Kevin O'Sullivan: Kiwi businesses should aim for the moon

By Kevin O'Sullivan

Kiwi companies should aim for the moon, but they need to be prepared for a long flight. Photo / Getty Images
Kiwi companies should aim for the moon, but they need to be prepared for a long flight. Photo / Getty Images

If you want to build a global business from New Zealand, you have to be willing to fly to the moon and back. This does not mean following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong, but in order to take your business to the world you have to accumulate a lot of air miles.

In the process of growing my business, dairy trading platform Cream, I have flown 210,000km on business trips in the first six months of this year. This would take me more than halfway to the giant ball of cheese orbiting the Earth.

During that time, I have taken 64 flights and spent 275 hours (almost 12 full days) in the air, out of a total of 80 days overseas. But the toughest part of business travel is being away from your family, especially when you have young children like I do.

Already this year I have missed three out of five birthdays in my family and I am on pace to achieve a clean sweep, including my own birthday and even Father's Day!

It is difficult for me and especially for my family but there is no other way to achieve the goals I and my colleagues have set for our business.

Skype and conference calls are no substitute for meeting someone in person.

This may be the digital age, but when you are trying to convince people from the other side of the world to buy your product or invest in your business you need to meet them face-to-face.

Since I founded Cream in 2012, going global has always been our goal. This international focus has helped us to attract investors, because of the vast growth potential in the global dairy industry.

To illustrate the size of the industry, worldwide milk production is estimated at 735 billion litres annually, or over 100 litres per person on Earth.

Where you choose to focus your efforts depends on many factors such as your product or service and the industry you operate in.

Cream chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan.
Cream chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan.

For Cream, Europe is the big prize as the continent is host to five of the 10 largest dairy companies in the world. To our surprise, we have attracted even more interest and support in Europe than we have in New Zealand, including from some global dairy giants.

Here are some of the things I have learned from my travels so far:

• Having a supportive family is essential and you have to reward them. For instance, next year I am taking my family with me on a trip to the USA.

• Businesspeople overseas have no idea what it is like operating an international company from New Zealand. People in Europe will often ask us "can we meet on Tuesday?"

• You need to develop a routine for business travel, just like you would for a regular day at work. I pay close attention to my flight schedule and time of arrival to work out if and when I should sleep on the plane. Lately I have even taken to booking my own flights and accommodation.

Perhaps my biggest finding from my overseas experience is that New Zealand companies may be aiming too low with their international forays. In my observation, Kiwi businesses often start small when exporting and try to work their way up the chain to the big players.

I have been surprised at how open large overseas corporates are to looking at small companies and what they can provide for them. Why not try them first?

Balance sheets are not the be-all and end-all when you are presenting to an overseas corporate.

This is related to another myth that has been busted in the course of my travels: balance sheets are not the be-all and end-all when you are presenting to an overseas corporate.

While you want your accounts to be in good nick, the main thing is to have a quality product to sell and a compelling story to tell. This is what New Zealand companies are usually very good at.

Where they tend fall short is in under-estimating just how hard it is to go global from New Zealand. It will probably cost more, take longer and require more travel and hard work than you expect, but the results could be immense if you get it right.

I believe Kiwi companies should aim for the moon, but they need to be prepared for a long flight.

- NZ Herald

Kevin O’Sullivan is founder and CEO of Cream Ltd, a dairy trading platform and technological services provider.

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