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Innovation Heroes: Scott Houston

Scott Houston, David Woods, Peter Beck and Frances Valintine, will share their tales of the highs and lows of building businesses, and advocating for innovation.

Today, we meet Scott Houston, founder of Green Button, which won the Innovation in ICT award at the NZ Innovators Awards 2013. Microsoft acquired Green Button in May, 2014.


Innovation Heroes 2015 – Scott Houston, GreenButton / Microsoft from NZ Innovation Council on Vimeo.

What traits do you think make somebody innovative?

Stupidity? Pigheadedness, stubbornness, those are all things that other people have said about me. I think there’s a desire and dream to build something better.

I think innovation is a combination of vision, and that vision could come out of a glass of wine. Typically it’s overcoming a challenge that you see on a day-to-day basis.

For me, it was around finding horsepower – lots of computing power, and I think the key part of innovation is acting on that. You can see a problem, and you can think of a resolution.

What is one major challenge you have faced?

I guess the most challenging– one of my most vivid moments during the entire acquisition process with Microsoft was when I had been called in to meet with the corporate development team.

One of my most memorable moments was when Microsoft had decided to acquire the company, and wanted to make an offer. So I came in, and I met with their corporate development team, and they said there were two key conditions.

One was of course the price, and the second one was that the development team would stay onboard, and become part of Microsoft. And they said, “There are a couple of key people that we want to come across,” and naturally I expected that one of them would be me, and it wasn’t, and it was a strange feeling. It was like, “Wow, they don’t want me.” And then there was this sort of euphoria, of like, “Wow, I could lead a different life.”

What is your driving purpose?

When you start off, and especially in the IT sector, everyone wants to be a billionaire.

Everyone wants to be Mark Zuckerberg and invent the next Facebook, or Twitter, or GreenButton or whatever, and that is a big motivating factor when you start your business.

But as it evolves, as you start building it, and you take on responsibilities of staff, employment, and you’re setting expectations for your shareholders, what becomes more to you is really; One, achieving this vision that you’ve nailed to a cross and publicly said, this is my goal. And two, the people that surround you and supported you, you really want to deliver a good outcome for them.

What and who have been the biggest influencers on you becoming innovative?

One of the most influential that I’ve met is Richard Taylor, and I had the opportunity and the honour to work with him. And boy, when you talk about passion, enthusiasm and loyalty, this guy just has it, and so he’s someone that’s very special.

What are the key ingredients that got you to where you are today?

I think it’s really important that before you do start up a company, that you have everything grounded and got your support base, and that’s financial, perhaps some mentoring base, some commercial experience – that might include your bank manager, or some wealthy family members – and the support from your loved ones to do that. Because it is a hard battle and it’s a long journey.

Yeah I think it’s really important to find a space where you can concentrate, or in my case, not concentrate, where you can just kind of let it wash away. For some people it’s meditation, for some people it’s running marathons.

How important do you think is innovation to New Zealand compared to the rest of the world?

We have such a great opportunity in New Zealand, in terms of taking our innovation to the world. Our pioneering heritage, our can-do attitude, our kind of never say die mantra is fantastic, but we have a whole lot of challenges here.

The reality is we don’t compete here in New Zealand, we’re competing on the world stage, and innovators need to be thinking globally from day one. And it’s not easy to succeed here in New Zealand, but it’s incredibly hard to succeed globally.

I think there’s a realisation that we have a whole group of innovative people, and that they need to be incubated and nurtured, and we’ve done a great job of that, but we need to make those pathways to global success easier.

It’s really heartening to see that the financial community, the investors, the infrastructure, the training at the grad school level, is all really coalescing to make that successful.


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