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Flying Kiwis land and expand in San Francisco

09 May 2014

Your role as Director of the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco makes you a mentor for New Zealand tech start-ups landing and expanding in the US. What does your role entail?

My role is about getting companies up to speed with doing business in the US. The speed with which companies adapt is a strong indicator of whether or not they will ultimately find success here.

I have lived in the US for about 10 years and as a co-founder of several successful New Zealand start-ups, I have experience as a full-circle entrepreneur – from an idea all the way through to successful execution.

Having experienced the pitfalls, the challenges and the breakthroughs, I provide mentoring, leadership and support to the companies coming through KLP.

For any company finding space in this vibrant but expensive city can be tough. KLP gives New Zealand tech companies a tangible advantage because finding office space can take a lot of time and even the most well resourced local companies find it difficult and expensive. Without spending time here, it can be hard to comprehend just how valuable this is.

The real value lies in the curated network of people that support the companies. KLP was founded and has had ongoing support from some of New Zealand’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Founders John Holt, Sam Morgan, Phil McCaw, Sir Stephen Tindall, Simon Holdsworth and Craig Elliott are all actively involved in both KLP’s financial sustainability and also nurturing the depth and breadth of the networks that provide support to our technology start-ups.

We work alongside NZTE, who have their base in San Francisco at KLP. Currently this is two Business Development Managers, but in the next month we’ll be joined by new Trade Commissioner Adam Bennett and another Business Development Manager.

We complement each other well. NZTE work closely with some of the bigger companies at KLP, on specific activity to boost in-market growth. NZTE have recently come on board to provide funding for the next three years.

What sort of entrepreneurs do you see coming through your door?

New Zealand entrepreneurs are as smart and driven as any of their counterparts but given that we come from a smaller market, shaped by our distance from larger markets, we have to adjust to the conditions of a larger more competitive environment. We are innovative; we are entrepreneurial but are not as good at execution.

Being based in market gives clarity and visibility into the rapidly changing trends in Silicon Valley. Finding that big wave, honing product features, flexible persistence and getting those first customers on board.

Don’t overly invest in the technology early on. Spending too long in R D phase and not enough time validating with customers to determine product market fit early in the product cycle.

Don’t overly invest in the technology early on. Spending too long in R+D phase and not enough time validating with customers to determine product market fit early in the product cycle. This is really problematic in a competitive market because it can lengthen the time it takes for companies to get to a sustainable revenue model.

New Zealand marketing and sales strategies are often based on what has worked in New Zealand and the assumption is that the same strategies will apply here.

Typically they automate too quickly believing that social media tools will give them the ability to talk effectively with a bigger market. Growth though, is really a game of inches and you have to grind out the approach before you can automate.

The best customer is not a data point but is the most effective advisor a company can have.

With the right concept and the right introductions, getting in front of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist or key influencer can be easier than people think.

But getting value from those meetings requires a lot of preparation. Understand how things work around here. Silicon Valley is at its heart a network of people and networking is a personal attribute of many of the successful entrepreneurs – not something that can be outsourced to mentors or advisors.

Can you tell us more about what you offer specifically?

We provide office space and mentoring, programmes like KLP8, and organise internships. We also capture knowledge and information that can help to build long-term partnerships and support to technology companies.

The KLP8 program is for early-stage New Zealand tech companies and gives Kiwi entrepreneurs valuable time with more experienced businesspeople.

Our internship programmes are InterNZ – an AUT programme that brings two marketing graduates to San Francisco, sponsored by BNZ and WinterNZ, under which cloud networking firm Pertino Networks took on three undergraduates from New Zealand universities over the summer holiday.

In context of the larger Silicon Valley community, New Zealand technology companies have access to incredible resources. While KLP was founded by the New Zealand private sector, it is complemented by the New Zealand government. Our relationship and funding from NZTE will allow us to further expand KLP.

Who are the star ‘graduates’ from Kiwi Landing Pad?

Xero and Mako Networks have their own space in San Francisco now, having started at KLP.

Vend, Booktrack, Biomatters, PureDepth, Tomiezone and Resolve Digital are currently in residence at KLP.

Telecom Digital Ventures utilises KLP facilities and Modlar and IndieReign came through the KLP8 programme, raised investment and become residents of KLP.

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