David Kelly, co-founder of internet and digital marketing firm Zeald, talks about the importance of e-commerce and how the uptake for businesses being online is lagging behind his predictions 20 years ago.
What does your business do?
Zeald specialises in digital transformation for SMEs; getting SMEs online, keeping them transacting and setting them up a website so they can operate in a digital environment. I knew fresh out of university that I wanted to be in business and I managed to convince my brother in law and cousin to start with me as I knew I only had a certain amount of skills to get it so far. That was about 19-20 years ago between 2000 and 2001.
What was the motivation for starting it?
We loved the web and all three of us were involved in web. I came from a technical background, I had done a computer science degree at Massey University and my brother had as well so we were both very big on web technology and really felt that it was the future and going to transform society and business. My cousin, he was in web as well, but more in the design user experience side and very talented at that, so that we felt we had this blend of design combined with technology was a magic combination.
Has the internet transformed society and commerce like you thought it would?
We've still got a very long way to go and you only have to look around to see how many businesses are still not online and not transacting online. They may be partially online in the sense that you can find some basic information about the business but there's so many that could be transacting and more so than ever now should be. New Zealand has made huge progress over the last 20 years - there's been a huge transformation, but we still have a long way to go before we will be a truly digital nation. Back then I would have thought everyone would have been online by now but that's simply just not the case.
What do you make of big retail chains such as the likes of H&M and David Jones who have no e-commerce platform?
Right now those businesses will be wishing that they had done a lot more in that space because their lives would be 100 times easier if they had good, strong e-commerce in place and all the underlying business processes to support the logistics. There's a lot of businesses and boards of directors of companies who will really be thinking they [should have] jumped on this a lot earlier and have years of experience of it under their belt.
The Covid-19 situation goes to show why it is so important businesses have digital and online operations - a business that has that is a resilient business that has a foundation it can work off in scenarios like this where social distancing is required. Typically people think online is just for retail or product-based businesses, but online ordering works for service-based businesses, all types of businesses.
How has the Covid-19 crisis affected your business?
We've got a huge influx in demand, even prior to launching our Gem initiative, we had an increase in inquiries happening of people asking to transform their business digitally and have it done with the utmost urgency. In the early stage of lockdown we saw a little bit of a lift in inquiries and then a bit more and bit more - the increases have been hundreds of per cent. A lot of businesses are going through that mindset shift of understanding the ramifications of what is in front of them and what the next 12-18 months looks like. Being online has become 100 times more important because of Covid-19.
What are your long-term plans?
We want to scale up so we can deliver hundreds of thousands of e-commerce websites to New Zealand SMEs as fast as we can to try and help small and medium-sized businesses survive and thrive and new businesses starting up. There's no doubt going to be a lot of businesses that fail during this crisis but those entrepreneurs will see new needs in the market to fill. We've been expanding the team to meet the demand.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
You need to really believe in what you're doing because starting a business is extremely hard. For some people they get it right from day dot, but that's never been my experience. Be passionate and believe in what you're doing because when you're going through the ups and downs that is really helpful. Have great people around you because then a problem shared is a problem halved and a joy shared is a joy doubled. Sharing the journey with someone is a big help.