Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small Business: Crossing the ditch - George Plummer, StarShipIt

George Plummer is a co-founder of StarShipIt, which produces a web-based application that saves online retailers time by automating the generation of their shipping documentation and providing their customers with status updates.

George Plummer, co-founder of StarShipIt.
George Plummer, co-founder of StarShipIt.

When and why did you go into the Australian market?

It was a natural progression for us to launch StarShipIt in the Australian market at the start of the year. We already had a strong client base in New Zealand with some well-known brands, but our goal is to provide a world-class shipping platform and you need to look outside New Zealand to fully understand the requirements of that.

In retrospect, we should have started in the Australian market from the beginning. We found no barrier to entry and the larger market made establishing the initial key customers easier. Also, we found distance can be used to your advantage. Setup and support costs can be reduced as users are less inclined to get on the phone if they think they are using an international service as opposed to a local one.

What's the current state of your business in Australia?

With the continued growth in online shopping, ecommerce is our focus. We automate shipping and packaging processes and a big part of that is integrating ecommerce or inventory systems with courier companies.

We added support for Australia Post at the request of one of the largest online retailers in Australia. Their seamless rollout of our solution, at a fraction of their budgeted cost, brought us to the attention of AusPost who dominate the Australian market. In the last few months 70 per cent of our new business is coming from Australia and we are still adding more Australian carriers.

What strategies have worked well for you in terms of gaining traction in Australia?

Our strategies for Australia are the same as in New Zealand. Firstly, we aim to get key customers as that gives credibility. We showcase our solution to leaders in that field - in our case that's leading bloggers and consultants in the ecommerce space. We also target web agencies and developers, and the courier companies themselves.

Secondly, when selling directly we don't promote that we're a New Zealand-based company, but once you open a conversation location becomes irrelevant. Once they see the benefit to their business they are eager to jump on board, and often expect less support than if you are down the road.

What have been some of the difficulties?

The biggest issues are with the time difference. Most of our calls come at the end of the day and Friday between 5pm and 8pm seems to be the busiest time for new leads, which does cut into our work drinks!

What resources or sources of support have you tapped into that you've found useful along the way?

The best resources are the end users. We listen to their issues, develop them great solutions and the rest falls into place. We've found user requirements are different in Australia. Many have a different shipping process to businesses in New Zealand because of a legacy tool they were using.

Instead of pushing them to change processes we modified our solution to mimic what they were used to, which made the transition easier. We worked hard with these initial customers, they recommended our solution and we worked up from there. By talking to their web agencies, business consultants and shipping companies we built a network of contacts from a few initial clients.

What are three key pieces of advice you'd have for other small Kiwi businesses looking to take on the Australian market?

1. Keep the customer informed. If you're shipping goods to Australia from here, make up for the extra day it may take with superior customer service. If the experience is good for the consumer they will return.

2. Use video conferencing. Although it is good to meet people face to face, even travelling across town takes valuable time if you have a small business. Use Skype and other tools to increase productivity. Once you're in the habit it will make the transition to Australia and abroad easier.

3. Appear Australian. You can use Skype to purchase an Australian phone number, and list it alongside any New Zealand numbers you have, and look at your web domains too.

Coming up in Small Business: Wearable technology is one of the hottest sectors in high-tech. What are some of the cool companies operating in this space in New Zealand? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 25 Dec 2014 16:16:28 Processing Time: 723ms