Queensland startup GreaseBoss has been selected to take part in the prestigious Silicon Valley Y Combinator accelerator program, shortly after banking $100,000 in grant funding from the Qld state government.
Founded during the COVID-19 lockdown, the startup secured the grant funding from the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund, to help with a rollout across Australia.
It has since signed its first major pilot contract, bringing mining giant Glencore on board.
And, since January, chief executive Steve Barnett and his co-founders Peter Condoleon and Tim Hall have been taking part in the Y Combinator program.
Attending entirely remotely, they’ve been logging into sessions at 3am, and then working a full Aussie workday too.
This is a B2B business, and its customers are in Australia, Barnett notes.
“Moving to San Fran for three months wouldn’t have made sense.”
Greasing the wheel
GreaseBoss’s Internet of Things technology tracks and automates the greasing schedule of each machine, allowing owners to verify they have been greased correctly, and with enough frequency.
“All machines need to be greased,” he says.
The problem may seem niche, but Barnett says incorrect greasing is the number one cause of machinery failure and ‘unplanned downtime’.
Taking into account the lost productivity, parts and additional labour, it costs businesses around the world about $21 billion per year.
For Australian mining businesses, for example, he estimates these costs mount up to about $1 million per year, per mine site.
The idea for GreaseBoss is one Barnett has been sitting on for a while, but he wasn’t sure he had the technical skill to pull it off.
He met his co-founders — both of whom have skills that complement his own — at about the same time he was made redundant, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Suddenly, he had the team and the time to build a prototype and take GreaseBoss to its target market.
There was demand almost instantly, and the team were able to raise some pre-seed funding, including from Brent Watts, founder of 77 Partners.
A bright future
Getting into the Y Combinator program is something of a dream come true for Barnett. GreaseBoss stood out from more than 17,000 applicants and is the only Aussie participant.
Alumni from the program include the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Doordash, Stripe and Twitch.
“It’s incredible to think that three hands-on engineers from Queensland can have our idea recognised at that level,” Barnett says.
It has provided some validation, and recognition that this is a good idea.
But, perhaps, more importantly, the accelerator provides a pathway to take the product to the huge US market, and a pathway to Silicon Valley capital.
Essentially, it brings the co-founder plans forward some 18 months, he suggests.
And, it gives these early-stage founders access to expertise and technical knowledge “that you can’t read in books”.
In startupland, everyone has a golden nugget of wisdom to share, Barnett explains. Being part of Y Combinator “buts through all of that”, helping the founders get a sense of what it’s important to focus on.
For GreaseBoss, that’s product-market fit, positioning the company for investment, and figuring out sales verticals, resourcing and pricing.
Now, Greaseboss is gearing up to close its seed funding round by the end of April, Barnett says.
Over the next 12 months, the Glencore pilot trial and others will come to an end, and the team will focus on getting permanent contracts in place, and on getting ready to go international.
Every founder hopes to be the next Aussie startup success story, he notes. But, he maintains that GreaseBoss has a decent chance.
There’s a huge need for industrial IoT, he says. And, grease is just a starting point.
“The gap in the market is to make really simple industrial IoT tools that are almost like an iPhone, that my two-year-old daughter could pick up and use,” he explains.
It’s about simplicity, and proving a tool that saves time and money for big businesses.
“We think if we follow that strategy, there’s a bright future for us.”