Business Editor for the NZ Herald

Kiwi Innovators: Taking heed of 'inner Lady Gaga'

Claudia Batten wants Kiwis to sit ahead of digital curve and use technology to transform their businesses.

Claudia Batten says New Zealand needs to create an environment where its best and brightest can return and be successful. Photo / Chris Gorman
Claudia Batten says New Zealand needs to create an environment where its best and brightest can return and be successful. Photo / Chris Gorman

New Zealand's stiff-collared business establishment is likely giving little thought to the online exploits of pop-queen Lady Gaga.

But according to advertising entrepreneur Claudia Batten, New Zealand companies could learn a lot from the five-time Grammy winning artist.

For the last year, the former Wellingtonian has been urging Kiwis to adopt their "inner Lady Gaga" and mirror the way the singer uses the internet and social media to engage with her audience and target market.

"She built an empire from zero to $150 million in five years, which I think is extremely impressive especially in the extremely cluttered and competitive space that she's in. I don't think it's all down to the shoes she wears either," the 38-year-old said.

"She's built an amazing media network, and what I think she does is she allows current technology to create her paradigm and move into the future."

Batten wants New Zealand to be like Gaga and sit ahead of the digital curve, using technology to transform the way it does business.

"We really are in danger of being irrelevant if we don't get on the digital bandwagon," she said.

"I always think back to when I was a kid when we adopted eftpos before any other country. We were all so proud.

Where is that [now]? Let's have everyone support digital businesses, let's have every business think radically about how they can be digital," she said.

Batten's own accomplishments suggest this may be a good idea.

Throwing in a career in law more than a decade ago, she migrated to New York and formed Massive Inc, a venture that placed advertising inside video games and in front of a traditionally hard-to-reach demographic.

After only three years, Massive Inc was scooped up by Microsoft for an estimated US$200-$400 million.

Batten's next foray caused more of a stir.

In 2009, she co-founded an agency that was the first to apply the principles of crowd-sourcing to the ad market - much to the disdain of larger, more established firms.

Rather than dealing with its work internally, the company - Victors & Spoils - sends out client briefs en masse to a vast network of creatives, paying the person who replies with the best idea.

"We were basically seen as completely changing the ad game ... Along the way we got a lot of backlash."

While the Victors & Spoils approach got the industry's back up, the firm began attracting big-name clients such as Virgin America, Coca-Cola and Levis. The first advert it created screened on cable television and had a production budget of more than US$1 million.

For all its success, Batten announced earlier this year she was moving on from Victors & Spoils and is now in search of another project. And with more than just a hint of an American accent, the Victoria University graduate says she has no plans to move back to this part of the world. Not yet, anyway.

As one of the string of Kiwi entrepreneurs who have relocated to the United States, Batten said New Zealand needed to create an environment where its best and brightest can return and create successful businesses.

"I think there are plenty of brilliant people who want to move things to New Zealand ... but I don't want people coming back and retiring.

"I want them bringing their brilliance back and setting this country on fire," she said.

For this to happen, the country needed to foster and embrace digital companies like Rod Drury's Xero and Vaughan Rowsell's Vend.

"It's the best possible [type of] business we can think about doing because most of the time we don't need to export physically.

"Most of the time these are going to be perfect businesses for us, down at the other end of the world tinkering in our tool sheds but being able to put out this wonderful technology and innovation to the rest of the world."

The high flyers

They are the country's tall poppies - high-flying Kiwis who have turned good ideas into business success.

They all share in abundance an element that is key to this country's economic future: innovation.

Over this week the Business Herald will profile Kiwi innovators with businesses at different stages of growth. Some have sold their start-ups to bigger firms and are mulling their next move.

Others are just starting out, travelling abroad to get investors on board or see if their business will take off. They all show the type of entrepreneurial spirit this country needs to foster and celebrate but they also present to us a problem.

Like Claudia Batten, most of their success has been found overseas on the back of a booming US technology scene. Though it has made many of them personally well-off, this wealth is not creating local jobs or being fed back into the New Zealand economy.

The challenge this country faces is building the infrastructure, support networks and business environment that means brilliant Kiwis never have to leave in the first place.

Claudia Batten

* Age 38
* Co-founder of ad firm Massive Inc, which was bought by Microsoft in 2006 for an estimated US$200-$400 million
* Grew up in Wellington, now living in Boulder, Colorado.

Tomorrow: Litmos founder and CEO Richard Chetwynd on life in Silicon Valley.

- NZ Herald

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