Among the developers and digital startups in Franklin Street’s WOTSO WorkSpace, The Moonshine Laboratory aims to set itself apart from the crowd by acting as an investor, as well as developer, of start–up businesses.
“There’s not another business like ours that we know of in South Australia,” says Jason Neave managing director of marketing group The Distillery, and his new project, The Moonshine Lab. “There’s a couple of models interstate, but again not really the same.”
The Moonshine Lab is a blend of a few crucial, often separate segments of the digital industry: the start-up incubators (with their emphasis on training and building skills), seed or venture capital investors (who supply the cash that keep the wheels of development turning) and the digital developers (who build and roll-out a product).
It’s a broad swathe of skills under one roof, but Neave and Moonshine’s general manager, Christian Ullmark expect it to pay off for their company, and Adelaide’s nascent tech community.
“We take a very long term co-founder view, rather than providing you a product, taking the equity and saying goodbye,” Neave says. “Once we have a share of your business we want to think about it and work out how to make it better.”
Jason Neave speaking at The Moonshine Laboratory’s launch in December
The most common process for a company or startup to develop a digital product goes like this: come up with an idea, find someone to fund it, find someone to build the product, roll it out personally, or, find someone to do that, too. It’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of financial outlay and a lot of outsourced skill and responsibility.
Moonshine brings all of those elements under their roof, so for a share of the anticipated future profit, whoever has the idea in the first place is taken under the company’s wing, guided through to development as well as release, and then supported past that point. A rarity in development circles.
“You go to a developer to take your idea to fruition, and they could be great at producing that tech,” Ullmark says. “But, will they produce the tech while understanding what the bottom line of your business is? Or how to scale and grow it? That’s really a differentiator for us.”
“They’re all skills that non-technical or noncreative people need, and they’re hard to find,” adds Neave. “So, we thought we should make those skills available, and do development effectively at cost.”
Neave and Ullmark’s experience and expertise arm them with the skills to pick a potential winner in the marketplace and make it work.
“We’ve felt that pain, and we really understand that each dollar makes a difference,” Ullmark continues. “It’s not just, ‘Throw $100,000 at it and see what happens’. We burn for this stuff. That’s why we want to come in as co-founders, and not just fee-for-service. We want to be in it for the long haul.”
The WOTSO Workspace is home to a wide range of technical ability and new businesses
The idea for The Moonshine Lab was born from Neave’s own experience in his creative agency The Distillery, which specialises in executing advertising and digital marketing strategies for clients.
“We’ve always had – as well as doing work for clients, which we put most of the priority on – our own little ideas bubbling away in there,” says Neave. “We’ve built a few start-ups for clients. We’ve spun out a couple of our own.”
“We know how to build stuff from a user point-of-view, stuff that works from a technical point-of-view, and we know how to launch and market a product,” adds Ullmark, summarising Moonshine’s holistic capability.
Since launching in December last year with the support of Renew Adelaide, Moonshine has been approached by more than a dozen potential partners to develop new products, all in the digital sphere.
“We’ve had some angled towards cafes and restaurants, some in the legal sphere, Uber-style on-demand services (but not within cars), loyalty programs,” Ullmark says. Neave says he’s impressed by the “nice broad church” of ideas that have come to Moonshine so far, and expects to take at least two of those first pitches further.
With a range of developers in arms reach, Moonshine aims to provide full service to partners
“Everyone in a creative field might have a top drawer full of ideas, but that ability to execute them is what separates an idea from a business,” Neave says. “We want to give people the chance to execute them without spending a quarter of a million dollars or go offshore.”
Furthermore, Moonshine aims to help Adelaide’s startup entrepreneur capacity grow by sharing their own expertise and helping people develop their pitches to investors, not just by running projects. Adelaide is fertile ground for such an industry to continue developing, says Ullmark, noting the density of universities, relatively low cost of living and lifestyle factors that attract bright minds.
“What we’d like to do is really help the ecosystem, both sides of it, an d help people vet those ideas so the investors feel safe and know how to move forward,” Ullmark says. “It’s really important for us to help the ecosystem in general. For example, we’re having talks with the ICC [Innovation and Collaboration Centre] at UniSA, and we’re saying, ‘Look, we can help your graduates understand how to pitch to investors, and we’ll give that time for free because we feel it’s important to support Adelaide.’”