Millie Jocelyn is the CEO of Wellington-based Showcase Workshop, which turns other businesses’ marketing materials into an app that can be distributed to a team’s mobile devices.

Can you tell me a bit about your business?

I'm one of four original founders, who founded the business in 2011. The idea came out of a project I did in my previous life in advertising for one of the sponsors of the 2011 Olympics. Although that's quite recent history, it's actually when the first ipads came out, and the challenge the sponsor had was around how to keep their team updated via ipads with what was happening with their sponsorship.

At that time that process was quite manual - we had to bring all the ipads in, provision them and send them back out each time there was an update. We thought this was a challenge many businesses were likely will face, so that's where the idea for Showcase was born.

We've now grown the business to six employees, and some of our flagship customers in New Zealand are Spark, the Warehouse Group, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Mitsubishi. We've been really lucky in that so many New Zealand businesses are progressive in the way they jump on new technology and use it to enhance their businesses.

Advertisement

You signed Vodafone Global Enterprise as a customer at the beginning of this year. How did that come about?

They actually found us by coincidence. During our first year we obviously didn't have a lot of money for marketing, so we committed our whole budget to running double-page advertisements in Kia Ora, the Air New Zealand magazine. We knew Showcase was a business-to-business tool and we saw Kia Ora as the magazine in New Zealand most targeted at business people.

It turned out somebody in New Zealand who worked for Vodafone saw us in that magazine and sent it to someone in Vodafone's innovation programme in the UK. Someone from there then emailed me and it all snowballed from there. We never found out who it was in New Zealand who originally sent that note to the UK, but one day we hope to find them so we can buy them a gift basket or something!

What did signing that deal involve?

It was a long process. That initial contact was made in mid-2012, so it took 18 months to sign the deal. As a small business person in a country like New Zealand, I've found there's not always a lot of process involved with doing deals - you can reach the decision makers quite easily here, and make things happen quite quickly. So doing this deal taught us a lot about the patience you need to have when dealing with a big offshore corporation.

What was it that took time?

The deal involved white labelling our product, so technically that takes time. The process also had a number of approval stages, including them doing due diligence on us. Once we were in the process we could see progress was happening, just not necessarily at the pace we wanted.

What were some of the other challenges the process presented?

They're probably just the obvious ones in terms of working across time zones and finding the resources and expertise we needed. But every business, big or small, is struggling for resources or expertise and time. And of course it is a huge opportunity for us, so the benefits certainly outweigh the challenges.

Did you have others who you looked to for advice or support?

As you can imagine there was a big contract with a deal like this so our legal team were certainly critical. We worked with a firm, Simmonds Stewart, that specialises in this area so they were able to guide us a lot.

We also talked to a lot of other entrepreneurs about their experiences. At that time we didn't know any other small businesses that had done deals like this, but we've since met others around New Zealand so we know we're certainly not unique.

What's a key piece of advice you'd have for other small business owners entering this kind of process?

Expect to be patient. But also, although you'll need to go through their processes and be patient, don't let that make you feel you should go slow on your side. We always try to be very responsive, so when we got something that needed to be actioned, we'd action it as quickly as we possibly could. We didn't allow ourselves to get caught up in going slowly because that was just the nature of things.

Coming up in Your Business: What are the factors that allow some businesses to endure over time? What strategies have they employed to stay relevant to the market over a long period? If you've got a story to share about longevity in your business, get in touch: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com.