There are not many New Zealand-based entrepreneurs who could say they learned about company culture from their first job at a certain well-known Seattle technology company.
Exciting though it was to work at Microsoft at the age of 16, STQRY ("story") co-founder Chris Smith found the environment wasn't conducive to new ideas.
"I met many amazing people but what frustrated me most in a company that big was individual employees did not have a creative voice," says the American, now based in Wellington.
Over a year ago, when Smith and co-founder Ezel Kokcu set up STQRY, a mobile application that helps arts organisations such as museums, art galleries and zoos engage visitors by telling their stories, they put a lot of thought into company culture.
"I wanted everyone to feel like a leader. They would feel more passionate about what they were doing, they would have ownership and feel they had the ability to grow with the company," says Smith.
STQRY has six Wellington staff, one in Seattle and one in San Francisco. They are developers, account managers and sales people.
Local staff, all in their 20s, socialise together on the weekends. "We do brainstorming two or three times a week," says Smith, who is 25.
STQRY has 150 clients, including Auckland Museum, Wellington Zoo, Seattle Art Museum and the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco. Smith estimates the app has reached 100,000 users and is aiming for a million by the end of next year.
He will be spending more time in the US before then and is expecting his team to expand to 15-plus in 2014 - the next hires to be in LA and then Washington DC or New York.
Smith puts the success of STQRY down to his friendship with young entrepreneur Ezel Kokcu.
"Co-founding this company with my best friend has been such a useful thing. We always have each other's back."
The business is preparing for its series A funding in the next six months. Gareth and Floyd Morgan are shareholders, Smith holding the majority.
He and his team are meanwhile working on adding features to the STQRY product. In time, users won't need to scan their phone against the QR code next to the exhibit; the app will know their location from WiFi or GPS data.
Meanwhile, STQRY is helping organisations add content for special feature experiences - for instance, it will be used by The Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle when it does a Nirvana Seattle Street Tour around town.
"It is traditionally hard for organisations to do things outside the venue - it costs a lot of money to build your own product and market it. A big aspect of STQRY is we market on their behalf."
STQRY also connects venues to each other through its Explore Mode.
In the current STQRY business model, organisations pay a subscription but a newly launched business model will allow organisations to sell any creative premium experience, guide or tour marketed by the STQRY app.
STQRY has set its pricing low. "Our objective was to have very low start-up and maintenance costs and to grow our revenue by commission, as organisations grow their revenue.
"It is about personality. It does not matter how good your product is. If the person you are selling to does not like you, they won't buy your product."
When hiring your team, passion is just as important as skill _ skills can be taught.
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