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Start-up Sessions: PaperKite

16 Feb 2012

Nic Gibbens has, by his own admission, always been a ‘techno nut’. Since I have known Nic for longer than either of us care to admit, I can attest to the fact that as a youngster he was indeed always ‘messing around with some computer or other’. The English-born Stephen Fry fan and iPhone aficionado has turned that passion into a full-time, viable business. In early 2010 Gibbens, who already had a successful corporate IT career, began to think about setting up his own business.

"I really wanted to start a company doing something I was interested in,” Gibbens told Start Up. 

"Then I got to thinking about App Store and the fact that apart from apps like Angry Birds, there were a lot of people making a small amount of money. I wanted to know how I could create a value business and realised there was a space for a service based business building the apps themselves.”

Two weeks later, after attending Webstock and hearing Justin Rhodes say "if you don’t do it somebody else will”, Gibbens launched PaperKite.

"I went back to the office and about an hour later registered the company.”

Gibbens says techno nut or not, he knew his limitations.

"There are smarter people than me out there doing coding, I just had to find them. Then I got a LinkedIn update email from an ex-colleague saying he was writing a new app.  We got together over a beer and agreed to work together.”

The next step was perhaps the most daunting - finding clients. Rather than starting low-key, Gibbens aimed high and approached perhaps New Zealand’s most beloved brand, the All Blacks. 

"They had already been approached so we went in with a competitive pitch and got the first build.”

With the country in early preparations for the RWC, the app went straight to number one in the sports category and number three in the general free category. 

"It certainly helped give us some validity and it helped grow client interest.”

By August of 2010, Gibbens realised he needed to dedicate himself full time to the business, so he handed in his notice at his day job, and gave himself six months to make or break things.

With the workload increasing, Gibbens decided to outsource some of the work using e-lance, although this turned out to be a disappointment. 

"The turnarounds were very slow and I spent a lot of time apologising for delays. It just didn’t work.”

Today, PaperKite has a team of nine locally sourced staff, all self-confessed app nuts, as well as business partner Leanne Clarry, who is the Head of Client Services. 

Working with some of the top agencies in Wellington, as well as directly with companies, Gibbens and the team are thrilled – and relieved – to say business is booming. 

"The hardest lesson has been learning to let go and trust other people. You want to do it all but realistically you can’t. 

"Leanne is brilliant and looks after our clients to ensure that the projects are delivered to the highest standard which means I can focus on our vision of being thought leaders, achieving longevity, creating a company culture that clients want to work with and people want to work for.”