In 2003 there wasn’t much of a computer game development industry in Aotearoa. But an entrepreneur that loved games, graphics and design set out to change that, and to make a Playstation game - not worrying they didn’t even have access to the Sony development kit. They managed to assemble a team, make a prototype and sell the idea internationally, all on their first hit-out. This pioneering approach has continued for Maru Nihoniho, whose Metia Interactive has gone on to make games that carry great messages and outcomes in amongst the fun of playing.
There was SPARX, with the University of Auckland that gamified treating depression, with great success, winning awards and getting written up in the British Medial Journal. There was The Guardian, with a wahine toa, strong Māori women lead, a damsel doing the rescuing and distressing. And an idea I love, Māori Pa Wars, a take on the traditional tower defence game, available in te reo and quietly telling stories from history. Maru has been recognised for services to gaming and mental health with a Member of the Order of Merit and has been appointed by the crown to the board of Māori Television.
Y Combinator is one of the great names in tech and start-ups. The incubator slash business bootcamp is famously hard to get into and famously hard full stop! Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe are some of the alumni and they only accept companies that have billion dollar potential. It’s also, like much of Silicon Valley, disproportionately made up of young, male, Stanford Grad founders, with not a lot of people accepted from outside the US, let alone from little old NZ.
But Dr Alyona Medelyan, CEO of Thematic, managed to break a lot of those preconceptions. She has a PhD pioneering new work in machine learning, doing it after thirty, with her husband as a partner in the company and their two kids in tow. Their company uses machine learning to get insights from customer feedback for big companies like Stripe, Air NZ and Vodafone, and was a part of the Vodafone Xone startup accelerator. They’ve just picked up a new funding round, have traction and momentum in an exciting space and we are very lucky to have Alyona join us now.
How is a country going to grow if the tangata whenua, some 15 percent of the population, are overrepresented in negative stats and under-represented in the ranks of entrepreneurs and owners? Well, that is a big question, and one that can be broken down into many parts, and the first of which might be how do we get frontline Māori workers performing better, growing and improving, and into upward progress.
That’s where Indigenous Growth comes in. They work with organisations with Indigenous workers, what they term those frontline workers, to unlock their potential and increase their contribution. It’s about bringing all of people to work, and unlocking the same positive qualities that many of these workers have in their whanau situations. A great idea and business from Michael Moka, an entrepreneur, scholar and leading voice in engagement.
You might have caught him at TedX Auckland, or know him from his work with Executive Education and the Maori students association at Auckland Uni, or maybe through his love of Kapahaka. Michael Moka join us now to talk about Indigenous Growth and unlocking potential.
What exactly could loving One Direction have to do with fixing the diversity pipeline problem in tech? Well if you hear ‘One Direction’ and go into dismissal mode, that might just be the root of the problem. A few years ago a tech industry leader in law gave a presentation at a serious Berlin tech conference about how perhaps the diversity pipeline problem could be traced back to the way that traditionally female spaces of fandom have been minimised online.
It was based around fan fiction, One Direction secret love affair conspiracies and honouring how people’s enthusiasms can lead them to learn about making things online. If you love something and build a fanpage, that is a very real way in to website building.
The talk has led to more talks, years, and time spent on One Direction than Sacha Judd had ever anticipated. Sacha, a former partner at top law firm Buddle Findlay, has been an influential figure in tech – being very early on the journey of big firms like Vend, where I know her from, and now running the family office for Rowan Simpson, a recent pod guest, at Hoku. As well as identifying and funding the next wave of great companies. Her back of a napkin service for tech founders has helped get many companies off to a great start, and she joined me to discuss what we term serious and how that seriously affects who feels welcome.
At 16 Alexia Hilbertidou looked around and saw that she was the only girl in her IT and physics class, then the next year the only young women in advanced physics.
What was going on? How did women go from the forefront of coding to underrepresentation at a time when it is meant to be more accessible than ever? Well, to change the ratio you have to change the structure. So Alexia decided to take the message to young women while still choosing what subjects they would take, and so founded GirlBoss NZ, an organisation which encourages young women to embrace STEM, Entrepreneurship and higher leadership.
In just 18 months, GirlBoss NZ is New Zealand’s second largest network of women with nearly 8000 members.
At 18-years-old, just finished high-school, Alexia has spoken to nearly 20,000 young people, teachers and business professionals about gender equity, STEM, and the future of work.
This passion for future-focussed education has seen her named a Top 30 Global Teen Leader, a Top 5 Young Leader by the Ministry of Youth Development, and the most influential New Zealand woman under the age of 25 at the 2016 Westpac Women of Influence Awards. A serial entrepreneur Alexia also was the National Winner of the Unitec Coding App Competition, at 16, receiving a $30,000 prize for KaiShare - an online food redistribution platform. …To talk changing the ratio, and her work, Alexia joins us now.
