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Letter from Startup Central, US

Apparently nothing brings out the fresh off the boat Kiwi tourist in me like a trip to San Francisco.

Even though I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life living in the US, the first visit to the entrepreneurial centre of the universe had me geeking out on more than one occasion as I passed HQs of every startup worth mentioning from Airbnb to Twitter and Zynga. San Francisco itself is bustling with change.

Startup central is SoMa (South of Market) – and it’s characterised by shiny new buildings, plenty of construction, and throngs of techie workers filling the nearby cafes and bars. But SoMa abuts the notorious Tenderloin district of San Francisco, which even today is filled with homeless people, barred windows, and the remnants of a psychedelic past the city can’t quite let go of.

I swung by the Kiwi Landing Pad in the heart of SoMA to see what the team there was up to, managing to catch them hosting a long-time Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Marc Phillips. He freely shared advice and tips on pitch decks to the gathered bunch of (mainly) Kiwis who were keen to hear what he had to say.

I think that’s what struck me the most about somewhere like KLP. While it’s all well and good to get up and running from New Zealand, the unfortunate side to our distance is a correlating lack of access to people like Marc and the wisdom they are happy to share. And to be honest, sometimes it feels like you need to learn a whole new language and set of skills to communicate with Americans on their terms – so Kiwi businesses need all the help they can get in that respect.

I also paid a visit to the guys at Mako Networks, the Kiwi company which has just won a major client in Chevron to update the payment security systems at its gas stations.

Like Xero, Mako (or ‘may-ko’ if you’re a yank), has outgrown KLP and moved to premises among more tech glitterati.

I couldn’t help but be glad that somewhere like KLP exists to introduce Kiwis to the American market (and wish something similar existed for writers).

It might not be true that you can’t run a global business from New Zealand, but it certainly seems easier if you have a presence in the outside world. Even if everything else can be done remotely, interpersonal relationships always work best face to face.

Lynda Brendish is an LA-based writer. 

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