Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Celebrating success: Dream believers find path to success

In the first of a four-part series, Diana Clement talks to entrepreneurs who have turned their dreams into business success.

A bit of rest and relaxation could be just what's needed to spark enterprising ideas. Photo / Richard Robinson
A bit of rest and relaxation could be just what's needed to spark enterprising ideas. Photo / Richard Robinson

According to a poll on Entrepreneurs.about.com, the four most popular sectors for would-be entrepreneurs are: entertainment, technology, arts, and consumer products.

Entertainment

Aucklander Steve West has been more successful with his company Serato than he could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams.

The company, which produces world leading vinyl emulation software for DJs, was born thanks to a problem that had bugged West since he was 15 years old. "It was like having an itch that you can't stop scratching," says West.

A budding bass guitar player, West was determined to find a way to slow the tempo of music using software without affecting the pitch so he could copy some of his favourite artists.

He eventually cracked the time-stretching and pitch-shifting algorithm while studying a computer science, physics and mathematics degree at the University of Auckland.

A colleague A.J. Bertenshaw suggested they form a company to market West's discovery. They tried to license it to companies such as Philips, Sony and Pioneer, but all refused. They liked the Pitch 'n' Time product, which allows DJs to mix and scratch files from their computer using regular turntables or CDJs, but wanted to develop it themselves rather than pay to license it from the Kiwi company.

West and Bertenshaw's Plan B was to sell direct to DJs. The company went on to develop other products with its most successful being Scratch Live in 2004. For the first nine months they built an international customer base at the rate they'd expected. "Then we reached critical mass and it went exponential. We now have hundreds of thousands of customers in every party town in the world," says West.

West won't say how much money he's made. But his business partner Bertenshaw, who is in his early 30s, retired three years ago.

* * *

Arts

Plenty of great ideas are better takes on earlier ideas. That's the case with academic Milan Gagic.

By day Gagic is a scientist at AgResearch, yet he dreamed of opening a business in another field. Having said that, a cafe or restaurant wouldn't do. "I didn't know anything about it and it was likely [it] would fail. I wanted to do something related to science, but outside the science area."

The idea for geneMine was born when Gagic discovered an overseas firm that printed DNA fingerprints on canvas - a technology he calls DNArt. He realised that he could take the idea one step further and personalise the canvas with backgrounds of the person or other scenes.

Unlike many business people Gagic doesn't want to totally replace his academic career. His ideal solution would be to work three days in academia and two days on the business. Gagic and his wife Dragana, also a scientist, run the business. Eventually the couple hope to employ a technical manager.

* * *

Technology

A part-time business would never have suited Todd Wackrow, founder of POCKETvouchers. The company offers trackable mobile vouchers. Each voucher has a code that can be used at retail outlets.

"I would say that my dream has always been more about being an "entrepreneur" versus just running my own business. The passion for me is about doing something nobody has done before and turning a great idea into a viable business.

"I don't think I was ever destined to buy an existing business or do something 'sensible and proven' because for me it has always been about overcoming barriers and forging a new path - despite the headaches this gives my Mum."

Wackrow realised there would be an opening because although mobile technology was hyped as a marketing platform, it wasn't well used in New Zealand - thanks in part to too many "geeks" obsessed with the technology and not what could be done with it.

Once he'd conceived the POCKETvouchers idea it began consuming him and he quit his corporate job in 2006 despite having no product to speak of or real business model.

"It was seven months before I even had a product and nine before I got paid my first invoice and the hard work has continued for the past three years but I am starting to see rewards as POCKETvouchers has delivered successful campaigns for large businesses such as Heineken, Coca-Cola, Rebel Sport and Sanitarium."

* * *

Consumer products

Many successful businesses are born from sibling partnerships, or "sisterology" as Sarah Gibbs, co-founder of internationally successful skin care products range Trilogy, says.

Sarah and sister Catherine inherited the entrepreneurial gene from their parents, who ran an avocado orchard in Australia. On returning to New Zealand from a successful career in corporate finance, Sarah teamed up with her father to set up a company manufacturing for the beauty industry. Catherine was running a successful cafe in Wellington.

Sarah "discovered" rosehip oil and the gem of an idea for another business was formed. "We both got excited from a business perspective."

With considerable business acumen under their belts the sisters were able to hit the ground running. "We were quite strategic from the start. We formulated and branded to international standards from day one. And we made sure we sourced traceable ingredients and had recyclable packaging, says Gibbs.

As a result they've been successful in the countries they target, including Britain, Australia and Ireland. There are plans to market in three Asian countries.

The sisters are also clear about what they do well . "We are fundamentally a formulations, branding and marketing company and we contract our manufacturing to specialists," says Gibbs. "We have never manufactured and we never will."

* Tips for success

Colin Kennedy, assistant director of BNI (Business Networking International) gives the following tips to potential entrepreneurs to put their dreams into action: "We all have ideas. But not everyone acts on them".

Don't be put off by negative thoughts in your own head.

New retakes on old products, can be successful.

Find a product that is a necessity for people, not discretionary.

Make sure your product or business has a story.

Take advantage of help from the NZTE and other government organisations. They can help with everything from international marketing to research.

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