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Reality Check: Snowball Effect's Simeon Burnett

As part of Idealog's Technology Month, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's Snowball Effect CEO and co-founder Simeon Burnett.

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

There is very little technology I couldn’t live without. Doing business without the internet would be virtually impossible. Living without electricity would also be challenging. That being said, if both of these disappeared, in time, we’d all adapt.

Underrated or old technology?

Microsoft Excel serves many purposes for which it wasn’t designed for and it’s still better than a lot of niche technology that have been designed to replace it.

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

The boys at Equipment Share are doing some interesting things in the heavy machinery contracting space. Their model is a marketplace where equipment gets pooled by owners and then leased to contractors. All equipment use is tracked and managed by software – useful for both owners and operators. They New Zealand team have licenced the platform from the founders in the US, and are about to launch in Australia.

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

I really rate how the team at Andreessen Horowitz work so hard to support the companies that they invest in.

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

As one of the founders of Snowball Effect, we created the business from scratch around three years ago. We continuously try to keep evolving, for example, we have recently launched our own share registry and earlier this year built our own CRM. It’s been fun to see these products come to life.

Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but your envious of?

That would be a long list! Pretty much anyone that has developed a product that genuinely improves people's lives. So to speak very generally, products like Facebook and Spotify wouldn’t fall into this category. However, a number of the companies in the biotech sector would such as Biogen, Atomwise, or Gingko Bioworks.

What first drew you to this industry?

We were drawn to the capital markets mainly because we felt that for most people in New Zealand they were largely irrelevant and uninteresting. We knew that with the use of relatively simple technology and fresh thinking we had the chance to improve the efficiency of raising capital, growing a business, and investing in New Zealand.

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

Probably the fact that most people who work in technology are generally trying to do things better and more efficiently than how they’ve been done in the past or are being done currently.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

One of things I really enjoy is how people in New Zealand are so accessible and so generous with their time. You can arrange a conversation with basically anyone. This is not just unique to the technology industry though, but in my experience it certainly does set New Zealand apart from a lot of other countries.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

Generally, time out of the office, either a break away, or a long weekend at the beach is a good starting point.           

Reality check

How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?

Because of emails, the internet and integration with phones, I think ‘work’ has become a lot more difficult to get away from, and has probably reduced the level of personal interaction with other staff. However, it has allowed access to information to be improved remarkably.

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

The inability to switch off. Most people don’t have the discipline to put their phones down and enjoy what’s around them.

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

I’m generally quite picky with what technology I use. I tend to go for things that I think will genuinely help improve the speed or efficiency of something I already do. Probably the only piece of technology I’m addicted to is my Soda Stream.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

On balance I think it’s a blessing, but only just.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

It depends what the technology and sector is. If you believe that technology will lead regulation, then the answer is probably relevant regulation rather than necessarily more of it. Regulation should let positive technology thrive, but protect those who could suffer because of its misuse.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

I guess it depends what is meant by diversity – gender is topical and gets a lot of attention. The reality is that various groups are attracted to different disciplines and fields for a range of different reasons – for example men only make up 2 percent of the early childhood workforce. The target should never be some sort of homogenous mix across all these fields. The key thing is working towards giving everyone an opportunity to participate and feel they have the support in place to pursue whatever it is that they’re passionate about. There are a multitude of biases that exist, and there is a lot of work to do to address these, including those within the technology sector.

What worries you the most about technology?

That generally people have quite a narrow view on what technology actually is. We focus a lot on IT, and it is probably overrepresented in where people are focusing their innovation.

What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

As a New Zealander I think that our largest companies need to rethink the way they are going to grow and do business. The future will look very different, and to keep pace they will need to make some bold changes. New Zealand has a history of under investment in R&D and a poor record of commercialisation. This will need to change for New Zealand to be an attractive country to live, raise families and work for highly talented people.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?

Humans are notoriously bad at forecasting, and I’m certainly no different. My hope is that New Zealand is a country that is better than it is today – that today’s generation have gone some way to solving the problems that we have involving transport, access to quality, affordable housing, productivity and pay rates. I hope that we have had the courage to lead globally on issues that are important to us, and are still very proud to call New Zealand home.