It highlights the immense opportunity that exists to support New Zealand export businesses through services like Kea Connect. It celebrates the strong desire of our Kiwi community to give back to New Zealand by providing in-market advice and insights, and highlights the growth and hard work of New Zealand export businesses during a particularly challenging time.
Businesses growing at home
This report highlight New Zealand has a significant number of offshore and returning Kiwi who can support and grow Aotearoa’s tech sector, particularly addressing gaps in senior leadership and board roles. But we have some challenges to overcome.
Aryan was grappling with a problem, working as data scientists he found they spent more time preparing the data rather than analysing it. After looking around her realised there was no easy solution available on the current market and that he wasn’t the only person with the same problem.
“I started talking to people and found that this was a problem for the whole market, and it was especially tough on small to medium sized companies. I was discussing it with a colleague of mine, Will, and that’s when we decided to launch Segna. The product uses machine learning to take multiple dirty data sources and output them to a single clean data source.
We essentially automate data cleaning through machine learning to make it much quicker and more efficient.”
Aryan and Will created what Aryan describes as a ‘questionable pitch deck’ and went out and hit up investors. They were lucky enough to gain some money out of a venture fund in Australia which ended up being more than just capital.
“When this fund originally backed us we thought they were just nice guys who believed in what we were trying to do but it turned out they were quite big investors who have helped us a lot along the way with advice and problem solving.”
After securing capital Aryan says they spent around a year building their platform and working out how to best tackle the problem and optimise their time. After deciding to focus on a better data wrangling tool that would be driven by AI, they applied to Silicon Valley based company Y Combinator (YC), which has helped companies like Air BnB, Dropbox and Stripe. After two unsuccessful attempts they were accepted into the programme.
“YC gives you a little bit of money to start, mainly to just pay your costs and then you undertake a three month training program to prepare for ‘demo day’ where you essentially raise money for your seed round. Most of the YC partners are people who have exited billion dollar startups so they are really incredible in terms of advice and help.”
Aryan realised that the investment from Silicon Valley meant their company was going to grow fast and they would need more staff, and that made him think about workplace culture and what sort of environment they wanted Segna to have.
“We knew we needed to be prepared in case there was any ground work to do before we expanded our team. It’s obviously very hard to change things when you have 15 people compared to when you have two, so we wanted to be mindful of that. I was also interested in understanding what makes a great culture. Both of us have worked in startups where there were points of friction and that definitely affected us. Realistically a startup is just the sum of its people and a good culture means you can hire the best people and give them an environment that they enjoy and thrive in. We may be a tech company but it’s our people who build the tech so if we want good tech we have to attract good people.”
Aryan contacted Kea Connect who put him in touch with one of our solvers who had experience in tech startup culture. As a result he says he now has a better understanding of the difference between values and culture and was able to take some practical steps such as changing the way he runs his one to ones.
“It was a good opportunity to figure out what we were doing right as well as what we could improve on. When you begin something like this you are walking in the dark, getting an idea of how others have done this and how they have done it well is really important. I think more than anything it’s about learning from the right people. It’s worse to get bad advice than to get no advice at all and that’s where Kea Connect really helped us, by connecting us to the right people.”
Segna’s team has grown from two people to seven people and is on track to double in size by next year. The company currently has 1000 people on its waitlist but Aryan says the focus remains on quality not quantity.
“We want to mature the product and get to a place where our current customers really love us and we are solving their problems quickly and efficiently. Once we are confident with these customers then we will scale up. Our next goal is to address those businesses on our waitlist and expand our product to fit their needs and address their problems, then in the long term we will look to new markets.”
His advice to other entrepreneurs thinking about launching a startup is to be very clear about the problem you are trying to solve.
“Always make sure you are trying to solve a burning problem, and once you are sure of that then make sure you persevere when necessary but also be able to change if needed. The greatest strength of startups is the ability to pivot, that ability to pivot sets you apart from those big corporations, they can’t do that, they need six months to plan for a small change, that’s why disruption is most prevalent in startups and that’s where we have the advantage.”
Kea Connect’s free service puts you in touch with our global community who are ready and willing to help you solve challenges within your business and help you on your export journey. If you would like to find out how Kea Connect can help, get in touch today.
When Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart started 4 Day Week Global they had no idea what a worldwide phenomenon they were going to create. The couple had been researching productivity and had come across a four day week concept that they decided to trial at their business Perpetual Guardian. To cement the results of the trial they hired two researchers from the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology to document the experiment. The trial was hugely successful and Charlotte says the research immediately received international interest.
“As soon as we released our trial results to the media we were contacted by researchers in the UK and the States, we met with some of these people and found out that the research we had done was quite unique. It also told us that there was a real interest in changing the way we work and reducing the time we spend at work. Because of this we decided to set up 4 Day Week Global.”
4 Day Week is a not for profit enterprise and works with businesses around the world to reduce an employee’s hours but not their productivity. The company works on a 100/80/100(™) principal. Which means employees get 100% of their pay, work 80% of their time and the business gets 100% of their productivity.
Research shows that In the UK 18million work days are collectively lost to mental health and stress every year. 4 Day Week has programmes in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe and this month launched their Australisia arm. Charlotte says the success of the concept shows that the future of work is changing and if businesses don’t adapt they will be left behind.
“We have been talking for decades about health and safety in the workplace but the manifestation of that has really just been safety. In the last few years we have shifted to understanding what workplace health truly looks like. We know that working the number of hours we are working is leading to burnout, and we accept that mental health is an issue for us all in an everyday way, not just for those who are clinically unwell. The way we are working is having an effect on people, on businesses and on society as a whole.”
Will Moffett, Associate Consultant at recruitment company Kerridge and Partners says businesses are increasing their wellness offerings to make sure they attract the top people.
“Flexible hours, remote working possibilities, wellness programmes and increased holidays are increasingly being offered by employers and intensified by COVID. Organisations have significantly raised the bar in the last two years in terms of wellness focus in the workplace. This has resulted in high expectations across the candidate pool for not only benefits but a genuine interest and exercise of manaakitanga towards a firm’s employees. People are increasingly tired, stressed and under pressure. To retain talent, firms must keep improving on what’s good – benefits, development, ways of working, and culture are never static; they should be constantly monitored to ensure the best fit for employee experience and retention.”
The corporate wellness market is a $60 billion dollar industry and it’s growing everyday. Offshore Kiwi Graeme Perry runs LVL, a company which brings wellness programmes into businesses. He says this can offer huge value to a business.
“Wellness goes a huge way towards increasing engagement and if you increase employee engagement you increase employee retention. And all companies will tell you recruitment and retention is one of the major costs in business these days.”
While achieving a perfect work life balance has been a challenge for many of us for quite some time, Dr Angela Lim says her company Clearhead has seen the problem increase exponentially during the pandemic.
“We have seen a 10 fold increase in people struggling to balance their personal and professional lives especially due to remote work and lockdowns due to the pandemic. We hear from a lot of people who are wanting to achieve better balance.”
Clearhead provides holistic, proactive, and cost-effective mental health and wellbeing support for workplaces and Dr Lim says it’s important for businesses to ensure their employees feel supported.
“How hard it is to achieve the balance will primarily come down to the employer and their commitment to setting culture norms on workload, expectation on response outside of standard working hours, flexible working hours, psychological safe space for employees to voice their concerns and challenges, mental health awareness, availability of proactive employee wellbeing support, etc. It is important to challenge the context that balance and resilience is solely reliant on the individual when most of the time, there are vulnerable to the systems that are in place. Therefore, we need to look at the support structures available in the workplace to determine if the person is set up for success or failure.”
Charlotte says people are starting to realise that overwork is fundamentally breaking down what they want in life and it’s time to look at other options.
Younger generations have watched their parents burnout from overwork, people are seeing their friends and colleagues burnout from over work and no one wants that life, it’s not good for any of us. We want families to grow up knowing their children and being able to spend time with them, we need people to have time for their health and interests and volunteer work. The good news is a lot of people are waking up and things are changing.”
Will says for companies looking to attract top overseas talent flexible ways of working and better work life balance can offer incentives that people value more than high salaries.
In contrast to overseas financial incentives firms can make themselves competitive by selling the modern Kiwi working lifestyle. This could include flexible ways of working, wellness offerings at work, and appropriate support in times of uncertainty. There is no magic bullet to attracting and retaining talent – but the best candidate magnet is a firm’s reputation. It takes a constant graft towards doing the big and small things well, keeping your staff engaged, remunerated, and feeling safe and valued in their place of work. After years of investment in people and systems, a firm will earn its reputation as an employer worth working for. For firms that don’t currently have that reputation in the market, it is never too late to change.”
