NZ’s Business Talent Crisis

September 3, 2008 – 3:08 pm

Kiwi Foo Camp was my way of finding and support great technical talent in NZ. Last week I realized that NZ’s critical shortage isn’t in technical staff, it’s in business staff. This goes beyond the widely-deplored lack of VC experience—where are our deal-making CEOs, the well-networked bizdev gurus?

I ask because t’s the rare geek who successfully runs a company; even the Google boys needed adult supervision in the form of Eric Schmidt. Building a business takes different skills than building a product: salesmanship, attention to the accounts and to corporate structure, insight into finance and business metrics. These are all things that geeks tend to throw up their hands and put aside in favour of an interesting Javascript bug.

The ideal CEO and bizdev person has same love of sales, business, and management details as a technical geek has of operating system, programming language, and API details. And where are they in NZ? Where are the people who ran and sold their last company and are looking for the next one to start? I’d even take the people who have built a solid reputation within a big company and want to start their own. Rod Drury is the first name that springs to mind, but I challenge you to find a second. Rowan is investing in but not joining companies. Sam Morgan is still at TradeMe.

Leave the names as comments or mail me as nathan AT torkington DOT com. I’d like to invite more of these people to Kiwi Foo as part of my new mission to find and support more types of talent.

  1. 2 Responses to “NZ’s Business Talent Crisis”

  2. I would totally agree with that comment. I spoke at an online advertising conference a couple of years ago, after Fairfax brought Trade Me. Sam Morgan was a key note speaker. He basically said the same thing when it comes to online publishers in NZ, that he found it hard to have an intelligent conversation with anyone else in NZ… well back then anyway, I think there are some pretty savvy publishers these days. (by the way I have been told Sam has low level involvement with Trade Me these days).

    I used to work for Fairfax Digital, some 8 years ago, so come from an advertising background (was previously a sign writer before this). I now run a small Web Design & Development / Advertising Agency in Queenstown.

    I contract to several developers / designers and find while they produce great work, they don’t always have perspective on real world business needs.

    Business Staff are hard to come by… I think a lot of it comes down to their background, and normally find that adaptable people, who have been “jack of all trades” are the best. Someone that has an understanding of the technology, but are not necessarily a specialist, can normally see the big picture rather than the code.


    By accede on Sep 3, 2008

  3. Good post.

    My advice to new start-ups is to incorporate a business person near the beginning. Start with someone who is at the same level as the other founders – a business grad that gets the internet and can grow with the company. Sam, Rod and Rowan all had to learn this stuff on the fly while earning peanuts and are now way too senior for a proper role in a small company.

    But start-ups should seek advice from more experienced people. e.g. Sam had Rod on the Trade Me board, a board which governed Trade Me extremely well.

    From the other side, the more experienced/educated/expensive people don’t need to be there every day, just consulted now and then. (It is, for example, how I helped Trade Me – 3 days a week when in NZ & not at all for months at a time overseas.)

    There are experienced & trained business/internet people out there now, people that get the internet (without being able to code in Ruby) and really get business. They may be junior, they may be senior, but they are often part time, and they often blog.

    Rowan, Sam & Rod seem to only invest in companies where they can also provide advice. A decent shareholding is one way to ensure (or try to) that your advice is listened to. I’m the same (with less zeros to invest) and have stakes in several companies at various stages.

    If there is no equity involved then the opportunity cost is too high for working at start-ups, so if you want a senior person on board be prepared to pay for it (or let them invest). That said pretty much anyone in New Zealand will always make time for a coffee and advice session.


    By lancewiggs on Nov 13, 2008

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