October Meetup with Sanjay Parekh from Cocoon and Simon Holland from Barefoot Lightning

Sanjay Parekh of Cocoon at Lean Startup YorkshireIt’s not until you scratch the surface of something that you start to discover what lies beneath and learn what’s going on that you just can’t see. Since launching the Lean Startup Yorkshire events back in February the diversity and quality of start-up talent in Yorkshire has become apparent. At October’s meetup we saw how a Yorkshire start-up is working on hardware that may become the de facto way you look after you house in your absence and how hardware and software developed by another Yorkshire start-up could soon be in the hands of farmers all across the developing world, helping to raise crop yields and improve harvests. If either of those facts sparked your interest, read on.

Simon Holland at Lean Startup YorkshireOctober’s event was kicked off by Simon Holland, founder of Barefoot Lightning, with his remarkable story of discovery and innovation in the developing world. Starting with a travel odyssey through Asia via a previous venture in Latin America. Simon described how his business ideas began to form after witnessing the actual problems faced by farmers and the realisation that they didn’t want aid money but information and expertise. Barefoot Lightning was formed to exploit emerging technology and use careful product design to build tools that unlock tangible economic benefit. By combining local knowledge with software deployed on a mobile device and innovative new hand-held detection hardware Simon saw how he could help farmers achieve greater farming productivity.

By engaging with NGOs and aid agencies, plus working alongside several universities, Barefoot Lightening have been building both a range of expert systems as well as developing hardware that may be used in the field, by the farmers themselves to identify plant disease and infestation. Simon showed video of the farmers themselves using and talking about Barefoot’s products as well as a demonstration of the hardware.

Barefoot Lightning’s hand-held hardware that uses simple to operate spectrometry to detect plant disease faster than sending samples to a lab and while the tactics used so far may not have employed the most fashionable lean startup or growth hacking tricks, it is Barefoot’s willingness to change, evolve and discover the actual real world problems that have brought them to the attention of senior figures within several governments.

The main slot in the evening was filled by Sanjay Parekh, a friend of Lean Startup Yorkshire and a highly knowledgeable Lean Startup tactician. Sanjay is a veteran of a previous SaaS business called Web Expenses and a current co-founder of Cocoon, the Yorkshire based hardware start-up with a disruptive domestic security device due to hit the streets very soon.

Sanjay Parakh presenting at Lean Startup YorkshireSanjay presented a blow-by-blow account of his journey from founding the business that was to become Web Expenses, through to its sale and on to his current venture as co-founder of Cocoon. Charting a path recounted by many successful entrepreneurs, there were plenty of mistakes along the way. From initial domain naming blunders, through the evolution of a marketing strategy that could cope with the immaturity of the SaaS marketplace of the early naughties, to eventual success through constant evolution and learning and a mature business model led by data back decision-making. With an exit from Web Expenses and the meeting of his new co-founders the stage was set for the next chapter of Sanjay’s presentation, the founding of Cocoon.

With his prior experiences and that of his co-founders, who had also recently sold a highly successful cloud storage company, all concerned were keen to bring their collective experience to bear and reduce financial risks by utilising a lean approach to everything, from customer profiling to physical product design. Sanjay explained how they had started their journey by creating a business model canvas, as popularised by Alexander Osterwalder, and went on to cover their heavy use of Google Consumer Surveys, why that was a good fit for their marketplace and the insights they were able to validate cheaply through its use. A straw poll of the attendees also reflected some of these findings. Sanjay covered the current KPIs they were using to guide decision-making and how the tools they were using were changing as time passed. The most recent of these touched on was the imminent launch of a crowd funding campaign and the video production, currently in its final stages, to support it.

The evening was rounded off with a prize draw for a ticket to LeanConf in Manchester and a voucher donated by Hassle, a company represented at the last meetup.

Thanks must also go to sponsors Berwins for their support and help in staging the event.

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