Lisa Oliver has always loved creating things. As a child she would play with Lego for hours and as she grew up she became interested in sustainability and timber design. After studying Structural Engineering at Canterbury University, she went to work for Holmes Consulting and became involved with the Green Building Council. At the time Lisa was a leader in her field but over the past decade she’s seen a real change in focus.
“Around 10 years ago I became a green star accredited professional and at the time it was very rare for structural engineers to do that. There was a focus on reducing the operational energy of buildings, but the emphasis on the buildings themselves was very minimal. Whereas nowadays, partly because of the improvements we have made in the operational energy and emissions space, and partly because of a deepening of understanding around the emissions associated with the actual building, it’s becoming much more common for structural engineers to be involved in this space.”
In 2017 Lisa was given the opportunity to work in the Netherlands and says she was pleasantly surprised to discover that New Zealand is not far off the rest of the world when it comes to green buildings.
“I think the rest of the world is following a similar path and New Zealand presents some great opportunities and projects for people in this space. We sometimes think we are behind, but you get over to Europe and realise that like here, green buildings are still special projects. As Kiwi engineers we also have some unique skills we can offer international projects.”
The skills Lisa is talking about include our experience in building with timber and in strengthening existing buildings, something which came as a result of the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes.
“After the earthquakes we were assessing a lot of existing buildings, it was a really fast paced learning experience because you were just looking at so many building types and sizes and you had to really think critically about how they were designed to perform and how they actually performed. It was a much greater exposure than you would ever get going from one new build to the next. But this exposure comes in handy when we look at our existing building stock. If we are aiming for how our buildings are going to be performing in say 2050, then most of those are already built. I think the real opportunity both here and overseas is improving what we’ve already got. Repurposing and strengthening existing buildings and making them adaptable for multiple functions, making them more energy and thermally efficient, that’s the real opportunity, and New Zealand is well placed to lead on that.”
When it comes to building with natural materials such as wood, Lisa says companies like Holmes are already ahead of the field in this area, bringing timber designs to the table for clients more and more often.
“What we are seeing is that the scale of the timber projects is growing and the interest from clients is growing as well. The Flowers building in Auckland’s Wynyard precinct is a good example, it’s a three storey commercial space built using timber, with retail on the ground floor and events space on top. We have also been working on various school buildings as well as other commercial projects which are experimenting with timber design.”
For returning Kiwi with offshore experience in sustainability and design there has never been a better opportunity to bring those skills home and get involved in a wide variety of projects.
“What’s exciting is that something that previously used to be only the domain of architects and service engineers is now something that we can have an influence on as structural engineers it provides so many more opportunities to influence the bones of a building, to be able to choose those materials and structural systems which will be the most carbon efficient. It also challenges us to become more carbon literate so we can influence and get that gut feel for what solution will be better.”
Lisa says she is excited about the future of the industry and the people who will help shape it. Her love of timber design is as strong as it was back in her Uni days and she hopes that in the future we will see a greater use of the natural material in larger commercial and multistory buildings.
“As an industry we need to upskill and become more familiar with timber, there is a whole education piece, but long term I would like to see New Zealand pushing the use of timber beyond what it has traditionally been used for, I think there is still a way to go but we are heading in the right direction.”
*This content was produced in partnership with Holmes Consulting
Co-founder of Jucy group, Tim Alpe can still remember the point when the company he built from scratch lost 90% of its revenue overnight. With millions of dollars of refund requests flooding in and borders around the world slamming closed faster than an angry teenager’s bedroom door, there was no way to tell what the future held.
“It’s something you can’t predict or plan for. For our sector in particular, younger travellers and backpackers, the market was completely decimated overnight. We relied heavily on the US and Europe travellers and all of a sudden they stopped coming, there is nothing you can do, you can’t plan for that.”
Tim and his brother Dan were forced to bring in external capital, which resulted in the three businesses, rentals, snooze and cruise being split up. Dan continued with the rentals business and Tim focussed on the POD hotels. Despite describing the last few years as ‘horrific’ Tim says he 100% believes New Zealand will once again become a top tourist destination.
