September/October 2006, page 22. Photograph by Damon Lee Perry
Jason Fox and Sarah Reo already built a successful company. Now they’re taking their young family to Beijing to launch a new one
Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan recently declared that every citizen in Beijing should know at least 100 English phrases by the time the city hosts the 2008 Olympic Games. His announcement reached the ears of Jason Fox and Sarah Reo, co-founders of Culture Flow NZ, a Maori language training software company. They know an opportunity when they hear it, so in April Fox and Reo packed their bags and introduced their children, Kawakawa (8) and Peti i te Rangi (3), to their new, somewhat crowded home: Beijing.
Culture Flow NZ teaches Maori through natural communication. After identifying a gap in the market for teaching Te Reo Maori to mainstream New Zealand, Fox and Reo developed an interactive Maori language training programme that could be delivered through a range of platforms including CDs and the internet.
“We looked at the learning process as a window into Te Ao Maori [the Maori world],” says Reo. “What we have created is a stepping stone for anyone to become confident in their learning of the Maori language.”
Fox and Reo are now in Beijing to launch Culture Flow China, which will use the same methods to teach English to the locals. They have developed a programme focused specifically on the hospitality industry in Beijing and are partnering with the China Youth Federation and Tsing Hua University to market, distribute and provide training of their product.
Fox has spent two years commuting between the two countries developing their business opportunity so he’s pleased to have his family with him in Beijing. “We have always done things as a whanau,” he says. “Even our creativity has come second to our needs as a whanau, and as a result opportunities have had to grow at that kind of pace.”
This attitude impressed Mark Blumsky, their mentor at Wellington’s Creative HQ incubator. “I learned from them as well
because they are an inspirational couple, not scared of hard work and making a commitment,” says Blumsky. “They have a strong family supporting them, which helped them achieve their success. They have a proven product that is simple to use and is hugely portable around the world.”
The family has had “an amazing introduction” to Beijing, says Reo. “The diversity, the opportunity, the wealth and the poverty are all embraced into a larger whole that makes up Beijing.
“The enormity of our surroundings is indicative of the vision of the people here—they aren’t afraid of risk, they aren’t afraid of hard work and they are open and welcoming.”