Tech veteran joins project to help NZ firms access US

By Gill South

Craig Elliott says the plan is to make the process simpler for New Zealand entrepreneurs who want to sell to the US.
Craig Elliott says the plan is to make the process simpler for New Zealand entrepreneurs who want to sell to the US.

It's no surprise, really, that US tech entrepreneur Craig Elliott has been appointed a director of the Kiwi Landing Pad, the San Francisco-based hub for high-growth NZ tech businesses wanting to establish their businesses in the States.

Elliott was there in the beginning when KLP was just a twinkle in the eye of Sam Morgan, who set it up with Wellington entrepreneur John Holt and the support of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2011.

Morgan and Elliott met in Wanaka, where they both have property. They agreed that New Zealand businesses needed help to make it past the first hurdle in the complex and competitive US market.

Elliott is a strong believer in the talent New Zealand has to offer the rest of the world.

"The amount of entrepreneurialism and inventiveness in New Zealand is evident.

If we, at KLP, can provide opportunities for Kiwis to have access to markets so they get to compete on the global stage and export their ingenuity in bigger volumes, then we are doing something worthwhile."

The American is based in Los Gatos in Silicon Valley and visits New Zealand regularly with his family.

He has been on the board of Xero for the past 16 months, is a strategic adviser to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and has invested in some New Zealand tech companies.

Elliott's network of contacts in the US is extensive.

With over 25 years of experience in networking and communications, he is now running the Silicon Valley tech start-up Pertino, which he co-founded. His aim is to reinvent networking for the cloud era. He was previously chief executive of Packateer, another IT start-up which he took from a three-person company to 200, going public in 1999 and taking it to a market valuation of over $2 billion.

Elliott's career began at Apple. He caught Steve Jobs' eye in the mid-80s when, as a science student from Iowa with aspirations to be a vet, he started selling Macs part-time. He became a top seller for Apple and Jobs rewarded him with a visit to San Francisco, dinner and a Porsche.

Elliott spent 10 years with the company, launching online services in 80 countries and taking on a number of senior roles, including international general manager of internet and online services.

His relationship with New Zealand started when he was working for Apple where part of his area of responsibility was the Pacific Rim. Apple would experiment with new products in New Zealand.

"We would try some things out - that's how I got to know a number of folks in New Zealand."

Elliott was taking a break here when he was lured back to Silicon Valley for his latest start-up business, Pertino (an abbreviation of Cupertino, the Californian town where the Apple HQ is) by former Packateer colleague Scott Hankins.

Packateer built networking products, but for large companies. Elliott and his team want to help small businesses use cloud technology to stay connected.

"Your typical small businesses need to buy a lot of hardware and deal with lots of complicated configuration to connect employees, provide security and so on.

"We take a lot of that same technology and with no big up-front cost and with a SaaS model, you can use our service to provide that connectivity, with no hardware and no configuration, for a low monthlycost.

"If you are travelling on the road on business, your laptop looks the same as it does in the office, it is a virtual office that is no different when you are in the coffee shop ... these days everyone's always mobile. We do it all in the cloud."

The Xero board director admits it is something Xero could be involved in at some stage.

"I've had a few conversations with Rod Drury," he says.

Despite Pertino stepping up a notch this year, Elliott has remained committed to New Zealand.

As a director at KLP, Elliott says his contribution will include making local introductions and "simple stuff" such as recommending the best lawyer.

"The plan should be to make KLP as efficient as possible in helping Kiwi entrepreneurs to access the US, to help them to understand the structures here," he says.

"We want to make the process simpler for New Zealand entrepreneurs who want to make and sell things."

Elliott is also organising paid Kiwi internships at his business over the New Zealand summer. He has set up a pilot scheme called InterNZ.

With an apartment ready and furnished and social security numbers organised, he has welcomed three computer science majors and computer engineers from the University of Auckland and Victoria University to spend until the end of February at Pertino.

It's a win-win situation - Elliott has some new talent and the students get to go back to New Zealand with a good idea of how an American tech start-up works.

Elliott has other "Silicon Valley friends" watching to see how this goes and keen to take it on too if it is successful.

"We are going to kick it off, we have got all the visas sorted, and there is interest from Cisco and Apple to tell them how to do this."

- NZ Herald

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