Christopher Adams

Christopher Adams is the Markets and Banking reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Local biz mentor Domecq defends past experiences

Christina Domecq is involved with a number of Kiwi firms including MexiKai, a mobile Mexican food business, and liquor label Stolen Rum. Photo / Dean Purcell
Christina Domecq is involved with a number of Kiwi firms including MexiKai, a mobile Mexican food business, and liquor label Stolen Rum. Photo / Dean Purcell

A high-profile entrepreneur who founded a controversial British technology firm is mentoring and investing in local start-ups and sitting on the advisory board of state-owned New Zealand Post's online directory service, Localist.

Christina Domecq, a descendent of the Spanish sherry-making dynasty House of Domecq, spoke to the Business Herald this week in her first media interview since the sale of her tech venture, Spinvox, in late 2009.

The 35-year-old, who was born in Spain but grew up in Mexico and the United States, is married to a New Zealander and arrived in this country a year ago.

Domecq says she has set up several multimillion-dollar businesses since the age of 20. She is involved with a number of young Kiwi firms including MexiKai, a mobile Mexican food business, and liquor label Stolen Rum.

"I hope in a simple way I can make a difference in people's lives, especially people who have an idea and have not had the confidence to follow their idea through to commercialisation," she said.

In 2004 Domecq and Daniel Doulton - a descendent of the family behind Royal Doulton, the British tableware and collectibles maker - founded Spinvox, a voice-to-text technology start-up.

The firm, which was based in the UK, marketed itself as having revolutionary technology that converted voicemail messages into text messages.

But in 2009 an investigation by the BBC reported many of the messages were being transcribed by call centre workers in South Africa and the Philippines, which raised privacy issues.

A few months after the BBC's investigation, the company - which raised more than US$200 million from investors including Goldman Sachs - was sold to its US rival, Nuance, for US$103 million.

The company was heavily indebted at the time of the sale, and Domecq said all of the money from the sale went to shareholders.

"The debts were shareholder debt," Domecq said. "Shareholders included Goldman Sachs and several other large funds."

Domecq also repaid £125,000 to the tech company following its acquisition by Nuance.

She said the repayment arose after Spinvox's sale to its American rival, and was the result of differences in the two companies' definitions of what constituted "expenses".

Asked if her past made her an unsuitable mentor for local start-ups, Domecq said: "I don't think there are a lot of people in this room [a central Auckland cafe] that have sold a company for $100 million, built a brand from zero and raised the kind of money I know how to raise and built a business and employed the number of people that I've employed."

Asked about Spinvox's transcription issues, she said: "The voice recognition world always has human interface at all times."

Spinvox's technology was still used by 300 million Nuance customers, she added. Domecq said she had been subjected to a "gag order" during and after the sale of Spinvox, which prevented her from countering "falsities" in the British media.

The order had only just been lifted, she said.

Andy Hamilton, chief executive of Auckland business incubator The IceHouse, said members of New Zealand's innovation community who had had dealings with Domecq only had positive things to say about her.

"She has been pretty generous in giving her time to people at The Icehouse," Hamilton said. "She's got great connections."

Localist chairman Sam Knowles said due diligence was conducted on Domecq prior to her appointment to the advisory board, and he was comfortable with her involvement in the company and pleased with her performance.

CHRISTINA DOMECQ
Age: 35.
Born: Spain, and holds both Spanish and US citizenship.
Business background: Has run several businesses since the age of 20. Founded British voice-to-text technology company Spinvox in 2004, which was sold to US tech company Nuance in 2009 for $103 million. Domecq was named Ernst & Young UK Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 24 Aug 2014 08:55:14 Processing Time: 640ms