Xero founder says we should aim to be the world's 'Digital-First' nation
Xero's Rod Drury reckons it's time for New Zealand to rebrand itself and become a "digitally-connected" nation.
Drury - founder and chief executive of the online accounting software company - says taking that step would attract significant global investment into New Zealand as well as international class entrepreneurs who would base operations here to use NZ as a test pad.
It's a theme that resonates with other leading NZ digital entrepreneurs like Spark's Rod Snodgrass who asks "Why doesn't New Zealand adopt a target to be the world's first "Digital First' nation?"
"I've been thinking about why don't we actually engineer New Zealand to be the best digitally connected country," says Drury. "The people I've met that are really at the top of the global technology industry already have a relationship with New Zealand and come down here all the time.
"So why can't we engineer the best digital experience? And people will actually live here and build globally-focused businesses from here.
"It would be good to get some good versions of Kim Dotcom."
Drury believes by adopting a vision to be the best digitally connected country, New Zealand would be able to leverage its free trade agreement with China and become a digital crossroads between the Western world and China.
He is concerned there is not enough focus on the opportunities New Zealand can gain from being ahead of the curve in a digitally connected global age.
"If we don't have a vision for New Zealand, what feels like a void just gets filled by Dirty Politics and the Northland by-election, which are really not important.
"It ends up in a race to the bottom."
Drury - who was invited to join the Flag Consideration Panel by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English - says one of the burning issues for Xero itself is rethinking how New Zealand fits in the world.
"In the playbook for New Zealand software companies it used to be, 'look like an American company'," says Drury. "But we have a lot more confidence in being a New Zealand global company now. We've got to a scale and we have serious global investors investing in our unique story with our values and global view."
Drury's vision for us
He says he agreed to join the flag panel as it was very relevant to Xero's business. "Our connections are to our past and to our large trading partners. We have a large customer base in the UK, but also this new confidence in us standing up as our own New Zealand brand."
He believes developing the NZ brand takes more than a flag panel.
Drury continues to promote the concept of a government-appointed Chief Technology Officer to ensure New Zealand is working on the four to five big picture strategic issues that will move the nation forward.
He suggests the right person for the job is globally connected and wants to give something back to New Zealand.
"Someone like former Commonwealth Bank CEO Sir Ralph Norris would be ideal."
That person would scope the opportunities, deal with the vested interests of the private sector and report back to Cabinet.
The idea has not (yet) lit a fire with the Government. But it's notable that Los Angeles - which is fast-developing as one of the key entrepreneurial powerhouses in the United States has done just that as we report in Innovation 2015 today.
To deepen external connectivity with a digitally-focused New Zealand would also require better external fibre cable connections; an area which Drury has long been focused on. He believes such a step would enable super profits to come back to New Zealand and fund better internal networks including mobile towers.
Among the opportunities he highlights is the business-to-government arena where Xero is working with Inland Revenue to devise modern approaches to solve their complex systems requirements such as the NZ business number.
"We should be the poster child for business-to-government electronic commerce," he says, pointing to the opportunity to draw in huge investment from the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google, which he believes would "love to use New Zealand as a test lab for some of this stuff" and at the same time dramatically reduce the paid-for investment needed to develop New Zealand.
Other areas where we could be taking a lead include the evolution of the payments network where the locally based banks, through Paymark, have an opportunity to for instance deliver eftpos over mobile phones and stop other carriers from clipping the ticket.
Why not also just have one mobile network? asks Drury. "It's crazy in a small skinny country running more than one of those?"
Xero is focused on its own connectivity and uses Google Hangout to link staff in its offices around the world. Its accounting platforms also enable New Zealand customers to "talk through the same technology" with other potential customers offshore. This Xero facilitated network could help them find new clients as they drive into exporting.
Drury says he has no problem attracting staff to work at Xero's Wellington HQ. "We've got paddle-boarding sheds and go paddle-boarding at lunchtime.
"I can't believe the lifestyle we have here, yet we get to do globally significant work.
"We push a button to 400,000 customers."
He says having visa exchanges between United States west coast cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles would assist.
"We can't think of ourselves as being an island anymore - we've got to think of how we drink from the global fire hose.
"The upside is we get all the benefits of living in New Zealand: Great food, great coffee, empty beaches, good education. But with a global income."