In my last blog, A land of Drought and Flooding Rains I wrote about flooding and how much of a problem it is in Australia. Today I thought I would share how I came to tackling this problem.
I get so passionate and frustrated about flooding, it has always both fascinated me and infuriated me. Yes… I do understand that we are up against the climate and mother nature here, and there’s not much we can do about the fact that rain will always fall from the sky, and it will always flood. I also understand that climatologists are predicting that flooding will get more intense and more severe. What frustrates me is not the fact that it floods, it is that we are never as prepared as we should be, even though we have a wealth of data on this problem. Why should I, as a water resources engineer, have access to more knowledge and therefore better preparedness than someone who is not? This knowledge should be available to everyone.
This bothered me to to the point where in 2016 I decided I was going to build a flood app. I didn’t really know how to program, but it had always been a goal of mine, and so I started on the journey of learning how to build an android app to interactively communicate flood data. I guess at the time I wasn’t doing much technical modelling in my full time job and my inner nerd was missing it, so I took programming up as a hobby in my evenings. This was the hobby project which led me to where I am today. I can remember when I taught myself to build my very first app, an app which literally opened on my phone with the obligatory ‘hello world” message. To others it was dismally unimpressive… To me, it was progress and a sign that I could use modern technology to communicate flood data!
I became so in love with programming and so passionate about this app that I soon became a hermit and it was all I did outside of my full time job. On my weekends and every evening… I wasn’t giving up. By October 2016 I had built the first prototype in Android… it looked something like this. Pretty cool, right?
My partner is talented at many things, including programming. In previous roles, he had done a bit of matlab, visual basic and python. A huge nerd but also a huge adventurer, it’s something we have always had in common. Soon after we first met, we got our paragliding licences, and we would often go out on the weekends, weather permitting: evidence below:
If not paragliding, you could find us surfing or hiking, we love being outside and doing fun stuff!
At first when I transitioned from being a fun adventure buddy to a code-learning enthusiast, I think he was a little frustrated. Gone were the days of having a paragliding buddy to sit and watch the windsock and soar the ridges at Beechmont and Rainbow Beach. But he saw how crazy passionate I was about trying to improve the way flood risk data was communicated, and saw me spinning my wheels trying to learn the things I needed to instantly improve my app. That’s when he took pity on my and wholeheartedly jumped on board.
I should say that at about the same time, I’d just attended the International water association conference in Brisbane, and heard about how tech was changing the water industry for good, how apps were the future of community engagement. It gave me motivation because for the first time, I didn’t see my app as a hobby, I saw it as a product that people might actually want.
My partner took a more strategic approach than I had. He’s very patient and so he took a whole Android app development course, learning each feature sequentially. I stopped trying to code and left that to him. He developed the android app to the point where the code soon went way over my head, which meant that I could put my efforts towards validation and pursuing funding opportunities. And so one flood nerd became two as we worked away in our home office (more like a harry-potter-esque walk in wardrobe).
After he jazzed up the app, he also whipped us up a website. By May 2017 we had begun to spark some interest with local governments in South East Queensland. Together we decided to found FloodMapp, an early stage tech start up focused on improving understanding of flood risk and enhancing emergency warning systems.
But we started to feel burnt out. The long days at our day jobs, coupled with the evenings and weekends spent building our tech and applying for grants, was starting to wear us down. We missed getting out on the hill for a glide, or the beach for a surf.
The last three months in particular have been a whirlwind.
In November 2017, we applied to the h2 Ventures accelerator, to find the funding, advice and mentoring we needed to start us on the real journey. When I got the call from Aurora Emily Voss to say that we’d been accepted, I started crying. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that someone had decided to back us and give us the resources to start this adventure on a full time basis. In January 2018, I submitted my resignation from my full time job as a Senior Surface Water Engineer, to pursue a new adventure: solving the problem of flood risk communication.
I have not looked back.
In February we moved to Sydney to join the h2 Ventures accelerator and moved into the Sydney Startup Hub. It’s so exciting to be working with one the biggest collections of entrepreneurs in the southern hemisphere. It really is all it’s hyped up to be. Every day I meet a new member of the startup community in the kitchen at our espresso machine, and each one is keen to have a chat and offer help where they can. The H2 cohort resides in Tank Stream Labs whose team embodies all things start up. The atmosphere at H2 is really collaborative, each team brings their own diverse background, from finance, engineering, design, law and banking. Each of us have a unique skillset to offer.
I’ve also found that because we are now working on our project full time (thanks to H2), we are starting to find little pieces of time here and there to get back to the beach for a surf, or to get out for a ride. I’ll be honest, we still usually work at least one day on the weekends because we are racing to launch our product before June, but I am starting to feel human again!
We are now halfway through the accelerator program and making lots of progress. We’re now developing live flood mapping web apps and visualisations to relay real-time flood data to those who need to know. We have prototype flood alerts in the form of emails and texts which give people personalised updates. We’re talking with big name insurers and banks. People are reaching out to us on twitter and Facebook to say that they are excited for our products. Last night I pitched in front of 100 people! Something that scared me, similar to the feeling I’d get on launch before taking off in my paraglider. It really is just a new adventure for us, a new chapter in our lives.
I think for me one of the biggest things that h2 Ventures offers is the support and validation you need to back yourself, and convince yourself that you can give your startup a real shot. I can’t thank Toby Heap, Aurora Emily Voss, Ben Heap and Melissa Hurwitz enough for the time and support that they give us every day. Thank you for believing in each and every one of us, for your patience and for all your coaching. Thanks for all your training and masterclasses. Thanks for your tips and advice. Thanks for looking after our wellbeing during the program. We couldn’t have done any of this without you. And we know that this is only the beginning — we’re going to achieve so much more.