeah, great. A final question also about Melbourne but reflecting on, say, I guess start-up businesses and the ecosystem and environment that supports that here and I’m wondering… you’ve had a pretty interesting story in that regard, but what do you think that enabled your business to start in Melbourne? What were the ingredients that went into that?
Jessica C.: Well because I’m totally in love with Melbourne and would never move to Sydney, no matter what. Even though that’s where all the talent is. In inverted commas that’s what everyone says… for us, because our mission is about community development and equitable cities, being with like-minded businesses is really important to us. So, we’re co-located here in the C-Lab with other community engagement businesses. Not with other tech businesses. Now one, is actually a tech business, but we wanted our team to be alongside other people that are driving purpose-driven businesses because that’s what we’re about. The tech is just the business model for us. It’s not the why.
So that’s why Melbourne’s the right place for us because that is… all you have to do is look at the election results and who’s voting for who around here and the same sex marriage vote and Melbourne is where people who have that passion tend to come to. That’s why it’s the obvious home for our business and will be for a long time. Until I get to open an office in India, because I’m really looking forward to living there.
Adam Murray: Really?
Jessica C.: Yeah.
Adam Murray: Jess, thanks so much for taking the time.
Jessica C.: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Adam Murray: It’s been really good.
Jessica C.: Thanks.
Adam Murray: Thank you very much for listening. If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what Cogent is up to, including when new episodes of this podcast come out, you can do that by subscribing to our blog updates at cogent.co/blog. And of course, to help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite podcast platform.
Finally, if you want to tell us about how your business is thriving or you know of another digital business that is thriving that you think we should hear about, the best way to do that is through emailing us at email@example.com.
I’m Adam Murray and I do look forward to hearing about how your business is thriving.