Next month a bunch of top Kiwi brains are taking to the road for the Innovation Heroes tour - think wine, canapés and inspiring stories straight from the horse's mouth. Rod Snodgrass, Penelope Barr-Sellers, David Darling and Shona Grundy - will share their journeys of building businesses, leading businesses and advocating for young talent and innovation.
Idealog, naturally, will be there with bells on. Over the next few weeks, though, we'll be introducing you to the guests of honour. Today, we meet Shona Grundy, co-founder and CEO of tech startup Trigger Happy.
Did you always know that this was what you wanted to do?
Not at all! This current path I am on evolved over time. I can’t say I truly found my professional passion until I was in my mid 30s.
I went to the UK straight out of university and landed a job in the music industry. It turned out to be an amazing first job, as this is where I found my first business mentor. He saw something in me and taught me so much about business and also all about licensing, catalogues and contracts. I still use a lot of his lessons in the strategies I build today. I am lucky enough to still have this mentor as a friend today.
After returning to New Zealand six years later, the music industry was taking a nose-dive due to MP3 piracy. So instead I got into film and television. I worked primarily as a producer for advertising TVCs but did not feel creatively fulfilled. This is when Karl, Cathy (two of the other Trigger Happy co-founders) and I started our animation company, Kangoo Animation. We worked for many years in the service side while also developing our own animated children’s TV series. This was rewarding at times but also an extremely difficult business model, as we always felt we were taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps back.
In July 2010, my business partner and brother, Karl, came up with the brilliant idea of creating software which would allow everyone and anyone to create their own animated stories on the iPad. I loved it so much and instantly saw what the idea could become; in terms of Licensing deals with studios. This idea made me excited and passionate professionally again, so I made a declaration to my business partners and to my husband: I would give our newly formed company Trigger Happy (a new company we formed to handle this IP separately) everything I had. This was my final shot at running my own business. If I couldn’t make it work, then I would pack it all in and get a “normal job”. Karl set about building the first prototype. We knew we were experts in animation and licensing but needed to bring someone with knowledge in capital raising and software. This is when our fourth co-founder, Israel Cooper joined Trigger Happy.
Since then the business has launched worldwide and I continue to be as passionate as I was since the idea was born, nearly 4 years ago.
What is your driving purpose?
I simply love what I do. I’ve been out of school and working for a long time now and I know what it’s like to be simply another cog in a wheel. I genuinely feel that the opportunity we have been given by our investors and customers, to do something so audacious and exciting, is a very unique experience. I don’t take it for granted at all and simply feel ... not lucky, because this is not luck ... but I guess “charmed”. We’ve spent many years working out a really strong and solid plan for Trigger Happy and Toon Hero. I feel we are about 1/4 of the way through it and I know what we need to do to get there.
My ultimate driving purpose is that I truly believe we are building a product that will be enjoyed by millions of people everyday, all around the world. Although we are not saving lives or aiding world peace, we are doing something, which is a world first. It's a real business, which has huge potential to give our shareholders a big return. It’s quite simply fun, creative and fulfilling.
What does innovation mean to you?
Bringing together creativity and strategic execution, to create change or disrupt.
What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
“Sell yourself first and the product will follow”.
My husband is one of the best sales people I know. He has the very strong belief, as I now do, that business is absolutely and solely about people. So from that first line, way back when we were first dating, I have built my entire career around “putting myself out there” and breaking down walls to ensure that people get to know me very quickly. You need to understand people’s values and morals in order to strike not only a good deal, but a long lasting business relationship. If we like each other, understand each other, and our values align, then it can be an amazing relationship, of mutual benefit, for many years. If we don’t align then I’d prefer to move on. Life is too short to not enjoy the people you are working with.
Who have been your most influential role models?
I have been lucky enough to have several really influential role models throughout my career. My first boss Mike Dolan, used to be the manager of The Eurythmics, Judas Priest and Def Leppard. He taught me about the value of catalogue, IP and contracts. Israel Cooper, my co-founder, is 10 years my junior but taught me all about business models and raising capital. Malcolm Johns, our first chairman and one of the best CEOs I know, taught me how to be a pragmatic and structured CEO.
What is one mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
For a long time I thought success came from putting in massively long hours and putting my career above everything else. But I’ve learnt that this is simply not true. It is about working smarter not harder. If you don’t have balance in life and understand what is important to you, you never actually give yourself the opportunity to stand back and break through walls, do something smarter, better or have that great idea. I’ve learnt that if I can’t sort out a problem, or am simply feeling uninspired, it is best to get up and leave my desk. I get the best ideas when going for a run, or hanging out with my family.
What are the key ingredients do you think that got you where you are today?
Besides having belief, passion and drive for Trigger Happy, there are a few key ingredients that have got me to being the CEO of a company I also co-founded:
- The eagerness to learn from others
- Being stubborn when needed
- Honesty and transparency
- Great communication
- Understanding how deals are closed (and closing them!)
- Building strong relationships with people that I like working with
- Having an ego –belief starts with me.
Click here to find out when the tour hits your nearest city and to book tickets.
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).