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World Class NZer Craig Elliott on getting noticed in the US

If you want to make it stateside, don’t be shy to tell the world about your idea, says tech leader Craig Elliott.

1. When did you realise you could be world class and what steps did you take to get there?

The day Steve Jobs gave me a Porsche. In 1985, I was just out of university in the farm country of the central US and I sold the most Macintoshes in the US, winning an Apple sales contest and a trip to California – for dinner with Steve Jobs. It was only the second time I had ever been on an airplane. I spent the week meeting the Apple executive staff, and I realized that the people behind the computers are just as important as the computers themselves. Three months later, Apple called me and asked me if I wanted to work for them in California. I seized the chance to come to Silicon Valley from my small farm town and knew I could make a difference on a bigger playing field and parlay my farm boy work ethic into the high-tech world of computers.

On my first day of work at Apple in Silicon Valley, I realised there were more people in my building than had lived in my entire hometown growing up. I was terrified. I had to take a deep breath, adjust my perspective and realize I had as much to offer as anyone else. Throughout my career at Apple, I took every opportunity to travel and do business around the world. It required tenacity and not being afraid to enthusiastically raise my hand when an opportunity presented itself, making many mistakes along the way. Most importantly, you must maximize every opportunity.

2. What’s your advice for Kiwis who want to make their name offshore or in the same industry as yours?

Don’t wait for an opening to come to you. Raise your hand and tell the world about your idea. You have to be a bit of a self-promoter in a crowded market. There are 318,000,000 people in the United States, and to get attention you can’t be shy. When I take a business plan to the venture capitalists, I have to be insistent and incessant about my idea. Unfortunately, second place companies don’t get off the ground.

3. What’s been the toughest time in your career?

At one point at Packeteer, my first startup as CEO, we held a funding round that we were bringing to a close. We had a signed term sheet from a venture capitalist, which generally means the deal is done. I called all the other potential investors, thanked them and told them we had our funding for the round from someone else. All of a sudden, our original venture capitalists pulled their funding. The other founders and I realised we didn’t know how we were going to make payroll unless it was from our personal bank accounts. That was a particularly tough moment and lesson, but we got through it. Sometimes you just have to be a bit inventive when things get tight. And I learned the hard lesson that it’s not over until the money is in the bank. 4. What would you would do differently if you had your time again?

I’ve got a great family and career, so I guess I wouldn’t want to change the results. I would have probably taken more risks if I could do it all over again – in business, in life, across the board. I’ve never regretted giving something a go. Also, knowing what I know now, I would have kept all my Apple stock.

5. What are your tips for the best way to use your networks?

I can’t emphasise how important networks of people from all different facets of your life are. The connections traverse business, social and academic arenas, giving you access to a wide array of opportunities. But, networks require effort and maintenance; they don’t just happen. Your network will be your go-to reservoir for ideas, employees and business contacts for your entire career.

You have to be active to make it grow whether that is in LinkedIn, Facebook, email, attending reunions, and making time to get together with people face to face. When someone says, “I want to introduce you to ______”, you do it….and there’s another exponential connection on your network.

Craig Elliott won the Friend of New Zealand award in in this year’s World Class New Zealand Awards, a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise initiative delivered by Kea New Zealand. He’s a director of the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco, a previous CEO of Packeteer and current CEO and co-founder of cloud networking company Pertino Networks. 

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