If you want to grow you tech company into a world beater, an insular view, push tactics, being all things to all people and dragging your feet won't get you far. Instead, design thinking, laser-sharp market focus and speedy growth are the key ingredients of success.
That's according to NZ Hi-Tech Trust chair Wayne Norrie, who recently spoke at the NZTech Rethink Success day in Christchurch. He told the audience the traditional path to global scale wasn't working.
“Many companies are struggling with the traditional approach. They’re strapped for cash, don’t have the channels to market and they’re too product-focused."
His first tip for adopting design-led thinking was changing the frame of reference from inside-out to outside-in. This, he says, “requires a shift in the fundamental thinking about the way we see opportunities and it can change your world.
“Currently we see the world through our own eyes, through our own frame of reference and interpret the world from our perspective. It’s natural. As New Zealanders we are generally reasonable at designing product experiences and user experience but poor at designing the company to take that company global.”
Norrie says the world looks at New Zealand as a great R&D nursery, but we need great companies on a global scale, not just great products.
“We need to build some mighty oaks and, while Rod Drury is leading the way and doing things differently with Xero, we need more.”
He says when New Zealanders start a business it’s generally because they identify a hole in the market and try to exploit it by identifying some business goals, create some concepts for products and services and fit those to users. That approach, he says, results in product push tactics.
“Too many New Zealand companies are on that product push approach and too often there’s too little market pull.” he says.
Design thinking forces businesses to first understand customers and this requires true empathy with them, he says. “Once you can see the world through their ideas you can design products and services that make their lives much easier and you can design and build a company around that.”
However, he warns you can't have a great company without a great purpose, and the purpose has to be more than starting a company, building it and selling it to retire early.
Mike Carden, who sold his HR-focused company Sonar6 to CornerstoneOnDemand and is now its vice president of small business operations, added weight to Wayne Norrie’s suggested shift from product and service-centric thinking to focusing on building great companies, by suggesting some American companies have average software but they’ve invested in customer acquisition, got the right channels to market and know what’s required to build a great brand.
Compulsory reading was Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly of world leading design thinking organisation IDEO.
Norrie's second tip is less is more. This is where kiwi entrepreneurs need to ditch the idea of trying to do it all and adopt a laser like focus.
He says the first step towards a more targeted approach is to truly understand your unique competitive advantage. “We build our approach around a very broad front. In short, we try and do it all on a low capital base and that’s not working.
“If we aimed at large offshore markets, looked at what we’re good at and then outsourced the rest we would grow bigger and faster,” he says.
His third lesson was speed. “We have too much baggage in New Zealand and we can’t run fast like a cheetah with all that baggage.”
Norrie says Kiwis don’t understand cadence, but the rest of the world does. “In the US they sprint while here we go for a walk. We’ve got to get in the fast lane, build our eco systems but travel at a global speed or get left behind. Time is the enemy not the competition.”
To scale our companies, we need to share the lessons from the sector and embrace the truly exciting opportunity to take on the world, Norrie says.
NZTech also assembled a panel of Kiwi tech exporters for the event, including Carden, Drury, VMob CEO Scott Bradley, SLI Systems' Geoff Brash, Enatel's Dennis Chapman and Sir Gil Simpson from Jolly Good Software.
Here are some of their insights:
A bigger vision for New Zealand
“The vision for New Zealand is to be the most connected country in the world.” - Drury
“What’s cool about being connected with the cloud is that young people don’t need to leave the country to have a global career. There’s a real maturity happening. Once upon a time with enterprise software you needed to go offshore but in the cloud location doesn’t matter." - Drury
Promoting the tech sector
“People don’t sit around talking about accounting software but they do about wine. We need to more actively promote ourselves.” - Carden
“We need to promote within New Zealand and offshore. We have a job to do in both areas. We should be like an Israeli hotshot incubator raising the profile of innovation. We need more lofty global aspirations rather than thinking about where the business is located.” - Bradley
“Software relies on the 'priesthood' to evaluate technology and that priesthood is a barrier to getting known. The channel to market now is different.” - Simpson
"The advice I got almost 10 years ago, when we started Sonar6, was that because we’re small and from New Zealand we should go after a niche. That’s bullshit. Take a global view.” - Carden
“If we started selling to New Zealanders we would have closed down. We need to focus on markets that we want to be in.” - Brash
"What’s cool is just not building technology to sell but building technology to exploit massive change in business.” - Drury
“The revolution is the electrical engineering revolution. It’s about taking what electrical engineers are doing and making software applications from that. It’s the application of software to new developments in electrical engineering that’s exciting.” - Simpson
Publicly funded science at universities
“Industry doesn’t have a clue what’s going on inside the universities. Universities do what interests the lecturers. It’s publish or perish. - Chapman
An elegant definition of innovation “Innovation is success through different” - Simpson
What are opportunities and challenges in outsourcing software development to people in India or Eastern Europe?
“Developing software is an art and you have be passionate. So we need ownership of the people. We’re using software to create the next generation of business and that requires a closely monitored passion so outsourcing is not the answer.” - Drury
“The UK, US and New Zealand are the big three in innovation. Programming is an art form not a science. Computer science was an accident when it was created in mid '60s. I challenge you to name any recent globally successful software that has come out of India, Singapore and The Republic of Ireland. Close communities and reflects their software." - Simpson
“Computer science is like calling surgery knife science”. - Carden
How to build a world-class company
“During capital raising focus on building value and don’t worry about your share.” - Bradley
“To build a world class company bring in the business people to supplement the world class engineers.” - Drury
“The big companies are good at marketing and selling, some have crappy software but they’re good at building brands. Invest in customer acquisition. Having a great product isn’t a guarantee of global success." - Carden