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Navigating the future of work with Shay Wright

Shay’s story is that of an entrepreneur.

‘I started my first little venture when I was six years old, selling paintings in the playground at primary school. Unfortunately, the kids didn’t have any money to buy them, but the teachers took pity on me and threw me a few cents. Then I had a couple of other side hustles as I went through school, including a little design business where I designed billboards and brochures for the likes of the Department of Conservation and small charities in the Far North. I would sell succulent plants at the market. I would sell tachometers for boy-racer cars on Trade Me.’ 

His desire to create an alternative working lifestyle emerged at an early stage.

‘My dad had a small engineering firm in Kaitaia, and what I noticed is that he was the business, so if you actually took him out of the business, it wouldn’t generate any income. There’s no difference between that and working for somebody else — that was an inferior form of doing business. What I wanted to try and do in the future was to build a system, not build myself into an income that was wholly dependent on me selling time.’

After university, Shay interned at business incubator The Icehouse, writing up the stories of New Zealand’s top entrepreneurs, interviewing them, and understanding their challenges and opportunities and the ways they grew their businesses. He built a relationship with CEO Andy Hamilton, pitched the idea of using Icehouse expertise and resources to help Ma?ori organisations, and was given a free rein to set up a Ma?ori unit. This led to the creation in 2015 of Te Whare Hukahuka with co-founder Travis O’Keefe. Together they have set some very ambitious goals.

‘Our long-term vision is to improve the lives of ten million indigenous people, so it’s a social mission, and we’ve wrapped around that a business model to enable that. By throwing such an aspirational vision out there, it’s making us think differently about how we go about achieving it. If it was just to improve the lives of the 600,000 Ma?ori living in New Zealand, then you’d go about it slightly differently. But because we have such a great number that we’re trying to achieve, ten million, we have to really think differently about how we go about it.’

Money has not been plentiful in the early years. ‘We’ve had to just make up for that by putting in twice as many hours as anyone else, because we haven’t been able to a ord a team. In saying that, we have consistently grown our revenues every year since we started.’

Although he considers himself an introvert, Shay has worked hard at building both the business brand and his personal brand—knowing that they go hand in hand.

‘There’s this marketing concept by Seth Godin which is, “Be the purple cow, or be so different that you stand out and that you are remarkable.” We need to be that in this space or we’re just going to become part of the noise. Little things like having a bright purple brand colour in the Ma?ori space, or wearing really casual clothes when we go in to work with Ma?ori, so that we’re not just another suit—the benefit of doing those little things has been that we have been able to be recognised, where a whole number of other Ma?ori organisations aren’t recognised.

Although he considers himself an introvert, Shay has worked hard at building both the business brand and his personal brand— knowing that they go hand in hand.

‘That recognition has taken us to the New Zealand Innovation Awards, to the Forbes 30 Under 30 lists, to Matariki awards, Young Enterprise awards, many different areas, and then just many times we’ve been written about or interviewed or profiled. I think this concept of “be different, be remarkable, stand out, be something worth being talked about” is actually really important as a general twenty-first-century concept. Building our brand is going to help us mobilise a community or a tribe of people who believe what we believe and who deeply care about helping bring our vision to life.’

  • Find a copy of the Don’t Worry About the Robots here.
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