How Brisbane startup Conweigh stumbled upon a solution to a global export problem

2 December 2016

For a lot of entrepreneurs, the problem they set out to solve often leads to uncovering a whole different set of problems – revealing a potentially lucrative product or service they may never have imagined.

It can be a crucial moment for a startup, when pivoting the direction of the business could mean the difference between failure and success.

Brisbane entrepreneur James Oliver has done just that.

He said that in 2004, his thesis at QUT focused on a shipping container loading system called the Tynecat.

“Olitek, our first startup, still manufactures this machine today.

“After crunching some export container numbers, and frequent visits to my office, our sales manager made a good point that the opportunity for container weighing was much larger than what we could service with this product.”

With the industry seemingly ripe for disruption, the team was driven by the question: “What if having a container weighed was as easy as booking a taxi?”

The solution was a mobile, on-demand freight container weight verification service – a boon for the competitive and time-sensitive export, freight and logistics sectors.

In early 2015, Conweigh was conceived and by the end of the year, software and hardware development, and intellectual property registration was in full swing.

Oliver launched Conweigh to the public in February 2016 and its first booking for logistics giant Toll was complete five months later.

Since then, Conweigh has weighed more than 1000 containers and has about 250 registered users throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. And the business is growing strong.

The team has since secured its first international licensee and is now focused on a global rollout.

From concept to startup

Conweigh was developed in response to legislative reforms, with its growth largely driven through engagement with the industries affected.

“Our accelerated development program saw 12 months of gruelling design, coding, manufacture and testing,” Oliver said.

“This was followed by a period of redesign, recoding, remanufacture and retesting of a global booking platform integrated with hardware that is tested and certified for international trade measurement.

“Finally, after sleepless nights solving, building, debugging and just making our tech work, we got there. Now we get to operate a startup business in a savagely competitive industry.”

But getting the product to market was only the beginning of what would be an ongoing battle of educating the market, driving growth and ongoing development.

“I think that all startups will inevitably come across at least one, if not several challenges, and Conweigh is no exception,” Oliver said.

“Our largest challenge has been the introduction of new technology as a solution to new and largely misunderstood or unknown legislation into a fairly conservative and traditional industry.

“Exposure, education and building awareness to customers has been critical.”

The problem that Conweigh has set out to solve involves complying to strict legislation in order to meet customer requirements.

“Before the usual startup challenges, one of the biggest issues we faced was ensuring that our equipment met the specifications for all countries affected by the legislation,” Oliver said.

“With a lot of hard work from myself and the team, we have since achieved commodity trade certification from both the National Measurement Institute of Australia (NMI) and the International Organisation for Legal Metrology (OIML).”

At the time, the stress of this goal kept Oliver up at night, but attaining the certification has given Conweigh an advantage over its competitors.

“In a startup, challenges are far more regular than successes so it is important to celebrate successes no matter how big or small,” he said.

Showcasing success and driving growth

Less than two years since it began, Conweigh has achieved above and beyond its expectations in awards and grant programs. Some of its recent successes include:

  • TEDxSydney St George $25,000 Kick Start Grant
  • QUT Bluebox Innovation Challenge Finalist/Davies Collison Cave Prize of $10,000 in legal services
  • Bridge to MassChallenge finalist – accelerator program in Boston
  • Lord Mayor’s Budding Entrepreneurs Program winner – $5000 grant
  • Special mention in the High-Growth Startup Award category at the 2016 Lord Mayor’s Business Awards

Through participating in these programs, the Conweigh team has formed great business connections and gained access to new ideas, opinions and strategies.

As one of 10 Australian startups chosen to participate in the Bridge to MassChallenge accelerator program in Boston in 2017, Conweigh has the chance to win cash prizes to help it fast-track expansion into less-developed countries, where weighing infrastructure is already scarcely available and unlikely to meet the increasing demand.

“It is Conweigh’s vision that the availability of mobile weighing equipment in these regions will provide an essential service to the freight and logistics sectors supporting their export market, allowing them to continue to compete in the global marketplace,” Oliver said.

“The next 12 months will work on the stepping stones to achieve our big hairy audacious goal of 14 million containers weighed per annum through the Conweigh VGM cloud.”

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