How Mobile Mentor learnt to ‘Follow the Kiwi’
In 2004 Mobile Mentor was founded to unlock the massive potential of the smartphone in business. The company launched a one-to-one mentoring service to empower busy people to use their device as a personal productivity tool. Over the past 15 years Mobile Mentor has evolved but the purpose has remained the same – to empower people to achieve more.
- Mobile Mentor places importance on the ‘Follow the Kiwi’ strategy – can you explain what this is and what it involves?
‘Follow the Kiwi’ was our initial expansion strategy. It centred around identifying an overseas Kiwi in a highly influential position and making connections with them to build inroads into new markets. For example, in Brazil we connected with a friend of our Chairman, in Australia we leveraged the brother of one of our employees, and in the US we contacted a friend of a friend. It proved to be a really great strategy to be able to turn to and rely on a friendly, supportive Kiwi to broach these new and unfamiliar markets.
- In what ways has being a NZ grown business influenced how you operate in international markets?
By the time we decided to enter into international markets, we had some clearly defined processes and a ‘New Zealand way of doing things’. We used to send a few Kiwi team members to initially set up these operations overseas, including learning about the local market, hiring, and training new employees. This helped to cultivate the culture we wanted and ensured that our values translated into these markets. Although we managed to localise these processes, we never lost our NZ-centric values that run through the business. We have a no-nonsense policy to keep politics and games out of our work, and at the end of the day remain true of our ‘One Team, One Dream’ goal.
- Now a global enterprise, what value does a connected community like Kea bring to Mobile Mentor?
We are infinitely grateful for the credible market connections that Kea has given us. With a community of Kiwi who have successfully climbed the hill that we’re attempting to climb – and can probably see the next hill that we are yet to reach – their expert guidance and advice is invaluable to us as we expand. These local connections are the natural successor to our original ‘Follow the Kiwi’ strategy, allowing us to remain rooted in the values that influenced the foundation of our business.
Export strategy and experiences across Australia, China, Brazil, and the USA
- Can you tell us a bit about your expansion journey into Australia, China, Brazil and USA – what were some of the learnings / challenges you encountered in each market?
The points of entry for each country were wildly different. For example, despite our concerns about corruption and bureaucracy, Brazil was a dream run. We raised the majority of our capital by meeting with one group of investors in an Irish pub, where they went around the table and stated how much they’d invest without even hearing a formal pitch!
On the other hand, China confirmed our fears when we realised after a year that there was a corruption problem within our own business. This was a turning point and we decided to exit China rather than compromise our principles. Everyone tells you how hard it is to get into the Chinese market, but no one tells you how hard it is to get out. After making the decision to pull out, we terminated our operations but it then took us three painstaking years to wrap up our affairs and complete all the necessary formalities to close the company and file with the various authorities.
When we met with a potential major partner in Australia, they had printed out an early press release about us and said, “You’re tiny…why do you think you’re worthy of doing business with us?” We had to explain what we’d achieved in Brazil before they’d even take us seriously. But, we believed in our proposition and had come prepared to make our case and the rest is history! We’ve been operating in Australia for over 14 years now and it has been a good market for us.
It’s extraordinary the ways in which our expansion journey has unfolded. We’ve learnt a lot from each new market and have taken those lessons onboard to help inform our business strategy moving forward.
2.Can you explain how you developed an effective export strategy?
Over the years we’ve really leaned on the support of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE). They’ve engaged with us through countless workshops to challenge the way we think of our export strategy, and even put together a Beachhead advisory board (private sector consultants with expertise in exporting) which helped prepare us for market entry overseas.
One piece of advice they gave us – which I continue to pass on to this day – is to narrow your target market so much that you can actually win a 25% share of that market. And once you’ve established 25% in that niche market, you’re in a credible position to go further in that market, or pursue an adjacent market. This was powerful advice that I first adopted in NZ when we decided to focus on public healthcare. Eventually we got to work with 75% of the DHBs and this success contributed greatly to our current work in US healthcare as we had a blueprint to tackle a complex industry.
Using their experience throughout the GFC to present opportunities and advice for businesses coming out of COVID
- The Global Financial Crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have many similarities – what are some of your observations regarding its effect on businesses?
It’s no secret that the pandemic has played in our industry’s favour. With people embracing remote and hybrid work, you’ve got everyone working on devices in their homes and suddenly there’s a greater need for security and support.
Our first strategy was to protect our people and try not to make any positions redundant because we knew we would need to have a strong team to grow out of COVID-19. Once we saw evidence of recovery, we started hiring aggressively and we have increased our headcount by about 40% in the last year to prepare for the growth ahead.
The second strategy was to protect our customers, especially those who were vulnerable to cyberattacks. Our sales leader in Australia had a profound insight and said “all our customers are hurting, this is not the time to be selling, this is the time to be helping, even if they can’t pay us”. I believe that generated a lot of goodwill and we saw a big jump in our Net Promoter Score over the past year.
So, where the GFC really hurt a lot of businesses, COVID-19 has provided a surge for companies in the IT sector. I am very grateful for this and feel that in the midst of a very difficult time, we were lucky
2.How did Mobile Mentor respond to the GFC? What learnings did you take from that and what would you do differently now?
The GFC hit us very hard because it hit our customers very hard. We were forced to downsize and pivot our business model from its original form – helping people set up and optimise use of their smartphones – to what it is today, providing security and support for large companies across all the devices they use.
So, although we were hurt by the GFC, I’m grateful that we ended up with a much more stable business model as a result. We’ve taken these key learnings and applied them to how we’ve responded to COVID-19 – investing where it counts and identifying the growing need for security and support for the remote workforce – especially as the ways in which we work continue to shift.
3. What advice do you have for businesses as they recover from the pandemic?
Embrace the change. Every company in the world is evolving, whether it be accelerating their digital transformation journey, figuring out how to work differently, or navigating the power balance between employers and employees. My advice is to stay close with your customers and understand their pain points. See where they need help, even if it means redesigning and adapting your products or business model to meet these needs – just don’t be afraid to lean into the change!
This content was supplied to Kea by One Plus One Communications