Networks are everything to serial tech founder Claudia Batten, who says being an entrepreneur is about convincing other people to help you build something awesome.
1. When did you realise you could be world class and what steps did you take to get there?
To be honest, there wasn’t ever a single point and I am not ever expecting one. I just get up every day and do my thing. I am extremely competitive with myself, I push myself very hard. When I get to the possible top of one hill, I look for the next one to climb.
If anything, there was a point where I realised I had no interest being a big fish in a small pond. I also didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing and move to the UK. Moving to New York was a turning point for me. Suddenly everything was hard and uncharted. It made me much more scrappy and resourceful. I love being someplace where every time I look around someone is doing it bigger or better - that fuels me.
Surprisingly Boulder, where I live now, is the same. It’s like a retirement village for successful entrepreneurs that have no plans to retire!
2. What's your advice for Kiwis who want to make their name offshore or in the same industry as yours?
Be ready for your world to change. There is nothing easy about leaving your home, family, networks, culture and Kiwi lifestyle behind. You are now competing with some serious players and you better be on your A game but also have something special, unique to contribute. The biggest learning for me is I have not done this alone, in my wake and alongside me every-day are numerous people who have helped me and I think who I have helped.
3. What's been the toughest time in your career?
Singling out a specific moment is difficult. There have been some personal challenges for me which, when you are effectively alone offshore, can be really trying. That’s all very much in the past but I do think it’s important to note that we are human beings and it’s wrong to focus on the work only.
Suddenly being in New York without a job or a plan was pretty bloody difficult. I have started to talk about that quite a lot because it’s not like I landed in New York and poof was part of Massive. It was a long period of total uncertainty that ultimately led to being part of that team. And there were many days where I didn’t have a clue what the hell I was doing. Many days.
4. What would you would do differently if you had your time again?
Not a thing. My path was perfectly imperfect and I really believe in the process. I call it the 'squiggly line' of being an entrepreneur, all you can figure out is the next best step you can take. And from there, the next. You might be wrong sometimes, you might spend a lot of time going backwards and sideways on the path, that’s the journey to doing something that has never been done before.
5. What are your tips for the best way to use your networks?
Networks have been everything to me. Being an entrepreneur is about convincing other people to come help you build something awesome: whether as clients, team members or your community. You need the people in your life that will support you through the bad days.
You need your clients to be on board with this new thing you want to do and a little open to doing things differently. And you need your team to have your back and be relentlessly passionate and willing to twist and turn as you inch your way forward. And our networks are not established overnight, they are not created transactionally, they are best created when you also care about their path and their success too and they stay with you - if you do it right - well, forever.
From one project to the next and, in my case, one business to the next. My most recent entrepreneurial venture is entirely network-based. We created Broadli to take digital connectivity in a new direction. Rather than look at networking as an arms race to build up the biggest network you can, we are instead looking at the incredible power of our trusted network.
The power is in focusing on the much smaller number of people who would drop everything to help you on whatever your current stumbling block is. I learnt a lot from being part of the tech industry and especially the Silicon Valley “how can I help you” ethos. Coming from a place of helping vs taking has been powerful for me.
When I decided in July 2012 that I wanted to leave Victors & Spoils, after Havas acquired a majority stake in the business, I knew I wanted to give back. So I spent almost 18 months being very open to any request of assistance from the US and especially in New Zealand. Spending that amount of time, just helping wherever I could, has been so powerful. It has allowed me to do things I could not have achieved with a goal-orientation.
I think this is because you start to listen and really watch the market and let the ideas form. So my tips would be - ask people how you can help them and don’t be transactional about building your networks.
Claudia Batten won the Supreme Award in this year's World Class New Zealand Awards, a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise initiative delivered by Kea New Zealand. Batten sold the software venture Massive to Microsoft in 2006, then co-founded crowdsourcing ad agency Victors and Spoils in 2009. Her most recent endeavour is Broadli, an app that helps manage LinkedIn networks.