What, in your opinion, are the main attributes of a Kiwi entrepreneur?
If we look at examples of successful Kiwi entrepreneurs like Sam Morgan, Geoff Ross and Rod Drury, they all have a number of essential attributes. These include a strong belief in their products, a willingness to back their own judgements and decisions, a high determination to overcome setbacks and problems and a willingness to learn from mistakes. They are also innovative, alert to new opportunities and have a willingness to embrace uncertainty and change or to take calculated risks. These attributes have been demonstrated by those who are in export markets that were part of our recent Massey University study, "Understanding Internationalisation Behaviour". Entrepreneurs interviewed all expressed ambitions to grow, a high degree of self-belief and a willingness to back their judgements regarding expansion in overseas markets.
How do Kiwi entrepreneurs differ from entrepreneurs in other countries?
In theory, there should not be any differences between the attributes of Kiwi entrepreneurs and those in other countries. The same attributes are required to succeed. In practice, however, when it comes to growing a high performing global company that is in international markets, Kiwi entrepreneurs need to overcome some greater challenges than entrepreneurs in Europe or North America, or even Australia.
Entrepreneurs in other countries can access larger markets and have much more extensive infrastructures of support, including business networks and business angels. Therefore Kiwi entrepreneurs need to have greater resilience and resourcefulness to develop the dynamic capabilities that are required to succeed.
One example is "bootstrapping" from day one - Kiwi entrepreneurs need to make the most of their resources. Entrepreneurs from companies that took part in the exporting study demonstrated their resourcefulness through strategic responses to the appreciation of the New Zealand dollar in recent years. They were innovative, embraced change and demonstrated abilities to continuously improve their competitive edge.
What are their failings and their strengths?
Failing is an emotive word. For example, we know that less than 20 per cent of Kiwi entrepreneurs export at all, yet they often run well-managed, high quality companies and are content supplying domestic markets. They have more limited ambitions than those in export markets. New Zealand does not have enough high growth companies that are retained here. A failing of our economy is that such entrepreneurs, having limited ambitions to grow, are shunning export markets and opportunities. By contrast the strengths of high growth entrepreneurs lie in having global ambitions, in recognising new opportunities overseas and having a long-term commitment to growth.
What do they need to do to build successful companies?
Entrepreneurs need to understand that business is about creating customers. The successful entrepreneur will create a venture where the customers and the product are a perfect fit. They need to resource it properly with people and capital - too many of our early stage companies leave off capital raising until it is too late. And because we are in a small nation, they need to develop great networks to provide leverage for the opportunity. Luck helps as well.
Are NZ entrepreneurs getting better at building successful companies?
We are getting better at building successful firms. Trade-Me and Navman are stellar case studies: they have shown that we can develop and grow global companies. Both spawned a number of individuals who are now onto their second (if not their third) start-up operation. Experience counts and entrepreneurship skills can be learned. Apart from the Trade-Me capital injection, the intellectual injection into New Zealand entrepreneurial eco-system has been incredibly valuable for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
What sort of support do these entrepreneurs need to succeed?
At the outset all they need is moral support and a place to de-risk their ideas or a place to fail early in their ventures. Money comes later, provided the entrepreneur has developed a robust and believable business model. There is always money if the ideas are good because good ideas can change lives.
Are there young entrepreneurs coming through universities? Is being an entrepreneur still exciting to young people?
Being an entrepreneur is a really sexy idea for many students - young people like to see themselves as innovative and their stage of life makes taking risks easier. Universities are also getting better at integrating entrepreneurship into their programmes. The ecentre, for example, has many Massey students from all disciplines come through its doors and this year funding has been secured to put students with great ideas through the Sprint Programme to help them validate those ideas.
Better integration into the curriculum is the next step and this is starting to happen as well. To make entrepreneurship appealing to more students, they need the opportunity to work on real start-ups while studying.
We're starting to see mechanisms that match skilled students with entrepreneurs who can't yet afford to take on staff - this is win-win because the start-up business gains valuable human resource and the student gains credits towards their degree. If successful, students sometimes join the start-up they have worked with, so a good university entrepreneurship programme can lead to job creation and a culture of entrepreneurship.
Next week: And speaking of never being too old to start a business, proud son, Tim Lightbourne, co-founder of Invivo Wines, got in touch recently to let me know about his Dad's business. It seems his work life is busier than ever even though he has passed retirement age. I'd love to hear your stories of businesses you have set up post-retirement, a time when you can really pursue your dreams with no worries about the mortgage hopefully.