Home / Venture  / How Lumin is bringing Silicon Valley to New Zealand

How Lumin is bringing Silicon Valley to New Zealand

Max Ferguson, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of leading PDF software company, Lumin, has been heavily influenced by his time living in Silicon Valley, a location notorious for being a hub for successful start-ups and fostering a strong culture of innovation. Now that he is back in New Zealand, he is ready to replicate the infamous start-up town of Silicon Valley in Christchurch.

Having built apps before, the idea of Lumin came about when Ferguson was working on the Christchurch earthquake rebuild which involved a lot of difficult to manage paper documentation.

“I looked at the software at the time and I didn’t think it was too great and so I wrote the original version of Lumin myself over about three weeks, just to solve this problem of ‘how can you annotate or draw on a PDF document online?’” he says.

Shortly after creating Lumin himself, Ferguson found himself moving to Silicon Valley, fascinated by the culture of innovation and the pace of the software world whilst also doing a PhD in Computer Science and Civil Engineering.

During his time in Silicon Valley, he took the opportunity to build Lumin, with a mindset of creating a global company from the beginning.

Ferguson began by hiring people remotely in places such as Silicon Valley as well as in New Zealand during a time when hiring employees remotely was not the norm.

Immediately, Ferguson and his growing team at Lumin in the first six months focused on developing the product into something bigger.

Read more: Inside Silicon Valley’s war of talent, and how Kiwi companies can stand out

“Right from 2014 through to about 2020, we were just trying to build the best product we could, we didn’t do very much marketing, we didn’t do any sales. We got some really good initial traction on that first version. We had a million people start using the platform within the first month,” he says.

“We just focused on building the product and solving that problem of having an online PDF editor.”

Max Ferguson.

Considered a global centre for technology and innovation, Ferguson says his time at Silicon Valley, was an eye-opening experience.

“The speed of innovation in Silicon Valley is incredible, there’s a culture there of always challenging the norm and moving really quickly,” he says.

He adds that he found it difficult to keep up with the speed of changes in Silicon Valley, but that was something he wanted to bring back to Christchurch.

“When we established our office here, we focused on how can we give the team the tools to just move really quickly, because the world is constantly innovating and moving really, really fast,” he says.

Now, Lumin has seen 75 million registered users, with many from across the world who are using the software daily to annotate signed documents.

After hiring people in New Zealand remotely who helped to lead the company to see “huge growth”, Ferguson saw an opportunity to naturally expand and open their physical office in Christchurch.

“I also saw Christchurch city as a great place to start a business, because I think there’s a few really, really good success stories in Christchurch but don’t get the attention, that Auckland has,” he says.

“At the same time there’s a fantastic university – there’s a lot of people who want to live here – so Christchurch is a fantastic place to build a technology business.”

The decision to base the headquarters in Christchurch was easy for Ferguson who grew up in the area and had seen the city thrive following the earthquake.

“We’ve just had continued success out of Christchurch. We’ve got such a great team here, so we’ve continued to expand,” he adds.

But having a start-up is not easy and for Ferguson, the biggest challenge for Lumin was not having a venture capitalist network for support.

“We were bootstrapped from the start which means that we just took the money from the product and reinvested it in product growth, and that’s been fantastic,” says Ferguson.

This gave the opportunity for Lumin to concentrate on their customers and not be hyper-fixated on investors.

The Lumin team.

“It does mean that we didn’t always have the big founder network or the venture capitalist network of people supporting us, so we had to really get out there and meet people and make connections ourselves,” adds Ferguson.

Despite the challenges, Lumin is a rapidly growing company through user count and revenue growth, and Ferguson says word of mouth has been the largest driver to success.

The success has led to Lumin working with other major companies like Silicon Valley residents, Google and Twitter.

“What I did learn is that those companies are run by everyday people like us, and so it’s really interesting to actually meet the people at those companies and see what challenges they’re working on as well,” adds Ferguson.

Ferguson says as a whole, they aim is to be “completing a billion documents” for customers a year by 2030, and with 75 million people already registered on the platform, Lumin is getting one step closer to the goal.

“We really are making a change to the world even though it’s administration, it’s signing documents, it’s not the sexiest thing to be working on, but at the same time I think it’s making a lot of people’s lives easier,” he says.

He aims to grow Lumin to become a global-forward company that is serving both customers and people all around the world.

There is a lot of software growth for the company, and soon Lumin hopes to be the go-to for all administrative needs, integrating all its products in an all-in-one platform.

“I’m really excited about growing out the business here in New Zealand and bringing some of that Silicon Valley culture of innovation and excitement back,” he adds.

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

Review overview