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Sian Simpson is signing off after five years at Kiwi Landing Pad

Kiwi Landing Pad’s director of community and content Sian Simpson is leaving her post after five years. A well-known figure in New Zealand’s start-up community, Simpson has helped grow Kiwi Landing Pad’s group of New Zealand entrepreneurs that are expanding to new markets into more than 6000 members, with people tuning into its webinars from 45 countries around the world. We had a chat about her legacy and key learnings from working with so many inspiring Kiwi businesses over the years.  

Sian Simpson is ending her time at entrepreneur online resource and community hub Kiwi Landing Pad, after five years spent living and working remotely abroad and more recently, from New Zealand, where she now calls Waiheke Island home. 

The 28-year-old has played an integral role in growing its community to reach more than 6000 members in 45 countries. She can also tick off curating and hosting over 300 events in more than five countries from her achievements list.

Simpson first joined Kiwi Landing Pad as a fresh faced 23-year-old who’d been traveling the world and working for 90 Seconds as a digital marketing intern, while also doing remote work for Pure SEO, a search engine optimisation company founded by Richard Conway.

Tim Norton, the founder and CEO of 90 Seconds, was working out of Kiwi Landing Pad’s San Francisco office space and told Simpson they were looking for a new staff member, and that she should apply. Simpson sent Kiwi Landing Pad co-founder John Holt a three-minute video pitch on herself and a three-year plan of what Kiwi Landing Pad could be.

Simpson says he hired her on spot, gave her an induction and told her “not to fuck it up”. We’re sure Holt would agree that she’s fulfilled her end of the bargain and done quite the opposite of that, with Kiwi Landing Pad counting Vend, Xero, Timely and Thematic among its members. 

“What a lot of people don’t know was my initial contract was three months, and it lasted five years,” Simpson says. “I’ve finished everything I wanted to do so naturally, five years is a good milestone in terms of being time to move on.

“You learn so much in five years – I’ve been entrenched in start-up land. I didn’t know one person when I moved to San Francisco, and now I feel like I know way too many people. I want to sit back and relish in those conversations and learnings and lessons from running around for five years like a nutter.”

Simpson says she doesn’t have a new role lined up or plan in place for what comes next. Instead, she’s going to take a break and figure out her next move.

“I said on Facebook that if anyone has any ideas what I should do, that’d be great, as last time I took a leap of faith and it worked out really well – I didn’t plan to work for a company like Kiwi Land Pad,” she says. “For me, I’m going to have a break and look at the conversations I’ve had, identified industries I’m really passionate about and go from there.”

Simpson says reflecting on her journey, the achievement she’s most proud of over her time at Kiwi Landing Pad is building such a fantastic community.

“In the early days, the only way you could join the community was by meeting me, so the first 3000 members in our community came from face-to-face or phone meetings, then it grew out from there and the expansion or evolution,” Simpson says.

“We went from having a physical office space to being a virtual, very connected, large community that gets what they need from anywhere in the world. Part of that is we provided access to people in the regions to get same level of information and resources as people in cities get – from Tokoroa to Tauranga, Dunedin or Nelson.”

Now, she is handing the reins back to Holt. She says she’s grateful he gave her so much freedom and trust to run with, and the result has been that in 2019, Kiwi Landing Pad is a phenomenal place for businesses to launch out of, with a really robust community.

“Whoever comes in next will bring their own breadth of experience and passion," Simpson says. "Mine was community and content, they might be different. What the community needs is really important, we’ve always been so responsive to what they need.”

She says to realise the potential of New Zealand’s start-up community, the Government needs to put building blocks in place that can help businesses build towards success, from support on how to pitch to potential investors through to business planning.

But despite this, Simpson predicts that there is huge potential to come out of New Zealand just yet.

“New Zealand is on the cusp of an epic era of entrepreneurship and within the next decade we are likely to berth several unicorn companies come out of New Zealand,” she says. “The likes of Xero have shown it is totally possible. And the strong interest now shown in the NZ start-up and tech community by VCs globally, especially out of Australia, Asia and the US reflects the potential seen in New Zealand.”

One area of interest Simpson might pursue that is close to her heart is mental health. She recently wrote on LinkedIn about losing her Dad and others close to her to suicide and advocated for more needing to be done by workplaces and the government to address this.

“Another key area where the start-up community requires investment and support from Government is around mental health,” Simpson says. “Entrepreneurship is highly stressful, often lonely and can lead to a lot of self-doubt.  Sadly, there have been many cases of suicide and self-harm in the community in recent years. 

“You work alongside founders you see how stressful it is. My dad was an entrepreneur and it was incredibly stressful – 10 years ago we didn’t talk about this stuff.  Now, I am quite vulnerable and open and talk about it, as it invites a discussion from other people who think, ‘If you’re doing it, I can do it too’. If we [as a country] had talked about it when my dad was here, maybe he would still be alive.”

In terms of what’s next on the agenda for Simpson, one engagement she’s definitely committed to is SaaStr 2020 in March, as she’s doing green room interviews with the speakers and an Instagram takeover for the event. As for any final words, Simpson says overall, she is really proud and grateful.

“I didn’t know anyone when I started [with Kiwi Landing Pad] in San Francisco and now I have lifelong friends. It was a really complete experience and now my leftover emotion is gratitude.”

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