Rowan Simpson has made his name about ten times and he’s not done yet. He’s had a large hand in the product and growth in some of New Zealand’s greatest tech exports, he was head of product for Trademe and that worked out pretty well. He did a similar role in the early days for Xero and that has worked out amazingly, it’s a global leader in software as a service.
He was an early investor and board chair for Vend, where I first got to know him and work with him and see how much he did to help us grow.
Then there’s Timely, where he’s an investor and director, and that company just announced a seven million dollar funding round to take their profitable company in scale. And those are just some of the greatest hits - we haven’t mentioned his latest work, Ron is one of those people who could’ve stopped long ago, but uses his social and financial capital to bolster the next wave of tech companies. And through his charitable foundation is also giving back in more traditional ways. This might make him seem finished up and out of the game, but he’s not. His blog is required reading in tech, with great takes on start-up and product, and he’s active with the next big companies too, like Melodics, who we’ve had on here.
To chat the methodology of the start-up, what product is, the throughline of these companies, and what’s next, Rowan joined Simon at Spinoff Towers.
On September 4, 2010, when just 15 years old, Jake Millar’s life changed forever. His father and four close friends died is a skydiving plane crash.
Prime Minister John Key visited the scene and Jake wrote to thank him. A hand-written note reply came from the Prime Minister who wanted to meet Jake. Away from the media.
And as someone who had also lost a father young, and gone on to great success, Jake credits this meeting and example as part of what’s led him to go on and do what he’s done. And what a lot of that there is, already.
Always entrepreneurial, Jake became driven. He set goals and got them. Head boy of school and house, check. He landed a 40,000 scholarship and then rather than take it, he took advice from a book by Sir Richard Branson that said “Screw it, Let’s Do it” and he gave it a miss and started a company that months later he was in the works of selling to the NZ Government.
His second venture, Unfiltered, sees him traveling the world, spending most of his time in North America, talking to business leaders about how they succeed, and selling it to people and great companies all over the place. It’s going great guns and backed with serious investment. He’s even interviewed Sir Richard Branson. At 22 he’s just getting started but already giving back, in New Zealand doing fundraising for Lifeline, raising 55 thousand with a charity dinner. In conversation with Simon he talked career, what it takes to succeed and giving back right from the get-go.
A few short years ago a fellow looking for some good butter for a baguette noticed something odd. Although we were a dairy country if you went to the supermarket and wanted a fancy butter the option came in a blue pack, all the way from Denmark.
Why and what on earth? This thought led Peter Cullinane to try to make his own top-shelf butter, and to then found and grow Lewis Road Creamery, beautifully made, indulgent and to-be-savoured dairy. It’s been quite a ride - with tales of security guards protecting their Whittakers Chocolate milk collaboration, sold out ranges, copycat milks and expansions into bread, ice cream and non-dairy milks to name a few. Lewis Road Creamery is a huge success, and part of that may be that it wasn’t Peter’s first rodeo. He’s an ad man, who ran Saatchi & Saatchi in New Zealand and Australia, and then worked for them in a bog role in New York. On coming home he co-founded Assignment Group -who have always let the work talk for itself, launching Hyundai here and helping Whittakers reach their most-loved brand position. And he also co-founded Antipodes, the beautiful water in the elegant German bottle.
Last July long standing TV producer Bailey Mackey (Code, The GC) came to the Spinoff Towers to talk about the busines of making TV. Earlier that year new had hit that the production company he runs, Pango, had sold a television format to Freemantle Media, the world’s biggest tv outfit. This was a massive coup, made all the bigger by the fact it was an under-the-radar show called Sidewalk Karaoke hailing from Māori TV.
Bailey talked Simon through the bidding war that surrounded the format and talked about how a good idea with the right brain and guts behind it can make it all the way to the top, even if its from compratively small origins.
20 years ago a bunch of young comedians, and their manager, who’d spent years making comedy nights happen across Auckland, thought it was time for a dedicated venue. On Queen St, near the Town Hall, they found a venue that was a lot perfect and a bit yuck – The Classic, infamous as an adult cinema. Over 20 years of building the business and the state of comedy in New Zealand, one founder, Scott Blanks, went from organising comedy nights through to being the owner, mentor, fosterer and friend to comedians young and old, new and established. He turned his background – first in accounting and then cinema marketing – into a role often called the Godfather of Stand-up, creating careers and also recognition for the craft. And not just with the live shows, but through telly too. Before there was 7 Days there was Pulp Comedy. Scott was part of that. And before that, Funny Business. Yep, Scott too. And how it’s all grown.
His club puts on 350 plus gigs a year for tens of thousands through the door, with space on stage for those just staring right through to some of the biggest names in world comedy. To chat the first 20 years, the explosion in comedy he helped spark and what’s next, Scott Blanks of the Classic Comedy Club joins us now.