Small Business migrants: Yuri Volna

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Yuri Volna, managing director of itravelNZ. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Yuri Volna, managing director of itravelNZ. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Yuri Volna, has always been entrepreneurial. In Russia he sold bullet-proof cars, in Australia he ran a car delivery service for large car dealerships and the Queensland state government.

In New Zealand he set up and sold his company, GPS Rentals and his latest venture is the NZ travel app, itravelNZ, "NZ in your pocket".

What is crucial for setting up business here and in Australia is finding the right partners.

With itravelNZ, an app which helps tourists have the courage to leave State Highway 1 and explore their local area, it is sometimes hard operating in a travel industry where most of the people know each other.

All countries are the same. We have reached some sort of level where we're seeking help from a bigger player in our business. We want to make a big impact with itravelNZ and for that we are looking for local help, someone who has been in the industry and can be a mentor to take us through to the next level.

As an immigrant this is a challenge for me. Sometimes the language is a barrier. In business here you need to gain trust and I am concerned about the stereotype of being a "dodgy Russian".

Having said that, I've never come across someone who has resented me for being Russian and owning a business like itravelNZ. For me, when I come to a new country, I want to have the courage to do something big, I don't want to be driving a taxi unless I'll one day own the taxi company.

Meanwhile, my assistant in the launch of itravelNZ, has been Simon McManus, who is an experienced travel PR marketer. I have been lucky to meet him. Simon is always thinking about what should we say, how should we say it. He tells me when my humour does not translate.

The difference I would say between launching a new product in NZ compared with Russia is that in Russia, if you have a new product most people will use it. The attitude is: "It's new stuff, let's see if it's good or bad." Here, you need to break down barriers before everyone will use it.

On NZ entrepreneurs, I would say most of them have a balanced life. You look at the harbour in summer and it's full of boats whether it's a Wednesday or a Saturday. They seem to say that they only have one life.

It's such a nice country, we travel a lot. Natalia, my wife, who loves photography, likes finding lighthouses. I like fishing, especially kite fishing and torpedo fishing. I don't like wine, just beer, and New Zealand is getting better at that. I'd like to direct tourists through itravelNZ on beer tours, visiting the places that make and sell craft local beers.

NZ is home for us now. When I arrive on a flight back from overseas I have a feeling that I am home. I am proud that my son has just been granted a scholarship to study for a PhD at the University of Auckland in civil engineering.

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