IdealogLive presents Rod Snodgrass, the brain behind Spark Ventures

For a big company like Spark, trying to maintain being hip and relevant amongst the younger crowd is a bit of a hit-and-miss game. The solution is creating an environment as close to start-up culture as possible. And the man for the game? ‘The Snod’, at your service.

“What would Telecom do? Now do the opposite."

That’s the advice Rod Snodgrass kept giving his staff as he built the Digital Ventures department, apparently the smallest, but grooviest part of the company – on what most would consider a shoestring budget for a massive enterprise like Spark (less than $20m). 

As part of its rebrand from Telecom, Snodgrass is the man that’s led the revolution to a more engaging, younger brand. He got the chance to cherry-pick his dream team from the old Telecom in his first month on the job.

The rest were all hires from outside: some local poaches (like Orcon, for example) and a few smart pick-ups from across various ditches in US, Europe, and Asia. He also returned some of his original budget on the grounds that start-ups do better when starved of capital.

Snodgrass’ approach is full of entrepreneurial jargon about being willing to “fail fast”, “no water-falling” in decision-making processes, and a mandate from Spark chief executive Simon Moutter to “presume permission and seek forgiveness”.

His team backs Wellington’s Lightning Lab start-up accelerator programme, participates in IT geek “hack” events, and is looking for a distinctly new range of skills. A “venture board” oversees investment opportunity.

The biggest challenge has been rolling out Lightbox, the IPTV service that’s competing on a stage filled with players, both foreign and local. Their biggest gripe – to date – is the now infamous legal row with Global Mode.

But that’s all a bit trivial, when his mission was to move the entire company to the “next level”, and digitise the whole shebang. In an interview with the NZ Herald, Snodgrass put the case to Moutter when he was made head of the overall Digital First strategy.

“What we really needed to think about was using digital in a very disruptive way to recreate our business models so we are fit for the future.”

While precise details are under wraps, Snodgrass likens it to ordering broadband fibre like one would order an Uber taxi. And that’s a bit of a scary, if also rather exciting, thought.