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BizDojo: Make mine a double shot, sensei

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BizDojo has ambitious plans for global expansion. Photo / Thinkstock
BizDojo has ambitious plans for global expansion. Photo / Thinkstock

If you are an independent creative tech professional but you find yourself struggling with isolation, the BizDojo professes to be a 'carefully cultivated hive of industry'.

And that's exactly what it is.

The BizDojo is a suite of offices - including good coffee - containing fully serviced co-working and collaboration spaces targeted at Kiwi start-ups, niche businesses and entrepreneurs in the creative and high-tech industries.

Founded and run by Jonah Merchant and Nick Shewring, the basic idea means that connection to data, and to collaboration, is constant; tenants can and do end up working together. Community managers are on hand to assist with early-stage growth, training, funding, business incubation and events. You can take advantage of short-term contracts, a plug-and-play working environment and flexible tenancy options.

The word 'D?j?' is apt: the Japanese term means 'place of the way'.

I asked Nick Shewring about BizDojo, and the part Apple plays in this exciting environment.

Nick met the other cofounder Jonah Merchant at the Innovation Team at Air New Zealand. Jonah was a long-haul in-flight product manager and Nick was mobile product manager for check-in technology.

"We were working in an environment full of designers, developers, usability specialists, architects - a real dynamic mix of experiences and skills. You got quite addicted to the crazy crossover points, out of which would come new products. But we were all contractors, so eventually we all went our separate ways."
But that's what gave rise to the idea of a sort of base camp within which ideas and skills could meet in a conducive, business-focused environment.

Location was crucial, and the pair looked at about 30 venues before settling on Ironbank. It's close to everything but also taps into the incredible creative community of Auckland's Karangahape Road.

The average age in the Auckland BizDojo is 37. Coffee is a crucial part of the formula, with the community going through over two kilograms a day. All in all, as Nick puts it, you get "a totally different buzz to a managed office space."

People continuously come up with new ideas within The BizDojo environment then work on them together. "We call it 'curated serendipity' ". The physical interactions available are promoted by a yammer site, via which people communicate whether they are on, or off, site.

So what part does Apple play in the BizDojo? "I'm an avid PC user at home. I'm a prolific gamer. But Mac for travelling is just frickin' awesome. People want to plug and play in here. They rock in here and they want to get online and plug into a printer. And it's really funny watching someone arrive with their little netbook. We can spend up to an hour getting them onto our network.

"Somebody else, with a MacBook Air or something, they turn it on and they're in. And sometimes I see this kind of hatred of the PC user towards the Mac user, but then the next day they'll roll in with a new MacBook Pro. Apple's ease of functionality is second to none."

But Nick feels Apple's business is at odds with the product. It's the inverse. Just try approaching Apple for anything.

"Apple [technology] empowers you as a novice to get the most out of it. There's not the hierarchical design methodology that Windows has. My background is selling IT, since my early 20s. I've worked for Computerland and Gen-i, selling massive infrastructure installations for those guys. I always felt Windows was sold to empower the IT team, to create a level of superiority, whereas the Mac hardware was aimed at the user.

"We've got 46 companies in here and 50-odd residents, and 75-80 per cent of them use Macs. And yet the only real problems I have are with Windows users. Fortunately I know how to run Exchange, and Citrix, and all of that sort of stuff, but it's a pain trying to pull down drivers etcetera. Win7 is a good step forward, but you still can't beat the Linux kernel of OS X. It's such a smart way to do it. It's just so easy."

"Technology in the BizDojo is designed to be as plug-and-play as humanly possible." That's thanks to four daisy-chained Apple AirPort Extremes allowing 200 connections giving about 25MBs per connection.

"We run a 100MB link here, so if anybody needs faster, they just plug in physically. And all the music is run through Apple TVs, with multiple running into the projectors and sound systems." Areas are zoned for sound, and available to everyone's iTunes, all very cost-effective. "That's just incredible. That side of things from the Mac perspective is just brilliant.

The BizDojo buys all its gear from Übertec, the independent Apple Reseller in Parnell.

The BizDojo has some really progressive plans, involving post-graduate students, Media Design School and AUT. There are also hopes that our government has finally taken on board that software, including mobile, development can be of huge benefit to New Zealand. Nick is all too aware of the talent we are losing due to policies not keeping pace with tech skills and requirements.

Nick has clear views on this. "The government is there for us, so we need to give them as much ammunition as we can, towards the greater good. But our goals have to transcend whoever's in power for three years. We have to design a business that's not reliant on funding or grants.

"We've built this. It's not funded by the government. It's a purely for-profit business and the whole thing has been generated by the revenue earned. It's all about adding value to the residents; keep finding people that help grow their business, and suddenly the tipping point is reached."

While I was there, I was shown a forthcoming bagpipes app that looks (and sounds) excellent, and someone else is working on a generator of Cockney slang.

Check it out, it's a very interesting example of technology at work via a progressive, community-minded entity.

In Auckland it's at Suite 205, Ironbank, 150 Karangahape Road Ak 1010. A Wellington branch opened four months ago at 38 Vivian Street, Te Aro.

Further spaces are planned for Christchurch, London, San Francisco, Berlin and Shanghai, and partnership talks are in progress with Swedish and Italian interests, plus people in New Plymouth and Nelson.

Nick envisages a creative tech community that can travel node to node, always finding the skills and connections wherever they may be, finding work and projects, or simply keeping up with their Auckland projects while in Nelson - or Shanghai, Italy or New York.

It's a great idea, very effectively implemented.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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