Dunedin-based start-up Hail creates websites and publishes digital communications instantly across all channels. It’s a one-stop shop for getting your content out into the marketplace, and it’s going places fast.
By Glenn Baker.
US President Ronald Reagan was nicknamed ‘The Great Communicator’ for his ability to bridge diplomatic divides. But referring to the title in his farewell address he said “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference, it was the content.”
Today there is a new start-up in Dunedin with a clever software platform that’s quickly becoming known as a great communicator of ‘adaptive content’.
In the words of co-founder and director Bex Twemlow, Hail creates websites and instantly publishes digital communications across all channels. “It takes care of all design, backups, communications, hosting, security, support and teamwork tools,” she explains. “All we ask our customers to do is write content, write their stories, we take care of the rest in a future focused way. It saves hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in print, design and publishing costs.”
Twemlow, who runs her own technology solutions agency Firebrand, co-founded Hail in March 2014 with Peter Hills and Stuart Dillon-Roberts, and she recalls that it actually did hail in Dunedin on opening day!
Twemlow admits to having always been a technology solutions focused person, with the ability to identify and articulate solutions and concepts to a broad audience. “This began with my first real job at 19 teaching people how to use computers, moving to self-learning programming in Visual Basic for Applications, the engine behind Word, Excel and Access, to automate standard functions within legal firms.
“I loved the specification, articulation, testing and rollout elements more than the actual ‘developing’ itself – I had found my calling,” she says.
Hail came about through a meeting at Twemlow’s old high school, Dunedin’s Logan Park High. “The school was trying to put together a yearbook, but wrestling with issues around sourcing content and imagery and the fact that the previous year’s copies were sitting in a cupboard,” she says. “Thirty thousand dollars wasted.”
The big challenges, says Twemlow, were: how could they get all the content they’d created during the year into one publication? How would they track down the information, images and stories they needed? Where was it stored? On flash drives, disks, smartphones and in people’s heads.
“I realied that night that it wasn’t just a school yearbook issue, it was a content creation, storage and publication problem! It was about how they were to create, curate and communicate content.
“I set to creating a schematic drawing of a system that would allow people to create content – without thinking about the design or whether it would live on a page or in a newsletter and took it to my office the next morning. I casually showed Tom Barnett, the lead designer of Firebrand at the time, and Tom got it instantly. As it turned out he had not long before heard a Webstock talk by Karen McGrane where she’d spoken about ‘adaptive content’.
“The whole ‘create once, publish everywhere’ concept, upon reflection of my drawing, it made complete sense and cemented the ‘this is a thing’ start to our journey,”
“We created what was then glamorously called the LPHSCMS – a very different looking code base application that did just what was imagined – housed the content and allowed it to be used in any form the school required.
“A bigger conversation followed, of course, and out of that a business case drawn together,” says Twemlow. “Was there an international market? Can this be scaled? Who will do what and how?”
Fast-forward through the creation of a separate company, recruiting and housing an ‘A team’ to work on the platform, “embracing an Agile approach to our MVP (minimum viable product)”, and Hail was born. But why Hail?
“Well, when you get a group of 1970s kids in a room one thing brings them together,” says Twemlow. “Star Trek! And when you speak of communications there is one sound and one word we all recognised: Hail!” (A hail is a form of subspace communication between starships, starbases, and other ports of call. It has been in use since at least the mid-22nd century and can be digital (computerised messages), audio, or visual – http://en.memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Hail.
The Hail SaaS platform has been steadily gaining market traction and client feedback’s been extremely positive. New Zealand-wide roadshows were conducted in August this year, and with multiple premium event pitches, including the Ice Angels Showcase and Asian Business Angel Forum in Queenstown, they’re close to securing the ‘Series A’ funding.
The biggest challenge going forward, says Twemlow, is the need to go fast and focus on a vertical market. “There’s no time to adopt an organic growth approach. We need funding and active directors in the space. With that in mind there’s much preparation and application to be done.”
Hail has a target of 2,500 paying organisations by December 2016. Getting Hail implemented across New Zealand and Australia, then in front of an international market, is key. Twemlow says they plan to implement a solid and highly rewarding partnership/reseller programme, attend EdTech conferences worldwide and continue to build Hail to be a leading content publishing platform.
Building a SaaS is not easy, says Twemlow. “It requires a team you trust that’s truly passionate about both their craft and the space you’re targeting – without both in equal quantities it would be an immense struggle.”