“We have a new 300 bed POD hotel opening in central Auckland in September, it was planned before the pandemic, but the new owners backed it’s completion because they see the opportunities in the industry. When it opens it will be the largest hostel accommodation in New Zealand. We still have a bit of a rough time to get through but once the borders properly reopen people will flood in, there is a lot of pent up demand. New Zealand is a bucket list destination, people will be back, it’s just going to take awhile.”
The belief that the market will come back bigger and better is one shared by Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. He believes the pandemic has given his company time to reflect and reprioritise in order to ensure they come back stronger with the best travel experience possible.
“We’ve been able to look at our domestic and international network and figure out how to offer our customers the best routes, flights and customer experience. This goes all the way through to our future aircraft cabin experience – we’re using customer input to create the best international travel experience for when borders open. Our new international aircraft coming 2024 will offer an incredible travelling experience. Some awesome new innovation is on its way.”
“We know the future of Air New Zealand must be sustainable, and we think it’s the single largest challenge we have, so we’ve been exploring how to accelerate the reduction of our carbon emissions. By far the biggest contribution to decarbonisation will come from Air New Zealand accessing Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and we made good progress in 2021 towards making SAF a reality in New Zealand. We’ve also put out the call out to traditional aviation manufacturers and entrepreneurs and innovators worldwide to help us get a zero emissions aircraft in the air in the next five years.”
Tourism marketing and business development expert Rēnata West says talking about new innovations and ideas is one of the best ways businesses can stay connected ahead of borders reopening. The California based Kiwi says businesses should be looking to promote what they have been doing over the last two years to refine their products and experiences and clearly show how they have altered their business practices to be more COVID-safe.
“In plain terms, if one of your key selling points was a buffet experience, you may want to think about how eating communally will be received by consumers who have largely only eaten outdoors at tables six feet apart for the last two years.”
Rēnata says his Los Angeles based travel business, Pacific Storytelling, is starting to see an increased interest in the New Zealand market, and notes that a change to the way people work is creating new and exciting opportunities.
“People in North America have some of the lowest levels of paid holidays in the world, but the pandemic has created a wider acceptance of remote working, this is offering people more flexibility and option to travel further afield. It also allows them to spend more time in a location and have a more meaningful experience.”
“During the pandemic Aotearoa did a really good job showing off the country through digital tools like video and interviews with local personalities. This allowed the country to be brought into the living rooms and home offices of those in North America and now we are seeing this translate into an appetite to visit. We need to keep up that Kiwi storytelling to highlight our New Zealand story, the things like culture and Maori heritage that make Aotearoa unique, the things you won’t find anywhere else.”
Making the most of the Kiwi storytelling is something New Zealand Story CEO David Downs says all export businesses can benefit from, not just those in the tourism industry.
“Having an association with brand New Zealand is a great way of boosting your business. Our research data tells us that ‘Brand NZ’ is still strong, and while we wait for borders to reopen it’s really critical that all businesses are able to communicate a strong brand story and have a good online presence in order to stay front of mind in-market.
David says he hopes the lessons learned in the pandemic will continue to benefit businesses well into the future.
“As we start to emerge from this crisis I hope that people don’t just go back to business as usual. Instead we should be taking the lessons we have learned and looking at what needs to be fixed or changed. After all, the best time to fix the roof is when it’s not raining.”
Both Greg and Tim have had time to reflect on the past two years. For Tim the crisis made him realise some things really are just out of your control.
“I spent a lot of time panicking and sweating over stuff I couldn’t control, and as much as it’s devastating and stressful, I learnt you can’t take it personally. I think time is a big healer, you think about things you did or things you could have done over and over again, but eventually you get to a place where you are like ok we will get through this. The tourism sector in New Zealand will grow significantly in the future. I think the key for many businesses has been to survive, now they need to revive and hopefully in the not too distant future they will thrive.”
Greg says if he could go back to 2019 and give himself one piece of advice it would be the reminder to ‘panic slowly.’
“Air New Zealand has been around for a long time and has weathered its fair share of storms with level headed people calmly navigating constant change and uncertainty. Giving yourself a moment to gather all the information is crucial and I would say it’s how we’ve gotten through the countless challenges thrown our way. Grit is also an important quality at a time like this, two years in and we still have closed borders. It takes real resilience and you need to pace yourself, so I would say to people keep one eye on today and the other on tomorrow.”
If you would like to hear more about this topic or hear more of Tim’s story please join our online World Class speaker series. Find out more here