Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Good advice worth paying for

Mark McCaughan from Merlot Aero. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mark McCaughan from Merlot Aero. Photo / Greg Bowker

Airline industry veteran Mark McCaughan says paying for good advice is the best investment he has made in building up his business overseas.

McCaughan is founder and chief executive of Merlot Aero, an Auckland-based software provider to the global airline industry.

His cloud-based system allows airlines to track their fleets and crew, with the web browser application allowing access on a range of devices.

He says a network of advisers, including the business advisory team at KPMG, has proven its worth by helping fill gaps in his knowledge.

"I'm very keen to take on other points of view."

Overseas deals have come thick and fast for Merlot - most recently a long-term agreement last month with Allegiant Air, a US-based airline with 1800 staff and more than 60 aircraft.

And it's not just paid advisers who can help.

Don't be afraid to ask for favours, suggests McCaughan, whether it's getting leniency from the bank or some connections in an overseas market.

"What I do find is people are willing to help if you ask them the right way, even if it's just for advice or a leg up here, or what have you there, or 'hey, I'm trying to chase this down can you help me?' there.

"You just have to be out there and asking for things that others may not."

Asia and its burgeoning low-cost airline industry has been a key market for Merlot Aero, and McCaughan has turned to Trade and Enterprise for advice and cultural tips that can be critical for cracking a sale.

"Especially in Asia you have to have a cultural understanding of that environment, simple things: how you dress, how you pass over your business card, how you address them in writing, just those very simple, basic things go a long way in Asia."

The region has been a happy hunting ground for Merlot Aero, with airlines in Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia using its technology.

"We haven't personally looked at China or India. We find those are too difficult to access with a traditional sales model. Both of those two markets, in our assessment anyway, need a partnership model and this business and the product really doesn't suit a partnership model. It's very much a direct one-on-one sell to an airline at a certain level."

Merlot has also had success in North America, and recently opened an office in Seattle to support customers in coming to grips with imminent regulations covering flight and duty limitations, and crew rest requirements.

The ability to assist customers in both North America and Asia during the New Zealand working day is also a reason for choosing to focus on those markets.

While deals in the Middle East, Africa and Europe will be chased as they come up, McCaughan says Europe in particular is the hardest market to target without establishing a presence of some substance.

Exporting from this country is not difficult, he says, but requires self-belief more than anything.

"So when everyone is saying 'no you can't do it' you have to be the guy saying 'yes I can do it and yes this is how we'll do it and see you tomorrow because we've done it'."

Help online

NZ Trade & Enterprise:
A goldmine of market information, plus a team available to assist businesses taking their first steps into overseas markets.

Membership-based organisation to support exporters. Website includes tools and resources for companies selling overseas.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED):
Part of a nationwide network of business development agencies aiming to support local companies.

Auckland-based business incubator and angel investment network. One of several business incubators around New Zealand.

NZ Export Credit Office:
Treasury-based organisation providing financial guarantees and trade credit insurance for exporters, banks and insurers.

- NZ Herald

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