Liam Dann 's Opinion

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann: NZ needs more Victoria Ransoms

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Victoria Ransom has done all the right things - and now she's very, very rich. Photo / Supplied
Victoria Ransom has done all the right things - and now she's very, very rich. Photo / Supplied

Most of us just want our kids to grow up happy. But if they do make a hundred million dollars selling their internet company to Google that would be okay.

Manawatu farmer John Ransom must have been the proudest dad in the country this week (well outside of the rowing community perhaps). His daughter Victoria Ransom became the latest Kiwi tech sector sensation after she and her partner sold their social media marketing company to Google for a reported US$250 million ($322 million).

Now based in California's Silicon Valley, Victoria Ransom boasts a CV that is an impressive list of well-chosen and well-timed career steps.

After leaving the tiny New Zealand rural community of Scotts Ferry to study at a United States university, she joined a New York investment bank in the middle of the pre-GFC boom years.

She and her partner Alain Chuard left banking to go snowboarding in New Zealand and turned that experience into a tourism business.

After having some success with that she put herself through Harvard Business School and then she and Chuard set up the dot.com company Wildfire. This week John Ransom had the good humour to admit to the Herald that he advised her not to venture into the world of technology start-ups.

"Ah yeah, thanks for the advice, Dad, but ..."

Anyway Mr and Mrs Ransom got something right because their daughter knew how to seize an opportunity, how to assess risk and how to work hard to make an idea a reality.

Though she clearly added to her skills along the way and probably would not have achieved this success if she had stayed in her home town, the foundations for that kind of entrepreneurial skill are learned early on in life.

In an interview posted on US website mixergy.com she was asked about that buzz word "entrepreneurship" and confessed it was not something that she ever considered.

"Where I grew up in New Zealand, it was not a career choice you talked about. But as it turns out, my father is a farmer, that's an entrepreneurial career," she said.

Plenty of New Zealanders have an entrepreneurial spirit but we haven't been great as a nation in identifying and promoting this through the education system.

Perhaps that is changing already, but it needs to change quickly.

If we are going to teach our kids how to do innovative science, how to build websites or even how to write novels, then we should be teaching them how to sell those skills and products to the world.

This country already suffers from a Hamelin complex. Like the town of German folklore we are losing many of our bright young people. In this case to exciting, better paid jobs.

Of course we might have lost Victoria Ransom too.

Her success has been achieved entirely outside the country.

The Wildfire sale does not add any value to the wider New Zealand economy.

It is a US business deal that will create wealth and jobs in the US - or Estonia - or to wherever else Wildfire outsources its product development.

It would be churlish not to celebrate the endeavour and spectacular success of a fellow Kiwi, regardless.

Ransom will always be a New Zealander and now she will be a rich one.

She may decide to invest back into the country - or she may not.

Either way she will be part of a global network of successful Kiwis and she will be a role model.

The point is we should aim to produce more young people with this kind of ambition and understanding of business.

The more we can produce, and the earlier they can see the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, the more will find a base in New Zealand.

The internet economy is borderless.

World-class software can as easily be developed in Scotts Ferry as in Silicon Valley.

The biggest barrier is access to capital - something that Ransom's US networks must have helped her overcome.

This country's fledgling tech economy is not unimpressive. New Zealand is still just short of the critical mass required, as the disappointing failure of the Pacific Fibre internet venture showed this week.

But it is getting there and it needs to get there if we really want to transform the economy.

When it comes to technology our kids will be smarter than us. They'll work out how to download music on your new phone before you've found the "talking to people app".

We can't second guess the information they'll need to have in their heads to succeed in 10 or 20 years.

But we can be pretty sure of the attitudes and traits they will need - the desire to learn, self-awareness and an ability to assess risk, adaptability, resolve and a sense of realism about the commercial world in which we live.

twitter.com: @liamdann

- NZ Herald

Liam Dann

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann is the Business editor of the New Zealand Herald, overseeing all our business content in print and online. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy.

Read more by Liam Dann

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