Kiwi businesses need to share their secrets if they want to be successful exporters, says a Massey University lecturer.
Loren Stangl did her PhD research on what makes businesses successful internationally, comparing 10 New Zealand software companies to others around the world. She said the research showed NZ's small businesses were too keen to go it alone, and were not building strong networks.
Most small businesses that went into foreign markets did so only because they already had a contact there, such as a former colleague or customer who moved overseas. "It was very clear in talking to businesses that those who had a breadth of networks had the more world-appealing innovations and more success in commercialisation," said Stangl.
"If you don't know what's going on in the world, how can you create things other people want?"
Some of that networking would even need to be with the local competition, she said.
"A lot of businesses are trying to do it on their own, and not let other people know what's going on, but by the time they get to market they're yesterday's news."
She said there was always a chance someone may take off with part of an idea, but if a business didn't take all available opportunities, it is unlikely they would succeed in export markets, anyway.
Stangl, who previously owned her own business, says she knows from experience that, by the time a small business has done enough development work to get a product ready for the international market, it has often been overtaken by the next big thing. "The only thing you can do is team up and get it out as quickly as possible."
Networks would also have to be international so people could understand what other countries wanted.
"There's no way you can understand the needs of customers by yourself. You've got to have something customers are going to need, and that's very different in the US than it is in Germany or Argentina."
International exporting also relied on trust, she said. Customers would need to have faith that a company on the other side of the world would be around to provide support if something went wrong.
Stangl said businesses should take every opportunity to make connections internationally.
"Don't be fearful of foreign businesses coming in, or immigration. It gives businesses better ability to export."