Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Small business: Awards - Sanjesh Lal, Keola Homes

Sanjesh Lal is the founder and managing director of west Auckland-based construction company Keola Homes.

Sanjesh Lal, founder and managing director of Keola Homes.
Sanjesh Lal, founder and managing director of Keola Homes.

Can you tell me a bit about Keola Homes?

I'm a civil engineer and had been working in that field for around 12 years, but I was getting bored with working on big projects that would go on for years. I was quite interested in building, so I set up a construction firm in 2007 and gave up my day job.

We do design and build of residential houses and some light commercial projects. We started in 2007 just as the recession was kicking in, but the first house we built won a House of the Year award and things kind of grew from there. We've now got six staff.

You entered the Westpac Auckland West Business Awards last year where you were named best small business and a finalist in the excellence in innovation category. What motivated you to enter the awards?

We entered the innovation category because we were quite a young business and without being innovative we wouldn't have survived the recession. We had to be very creative and innovative in the way we were doing things in the early days.

The main driver for us in entering the awards was to learn. There were a lot of questions to answer and we had to take a good hard look at what we were doing. But, more importantly, it makes you look at what your business is not doing. That process allowed us to dig deep and find answers to those questions. The main thing for us was to aim to improve on things we were not doing so well.

And did the process deliver on that?

We definitely learnt a lot because in the innovation category we were up against some quite big businesses, and we're very small. We've learnt a lot from other people involved in the awards through the networking opportunities it creates, and it's interesting to see how even some of the big companies are still struggling and learning. We learnt a lot of about various aspects of business as well - things like marketing, networking and delivering on your product or service.

Was it a challenging process?

It was very time consuming because the questions are set out in a way that there's no quick answer. In terms of the financials required we had a bit of assistance from our accountant to pull all the numbers together, and a copywriter also helped me put our entries all together. It was a big team effort and very time consuming, but it was all worthwhile in the end.

What do you think makes for a good entry?

I think the main thing that captures the judges' attention is that your business has a purpose. If your sole purpose with your business is just to make money, that's not going to really grab them; there's a saying that if you do something you love and you do that with passion, the money and success will follow.

I also think it's important to show that you're flexible and able to change with the times. In our business we've tried so many different types of software and different ways of doing things over the years, so it's being able to show that you're not stagnant and you can adapt, change and learn.

What opportunities have come your way as an award-winning business?

You get invited to a lot of events by sponsors, the awards committee and previous award winners. And you get a lot of recognition in the community. We're doing a big project in Avondale at the moment and it's surprising how many people recall our name from seeing us in the papers. There's been quite a lot of exposure and that was very, very worthwhile.

- NZ Herald

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